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His Coy Mistress to Mr. Marvell -- A D Hope

Guest poem sent in by William Grey
(Poem #1567) His Coy Mistress to Mr. Marvell
 Since you have world enough and time
 Sir, to admonish me in rhyme,
 Pray Mr Marvell, can it be
 You think to have persuaded me?
 Then let me say: you want the art
 To woo, much less to win my heart.
 The verse was splendid, all admit,
 And, sir, you have a pretty wit.
 All that indeed your poem lacked
 Was logic, modesty, and tact,
 Slight faults and ones to which I own,
 Your sex is generally prone;
 But though you lose your labour, I
 Shall not refuse you a reply:

 First, for the language you employ:
 A term I deprecate is "coy";
 The ill-bred miss, the bird-brained Jill,
 May simper and be coy at will;
 A lady, sir, as you will find,
 Keeps counsel, or she speaks her mind,
 Means what she says and scorns to fence
 And palter with feigned innocence.

 The ambiguous "mistress" next you set
 Beside this graceless epithet.
 "Coy mistress", sir? Who gave you leave
 To wear my heart upon your sleeve?
 Or to imply, as sure you do,
 I had no other choice than you
 And must remain upon the shelf
 Unless I should bestir myself?
 Shall I be moved to love you, pray,
 By hints that I must soon decay?
 No woman's won by being told
 How quickly she is growing old;
 Nor will such ploys, when all is said,
 Serve to stampede us into bed.

 When from pure blackmail, next you move
 To bribe or lure me into love,
 No less inept, my rhyming friend,
 Snared by the means, you miss your end.
 "Times winged chariot", and the rest
 As poetry may pass the test;
 Readers will quote those lines, I trust,
 Till you and I and they are dust;
 But I, your destined prey, must look
 Less at the bait than at the hook,
 Nor, when I do, can fail to see
 Just what it is you offer me:
 Love on the run, a rough embrace
 Snatched in the fury of the chase,
 The grave before us and the wheels
 Of Time's grim chariot at our heels,
 While we, like "am'rous birds of prey",
 Tear at each other by the way.

 To say the least, the scene you paint
 Is, what you call my honour, quaint!
 And on this point what prompted you
 So crudely, and in public too,
 To canvass and , indeed, make free
 With my entire anatomy?
 Poets have licence, I confess,
 To speak of ladies in undress;
 Thighs, hearts, brows, breasts are well enough,
 In verses this is common stuff;
 But -- well I ask: to draw attention
 To worms in -- what I blush to mention,
 And prate of dust upon it too!
 Sir, was this any way to woo?

 Now therefore, while male self-regard
 Sits on your cheek, my hopeful bard,
 May I suggest, before we part,
 The best way to a woman's heart
 Is to be modest, candid, true;
 Tell her you love and show you do;
 Neither cajole nor condescend
 And base the lover on the friend;
 Don't bustle her or fuss or snatch:
 A suitor looking at his watch
 Is not a posture that persuades
 Willing, much less reluctant maids.

 Remember that she will be stirred
 More by the spirit than the word;
 For truth and tenderness do more
 Than coruscating metaphor.
 Had you addressed me in such terms
 And prattled less of graves and worms,
 I might, who knows, have warmed to you;
 But, as things stand, must bid adieu
 (Though I am grateful for the rhyme)
 And wish you better luck next time.
-- A D Hope

An effective rejoinder to a great poem requires a poet of greatness, and one
who appreciates and respects the genius under attack. No poet was able to do
this more effectively than Australian poet A.D. Hope (1907-2000). In his
introduction to this rejoinder Hope commented:

  This most famous of all Marvell's poems is deservedly so. Yet it is a
  brilliant tour de force in which the poet's imaginative language triumphs
  over the fact that his arguments to the lady are a set of worn-out clichés,
  which were never very persuasive even when they were new -- but the lady can
  best speak for herself.

Marvell's most famous poem was an early contribution to Wondering Minstrels
(Poem #158). 'His Coy Mistress to Mr Marvell' was published in Hope's Book of
Answers (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1978), which includes a number of gems --
though none more brilliant than this Marvell parody. (It includes a fine parody
of Gerard Manley "Hop-skip-jump-kins" -- which I may submit at some future
time.) The power of Hope's language, and the range of genres which he
commanded, were immense. He is a poet of considerable stature not just within
Australia, but globally.


Untitled -- Vikram Seth

Guest poem sent in by Vikas Kedia
(Poem #1566) Untitled
 Dark night, and silent, calm, and lovely,
 That stills the efforts of our lives,
 Rare, excellent-kind, and behovely
 No matter how the poet strives
 To weave with epithets and clauses
 Your soundless web, he falters, pauses,
 And your enchantment slips between
 His hands, as if it's never been.
 Of all times most inbued with beauty,
 You lend us by your spell relief
 From ineradicable grief
 (If for a spell), and pain, and duty.
 We sleep, and nightly are made whole
 In all our fretted mind and soul.
-- Vikram Seth
        (from "The Golden Gate")

I had never thought I would be able to appreciate a novel written completely in
verse. But after having read a couple of poems by Seth on Minstrels, I decided
to take up the challenge. And now in last couple of days I have spent
innumerable precious hours (precious because I am in middle of end terms)
devouring it.

Unputdownable has become a cliched word in recent times due to unjudicious use
on the cover of paperback fictions, yet it seems as if the word was meant for
this book. I have found it to be a surprisingly light read, very contemporary
(even though written in the 80's) and at places even profound as this sonnet
illustrates. Being an aspiring computer scientist and student of logic,
I revel in paradoxes. Therefore the paradox in this verse, of a poet trying to
express the enchantment of the night by admitting his inadequacy to do so,
appeals to me in more than poetic sense.

Loneliness seems to be a recurring theme in the writings of Seth, if I can make
that judgement from the poems I have read on Minstrels and this book. But this
book is written in a lighter and humorous vein as compared to poems like "All
You who Sleep Tonight". Word play, alliteration, puns abound. Couple of gems
I have so far come across are "Monday's mundane", "Cultural and haughty and
hortycultural". This book has turned out to be an excellent introduction to the
art of verse for a novice like me.


Maintrunk Country Roadsong -- Sam Hunt

Guest poem sent in by Benjamin Withy
(Poem #1565) Maintrunk Country Roadsong
 Driving south and travelling
 not much over fifty,
 I hit a possum ... 'Little
 man,' I muttered chopping
 down to second gear,
 'I never meant you any harm.'

 My friend with me, he himself
 a man who loves such nights,
 bright headlight nights, said
 'Possums? just a bloody pest,
 they're better dead!'
 He's right of course.

 So settling back, foot down hard,
 Ohakune, Tangiwai -
 as often blinded by
 the single headlight of
 a passing goods train as by
 any passing car -

 Let the Midnight Special shine
 its ever-loving light on me:
 they run a prison farm
 somewhere round these parts;
 men always on the run.
 These men know such searchlight nights:

 those wide shining
 eyes of that young possum
 full-beam back on mine,
 watching me run over him ...
 'Little man,
 I never meant you any harm.'
-- Sam Hunt
Note: The lines "Let the Midnight Special shine/its ever-loving light on me:"
are in italics.

Sam Hunt is a New Zealand poet and raconteur, and in this poem he captures the
essence of driving down the middle of the country at night, the road running
parallel to the railroad.

The imagery of the moon, the headlights, searchlights and the possums eyes ties
together the narrative. When he recites his poetry he uses a style that tends
to lurch from word to word, the pauses not where you'd have thought, but it
suits the words he writes. His poems convey something of the country, fresh,
new, and still rough around the edges.



Biography and Assessment

Acquainted with the Night -- Robert Frost

Guest poem submitted by Srihari Sukumaran:
(Poem #1564) Acquainted with the Night
 I have been one acquainted with the night.
 I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain.
 I have outwalked the furthest city light.

 I have looked down the saddest city lane.
 I have passed by the watchman on his beat
 And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

 I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
 When far away an interrupted cry
 Came over houses from another street,

 But not to call me back or say good-bye;
 And further still at an unearthly height,
 O luminary clock against the sky

 Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
 I have been one acquainted with the night.
-- Robert Frost
When I saw the list of Robert Frost's poems in Minstrels with yesterday's
poem (Poem # 1552 -- now more than a day old -- ed.) I realised that one of
my favourite Frost poems is not on Minstrels. Hence this contribution.

The first thing I liked about this poem when I read it (as is the case with
most of Frost's poems) is its rhythm and sound. There is a very regular
'beat' about it. The rhyme scheme is 'aba bcb cdc dad aa' (which Google
tells me is the terza rima).

Unusually for a Frost poem, this one is set in a city, which probably makes
it not very surprising that the theme is loneliness and homelessness. A
sense of loneliness permeates the entire poem -- especially the second,
third and fourth verses. Even time seems indifferent to the speaker -- the
"luminary clock against the sky [the moon?] / Proclaimed the time was
neither wrong nor right".

The poem begins and ends with "I have been one acquainted...". At the first
occurrence there is, I think, a feeling of 'energy' or 'endeavour' -
something positive conveyed in the second and third lines. But the end of
the poem the overwhelming feeling one gets is that of loneliness and even


Ps. I hope the above makes sense; I haven't written some thing like this in
over 10 years.

Visits to St. Elizabeth's -- Elizabeth Bishop

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1563) Visits to St. Elizabeth's
 This is the house of Bedlam.

 This is the man
 that lies in the house of Bedlam.

 The is the time
 of the tragic man
 that lies in the house of Bedlam.

 This is a wristwatch
 telling the time
 of the talkative man
 that lies in the house of Bedlam.

 This is a sailor
 wearing the watch
 that tells the time
 of the honored man
 that lies in the house of Bedlam.

 This is the roadstead all of board
 reached by the sailor
 wearing the watch
 that tells the time
 of the old, brave man
 that lies in the house of Bedlam.

 These are the years and the walls of the ward,
 the winds and clouds of the sea of board
 sailed by the sailor
 wearing the watch
 that tells the time
 of the cranky man
 that lies in the house of Bedlam.

 This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
 that dances weeping down the ward
 over the creaking sea of board
 beyond the sailor
 winding his watch
 that tells the time
 of the cruel man
 that lies in the house of Bedlam.

 This is a world of books gone flat.
 This is a Jew in a newsapaper hat
 that dances weeping down the ward
 over the creaking sea of board
 of the batty sailor
 that winds his watch
 that tells the time
 of the busy man
 that lies in the house of Bedlam.

 This is a boy that pats the floor
 to see if the world is there, is flat,
 for the widowed Jew in the newspaper hat
 that dances weeping down the ward
 waltzing the length of a weaving board
 by the silent sailor
 that hears his watch
 that ticks the time
 of the tedious man
 that lies in the house of Bedlam.

 These are the years and the walls and the door
 that shut on a boy that pats the floor
 to feel if the world is there and flat.
 This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
 that dances joyfully down the ward
 into the parting seas of board
 past the starting sailor
 that shakes his watch
 that tells the time
 of the poet, the man
 that lies in the house of Bedlam.

 This is the soldier home from the war.
 These are the years and the walls and the door
 that shut on a boy that pats the floor
 to see if the world is round of flat.
 This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
 that dances carefully down the ward,
 walking the plank of a coffin board
 with the crazy sailor
 that shows his watch
 that tells the time
 of the wretched man
 that lies in the house of Bedlam.
-- Elizabeth Bishop

I've never been a big fan of Bishop. She has an incredible eye for images
(describing a baby rabbit fleeing a fire as 'a handful of intangible ash /
with fixed, ignited eyes' -- "The Armadillo") and an almost unmatched
ability to sketch a scene or a sensation so that it's visible / tangible
(consider 'We stand as still as stones to watch / the leaves and ripples /
while light and nervous water hold / their interview' -- "Quai D'Orleans" or
'Hear nothing but a train that goes by, must go by, like tension' -- "Four
Poems") but for me her poems often fail to come together into a coherent
whole. They remain beautiful yet insubstantial, like a loose nosegay of
impressions that withers easily and is forgotten.

The only exceptions to this are poems where Bishop starts off with a conceit
or a clever idea (see for instance, the incredible Gentleman of Shallott or
The Man Moth, which features on Minstrels as Poem #1395). Here Bishop is at
her best - combining an easy playfulness with touches of exquisite yearning
to create poems that are so solipsistic you don't know how seriously to take
them. "Visits to St. Elizabeth's" is an excellent example of this - a poem
of ceaseless and inspired variation that combines some truly heartbreaking
images ('This is a boy that pats the floor / to see if the world is there,
is flat') with a structure that comes out of a children's rhyme. What makes
this poem stunning is the the deftness with which Bishop pulls off that
structure (just try running This is the house that Jack built upto twelve
lines and see how quickly it becomes tedious) making each new stanza more
exhilarating than the last. Minor variations in the lines from stanza to
stanza create the illusion of revelation - each repetition promises more
clues to the poems true meaning, but it is a meaning never quite grasped.
The overall effect is that of an exquisite piece of baroque music - some
Bach variation - that tempts and teases and leaves you gasping for more
while at the same time convinced that there's something you've missed.


The Young Fools -- Paul Verlaine

Guest poem submitted by Aditi Balasubramaniam:
(Poem #1562) The Young Fools
 High-heels struggling with a full-length dress
 So that, between the wind and the terrain,
 At times a glimmering ankle would be seen,
 And gone too soon. We liked that foolishness.

 Sometimes a jealous insect's sting
 Bothered the necks of beauties beneath the branches.
 White napes revealed in sudden flashes
 Were a feast for young eyes wild gazing.

 Evening fell, ambiguous autumn evening,
 The women who hung dreaming on our arms
 Whispered, in low voices, words that had such charms
 That our souls were left quivering and singing.
-- Paul Verlaine
        Translated by A.S. Kline

Paul Verlaine was one of the Parnassian poets of 19th century France and was
known, among other things, for the very Bohemian life he led. I love the way
this poem reflects that. I have included the original poem:

 "Les Ingénus"

 Les hauts talons luttaient avec les longues jupes,
 En sorte que, selon le terrain et le vent,
 Parfois luisaient des bas de jambes, trop souvent
 Interceptés ! - et nous aimions ce jeu de dupes.

 Parfois aussi le dard d'un insecte jaloux
 Inquiétait le col des belles sous les branches,
 Et c'étaient des éclairs soudains de nuques blanches,
 Et ce régal comblait nos jeunes yeux de fous.

 Le soir tombait, un soir équivoque d'automne :
 Les belles, se pendant rêveuses à nos bras,
 Dirent alors des mots si spécieux, tout bas,
 Que notre âme, depuis ce temps, tremble et s'étonne.

        -- Paul Verlaine

More on Verlaine is to be found at


People -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Guest poem submitted by Rama Rao:
(Poem #1561) People
 No people are uninteresting.
 Their fate is like the chronicle of planets.

 Nothing in them is not particular,
 and planet is dissimilar from planet.

 And if a man lived in obscurity
 making his friends in that obscurity
 obscurity is not uninteresting.

 To each his world is private,
 and in that world one excellent minute.

 And in that world one tragic minute.
 These are private.

 In any man who dies there dies with him
 his first snow and kiss and fight.
 It goes with him.

 There are left books and bridges
 and painted canvas and machinery.
 Whose fate is to survive.

 But what has gone is also not nothing:
 by the rule of the game something has gone.
 Not people die but worlds die in them.
-- Yevgeny Yevtushenko
In this world of heroic biographies there are relatively few homages to the
"average" man. After Thomas Gray's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard", the only
other one I have come across is this fine poem by Yevtushenko. The last line
sums it up: "worlds die in them ."  Yevtushenko is already in the Minstrels'
collection. His "Courage" is another of my favourites.

Rama Rao.

Elegy to a Calf (Lamento pastorello) -- Sarah Binks

Guest poem submitted by Mac Robb:
(Poem #1560) Elegy to a Calf (Lamento pastorello)
 Oh calf, that gambolled by my door
 Who made me rich who now am poor,
 That licked my hand with milk bespread,
 Oh calf, calf, art dead, art dead?

 Oh calf, I sit and languish, calf,
 With somber face, I cannot laugh,
 Can I forget thy playful bunts?
 Oh calf, calf, that loved me once?

 With mildewed optics, deathlike, still,
 My nights are damp, my days are chill,
 I weep again with doleful sniff,
 Oh calf, calf, so dead, so stiff.
-- Sarah Binks
        (actually Paul Hiebert, 1892-1987)

I see that Minstrels is back up and running again after a long hiatus so the
long-noted deficiency, viz., the lack of Sarah Binks, the Sweet Songstress
of Saskatchewan, I now remedy. Indeed, the Minstrels have lately featured
Joni Mitchell, née Joan Anderson of Saskatoon (and indeed my local Borders
here in Brisbane, Australia, is touting a CD by kd lang titled "Hymns of the
49th" -- ie parallel), so prairie poesy is perhaps again waxing great in the
counsels of the just.

The late Paul Hiebert, a professor of chemistry at the University of
Manitoba, was a staunch Mennonite and his published writings include a
certain number of devotional Christian tracts which, in latter-day devoutly
secular Canada haven't reach a very wide audience. His gentle teasing in
"Sarah Binks" (1947) of the Great Plains inclination to literary effusion,
on the other hand, was well known and vastly appreciated west of the Great
Lakes; and when Peter Gzowski began a series of conversations with Professor
Hiebert on national radio the Wheat Pool Medal, the maritime imagery of
Wascana Lake and the disputatious footnotes regarding "Miss Iguana
Binks-Barkingwell of St. Olaf's-Down-the-Drain, Hants, Hurts, Harts,
England, who claims to be a distant kinswoman of Sarah Binks" came to
national prominence in Canada.

Prairie folk have a not wholly undeserved reputation for being somewhat
po-faced and humourless: when I taught undergraduate English at the
University of Regina I quickly learned not to make facetious remarks about
people from small prairie towns to school teachers upgrading their
qualifications at summer school -- not till I had established my bona fides
as a prairie farmer myself. But (as my international literary friends
observe) they do write prodigiously -- it must be the long, cold winters --
and among a huge quantity of tares there is, be it said, a substantial
amount of wheat.

Mac Robb
Brisbane, Australia


Bad poems on the Minstrels:
Poem #343, The Tay Bridge Disaster  -- William McGonagall
Poem #399, The Indian Serenade  -- Percy Bysshe Shelley
Poem #948, Grand Rapids Cricket Club -- Julia A. Moore

and elsewhere:

Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night -- Walt Whitman

Guest poem submitted by Mark Penney :
(Poem #1559) Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night
 Vigil strange I kept on the field one night;
 When you my son and my comrade dropt at my side that day,
 One look I but gave which your dear eyes return'd with a
        look I shall never forget,
 One touch of your hand to mine O boy, reach'd up as you
        lay on the ground,
 Then onward I sped in the battle, the even-contested
 Till late in the night reliev'd to the place at last
        again I made my way,
 Found you in death so cold dear comrade, found your body
        son of responding kisses, (never again on earth
 Bared your face in the starlight, curious the scene, cool
        blew the moderate night-wind,
 Long there and then in vigil I stood, dimly around me
        the battle-field spreading,
 Vigil wondrous and vigil sweet there in the fragrant
        silent night,
 But not a tear fell, not even a long-drawn sigh, long,
        long I gazed,
 Then on the earth partially reclining sat by your side
        leaning my chin in my hands,
 Passing sweet hours, immortal and mystic hours with you
        dearest comrade -- not a tear, not a word,
 Vigil of silence, love and death, vigil for you my son
        and my soldier,
 As onward silently stars aloft, eastward new ones upward
 Vigil final for you brave boy, (I could not save you,
        swift was your death,
 I faithfully loved you and cared for you living, I think
        we shall surely meet again,)
 Till at latest lingering of the night, indeed just as the
        dawn appear'd,
 My comrade I wrapt in his blanket, envelop'd well his
 Folded the blanket well, tucking it carefully over head
        and carefully under feet,
 And there and then and bathed by the rising sun, my son
        in his grave, in his rude-dug grave I deposited,
 Ending my vigil strange with that, vigil of night and
        battle-field dim,
 Vigil for boy of responding kisses, (never again on earth
 Vigil for comrade swiftly slain, vigil I never forget,
        how as day brighten'd,
 I rose from the chill ground and folded my soldier well
        in his blanket,
 And buried him where he fell.
-- Walt Whitman
      This is one of Whitman's tremendous Civil War poems, which were
collected at the time as Drum Taps.  Drum Taps, like virtually all of
Whitman's poetry, eventually was absorbed into the amorphous blob that is
Leaves of Grass, in this case the fourth edition.  One of many remarkable
things about these poems is that they aren't preachy; that is, they don't
overtly take a stand on war in general or the Civil War in particular, they
merely describe.  Whitman's views on the war are left for you to infer.
(Compare this to Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon.)  The whole of Drum Taps
is much more than the sum of its parts, as all this description has an
undeniably powerful cumulative effect.  But "Vigil Strange," one of the
best, can easily stand on its own as a representative of the rest.

      As with all of Whitman's good poems, free verse does not mean
structureless verse.  "Vigil Strange" begins and ends with a short line,
bookending the description in between.  The lines that begin with "vigil"
and an inversion ("Vigil strange," "Vigil wondrous" and "Vigil final") in
effect divide this poem into three sections -- in plot terms, roughly that's
the battle, the vigil, and the burial.

      The speaker of the poem, by the way, is obviously not Whitman, who was
a non-combatant during the war. (He was a nurse; his non-fictional war
memoirs comprise the interesting part of his prose work Specimen Days.)

      The relationship between the speaker and the dead soldier is
complicated and ambiguous (another Whitman signature).  It's not altogether
clear that they are, biologically speaking, father and son, for there are
too many other choices, in particular suggested by the undeniable hints of
eroticism.  At the very least, we can say that the boy (for obviously he was
quite young) represented many things to the speaker, who chooses a variety
of words to describe the relationship-"my son," "my comrade," and most
interestingly, "my soldier," as if the boy was the speaker's protector.
Mirroring this, the speaker's reaction to the death goes through phases:
near indifference in the face of the "even-contested battle," followed by
the deepest sorrow of the all-night vigil, finally followed by stoic
acceptance:  the burial is of "my soldier," not "my son."  At the final
analysis, the altogether personal reaction to a death just retreats into the
fabric of the war, the "battle-field spreading," and at daybreak the speaker
must reluctantly bury his comrade/son/soldier where he fell, and become once
again a soldier himself.

      Interesting how the night fits into things: The imagery of night and
stars is intertwined with the speaker's grieving: the dead boy's face is
first seen "in the starlight," as "cool blew the moderate night-wind."  Time
during the vigil is marked only by the revolution of the stars in the
firmament.  By contrast, "bathed by the rising sun," the speaker abandons
grieving and turns to the practical matter of burial.  It is only at night,
when not fighting, that the speaker can allow himself the luxury of human
emotions; during the day he is a soldier who cannot grieve.

      I've read this poem probably twenty times, and it never fails to
affect me.

Mark Penney.

Afternoons -- Philip Larkin

Guest poem submitted by Anita:
(Poem #1558) Afternoons
 Summer is fading:
 The leaves fall in ones and twos
 From trees bordering
 The new recreation ground.
 In the hollows of afternoons
 Young mothers assemble
 At swing and sandpit
 Setting free their children.

 Behind them, at intervals,
 Stand husbands in skilled trades,
 An estateful of washing,
 And the albums, lettered
 Our Wedding, lying
 Near the television:
 Before them, the wind
 Is ruining their courting-places

 That are still courting-places
 (But the lovers are all in school),
 And their children, so intent on
 Finding more unripe acorns,
 Expect to be taken home.
 Their beauty has thickened.
 Something is pushing them
 To the side of their own lives.
-- Philip Larkin
I came across this poem in the Philip Larkin site [1] and really liked the
images captured so neatly in this poem, especially the last stanza. It is
one of those 'snapshots in time' where the passage of time has been brought
out very vividly. This poem was a part of his widely acclaimed 'The Whitsun
Weddings' collection.

Larkin is a heavily represented poet on Minstrels, so I have nothing further
to add by way of biography.



Now I'm Easy -- Eric Bogle

Guest poem submitted by Frank O'Shea :
(Poem #1557) Now I'm Easy
 For nearly sixty years I've been a cockie*
 Of droughts and fires and floods I've lived through plenty
 This country's dust and mud have seen my tears and blood
 But it's nearly over now and now I'm easy

 I married a fine girl when I was twenty
 She died in giving birth when she was thirty
 No flying doctor then just a gentle old black gen*
 But it's nearly over now and now I'm easy

 She left me with two sons and a daughter
 And a bone dry farm whose soil cried out for water
 Though me care was rough and ready, they grew up fine and steady
 But it's nearly over now and now I'm easy

 Me daughter married young and went her own way
 Me sons lie buried by the Burma railway*
 So on this land I've made me home, I've carried on alone
 But it's nearly over now and now I'm easy

 Oh, city folks these days despise the cockie
 Saying with subsidies and dole we've had it easy
 But there's no drought or starving stock on the sewered suburban block
 But it's nearly over now and now I'm easy

 For nearly sixty years I've been a cockie
 Of droughts and fires and floods I've lived through plenty
 This country's dust and mud have seen my tears and blood
 But it's nearly over now and now I'm easy
 But it's nearly over now and now I'm easy
-- Eric Bogle

I agree with the comments of Aseem Kaul that the words of songs can be
poetry. I dare you read today's poem without a lump in your throat. It was
written by Eric Bogle, who already features in your list for "The Band
Played Waltzing Matilda". He has written some marvellous lyrics - "The Green
Fields of France", "The Leaving of Nancy", "The Diamantina Drover", "Singing
the Spirit Home".


cockie: Australian term for a farmer, usually small farmer. Often used
pejoratively. Abbreviated from cockatoo, for some reason that escapes me.

gen: Aboriginal woman. A term used affectionately, I think.

Burma railway: hundreds of Australian servicemen lost their lives
constructing it as POWs during the War.


Both Sides Now -- Joni Mitchell

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1556) Both Sides Now
 Rows and flows of angel's hair
 And icecream castles in the air
 And feathered canyons everywhere
 I've looked at clouds that way

 But now they only block the sun
 They rain and they snow on everyone
 So many things I would have done
 But clouds got in my way.

 I've looked at clouds from both sides now
 From up and down, but still somehow
 It's cloud illusions I recall
 I really don't know clouds at all.

 Moon and Junes and Ferris wheels
 That dizzy dancing way you feel
 As every fairy tale comes real
 I've looked at love that way.

 But now it's just another show
 You leave them laughing when you go
 And if you care, don't let them know
 Don't give yourself away.

 I've looked at love from both sides now
 From give and take, but still somehow
 It's love's illusions I recall
 I really don't know love at all.

 Tears and fears and feeling proud
 To say "I love you" right out loud
 Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
 I've looked at life that way

 But now old friends are acting strange
 They shake their heads, they say I've changed
 Well something's lost, but something's gained
 In living every day.

 I've looked at life from both sides now
 From win and lose, but still somehow
 It's life's illusions I recall
 I really don't know life at all.
-- Joni Mitchell
Every time someone I know claims that song lyrics aren't really poetry, I
have the urge to sit them down and make them listen to a Joni Mitchell album
to prove to them how wrong they are. Any Joni Mitchell album.

But of all the songs in all her albums this is the one I would pick if I
really had to make a case for it. 'Both sides, now' has everything -- a
superbly executed rhyme pattern (don't miss the internal rhymes in the
first, fourth and seventh stanzas that pick up the tempo of the song so
effectively), a repeating structure that brings out the deeper allegories,
some incredibly vivid phrases (what better description of a cloud bank than
"feathered canyons everywhere"),  a gorgeous refrain (to really know how
gorgeous, listen to the song and feel the breath catch in your throat as the
pause before "at all" stretches forever and ever) and an emotional range
that goes from the almost joking (Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels) to the
achingly lonesome ("if you care, don't let them know").

But most of all, this is a song that even read aloud has a voice all its
own. It's the voice of a generation that grew up too quickly, the voice of
cynicism, the voice of tiredness. But it is also the voice of hope - of the
spirit's struggle to reclaim lost wonder, of an acceptance of one's own
limitations that is both humility and joy. It is at once the voice of our
defeat and the voice of our renewal.

So if you really don't know Joni Mitchell's music at all (except for a few
allusions on Minstrels you might recall) - do yourself a favour and go out
and buy this album* and listen to Both Sides. Now.


*There are actually two albums - there's Clouds (1970) and Both Sides, Now
(2000) - the versions of the song on both are pretty different and make for
an interesting contrast. (and no, the guys at Reprise Records are not paying
me for these blatant plugs!)

On a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes -- Thomas Gray

Guest poem submitted by William Grey:
(Poem #1555) On a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes
  'Twas on a lofty vase's side,
 Where China's gayest art had dyed
   The azure flowers that blow;
 Demurest of the tabby kind,
 The pensive Selima reclined,
   Gazed on the lake below.

  Her conscious tail her joy declared;
 The fair round face, the snowy beard,
   The velvet of her paws,
 Her coat, that with the tortoise vies,
 Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes,
   She saw; and purr'd applause.

  Still had she gazed; but 'midst the tide
 Two angel forms were seen to glide,
   The Genii of the stream:
 Their scaly armour's Tyrian hue
 Thro' richest purple to the view
   Betray'd a golden gleam.

  The hapless Nymph with wonder saw:
 A whisker first and then a claw,
   With many an ardent wish,
 She stretch'd in vain to reach the prize.
 What female heart can gold despise?
  What Cat's averse to fish?

  Presumptuous Maid! with looks intent
 Again she stretch'd, again she bent,
   Nor knew the gulf between.
 (Malignant Fate sat by, and smiled.)
 The slipp'ry verge her feet beguiled,
   She tumbled headlong in.

  Eight times emerging from the flood
 She mew'd to ev'ry wat'ry god,
   Some speedy aid to send.
 No Dolphin came, no Nereid stirr'd:
 Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard.
   A Fav'rite has no friend!

  From hence, ye Beauties, undeceived,
 Know, one false step is ne'er retrieved,
   And be with caution bold.
 Not all that tempts your wand'ring eyes
 And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;
    Nor all that glisters, gold.
-- Thomas Gray

As a recent subscriber to Wondering Minstrels I ask indulgence for
nominating a poem which is justly famous. This poem is a personal favourite
of mine. I marvel at Gray's poetic genius transforming a sad domestic
misadventure into an immortal moral tale. The mock heroic form is pure
delight. The poem is richly steeped in literary allusion, and much detail
can be found at:

A couple of notes: "Genii" are guardian spirits. Cats have nine lives; hence
Selima emerged eight times before succumbing to her wat'ry fate. The dolphin
alludes to the story of the dolphin which saved Arion from drowning. The
allusion in Nereid is possibly to the story of Sabrina in Comus. "Tom" and
"Susan" are generic names of domestic servants.

Look at all those monkeys -- Spike Milligan

(Poem #1554) Look at all those monkeys
 Look at all those monkeys
 Jumping in their cage.
 Why don't they all go out to work
 And earn a decent wage?

     How can you say such silly things,
     And you a son of mine?
     Imagine monkeys travelling on
     The Morden-Edgware line!

 But what about the Pekinese!
 They have an allocation.
 'Don't travel during Peke hour',
 It says on every station.

     My Gosh, you're right, my clever boy,
     I never thought of that!
     And so they left the monkey house,
     While an elephant raised his hat.
-- Spike Milligan
Anyone can produce doggerel, but it's incredibly difficult to write _good_
meaningless verse, the kind that stays in your mind for more than an instant
after your first reading. Spike Milligan manages to do so all the time. His
poems are, if anything, even more whimsical and surreal than those by (say)
Nash or Belloc [1], but there's a bizarre internal logic, a lunatic
consistency, that elevates them to another level entirely.


[1] Though I'll admit they fall well short of anything by Lewis Carroll;
there's just no trumping the Master.

[Minstrels Links]

Poem #1319, Goats and Monkeys -- Derek Walcott
Poem #1483, An Infinite Number of Monkeys -- Ronald Koertge

Poem #1178, Mmenson -- Edward Kamau Braithwaite
Poem #1179, The Blind Men and the Elephant -- John Godfrey Saxe

Poem #124, The Hippopotamus  -- Hilaire Belloc
Poem #844, The Hippopotamus -- Oliver Herford
Poem #845, Recipe for a Hippopotamus Sandwich -- Shel Silverstein
Poem #846, The Hippopotamus -- T. S. Eliot
Poem #847, On the Death of Smet-Smet, the Hippopotamus-Goddess -- Rupert
Poem #848, The Hippopotamus -- Ogden Nash

Other Large Animals:
Poem #120, The Purple Cow  -- Gelett Burgess
Poem #215, The Loch Ness Monster's Song  -- Edwin Morgan
Poem #775, The Maldive Shark -- Herman Melville
Poem #896, The Kraken -- Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Poem #854, Very Like a Whale -- Ogden Nash
Poem #903, Leviathan -- Anon.

More Spike Milligan:
Poem #701, Teeth
Poem #831, The Soldiers at Lauro
Poem #1044, Contagion
Poem #1196, The ABC
Poem #1207, Hamlet

The Puppet -- Charles de Lint

Guest poem submitted by Sarah Rubin :
(Poem #1553) The Puppet
 The puppet thinks:
 It's not so much
 what they make me do
 as their hands inside me.
-- Charles de Lint
This is a beautiful little piece from a Charles De Lint story. I don't have
much to offer in the way of analysis or commentary, as the poem is almost
like a haiku in its clarity. The author provides a beautiful metaphor in the
puppet. Normally a toy, it takes on a sinister undertone here that seems
tied to a vision of humanity. This poem also reminded me greatly of the film
"Being John Malkovich." Basically, I submit it because it sends shivers up
my spine.


My November Guest -- Robert Frost

Guest poem submitted by Deepak Srinivasan :
(Poem #1552) My November Guest
 My Sorrow, when she's here with me,
 Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
 Are beautiful as days can be;
 She loves the bare, the withered tree;
 She walks the sodden pasture lane.

 Her pleasure will not let me stay.
 She talks and I am fain to list:
 She's glad the birds are gone away,
 She's glad her simple worsted gray
 Is silver now with clinging mist.

 The desolate, deserted trees,
 The faded earth, the heavy sky,
 The beauties she so wryly sees,
 She thinks I have no eye for these,
 And vexes me for reason why.

 Not yesterday I learned to know
 The love of bare November days
 Before the coming of the snow,
 But it were vain to tell he so,
 And they are better for her praise.
-- Robert Frost
I chanced to see this poem written on the whiteboard in front of our public
library. It appeals to me for multiple reasons. I think it is possible for
one to slowly or reflectively appreciate certain things through the eyes of
someone else. I guess the very same piece of information can be viewed
differently when expressed in different ways. And the other reason is that
after having lived here in the East for close to 15 years, I have come to
appreciate November in much the same way as the poet does. The starkness and
grey of the evening calm the mind. One is not assaulted with bright summer
heat, or vivid fall colors and forced to drink in the beauty of nature in
huge breathless gulps. And so I guess I also now see the beauty of November,
a month that I used to dread not so long ago. This now adds to the
considerable list of Frost poems already on Minstrels where his body of work
on nature and the seasons is quite extensive.


[Minstrels Links]

Seasons and Weather:
Poem #251, No!  -- Thomas Hood
Poem #648, The January Man -- Dave Goulder
Poem #693, Strugnell's Haiku -- Wendy Cope
Poem #649, A Song of the Weather -- Michael Flanders

Robert Frost:
Poem #51, The Road Not Taken
Poem #155, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Poem #170, The Need of Being Versed in Country Things
Poem #336, A Patch of Old Snow
Poem #681, The Secret Sits
Poem #730, Mending Wall
Poem #779, Fire and Ice
Poem #917, A Considerable Speck
Poem #985, Once by the Pacific
Poem #994, The Gift Outright
Poem #1012, Nothing Gold can Stay
Poem #1036, Range Finding
Poem #1272, Birches
Poem #1276, A Dream Pang
Poem #1284, A Hillside Thaw
Poem #1324, The Telephone
Poem #1373, Acceptance
Poem #1472, In a Disused Graveyard
Poem #1535, The Line-Gang