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Requiem: The Soldier -- Humbert Wolfe

Guest poem submitted by Valerie Clarke:
(Poem #1504) Requiem: The Soldier
 Down some cold field in a world outspoken
 the young men are walking together, slim and tall,
 and though they laugh to one another, silence is not broken;
 there is no sound however clear they call.

 They are speaking together of what they loved in vain here,
 but the air is too thin to carry the things they say.
 They were young and golden, but they came on pain here,
 and their youth is age now, their gold is grey.

 Yet their hearts are not changed, and they cry to one another,
 'What have they done with the lives we laid aside?
 Are they young with our youth, gold with our gold, my brother?
 Do they smile in the face of death, because we died?'

 Down some cold field in a world uncharted
 the young seek each other with questioning eyes.
 They question each other, the young, the golden hearted,
 of the world that they were robbed of in their quiet paradise.
-- Humbert Wolfe

My guest poem is another Humbert Wolfe.  I see you have Grey Squirrel.  This
is from his Requiem - The Soldier (1916).  Obviously anti-war, but to me it
brings such grieving for all our dead, whether young in war, or old in bed.
One of those poems with a dreamy, haunting, evocative quality whose words
need to be read aloud and savoured.  It makes me stop and think, and shiver
a little, but be thankful for Wolfe's life and skill.

Wolfe was born in Milan in 1851 but grew up in Bradford, got a First at
Oxford and died in 1940.  He published poetry from the early 1920s while
working for the Civil Service.  Once considered a favourite for Poet
Laureate.  At the outbreak of WW2 he advocated that writers would be better
employed writing propaganda than fighting.

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

Shijo -- Chong Chol

Guest poem submitted by Lisa:
(Poem #1503) Shijo
 The rise and fall of nations are myriad;
 Taebang Fortress is covered
 with autumn grass.
 To the herdsman's pipes
 I'll leave my ignorance of the past
 and I'll drink a cup to this great age of peace.
-- Chong Chol
This poem appeared today in the Korean Herald, in their "A Poem for
Breakfast" feature.  I was struck by the first line, pointing to the
ephemeral nature of even great nations, as they rise, fall, and are
eventually become covered over with grass.  In the midst of daily bad news
from all corners of the world, much of it caused by nations attempting to
create some sort of permanence for themselves and their ideologies, a
sentiment such as this strikes me as, bizarrely, hopeful.  Nations come and
go, always.  I think I'll join Chong Chol in leaving my ignorance and
drinking a cup -- though I wonder if the age he lived in was really the
great age of peace!

The poem appeared here:

The Korean Herald had this to say about the poem:
Chong Chol, the great poet-bureaucrat of the mid-Joseon period, treats one
of the great themes of literature, the ephemeral nature of human existence.
His stance is typically Korean. He says, concentrate on how good things are
now and forget the turbulence of the past! Taebang Fortress is today's
Namwon in North Jeolla Province, Chunhyang's town.

More information about the Joseon period can be found here:
[broken link]
[broken link]

More information on the Taebang Fortress (today the Namwon Castle) can be
found here:
[broken link]


Law Like Love -- W H Auden

Guest poem sent in by Aseem Kaul
(Poem #1502) Law Like Love
 Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
 Law is the one
 All gardeners obey
 To-morrow, yesterday, to-day.

 Law is the wisdom of the old,
 The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;
 The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
 Law is the senses of the young.

 Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
 Expounding to an unpriestly people,
 Law is the words in my priestly book,
 Law is my pulpit and my steeple.

 Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
 Speaking clearly and most severely,
 Law is as I've told you before,
 Law is as you know I suppose,
 Law is but let me explain it once more,
 Law is The Law.

 Yet law-abiding scholars write:
 Law is neither wrong nor right,
 Law is only crimes
 Punished by places and by times,
 Law is the clothes men wear
 Anytime, anywhere,
 Law is Good morning and Good night.

 Others say, Law is our Fate;
 Others say, Law is our State;
 Others say, others say
 Law is no more,
 Law has gone away.

 And always the loud angry crowd,
 Very angry and very loud,
 Law is We,
 And always the soft idiot softly Me.

 If we, dear, know we know no more
 Than they about the Law,
 If I no more than you
 Know what we should and should not do
 Except that all agree
 Gladly or miserably
 That the Law is
 And that all know this
 If therefore thinking it absurd
 To identify Law with some other word,
 Unlike so many men
 I cannot say Law is again,

 No more than they can we suppress
 The universal wish to guess
 Or slip out of our own position
 Into an unconcerned condition.
 Although I can at least confine
 Your vanity and mine
 To stating timidly
 A timid similarity,
 We shall boast anyway:
 Like love I say.

 Like love we don't know where or why,
 Like love we can't compel or fly,
 Like love we often weep,
 Like love we seldom keep.
-- W H Auden
In response to Michelle's call for poems about lawyers and the law, here's
one of my favourite Auden poems. Aside from the usual Auden brilliance (the
tone so nonchalantly conversational, the seemingly endless ability to carry
on with a single metaphor) this poem has always been special to me for three
reasons. First, that unlike many Auden poems this one comes to its "timid
similarity" right at the very end, so that having chuckled through the poem
once you are almost compelled to go back to the beginning and read it
through again, this time replacing Law with Love and realising how truly
brilliant the comparison is.

Second, that it's a poem that cries to be read aloud - even reading it in
one's head every stanza has it's own 'voice' creating an incredible
impression of movement as one jumps breathlessly from one person's
view--point to another's.

And finally, for a gem of a last line - one that both makes you laugh and
makes you want to cry with a terrible longing for our lost loves.  In a poem
that is otherwise fairly cheerful it introduces a note of honest grief, that
lifts the poem above the merely clever.

Aseem Kaul

The Quality of Mercy is not Strain'd -- William Shakespeare

Guest poem sent in by Michelle Whitehead
(Poem #1501) The Quality of Mercy is not Strain'd
 The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
 It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
 Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
 It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
 'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
 The throned monarch better than his crown;
 His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
 The attribute to awe and majesty,
 Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
 But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
 It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
 It is an attribute to God himself;
 And earthly power doth then show likest God's
 When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
 Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
 That, in the course of justice, none of us
 Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
 And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
 The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
 To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
 Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
 Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant there.
-- William Shakespeare
           The Merchant of Venice, Act IV Scene 1

I am currently studying "Legal Ethics and Professional Conduct" at Uni. I
have been using the Minstrels site to spark discussion with my fellow
students about the portrayal of lawyers in literature. I was wondering
whether all the Minstrels out there would like to help me out by submitting
their favourite 'lawyer' poems, whether positive or negative?

Since it is not currently on the list I thought I would start the ball
rolling with Portia's speech from The Merchant of Venice, which is perhaps
the best known 'positive' representation of a lawyer in poetry - although
Portia was only impersonating a lawyer and thus could freely use the
language of religion and morality. However, Portia triumphs because she
knows the loophole in the legislation that favours her client. She works
within the man-made law to give effect to the 'higher law' which is the
subject of this poem. This is, in effect, a statement of her personal

Other lawyer poems which are already archived by the Minstrels include:
(The Law the Lawyers Know About - H.D.C. Pepler; suggests lawyers are
ignorant of natural and moral laws - presumably having spent too much time
with their noses in books, though there is also a suggestion of an inherent
lack of ethics; this poem obviously touched a nerve in some
poetically-inclined members of the legal profession...)
(The Lawyers Know Too Much - Carl Sandburg; this poem is another
unflattering depiction of lawyers. It suggests they inhabit a dead world of
rhetoric, divorced from the real, living world, yet sucking it dry. I
personally find the rhetorical question which ends this poem to be a
wonderful image for prompting thought about legal ethics and the public
perception of lawyers!)
(Partition - W.H.Auden; looks at Radcliffe's partitioning of India &
Pakistan; gives some sense of the harried nature of lawyers, particularly
mediators trying to do the best for both sides.)
(The Shooting of Dan McGrew - Robert W. Service; very entertaining yarn from
the Yukon gold fields; in contrast with the cold, dispassionate environment
of the first two poems above, this poem introduces some of the drama of
courtroom narratives; lawyers are only mentioned in the last stanza, but
they are portrayed as dispassionate untanglers of the facts - the ones who
sift through the story to find the 'truth' - a truth which significantly
differs from the conclusion of the narrating witness, who is the involved
observer of human nature)
(To a Goose - Robert Southey; once again, lawyers are only incidental to
this poem...  though here their portrayal as perpetually malevolent forces
in society is used more as an accepted cliche which the poem (very subtly)
questions. The other cliche in the poem is the 'love-sick poet's sonnet' -
but the poem is a sonnet which is anything but love-sick!  Hence an implied
questioning of the reliability of cliches.)

Michelle Whitehead

John Keats -- J D Salinger

Guest poem sent in by Pavithra Krishnan
(Poem #1500) John Keats
 John Keats
 John Keats
 Please put your scarf on.
-- J D Salinger
          (From "Seymour An Introduction")

You know it's a good poem when you reach the quiet end and find something's
taken your breath away and left a knot in your throat instead. Couldn't Not
send this in after the Cullen's poem [Poem #1497]. His lines read wrenching,
read like they've been ripped from the dramatic depths of a poet's passion-
and pain.  This poem by contrast is more like a child tugging at your coat
sleeve.  Filled with persistence and a very vulnerable power. This is a poem
written by Seymour aged 8 and we only learn of its existence through Buddy,
his brother (both of them members of the Glass family created by J. D.

Seymour is an unusual child who grows up to be an unusual man and this
particular poem is just a throwaway detail in a book full of throwaway
details that for some reason you don't throw away, but stop at suddenly-
because they are saying so much that you almost didn't hear and they make
you wonder what else in your world might be saying crucial things that you
are drowning out in a profusion of detail. But what got me then and what
gets me now is the stark simplicity of this poem's understated pleading and
its tender tardiness, and sure I know that it's Salinger and not Seymour who
wrote it, but the thought of the thought of this poem in the head of an 8
year old child...

And suddenly I am sad inside, really sad for the first time for a boy-man
named John, John Keats who loved beauty and who wrote its truth, and who
died of tuberculosis when he was 25.




The Uncertainty of the Poet -- Wendy Cope

Guest poem sent in by Paramjit Oberoi
(Poem #1499) The Uncertainty of the Poet
 I am a poet.
 I am very fond of bananas.

 I am bananas.
 I am very fond of a poet.

 I am a poet of bananas.
 I am very fond.

 A fond poet of 'I am, I am'-
 Very bananas.

 Fond of 'Am I bananas?
 Am I?'-a very poet.

 Bananas of a poet!
 Am I fond? Am I very?

 Poet bananas! I am.
 I am fond of a 'very.'

 I am of very fond bananas.
 Am I a poet?
-- Wendy Cope
Published in "Serious Concerns", 1992, Faber & Faber.

This was the first Wendy Cope poem I read...  and it was the beginning of my
discovery of how much joy there could be in poetry.  I love the poem for its
wonderful irreverence, spartan simplicity, and just the fact that it always
makes me smile.  I have no idea what she's talking about though, so I'd
appreciate an analysis by one of you.


[Martin adds]

I've always loved this one too, both for the fact that, like Paramjit, it
always makes me smile, and for the sheer playfulness with which Cope dances
the boundary between poetry and antipoetry. It doesn't really show off her
skill as a parodist as well as some of her other poems, but it strikes a
note of lightness (and, yes, unabashed silliness) that is delightful to
read. I also have a fondness for this particular sort of wordplay - easy to
do, but hard to do well.


On Discovering a Butterfly -- Vladimir Nabokov

(Poem #1498) On Discovering a Butterfly
 I found it and I named it, being versed
 in taxonomic Latin; thus became
 godfather to an insect and its first
 describer -- and I want no other fame.

 Wide open on its pin (though fast asleep),
 and safe from creeping relatives and rust,
 in the secluded stronghold where we keep
 type specimens it will transcend its dust.

 Dark pictures, thrones, the stones that pilgrims kiss,
 poems that take a thousand years to die
 but ape the immortality of this
 red label on a little butterfly.
-- Vladimir Nabokov
While idly surfing the Minstrels archives (and if you haven't tried out
the 'random poem' feature, do!) I came again upon the excerpt from this poem
which Dr A Giridhar Rao had posted as a comment to Poem #1250. Quoting from
Dr. Rao's mail:

  But why a _red_ label? The biologist Stephen Jay Gould in a brilliant essay
  (in _I Have Landed_, 2002) gives the answer:

  Museum curators traditionally affix red labels only to "holotype"
  specimens -- that is, to individuals chosen as official recipients of the
  name given to a new species. The necessity for such a rule arises from a
  common situation in taxonomic research. A later scientist may discover that
  the original namer of a species defined the group too broadly by including
  speciments from more than one genuine species.... By official rules, the
  species of the designated holotype specimen keeps the original name, and
  members of the newly recognized species must recieve a new name. Thus,
  Nabokov tells us that no product of human cultural construction can match
  the immortality of the permanent name-bearer for a genuine species in
  nature. The species may become extinct, of course, but the name continues
  forever to designate a genuine natural population that once inhabited the

Dr. Rao noted that the poem reflected the "vanity of human wishes", but it
speaks, too, of something more specific - the bid for immortality that
motivates even the "purest" of scientists. Scientific biographers speak,
often with palpable surprise, of the "pettiness" that scientists can display
in their quest for the all-important Precedence, but that is merely due to
an idealised notion of a scientist who is supposed to transcend all human
emotions in his quest for Truth. In reality, Scientists are as alive to the
seduction of fame as anyone else - and the brand of fame they seek makes
"the glories of our blood and state" look positively ephemeral.

Of course poets have long espoused the conceit that words are the surest
form of immortality - "Not marble, nor the gilded monuments / Of princes,
shall outlive this powerful rhyme" quoth the Bard - but Nabokov trumps
even that with his "thus became [...] its first describer -- and I want no
other fame." And although he says "it will transcend its dust", the
temptation is irresistible to read, superposed on the "it", a triumphant "I".



The butterfly in question, incidentally, was a pug moth named 'Eupithecia
nabokovi' - and in an interesting essay I found on the web:

  Be that as it may, on solving a couple more Nabokov charades, one is
  tempted to ask the otherworldly VN whether he himself has noticed that
  hiding in the scholarly name of his Eupithecia Nabokovi is a "good monkey",
  Gr. eu-pithekos (which, to an extent, is also true of the bluntly English
  label Nabokov Pug, as it is from Gr. simos [flat-nosed, pug-nosed] that Lat.
  simia [monkey, ape] is derived). He must have, for that particular
  butterfly, the act of labeling, and the image of aping all converge on the
  closure of the poem celebrating VN's most cherished lepidopteral catch:

  Dark pictures, thrones, the stones that pilgrims kiss,/ poems that take a
  thousand years to die/ but ape the immortality of this/ red label on a
  little butterfly ("A Discovery", 1943; in reciting this poem, Nabokov
  especially stressed the word “ape”).



Biography of Nabokov: is a nice
page on taxonomy - an excerpt:
  Groan-inspiring puns like Phthiria relativitae (a fly whose name sounds
  like "theory of relativity") and Ytu brutus (a beetle) suggest that some
  taxonomists might be drinking out of the specimen bottles.

If someone has a link to a picture of the celebrated pug moth, do send it


For John Keats, Apostle of Beauty -- Countee Cullen

Guest poem submitted by Jeffrey Sean Huo, in response
to yesterday's poem:
(Poem #1497) For John Keats, Apostle of Beauty
 Not writ in water nor in mist,
 Sweet lyric throat, thy name.
 Thy singing lips that cold death kissed
 Have seared his own with flame.
-- Countee Cullen
 From "Four Epitaths".

 In response to today's poem [ #1497, "Give Me Women, Wine, and Snuff" ],
Mr. Ramasubramanian recalls a response to Keat's famous epitaph that posited
that Keats' name ought to have been written in the sky in letters of fire.
Mr. Ramasubramanian was unable to recall that poem, and neither can I -- but
what I did find was three poems by three poets whose poems have been
featured in these pages before. One by Oscar Wilde, one by Henry Wadsworth
Longfellow, and the one I wish to feature, the one by Countee Cullen.

 In contrast to Longfellow's and Wilde's drawn out, overly-flowered, and in
the end, forgettable verses (included below), Cullen, in four short lines,
burns into your brain an absolutely unforgettable image: Keats, the poet of
such awesome passion and power, that even the cold lips of Death himself are
set afire.  The power and genius of poetry is the ability to capture
powerful, complex ideas in very short spaces. Longfellow and Wilde certainly
make clear the depth of respect and feeling each has for Keats. But it is
Cullen, in my opinion, which most succeeds in making Keats unforgettable.

 This poem is especially powerful for me for having come of age with a
relatively recent literary incarnation of the Grim Reaper. Not the grey,
hooded, skeletal spectre of so many past stories, but instead the
passionate, vibrant, immortal Lady Teleute of Neil Gaiman's _The Sandman_,
the cute Goth chick with the curl under her eye who was sister to Destiny,
Destruction and Dream. *That* Death, Neil Gaiman's gentle, beautiful lady
Death, she could definately be imagined taking Keats beyond in one final,
brilliant, blazing kiss. Influenced by the masterful way way Gaiman wove
tales of _The Sandman_ around such other historical figures as William
Shakespeare, Augustus Ceasar, and Haroun Al Raschid, Cullen's poem, imagined
through Gaiman's lens, is to me as unforgettable a memorial to Keats' legacy
as Keats could possibly hope for.

 Thank you again for the opportunity to share,


 Longfellow's musings were as follows:


 The young Endymion sleeps Endymion's sleep;
 The shepherd-boy whose tale was left half told!
 The solemn grove uplifts its shield of gold
 To the red rising moon, and loud and deep
 The nightingale is singing from the steep;
 It is midsummer, but the air is cold;
 Can it be death? Alas, beside the fold
 A shepherd's pipe lies shattered near his sheep.
 Lo! in the moonlight gleams a marble white,
 On which I read: "Here lieth one whose name
 Was writ in water." And was this the meed
 Of his sweet singing? Rather let me write:
 "The smoking flax before it burst to flame
 Was quenched by death, and broken the bruised reed."

        -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 Oscar Wilde wrote instead this:

 "The Grave of Keats"

 Rid of the world's injustice, and his pain,
 He rests at last beneath God's veil of blue:
 Taken from life when life and love were new
 The youngest of the martyrs here is lain,
 Fair as Sebastian, and as early slain.
 No cypress shades his grave, no funeral yew,
 But gentle violets weeping with the dew
 Weave on his bones an ever-blossoming chain.
 O proudest heart that broke for misery!
 O sweetest lips since those of Mitylene!
 O poet-painter of our English Land!
 Thy name was writ in water--it shall stand:
 And tears like mine will keep thy memory green,
 As Isabella did her Basil-tree.

        -- Oscar Wilde

Give Me Women, Wine, and Snuff -- John Keats

Guest poem submitted by Suresh Ramasubramanian, <suresh at hserus dot
net> :
(Poem #1496) Give Me Women, Wine, and Snuff
 Give me women, wine, and snuff
 Until I cry out "hold, enough!"
 You may do so sans objection
 Till the day of resurrection:
 For, bless my beard, they aye shall be
 My beloved Trinity.
-- John Keats
A short and sweet poem, almost Khayyam-ish, almost certainly strongly
inspired by Khayyam's verse.

This is from his posthumous and fugitive poems - a set of poems that
includes the famous "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" that he wrote during the
last three or four years of his short life, dying of tuberculosis.

On February 3, 1820, Keats suffered a pulmonary haemorrhage - a sign
that he was in the terminal stage of tuberculosis, with death almost
upon him.  He quickly broke off his engagement with Fanny Brawne and
began what he called a "posthumous existence".  He was too ill to
compose any further poems, but the volume Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of
St. Agnes, and Other Poems, including most of his most famous ones, was
published that July.

A year later, he died in Rome on 2/23/1821 and was buried there on
February 26 in the Protestant Cemetery. On his deathbed Keats requested
that his tombstone bear no name, only the words 'Here lies one whose
name was writ in water.'

I remember a poem (I think by Kahlil Gibran) that says something to the
effect that Keats' name was writ in water, when it should have been writ
on the sky in letters of fire. Can't trace the poem though :(  Somebody
please do find it and post it ...


[Minstrels Links]

John Keats:
Poem #12, On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer
Poem #182, La Belle Dame Sans Merci
Poem #316, Ode to a Nightingale
Poem #433, Why did I laugh tonight? No voice will tell
Poem #575, To Mrs Reynolds' Cat
Poem #696, Last Sonnet
Poem #770, A Thing of Beauty is a Joy for Ever
Poem #910, On the Grasshopper and the Cricket

Omar Khayyam:
Poem #162, Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Poem #342, Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
Poem #545, The Moving Finger Writes; and, Having Writ
Poem #654, Think, in this Batter'd Caravanserai
Poem #750, Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough
Poem #1354, Ah, Love!, Could Thou and I with Fate Conspire

To a Skylark -- Percy Bysshe Shelley

Guest poem submitted by Firdaus Janoos:
(Poem #1495) To a Skylark
      Hail to thee, blithe spirit!
        Bird thou never wert-
      That from heaven or near it
        Pourest thy full heart
 In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

      Higher still and higher
        From the earth thou springest,
      Like a cloud of fire;
        The blue deep thou wingest,
 And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

      In the golden light'ning
        Of the sunken sun,
      O'er which clouds are bright'ning,
        Thou dost float and run,
 Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun.

      The pale purple even
        Melts around thy flight;
      Like a star of heaven,
        In the broad daylight
 Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight-

      Keen as are the arrows
        Of that silver sphere
      Whose intense lamp narrows
        In the white dawn clear,
 Until we hardly see, we feel that it is there.

      All the earth and air
        With thy voice is loud,
      As when night is bare,
        From one lonely cloud
 The moon rains out her beams, and heaven is overflow'd.

      What thou art we know not;
        What is most like thee?
      From rainbow clouds there flow not
        Drops so bright to see,
 As from thy presence showers a rain of melody:-

      Like a poet hidden
        In the light of thought,
      Singing hymns unbidden,
        Till the world is wrought
 To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not:

      Like a high-born maiden
        In a palace tower,
      Soothing her love-laden
        Soul in secret hour
 With music sweet as love, which overflows her bower:

      Like a glow-worm golden
        In a dell of dew,
      Scattering unbeholden
        Its aërial hue
 Among the flowers and grass which screen it from the view:

      Like a rose embower'd
        In its own green leaves,
      By warm winds deflower'd,
        Till the scent it gives
 Makes faint with too much sweet those heavy-wingèd thieves.

      Sound of vernal showers
        On the twinkling grass,
      Rain-awaken'd flowers-
        All that ever was
 Joyous and clear and fresh-thy music doth surpass.

      Teach us, sprite or bird,
        What sweet thoughts are thine:
      I have never heard
        Praise of love or wine
 That panted forth a flood of rapture so divine.

      Chorus hymeneal,
        Or triumphal chant,
      Match'd with thine would be all
        But an empty vaunt-
 A thin wherein we feel there is some hidden want.

      What objects are the fountains
        Of thy happy strain?
      What fields, or waves, or mountains?
        What shapes of sky or plain?
 What love of thine own kind? what ignorance of pain?

      With thy clear keen joyance
        Languor cannot be:
      Shadow of annoyance
        Never came near thee:
 Thou lovest, but ne'er knew love's sad satiety.

      Waking or asleep,
        Thou of death must deem
      Things more true and deep
        Than we mortals dream,
 Or how could thy notes flow in such a crystal stream?

      We look before and after,
        And pine for what is not:
      Our sincerest laughter
        With some pain is fraught;
 Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

      Yet, if we could scorn
        Hate and pride and fear,
      If we were things born
        Not to shed a tear,
 I know not how thy joy we ever should come near.

      Better than all measures
        Of delightful sound,
      Better than all treasures
        That in books are found,
 Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground!

      Teach me half the gladness
        That thy brain must know;
      Such harmonious madness
        From my lips would flow,
 The world should listen then, as I am listening now.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley
The best poetry is what Shelley terms "unpremeditated art". This is
almost in line with the Zen philosophy of effortless achievement. This,
perhaps the loveliest of Shelley's poems, is a tribute of art born of
pure understanding. But there is also an acknowledgement that the
frailties of humans -- hate, pride, fear, sorrow -- are essential
ingredients of the human experience, however flawed that might be. Quite

The lines:

     Teach me half the gladness
        That thy brain must know;
      Such harmonious madness
        From my lips would flow,
 The world should listen then, as I am listening now.

are some of the best lines in English poetry -- a tribute to his muse,
something like Kubla Khan, or Wordsworth's 'Highland lass' -- inspiring
them to heights of poetry.

To the Memory of My Beloved Master William Shakespeare, and What He Hath Left Us -- Ben Jonson

Another guest poem submitted by Mac Robb:
(Poem #1494) To the Memory of My Beloved Master William Shakespeare, and What He Hath Left Us
 To draw no envy, SHAKESPEARE, on thy name,
 Am I thus ample to thy book and fame;
 While I confess thy writings to be such,
 As neither Man nor Muse can praise too much.
 'Tis true, and all men's suffrage. But these ways
 Were not the paths I meant unto thy praise;
 For seeliest ignorance on these may light,
 Which, when it sounds at best, but echoes right;
 Or blind affection, which doth ne'er advance
 The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance;
 Or crafty malice might pretend this praise,
 And think to ruin where it seemed to raise.
 These are, as some infamous bawd or whore
 Should praise a matron; what could hurt her more ?
 But thou art proof against them, and, indeed,
 Above the ill fortune of them, or the need.
 I therefore will begin: Soul of the age!
 The applause! delight! the wonder of our stage!
 My SHAKESPEARE rise! I will not lodge thee by
 Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lie
 A little further, to make thee a room:
 Thou art a monument without a tomb,
 And art alive still while thy book doth live
 And we have wits to read, and praise to give.
 That I not mix thee so my brain excuses,
 I mean with great, but disproportioned Muses:
 For if I thought my judgment were of years,
 I should commit thee surely with thy peers,
 And tell how far thou didst our Lyly outshine,
 Or sporting Kyd, or Marlowe's mighty line.
 And though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek,
 From thence to honour thee, I would not seek
 For names: but call forth thund'ring Aeschylus,
 Euripides, and Sophocles to us,
 Pacuvius, Accius, him of Cordova dead,
 To life again, to hear thy buskin tread
 And shake a stage: or when thy socks were on,
 Leave thee alone for the comparison
 Of all that insolent Greece or haughty Rome
 Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come.
 Triumph, my Britain, thou hast one to show
 To whom all Scenes of Europe homage owe.
 He was not of an age, but for all time!
 And all the Muses still were in their prime,
 When, like Apollo, he came forth to warm
 Our ears, or like a Mercury to charm!
 Nature herself was proud of his designs,
 And joyed to wear the dressing of his lines!
 Which were so richly spun, and woven so fit,
 As, since, she will vouchsafe no other wit.
 The merry Greek, tart Aristophanes,
 Neat Terence, witty Plautus, now not please;
 But antiquated and deserted lie,
 As they were not of Nature's family.
 Yet must I not give Nature all; thy art,
 My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part.
 For though the poet's matter nature be,
 His art doth give the fashion: and, that he
 Who casts to write a living line, must sweat,
 (Such as thine are) and strike the second heat
 Upon the Muses' anvil; turn the same,
 And himself with it, that he thinks to frame;
 Or for the laurel he may gain a scorn;
 For a good poet's made, as well as born.
 And such wert thou! Look how the father's face
 Lives in his issue, even so the race
 Of Shakespeare's mind and manners brightly shines
 In his well torned and true filed lines;
 In each of which he seems to shake a lance,
 As brandisht at the eyes of ignorance.
 Sweet Swan of Avon! what a sight it were
 To see thee in our waters yet appear,
 And make those flights upon the banks of Thames,
 That so did take Eliza, and our James!
 But stay, I see thee in the hemisphere
 Advanced, and made a constellation there!
 Shine forth, thou Star of Poets, and with rage
 Or influence, chide or cheer the drooping stage,
 Which, since thy flight from hence, hath mourned like night,
 And despairs day, but for thy volume's light.
-- Ben Jonson
I appear to have ignited a conflagration of swansongs.

One more famous Elizabethan swan: the "Swan of Avon," a sobriquet for
Shakespeare which originates with Ben Jonson (1572-1637) in this poem.
It is rather more lengthy than the usual Minstrels poem-a-day fare but
it repays a bit of attention.

It is the epigraph to the first folio edition of Shakespeare's works,
1623. Jonson was the mentor of the poets who styled themselves the "sons
of Ben" and whom we know as the Cavalier poets. He was appointed Poet
Laureate by James I; the position involved considerable prestige and
brought a substantial honorarium - a significant departure from
Shakespeare's anonymous commercial preoccupations. His celebration of
Shakespeare's genius had much to do with the Swan's posthumous
veneration and survival through the ensuing Cromwellian Commonwealth
when the theatre was suppressed. Grim Puritans in England and America
continued to regard Shakespeare and the English Bible as their
literature and we probably should thank Ben Jonson for Shakespeare's
survival in the canon through those trying times for the frivolous arts.

Erinna -- Antipater of Sidon

Guest poem submitted by Mark Hamilton:
(Poem #1493) Erinna
 Though short her strain nor sung with mighty boast;
   Yet there the power of song had dwelling-room;
 So lives her name for ever, nor lies lost
   Beneath the shadow of the wings of gloom,
 While bards of after days in countless host,
   Slumber and fade forgotten in the tomb.
 Better the swan's brief note than thousand cries
 Of rooks in springtime blown about the skies.
-- Antipater of Sidon
        trans. A. J. Butler

I liked today's poem ["The Silver Swan", by Orlando Gibbons - ed.].
Having sung several of Gibbons' songs in choir in the past few years, it
was interesting to see him from another perspective.  The poem,
especially the last line, reminded me of this poem, which I read a
little while ago.

I think it's "Erinna," by Antipater of Sidon, translated by A. J.
Butler.  I copied it down out of an anthology in a B&B once -- I think
it [the anthology] was called "Man Answers Death".  As far as I can tell
from a little Internet research, Erinna and Antipater of Sidon were
ancient Greek poets.  Antipater of Sidon seems to have written a lot of
epigrams.  (I'm sure someone else knows much more about this than I do.)

I found another translation of the poem on-line:

 Brief is Erinna's song, her lowly lay,
   Yet there the Muses sing;
 Therefore her memory doth not pass away,
   Hid by Night's shadowy wing!
 But we,--new countless poets,--heaped and hurled
   All in oblivion lie;
 Better the swan's chant than a windy world
   Of rooks in the April sky!

        -- Antipater of Sidon
        trans. Andrew Lang

I prefer the first translation, despite the slightly heavy language.  In
particular I like the last two lines -- to me they speak to the quest to
do something extraordinary, which has always been a driving force in my

Mark Hamilton.

[thomas adds]

Here's yet another translation:

 Few are Erinna's lays, nor wordy are her songs,
 But this her little work unto the Muse belongs.
 Thus in remembrance she is held, no hidden thing,
 That the black night conceals beneath its shadowy wing.

 But we, the countless bards, O stranger, of today--
 Our heaped-up myriads in oblivion pass away.
 The low croon of the swan is better than in crowds
 The jackdaws cawing far and wide through spring-time's clouds.

        -- Antipater of Sidon
        translator unknown
        from "Birds and Beasts of the Greek Anthology"
        by Norman Douglas.

Antipater of Sidon is famous as the first person to list the Seven
Wonders of the World; in chronological order, they are:

1. The Great Pyramid of Giza
2. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
3. The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
4. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
5. The Tomb of Maussollos at Halicarnassus
6. The Colossus of Rhodes
7. The Lighthouse of Alexandria

No Swan So Fine -- Marianne Moore

Guest poem submitted by Michelle Whitehead:
(Poem #1492) No Swan So Fine
 "No water so still as the
    dead fountains of Versailles." No swan,
 with swart blind look askance
 and gondoliering legs, so fine
    as the chintz china one with fawn-
 brown eyes and toothed gold
 collar on to show whose bird it was.

 Lodged in the Louis Fifteenth
    candelabrum-tree of cockscomb-
 tinted buttons, dahlias,
 sea urchins, and everlastings,
    it perches on the branching foam
 of polished sculptured
 flowers - at ease and tall. The king is dead.
-- Marianne Moore
The poem sent in by Mac Robb reminded me of my favourite swan-song poem.
I checked the archives, and it's not there. I wonder if I will be the
only one to suggest it!!!

"No Swan So Fine" opens with a quote from an article by Percy Phillip on
the restoration of Versailles. As is typical of Moore's work, she adapts
her found quotes to suit her theme - here, that of nature versus
artifice. The quote suggests that no water can be as still as a dry,
man-made fountain. It also suggests an image of a palace of sparkling
bright light, now still and silent. The poem then goes on to describe a
living swan, at once haughty and ridiculous - so fine when skimming
across the water, but losing its elegance when seen from underneath.
Despite this it has a vitality and life force not present in the china
swan to which it is compared.

I believe the word 'chintz' which describes the china swan was
originally a Hindi/Sanskrit  word meaning multi-coloured, or bright. By
late Victorian times it was associated with inexpensive 'tawdry'
furnishing fabrics. The 'toothed gold collar' reminds me of that worn by
the hind in Wyatt's "Whoso List to Hunt" which read 'Touch me not, for
Caesar's I am.' In contrast to the living swan's independence, the china
swan is an owned object with no existence of its own - and yet it is
presented as superior. Its frozen painted perfection eclipses the memory
of the natural bird. No wonder the real swan looks askance!

The beginning of the second stanza begins with a description of a
candelabrum owned by the late Lord Balfour, copied by Moore from a 1930s
Christie's sale announcement. She describes the overblown ornamentation
of the object, ending with the china swan perched 'at ease and tall', in
its polished environment. The china swan is beautiful, and has outlasted
generations of real swans, as well as the brilliance of the Versailles'
court where it was made - and yet it is as still as the fountains,
lacking the vitality of the living swan. Its fragile perfection is
contrasted with the living swan's robust self-sufficiency. In both
cases, the implicit focus is on the response of the human observer,
rather than the actual swans. The living swan is sublimely indifferent
to being watched, where the china swan 'lives' only in being admired.

The china swan, the work of art, has replaced the real swan - 'the king'
- and an era that is gone. It remains to provide a sense of timelessness
- perched on the everlastings, it has an existence beyond the
limitations of days and years. It retains the beauty of the living swan,
and is a reminder of the brilliance of the historical court. The living
swan, however, although it cannot approach the artistic perfection of
the china copy, has vital qualities which no artifice can duplicate. It
is part of moving time that passes and becomes history. It, too, conveys
a sense of timelessness - just as every generation of swans contains
unique, unrepeatable individuals, so each human era is unique - the past
gives way to the present and the present to the future. Versailles may
be gone, but it is still inspiring new art forms.

This poem was written for the 20th anniversary edition of Poetry
Magazine. It was rumoured at the time that the magazine would close that
year, suggesting that this may be a swan song for the magazine -
celebrating the brilliance of its era - but also suggesting that the old
must give way to the new.

Michelle Whitehead
(previously Chapman - I was married in March).

Some sites with bibliographies, biographies  & essays on Marianne Moore:
[broken link]

[Minstrels Links]

Poem #21, Sailing to Byzantium  -- William Butler Yeats
Poem #957, Whoso list to hunt -- Thomas Wyatt

The Silver Swan -- Orlando Gibbons

Guest poem submitted by Mac Robb:
(Poem #1491) The Silver Swan
 The silver swan, who living had no note,
 When death approach'd, unlock'd her silent throat;
 Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
 Thus sung her first and last, and sung no more.
 Farewell, all joys; O Death, come close mine eyes;
 More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.
-- Orlando Gibbons
I searched the archives and noticed that Orlando Gibbons's "The Silver
Swan" hasn't yet appeared.

First published in The first Set of Madrigals and Motets of 5. Parts,
1612, "The Silver Swan" -- whence the cliché "swan song;" and so pithy
it could be a graffito -- is often credited to "Anonymous," but the
Norton Anthology considers that Gibbons (1583-1625) wrote the words as
well as the music. He was one of the last of the madrigalists and may
have been "mourning the demise of his art," as Norton has it. But beyond
being the leading composer of his generation he was also a pioneer of
one of the greatest periods of chamber and sacred choral music under
James I and Charles I, in which English composers continued to be
pre-eminent in Europe. Perhaps Gibbons wasn't talking about madrigals in
particular so much as the Renaissance musical tradition which flourished
under Elizabeth I, more broadly the Elizabethan efflorescence of the
arts and letters in general, and more broadly still, the religious and
political stability that Elizabeth maintained and the Stuarts
squandered. By 1612 Shakespeare and his contemporaries were gone or soon
to be so; the King James Bible had just been published in a vain attempt
to resolve the religious tensions among people of various reforming and
conserving tendencies; and Henry IV of France's quip that James was the
wisest fool in Christendom had already become famous.

Mac Robb
Brisbane, Australia

Souls And Rain-Drops -- Sidney Lanier

Guest poem submitted by Hita Adwanikar:
(Poem #1490) Souls And Rain-Drops
 Light rain-drops fall and wrinkle the sea,
 Then vanish, and die utterly.
 One would not know that rain-drops fell
 If the round sea-wrinkles did not tell.

 So souls come down and wrinkle life
 And vanish in the flesh-sea strife.
 One might not know that souls had place
 Were't not for the wrinkles in life's face.
-- Sidney Lanier
The transience of life is a great theme -- and I would like to suggest
my favourite poem about it. 'Sea-wrinkles' have now found a place in my

Sidney Lanier was born at Macon, Ga., on the third of February, 1842.
His earliest passion was for music. As a child he learned to play,
almost without instruction, on every kind of instrument he could find. A
precocious musical talent, Lanier was drawn to philosophy and Romantic
poetry, but he postponed his intentions for further study to volunteer
for Confederate Civil War duty. In the years that followed, Lanier
worked in Georgia, Alabama and Texas as a tutor, teacher, and law clerk
while writing poetry and Tiger-Lillies, his novel of the war. Towards
the end of his life, Lanier suffered from a crippling case of
tuberculosis that eventually killed him at the age of 39.