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Overture to a Dance of Locomotives -- William Carlos Williams

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1636) Overture to a Dance of Locomotives
 Men with picked voices chant the names
 of cities in a huge gallery: promises
 that pull through descending stairways
 to a deep rumbling.

                  The rubbing feet
 of those coming to be carried quicken a
 grey pavement into soft light that rocks
 to and fro, under the domed ceiling,
 across and across from pale
 earthcoloured walls of bare limestone.

 Covertly the hands of a great clock
 go round and round! Were they to
 move quickly and at once the whole
 secret would be out and the shuffling
 of all ants be done forever.

 A leaning pyramid of sunlight, narrowing
 out at a high window, moves by the clock;
 discordant hands straining out from
 a center: inevitable postures infinitely
 repeated -


 Porters in red hats run on narrow platforms.

 This way ma'am!
                - important not to take
 the wrong train!

                Lights from the concrete
 ceiling hang crooked but -
                             Poised horizontal
 on glittering parallels the dingy cylinders
 packed with warm glow - inviting entry -
 pull against the hour. But brakes can
 hold a fixed posture till -
                            The whistle!

 Not twoeight. Not twofour. Two!

 Gliding windows. Coloured cooks sweating
 in a small kitchen. Taillights -
 In time: twofour!
 In time: twoeight!

  - rivers are tunneled: trestles
 cross oozy swampland: wheels repeating
 the same gesture remain relatively
 stationary: rails forever parallel
 return on themselves infinitely.
                          The dance is sure.
-- William Carlos Williams
It takes a very special poet to see and capture the beauty of something as
banal as a railway station. It takes a very special poet to take the sheer
mundaneness of the experience of entering that station and to turn it into
an allegory and a vision of human existence. It takes a very special poet to
convey, with incredible clarity, not only the sight of the terminal, but
also its sounds and its rhythms. It takes a very special poet to combine the
easy realism of "two-twofour-twoeight!" with the analytic precision of
"inevitable postures infinitely repeated". It takes a very special poet to
make something as clunky as an old steam locomotive dance.

It takes William Carlos Williams. What moves me about this poem is the sheer
beauty of it, the extravagence of the conceit and the breathtaking way that
Williams pulls it off. It's amazing how exact Williams' observations are -
to see what I mean just try boarding a train from Grand Central station with
"promises / that pull through deep stairways / to a deep rumbling" running
through your head. And it's fascinating how the poem is truly an overture -
how there's a distinct sense at the end of having been launched into some
great adventure, of a rhythm building to some grand waltz. Just the way you
feel when you're starting a long train journey and the train finally pulls
out of the station and into the countryside.


P.S. Is it just me, or does this poem read like a cubist or Dada-ist
painting - like something Marcel Duchamp would have painted?

In Just- -- e e cummings

Guest poem submitted by Kamalika Chowdhury :
(Poem #1635) In Just-
 in Just-
 spring       when the world is mud-
 luscious the little
 lame balloonman

 whistles       far       and wee

 and eddieandbill come
 running from marbles and
 piracies and it's

 when the world is puddle-wonderful

 the queer
 old balloonman whistles
 far       and       wee
 and bettyandisbel come dancing

 from hop-scotch and jump-rope and



 balloonMan       whistles
-- e e cummings
The Minstrels has a fair representation of Edward Estlin Cummings' work. I
can't add much to what has been variously said about the unique blend of
playful lyric, roller-coaster rhythm and the underlying wondrous melody that
spells Cummings. However, I think this poem deserves a mention, if only for
the world of innocence and sheer magic it effortlessly conjures. It's like
tumbling down the rabbit hole into a "mud-luscious", "puddle-wonderful"

IMHO, this poem showcases some of the artist's most tangible uses of tone
and space. Note the eye-catching momentum of the "goat-footed balloonMan".
Its just as easy to see bubbles stretch in liquid, drawn-out vowels, hear
the fading resonance of the whistle's "wee" and feel the "spring" when
"bettyanddisbel come dancing".

I have always felt that Cummings cannot be read at one go; his poetry always
demands at least a second-look. One reads the poem to absorb its flow, and
then again to spot its cleverly disguised nooks and crevices. In typical
Cummings style, even within the child-like naiveté of "In Just-", there are
shadows - nuances of transience, poignancy, perhaps loss. Interpretations
ranging from lurking evil (à la balloonman) to a permeating sense of regret
have been propounded. But to my perspective, the poem reads as a sort of
far-away, dreamy farewell to carefree just-spring.


[Minstrels Links]

e. e. cummings:
Poem #56, pity this busy monster, manunkind
Poem #139, Buffalo Bill's/ defunct
Poem #214, Where's Madge then,
Poem #311, Untitled
Poem #454, If I have made, my lady, intricate
Poem #492, Poem 42
Poem #619, somewhere i have never travelled
Poem #769, what if a much of a which of a wind
Poem #945, O sweet spontaneous
Poem #1072, next to of course god america I
Poem #1132, if everything happens that can't be done
Poem #1260, anyone lived in a pretty how town
Poem #1536, All in green went my love riding
Poem #1581, Little Tree
Poem #1628, suppose

A Minuet of Mozart's -- Sara Teasdale

(Poem #1634) A Minuet of Mozart's
 Across the dimly lighted room
 The violin drew wefts of sound,
 Airily they wove and wound
 And glimmered gold against the gloom.

 I watched the music turn to light,
 But at the pausing of the bow,
 The web was broken and the glow
 Was drowned within the wave of night.
-- Sara Teasdale
Today's poem, like many of Teasdale's, is both simple and beautiful in its
simplicity. Teasdale says nothing startling, nothing complex, but with a few
well chosen words paints a softly glowing piece that the reader is enriched
for having experienced. Rather than dissect or gild the poem, therefore, I'd
like to use it as a jumping-off point to discuss some of the more universal
metaphors it uses.

A metaphor is a surprisingly powerful thing - surprising, because many of
them have become so deeply entrenched in human language that it is possible
to use one without ever noticing it on the conscious level. This extends to
literature, where the relationship with metaphors is twofold. First, of
course, is the use of metaphor to add depth and colour, to increase concept
density and and draw on a shared worldview - indeed, metaphor is the very
lifeblood of poetry. But in addition - and, again, this is particularly true
of poetry - it often highlights and scrutinises those metaphors, and forces
the reader to do the same.

Returning to today's poem, the two primary metaphors are music as weaving
and music as light, and the interesting thing is how natural they both seem.
This makes more sense if you note that the metaphors are in some sense
*indirect* - music, light and pattern are three of a small set of 'tangible'
concepts that are consistently used to embody the Platonic Ideal[1], and
hence lend themselves naturally to comparison with each other. (Other
members of the set include mathematics, dance, flight, and, ultimately God -
notice how many poems rest on comparisons within that set. I do not include
Love because it is inevitably the left hand side of such a metaphor, and it
is the right hand side where the implicit metonymy takes place.)

There's also a nice secondary metaphor at the end - both of darkness as a
wave, and of light as a living entity; again, metaphors that have become so
common that we take them in without noticing, but used to very good effect
by Teasdale.

[1] appropriately, they are all shadows cast by the Platonic Ideal of a
Platonic Ideal



Some other metaphor-driven explorations of the Platonic and the numinous:

  Poem #276, "High Flight"
  Poem #599, "Geometry"
  Poem #604, "Euclid Alone has Looked on Beauty Bare"
  Poem #606, "God's Grandeur"

A Cradle Song -- William Butler Yeats

Guest poem submitted by Vivek Nallur :
(Poem #1633) A Cradle Song
 The angels are stooping
 Above your bed;
 They weary of trooping
 With the whimpering dead.
 God's laughing in Heaven
 To see you so good;
 The Sailing Seven
 are gay with His mood.
 I sigh that kiss you,
 For I must own
 That I shall miss you
 When you have grown.
-- William Butler Yeats
After the last few (mostly) sombre poems, here's another one on yearning,
yet a lot more cheerful. Anyone who's seen a little one grow up will
identify with the feeling of sweet loss when the child lets go of one's
finger and walks on its own.

There's a more than adequate bio of Yeats with Poem #32.


My Death -- Raymond Carver

Guest poem sent in by Aseem
(Poem #1632) My Death
 If I'm lucky, I'll be wired every whichway
 in a hospital bed. Tubes running into
 my nose. But try not to be scared of me, friends!
 I'm telling you right now that this is okay.
 It's little enough to ask for at the end.
 Someone, I hope, will have phoned everyone
 to say, "Come quick, he's failing!"
 And they will come. And there will be time for me
 to bid goodbye to each of my loved ones.
 If I'm lucky, they'll step forward
 and I'll be able to see them one last time
 and take that memory with me.
 Sure, they might lay eyes on me and want to run away
 and howl. But instead, since they love me,
 they'll lift my hand and say "Courage"
 or "It's going to be all right."
 And they're right. It is all right.
 It's just fine. If you only knew how happy you've made me!
 I just hope my luck holds, and I can make
 some sign of recognition.
 Open and close my eyes as if to say,
 "Yes, I hear you. I understand you."
 I may even manage something like this:
 "I love you too. Be happy."
 I hope so! But I don't want to ask for too much.
 If I'm unlucky, as I deserve, well, I'll just
 drop over, like that, without any chance
 for farewell, or to press anyone's hand.
 Or say how much I cared for you and enjoyed
 your company all these years. In any case,
 try not to mourn for me too much. I want you to know
 I was happy when I was here.
 And remember I told you this a while ago - April 1984.
 But be glad for me if I can die in the presence
 of friends and family. If this happens, believe me,
 I came out ahead. I didn't lose this one.
-- Raymond Carver
The Roger McGough poem a few days back (Poem #1628) made me think of this
gem of a poem by Raymond Carver. I first heard of Carver thanks to an
incredible essay about him in Salman Rushdie's Imaginary Homelands - he is,
in my opinion, one of the most overlooked and underrated poets of his time.

Carver's gift, as this poem amply demonstrates, is for simplicity - his
poems are unadorned, almost casual, but they have a conversational honesty
that reminds me of Chekhov. In addition he has an uncanny ability to sharpen
the most familiar of images into poetry; his poems read almost like highly
condensed stories - a few simple lines painting an everyday scene with
incredible clarity - only at the end there's usually a line or two that will
suddenly re-imagine the picture for you, turning it into something
breathtakingly beautiful (for a particularly good exampe of this see
'Happiness' [Poem #1099]).

Carver is also one of those rare entities - a poet of ideas. His work rises
above mere images or wordplay, thrusting you into situations or thoughts
that deepen and enrich your everyday life. Most of all though (and perhaps
because of the simplicity of the writing) Carver is one of the most moving
poets I have ever read - poem after poem of his brings tears to my eyes; his
very matter of factness conveys a depth of emotion that few poets writing
today can match. And there are few better examples of this than today's
poem. It's not a hard poem to criticise, but it's a hard poem to disagree

Raymond Carver died of lung cancer in August 1988. From what I can tell, he
got his wish and died in the presence of friends and family. We should all
be so lucky.




Middle-Age Enthusiasms -- Thomas Hardy

Guest poem submitted by Hita Adwanikar, as a follow-up
to last week's poem by Gwendolyn Brooks:
(Poem #1631) Middle-Age Enthusiasms
      To M. H.

 We passed where flag and flower
 Signalled a jocund throng;
 We said: "Go to, the hour
 Is apt!" - and joined the song;
 And, kindling, laughed at life and care,
 Although we knew no laugh lay there.

 We walked where shy birds stood
 Watching us, wonder-dumb;
 Their friendship met our mood;
 We cried: "We'll often come:
 We'll come morn, noon, eve, everywhen!"
 - We doubted we should come again.

 We joyed to see strange sheens
 Leap from quaint leaves in shade;
 A secret light of greens
 They'd for their pleasure made.
 We said: "We'll set such sorts as these!"
 - We knew with night the wish would cease.

 "So sweet the place," we said,
 "Its tacit tales so dear,
 Our thoughts, when breath has sped,
 Will meet and mingle here!"...
 "Words!" mused we. "Passed the mortal door,
 Our thoughts will reach this nook no more."
-- Thomas Hardy
Some more of the ubiquitous 'We'. I usually find it difficult to like Thomas
Hardy, although I appreciate his works. There is something very real, and
yet disappointing about his take on life and its experiences. Hardy's 'We'
are older and disillusioned. They pretend to hold on to dreams which they
have already set aside as unreal. The contrast between 'we said' and 'mused
we' suggests a bravado, a mask put on by each of them for the collective.
They have given up, but they still have to accept that they have given up.
And it is difficult for us to decide, whether they have lost enthusiasm or
gained maturity.

- Hita.

Offering and Rebuff -- Carl Sandburg

Guest poem sent in by Cheryl Ward
(Poem #1630) Offering and Rebuff
 I could love you
 as dry roots love rain.
 I could hold you
 as branches in the wind
 brandish petals.
 Forgive me for speaking so soon.

     Let your heart look
     on white sea spray
     and be lonely.

     Love is a fool star.

     You and a ring of stars
     may mention my name
     and then forget me.

     Love is a fool star.
-- Carl Sandburg
Carl Sandburg's poetry is read by nearly all high school freshmen, but only a
few well known poems receive much attention. His ability to capture the
vulnerability and tenderness of life, whether the subject is love or the
contrast of skyscraper and flaming sky, in just a few words infuses his
writing, from the stories of Rootabaga Country to the passion-filled poems of
Honey and Salt. I like this poem because its images so precisely reflect the
offering and fear of, or perceived, or actual rebuff that new love is so
susceptible to.


jump mama -- Kurtis Lamkin

Guest poem submitted by Anil C. Mohan :
(Poem #1629) jump mama
 pretty summer day
 grammama sittin on her porch
 rockin her grandbaby in her wide lap
 ol men sittin in their lincoln
 tastin and talkin and talkin and tastin
 young boys on the corner
 milkin a yak yak  wild hands  baggy pants
 young girls halfway up the block
 jumpin that double dutch
 singin their song
 kenny kana paula
 be on time
 cause school begins
 at a quarter to nine
 jump one two three and aaaaaaah. . .

 round the corner comes
 this young woman
 draggin herself heavy home from work
 she sees the young boys
 sees the old men
 but when she sees the girls she just starts smilin
 she says let me get a little bit of that
 they say  you can't jump
 you too old

 why they say that
 o, why they say that

 she says tanya you hold my work bag
 chaniqua come over here girl i want you to hold my
 josie could you hold my grocery bag
 kebè take my purse
 she starts bobbin her head, jackin her arms
 tryin to catch the rhythm of the ropes
 and when she jumps inside those turning loops
 the girls crowd her  sing their song
 kenny kana paula
 be on time
 cause school begins
 at a quarter to nine
 jump one two three and
 she jumps on one leg -- aaaaah
 she dances sassy saucy -- aaaaah
 jump for the girls mama
 jump for the stars mama
 jump for the young boys sayin
 jump mama!  jump mama!
 jump for the old woman sayin -- aww, go head baby

 and what the young girls say
 what the young girls say
-- Kurtis Lamkin
I chanced upon this wonderful poem a few days ago and then noticed that you
had no poems by the relatively  new-age African-American poet Kurtis Lamkin
(biography appended). Lamkin is a multi-faceted talent - besides being a
poet, he is also a musician who plays a 21-stringed West African harp/lute
instrument called the 'kora', has composed the lyrics and music for a dance
concert ('Psychic Lover') and had an animated poem "The Foxes Manifesto,"
based upon the 1976 Soweto Rebellion that was aired for two years on PBS.

I'm not given to much interpreting of poems.  More often, poems that I hold
dear are ones that connect with me at a deep, albeit inexpressible level.
This Lamkin poem impressed upon me in two essential ways. One, it's basic
cadence - it's wonderful rhythmic, bass feel...the 'make your feet tap, body
sway and head nod from side to side, up and down' kind of groove.  And two,
the way it connected aspects of our different 'life selves' together: the
child - active, free, uninhibited, insensitive, self-centred; the young
working adult - harried, cumbered, responsible, tired, worried, hopeful,
'child'ish; the old folk - unhurried - slow-paced, encouraging, observant,
contemplative - reflective.

Hope our minstrel readers like it too....

Anil C. Mohan

 [Bio of Kurtis Lamkin]

Kurtis Lamkin is currently touring the United States with a new collection
of praise poems entitled EL SHABAZZ (CD, Jambaco Sound). As he reads these
poems in praise of the spiritual connection he experienced as a participant
in the Million Man March and in praise of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm
X), Kurtis Lamkin plays the kora, a twenty-one stringed West African
harp-lute used by Djelis (griots, troubadours) to accompany original and
traditional compositions. His own oral compositions explore the counterpoint
between the fixed meanings of words and the raw sounds ("scat") that emerge
from and dissolve into feeling. He has performed his poems and music
internationally, from Sajara, Gambia (West Africa) to the Guggenheim Museum
in New York. His poems have also been broadcast on PBS as a short animated
film (THE FOXES MANIFESTO), choreographed as a dance concert ("Psychic
Lover"), and previously recorded on the CD MY JUJU (1995). From 1994-1996,
he was Poet in Residence at the New School for Social Research. Before that,
he taught in metropolitan New York public schools and community sites
through Teachers & Writers Collaborative. A Philadelphia native, he recently
moved with his family to Charleston, South Carolina. His poems are included
in I FEEL A LITTLE JUMPY AROUND YOU (1996), and he has received fellowships
from the South Carolina Arts Commission and The Fund for Poetry.

suppose -- e e cummings

Guest poem sent in by Aseem
(Poem #1628) suppose
 Life is an old man carrying flowers on his head.

 young death sits in a cafe
 smiling, a piece of money held between
 his thumb and first finger

 (i say "will he buy flowers" to you
 and "Death is young
 life wears velour trousers
 life totters, life has a beard" i

 say to you who are silent. - "Do you see
 Life? he is there and here,
 or that, or this
 or nothing or an old man 3 thirds
 asleep, on his head
 flowers, always crying
 to nobody something about les
 roses les bluets
                     will He buy?
 Les belles bottes - oh hear
 , pas cheres")

 and my love slowly answered I think so. But
 I think I see someone else

 there is a lady, whose name is Afterwards
 she is sitting beside young death, is slender;
 likes flowers.
-- e e cummings
Some people are just too smart for their own good. And E E Cummings is,
IMHO, one of them. Not that I don't get a kick out of his ingenious
punctuation, his intriguing line breaks, his frequently bizarre
spacing, his clever little witticisms ("3 thirds / asleep"). Reading
Cummings is like listening to some great jazz pianist at work - the
endlessness of his improvisations takes your breath away, the little
tone jokes make you laugh out in surprise.

Except that you get so caught up in these clever little tricks that you
never notice that underneath all that jazz is a sweet old melody.
Underneath Cummings' witty style is an incredible, singing,
old-fashioned poet, a master of image and emotion. Cummings writes
elsewhere "since feeling is first / he who pays attention / to the
syntax of things / will never wholly kiss you". And he who pays
attention to the syntax of cummings' poems will never wholly appreciate

This poem is an excellent illustration: the punctuation and word play
are tame, by Cummings standards, but the image of life as a poor old
man selling flowers to a young, rich death is one of the cruellest and
most heartbreaking that I've ever come across, and Cummings draws you
deeper and deeper into the pathos, until that final two word line
leaves you with a sense of infinite hope. Pay attention to the syntax
here, and you'll see why this is a really clever poem. Ignore the
syntax and you'll see why it's a beautiful one.


Let Me Die a Youngman's Death -- Roger McGough

(Poem #1627) Let Me Die a Youngman's Death
 Let me die a youngman's death
 not a clean and inbetween
 the sheets holywater death
 not a famous-last-words
 peaceful out of breath death

 When I'm 73
 and in constant good tumour
 may I be mown down at dawn
 by a bright red sports car
 on my way home
 from an allnight party

 Or when I'm 91
 with silver hair
 and sitting in a barber's chair
 may rival gangsters
 with hamfisted tommyguns burst in
 and give me a short back and insides

 Or when I'm 104
 and banned from the Cavern
 may my mistress
 catching me in bed with her daughter
 and fearing for her son
 cut me up into little pieces
 and throw away every piece but one

 Let me die a youngman's death
 not a free from sin tiptoe in
 candle wax and waning death
 not a curtains drawn by angels borne
 'what a nice way to go' death
-- Roger McGough
We've run a couple of McGough's more humorous poems in the past, but we were
long overdue for a serious one. And, despite the superficially light tone,
this is indeed a serious poem, comparable in spirit if not in tone to Dylan
Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle".

Which is not to say it doesn't have its absurdist side - this may be a
serious poem, but it is not a solemn one, and the way the humour plays off
against the darker tone is one of its particular strengths. (Who but McGough
could have come up with the phrase 'in constant good tumour'?) It's a
refreshing change from the "unconquerable soul" tone of most poems I've read
on the topic - it is easy to picture the narrator as a living, breathing
reprobate who fears a sanitised death far more than he fears death itself.

The poem also delivers a somewhat bitter commentary on the roles into which
society slots the old - another topic which McGough's gritty narrative voice
makes a perfect medium to convey. (I suspect Bert Baxter, from the Adrian
Mole books, would have loved it, for instance).


We Real Cool -- Gwendolyn Brooks

Guest poem submitted by Mark Penney:
(Poem #1626) We Real Cool

 We real cool. We
 Left school. We
 Lurk late. We
 Strike straight. We
 Sing sin. We
 Thin gin. We
 Jazz June. We
 Die soon.
-- Gwendolyn Brooks
"We Real Cool" is virtually ubiquitous in American schoolbooks, and when I
was an American who read schoolbooks, I was unimpressed.  I pretty much
didn't get what was so wonderful.  I mean, there's nothing TO get, right?
Well now I'm older, and I know ever so much better.

First things first: It's an extremely economical group portrait of these
seven young men.  Without really telling you anything about them, this poem
tells you everything about them: their fears, their ambitions, who they
think they are versus who they really are.  (How did I know they were young
men?  It doesn't say that.  Yet you know.)  The repeated "We" at the end of
each line simultaneously displays a certain bravado and a distinct
uncertainty about the group identity (or even, as an example of protesting
too much, whether there's a group identity at all.  Who is this We they're
so insistent about?)  Repeated as it is, the We gets smaller and
smaller--the poet has in fact said that the "we" is supposed to be read in a
small and uncertain way.

Oh, and if you ever run into someone who tells you that lineation and
punctuation in a poem doesn't matter, point to this poem to set them
straight.  If the "we" went at the beginning of each line, this would be a
much worse poem, wouldn't it?  It would devolve simply into a list.  With
the "we" at the end, and unpunctuated, that word becomes sort of a question
as well as a refrain.

Also, if there's ever any doubt that rhythm can add meaning to a poem, again
point here.  The jazzy, syncopated rhythm of this poem is a huge part of the
portrait of these guys.  You can picture them thinking these thoughts, to
the tune of whatever beat is in their heads.

Brooks got a little flak for the juxtaposition of "left school" and "die
soon," as some thought of this as the then middle-aged poet passing judgment
on her subject (and thus her community).  But I don't think so.  I think
that these are just components of this swaggering yet fragile group identity
that masks the individual fear and uncertainty that is nevertheless still

My comments are now longer than the poem by about a factor of fifty, so I'll
shut up now.


The Ram's Skull -- Ann Drysdale

Guest poem submitted by Jann LaValley:
(Poem #1625) The Ram's Skull
 There it sits on the table.
 An exercise in metaphor.
 Eyeholes vacant;
 Overstated horns akimbo.
 Ridiculous in death.
 The tutor speaks:
 "Forget reality. See shapes. See thoughts.
 See half-formed visions of a greater consciousness.
 Just look and see and, having seen, say."

 They look. I look. We look,
 And one by one they speak,
 Saying they see landscapes, caverns and waterfalls,
 Great rocks and oceans and the homes of eagles.

 Now comes my turn: "Ann, tell us what you see."
 I see a ram's skull; heft it at arm's length,
 Ponder in pantomime,
 Then to the word-befuddled class declare
 "Alas, poor Herdwick!" - and they roar
 Till all that carefully constructed metaphor
 Falls like a clown's trousers round the tutor's feet.

 I feel myself dismissed -- his tight lips telegraph:
 "Trust you to settle for a cheap and easy laugh..."
 Later, alone, I beg to contradict,
 Such laughs are easy but they don't come cheap.

 Who wants to be a poet anyway?
 Sometimes I hate poets. Hate them for not knowing
 The ram beneath the skull.

 A Swaledale tup.
 He'd have got bonny gimmers, this old chap -
 For old he was; some of his teeth are gone.
 See how the horns curl round and round again
 Finishing in the comic little lift
 Left over from his lambhood. Close and tight
 They sat upon his cheeks, trapping his head
 Till someone cut a slice from each of them
 To ease the workings of his mighty jaw.
 Somebody did a nifty hacksaw job;
 Somebody else sweated to hold him still,
 Digging their fingers into the greasy elf-locks,
 Pinning his ear back with a grubby thumb.

 Somebody cared. He'd not have lived so long
 Without a good master. All of seven-shear.
 Keen, too. See in one horn the drilled hole
 Where they close-coupled him to a companion.
 Ramshackled, lest they tupped the ewes too soon.

 Seven times a fleece fell, damp and rank-smelling,
 Stained with the old musk, bedewed on the skin side
 With his essential oils. Oh, the rare stink of him
 In the height of the season.

 And once, on a latefrost morning, he was new.
 Licked into life by an old blackfaced ewe.
 Perhaps a child fed him and knew the touch
 Of whiskery lips, the thrust of his blunt head.

 How could they look at a ram's skull and not see
 That once that skull would have been small enough
 To fit roundly, slick as a cricket ball,
 Into the cupped palm of a shepherd's hand.
-- Ann Drysdale
I found the poem above while looking for information on the poet, who is
also an author of a book I am reading currently.  Ann Drysdale wrote 'Faint
Heart Never Kissed a Pig' while she was living at Hagg House Farm in
Yorkshire. It tells of her experiences as a novice farmer while also
bringing up her children as a single mother.  I think that some of her
difficulties arose because she tended to think of some of the livestock with
human thoughts and motives.

This way of thinking seems to come into play in the poem above. If I
understand correctly she gets the inspiration for the poem in a poetry
writing class situation, where the instructor has provided a ram's skull as
an exercise in metaphor.  She seems offended by the use of the skull in the
abstract and pricks the pomposity of the tutor.  She cares more to think of
the living, breathing creature who provided it and what his life had been.

I enjoy the mood created by her words and what comes through to me is the
respect I think she felt for provider of the skull. She made that ram live
again for me.


PS. The URL for the webpage where I found  'The Ram's Skull' by Ann Drysdale
is below, as well as the text:

The Lover Compareth his State to a Ship in Perilous Storm Tossed on the Sea -- Thomas Wyatt

Guest poem sent in by David Florkow
(Poem #1624) The Lover Compareth his State to a Ship in Perilous Storm Tossed on the Sea
 My galley chargèd with forgetfulness
 Thorough sharp seas, in winter nights doth pass
 'Tween rock and rock; and eke mine enemy, alas,
 That is my lord, steereth with cruelness;
 And every oar a thought in readiness
 As though that death were light in such a case.
 An endless wind doth tear the sail apace
 Of forcèd sighs and trusty fearfulness.
 A rain of  tears,  a cloud of dark disdain,
 Hath done the wearied cords great hindrance
 Wreathèd with error and eke with ignorance.
 The stars be hid that led me to this pain.
 Drownèd is reason that should me consort, [some versions: comfort]
 And I remain despairing of the port.
-- Thomas Wyatt
The call went out recently for old poems, and this is one I'd like to give
some attention to and share with WM readers.  For background information on
Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503 - 1542) see my introductory remarks to "Whoso List to
Hunt" (Poem #957).  Like that poem, this is also a sonnet, also translated
from Petrarch; in this case Rime 189. This is helpful as readers can turn to
Petrarch's original (see: for
original and a translation)  to help unpack Wyatt's poem, which with its
compressed,  powerful, language, may still remain oblique: the beauty of the
language may trump meaning.

The title - "The Lover Compareth his State to a Ship in Perilous Storm Tossed
on the Sea" - pretty much sets the scene.  Although not found in either
Petrarch or Wyatt and believed added by a subsequent editor (perhaps Tottel,
editor of the 1557 Miscellany), it attests to the perceived need for some
clarity as to what's actually happening in the poem, intended to help
readers the way titles may aid and abet paintings.  This text is taken from
the Norton Anthology of Literature, 6th ed, but I have amended some of the
punctuation to accord with that of R. A. Rebholz, editor of Sir Thomas Wyatt
- The Complete Poems (1978), and added, in square brackets, his preferred
reading of the second last line, which I think more probable: he notes, at
p. 349: "'Should me comfort.' W's addition."

Onwards then, to the poem. Note first the rhyme scheme: ABBA ACCA DEED FF.
Not your typical Petrarchian sestet of CDC CDC, is it.   As I read the poem
it doesn't break into two parts (typically two stanzas of eight and six
lines) but into a six line statement of the lover's condition and the
comparison with a storm-tossed ship / lover; another six lines focussing on
the stress and strain of the storm on the ship; and the final couplet
summing up.  The punctuation - full stops, upon which both editors agree  -
I think supports this reading.

The lover, as 'galley', as vessel, 'chargèd' - accused? more likely given
Petrarch, laden, fully loaded - with forgetfulness, sails through sharp seas
in winter nights between 'rock and rock' (Scylla and Charybdis in Petrarch).
But what is the nature of 'mine enemy, alas, / That is my lord' and who
'steereth with cruelness'?  If the poet/lover is seriously to be compared to
a ship, than the steering capacity should be 'reason', guiding the lover
through dangerous waters with his burden of forgetfulness.  But reason meets
a bad end, as the last couplet shows, and while considered for comfort,
seems not currently available. The cause of such great ambivalence in the
poet,  something both desired and feared, both enemy and lord, may be Love,
specifically his love for a lady who now spurns him and insists he leave and
forget her.  Driven by such 'cruelness', love may be both enemy and lord.
With the alacrity of those in personal danger yet still afloat, each oar is
as a thought in readiness; brave sailors habitually making light of an
uncertain fate: a courtier's life?

But the galley is under some stress. In the second sestet lines 7 and 10
indicate stress on the galley (lover); these lines bracket the mistress's
emotional symptoms - forced sighs, tears, fearfulness, and 'a cloud of dark
disdain' - which are the source of our poet's grief: it is they that 'Hath
done the wearied cords great hindrance'.  But he is wronged: surrounded by
error and ignorance his lady's eyes, which previously had led him on, are
hidden now as he rails against them as stars relied upon for navigation  And
so we have the lover compared to a ship in a storm; we have the ship
buffeted by weather / emotions; we have the suggestion that the mistress is
acting unreasonably through error and ignorance;  and we have a strong
concluding couplet.

Thus the last two lines: "Drownèd is reason that should me comfort / And I
remain despairing of the port."  He is giving in to his grief.  Reason, his
lady's good judgment, which should have comforted him,  is drowned in the
storm of her emotions, and the lover despairs of shelter and refuge.




Petrarch's original:

Resignation -- Nikki Giovanni

Guest poem sent in by Aseem
(Poem #1623) Resignation
 I love you
   because the earth turns round the sun
   because the North wind blows north
   because the Pope is Catholic
     and most Rabbis Jewish
   because winters flow into springs
     and the air clears after a storm
   because only my love for you
     despite the charms of gravity
     keeps me from falling off this Earth
     into another dimension
 I love you
   because it is the natural order of things

 I love you
   like the habit I picked up in college
     of sleeping through lectures
     or saying I'm sorry
     when I get stopped for speeding
   because I drink a glass of water
     in the morning
     and chain-smoke cigarettes
     all through the day
   because I take my coffee Black
     and my milk with chocolate
   because you keep my feet warm
     though my life a mess
 I love you
   because I don't want it
     any other way.

 I am helpless
   in my love for you
 It makes me so happy
   to hear you call my name
 I am amazed you can resist
   locking me in an echo chamber
   where your voice reverberates
   through the four walls
   sending me into spasmatic ecstasy
 I love you
   because it's been so good
   for so long
   that if I didn't love you
   I'd have to be born again
   and that is not a theological statement
 I am pitiful in my love for you

 The Dells tell me Love
   is so simple
   the thought though of you
   sends indescribably delicious multitudinous
   thrills throughout and through-in my body
 I love you
   because no two snowflakes are alike
   and it is possible
   if you stand tippy-toe
   to walk between the raindrops
 I love you
   because I am afraid of the dark
     and can't sleep in the light
   because I rub my eyes
     when I wake up in the morning
     and find you there
   because you with all your magic powers were
     determined that
 I should love you
   because there was nothing for you but that
 I would love you

 I love you
   because you made me
     want to love you
   more than I love my privacy
     my freedom   my commitments
       and responsibilities
 I love you 'cause I changed my life
   to love you
   because you saw me one friday
     afternoon and decided that I would
 love you
 I love you I love you I love you
-- Nikki Giovanni
[Note: The reference to the Dells in line 47 is to "Love is so simple"
a 1968 song from their album 'There is'. According to Giovanni, the
rhythm of this poem is the rhythm of the song.]

All right, if we have to give in to the Valentine spirit and get all
teary-eyed and maudlin about love, we might as well do it properly.

What I've always loved about Giovanni is her attitude - the deceptive
simplicity of her lines, the tone not only conversational but intimate
- so that reading her is like hearing yourself talk to a friend.

This is a superb example of that. It's not that the lines here are polished
to perfection, it's precisely that they wouldn't be if someone were really
saying this out loud, and what they lack in finesse they more than make up
in energy, in momentum, in sheer street-smartness.  And then of course, just
when you're beginning to run out enthusiasm, there's that one beautiful
little line (because only my love for you / despite the charms of gravity /
keep me from falling off the Earth) that keeps you going.

The other thing I like about this poem is the way Giovanni both expresses
the absoluteness of her love and (refusing to laud it for more than it is)
laughs at herself for it. Love is not a magical communion of souls here; it
is a bad habit that you can't get out of, a necessity, something you're too
used to to even question, much less give up. It is a love that gives you
both intense joy and honest suffering, it is deeply flawed and therefore
deeply personal. And this is not, in Giovanni, a cynical point of view, it
is a warm and real one.

If there's such a thing as being helplessly in love, this is it!



  [broken link]

To The Supreme Being -- Michelangelo Buonarroti

Guest poem sent in by Matthew Stillman
(Poem #1622) To The Supreme Being
 The prayers I make will then be sweet indeed,
 If Thou the spirit give by which I pray:
 My unassisted heart is barren clay,
 Which of its native self can nothing feed:
 Of good and pious works Thou art the seed,
 Which quickens only where Thou say'st it may;
 Unless Thou show to us Thine own true way,
 No man can find it: Father! Thou must lead.
 Do Thou, then, breathe those thoughts into my mind
 By which such virtue may in me be bred
 That in Thy holy footsteps I may tread;
 The fetters of my tongue do Thou unbind,
 That I may have the power to sing of Thee,
 And sound Thy praises everlastingly.
-- Michelangelo Buonarroti

Note: Translated into English by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

When you think "Michelangelo" you think Florence and sculpture and frescoes
you usually don't  think "poetry". Well he was fairly prodigious considering
how much art he generated. I think this poem is so clean and honest despite
the fact that poems in dedication to God's greatness are a dime a dozen. The
line that strikes me in particular is

"my unassisted heart is barren clay"

the line might be skipped over if it was from anyone except someone of the
stature of Michelangelo. It is wonderful because he sees himself / his heart
as the material he works with to make his art (clay, stone, earth, etc).
That little associative line of Michelangelo works on clay and makes
sculpture and God works on Michelangelos' heart just connects the art,
artist and the inspiration in one little line.

Also Wordsworth does a pretty sharp job too, I think adding another layer to
the "who is the artist here?" theme that is illustrated above.

Matthew Stillman



A few more of Michelangelo's poems:

At Funchal (Island of Madeira) -- Tomas Transtromer

Guest poem sent in by Jim Ellis
(Poem #1621) At Funchal (Island of Madeira)
     On the beach there's a seafood place, simple, a shack thrown up by
 survivors of the shipwreck.  Many turn back at the door, but not the sea
 winds.  A shadow stands inside his smoky hut frying two fish according to an
 old recipe from Atlantis, tiny garlic explosions, oil running over sliced
 tomatoes, every morsel says that the ocean wishes us well, a humming from
 the deep places.

     She and I look into each other.  It's like climbing the wild-flowered
 mountain slopes without feeling the least bit tired.  We've sided with the
 animals, they welcome us, we don't age.  But we have experienced so much
 together over the years, including those times when we weren't so good (as
 when we stood in line to give blood to the healthy giant - he said he wanted
 a transfusion), incidents which we've totally forgotten - though they
 haven't forgotten us!  They've turned to stones, dark and light, stones in a
 scattered mosaic.  And now it happens:  the pieces move towards each other,
 the mosaic appears and is whole.  It waits for us.  It glows down from the
 hotel-room wall, some figure violent and tender, perhaps a face, we can't
 take it all in as we pull off our clothes.

     After dusk we go out.  The dark powerful paw of the cape lies thrown out
 into the sea.  We walk in swirls of human beings, we are cuffed around
 kindly, among soft tyrannies, everyone chatters excitedly in the foreign
 tongue.  "No man is an island."  We gain strength from "them," but also from
 ourselves.  From what is inside that the other person can't see.  That which
 can only meet itself.  The innermost paradox, the underground garage
 flowers, the vent towards the good dark.  A drink that bubbles in empty
 glasses.  An amplifier that magnifies silence.  A path that grows over after
 every step.  A book that can only be read in the dark.
-- Tomas Transtromer
      (Sweden, b. 1930)

[Note: If anyone knows who the translator is, please write in and we'll add it
to the webpage - martin]

Your website is wonderful but surprisingly you don't have anything yet by my
favorite poet, Tomas Transtromer from Sweden.  "In Funchal" is about the
beauty and mystery of a long-term love.   The poet and his wife (I think)
are on vacation, invigorated by the sea - the sensory imagery in the first
paragraph is masterful.  They wind up in their hotel room, reflecting on
their history - the good and the bad.  Transtromer compares their memories
to "stones, dark and light, stones in a scattered mosaic."  Emotional, (it
feels like they've had a couple glasses of wine!), reconnected, they make
love - "the pieces move towards each other, the mosaic appears and is whole.
It waits for us.  It glows down from the hotel-room wall, some figure
violent and tender, perhaps a face, we can't take it all in as we pull off
our clothes."

Transtromer could have stopped there, and the poem would have been a
glorious achievement.  But as he and and his wife go for a walk among the
townspeople and tourists, taking in the atmosphere in a post-coital
mellowness, the poem also doesn't stop or fall to sleep.  This is typical of
Transtromer.  He goes beyond the beautiful gratitude for their love and
understanding that he has just celebrated to an almost hallucinative
meditation on the mystery of individual consciousness - the gratitude here
is that we somehow gain also gain strength from "what is inside that the
other person can't see."

Happy Valentine's Day, Minstrels - what the world needs now is love.

Jim Ellis Auburn, New York



As Well as They Can -- A D Hope

William Grey sends this in as a followup of sorts to
yesterday's poem...
(Poem #1620) As Well as They Can
 As well as it can, the hooked fish while it dies,
 Gasping for life, threshing in terror and pain,
 Its torn mouth parched, grit in its delicate eyes,
             Thinks of its pool again.

 As well as he can, the poet, blind, betrayed
 Distracted by the groaning mill, among
 The jostle of slaves, the clatter, the lash of trade,
             Taps the pure source of song.

 As well as I can, my heart in this bleak air,
 The empty days, the waste nights since you went,
 Recalls your warmth, your smile, the grace and stir
             That were its element.
-- A D Hope
An offering for this year's Valentine's Day romantic anniversary by Australian
poet A.D. Hope (1907-2000). Somewhere Hope reported witnessing the death of a
fish -- I think it was when he was a young man in Tasmania. The memory of grit
of sand in the fish's dying eye long haunted him and provided the focal image
for this poem, composed more than forty years later. The blind and betrayed man
struggling with the groaning mill (I think) is an allusion to the biblical
story of Samson. The three stanzas of this subtle, poignant and profound
triptych resonate to perfection. "Human speech", Flaubert famously said (in
Madame Bovary), "is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for
bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars."
Flaubert was able to achieve stellar meltdown. So too was Hope.

The poem was published in A.D. Hope, New Poems 1965-69 (Sydney: Angus &
Robertson, 1969), p. 52.

William Grey

Second Honeymoon -- Tony Scanlon

Guest poem sent in by William Grey
(Poem #1619) Second Honeymoon
 The blue that startled his heart has faded:
 blue-grey like denim now her eyes by candlelight
 across the table -- and he knows the fingerprints
 of time are on him, too, though candle's bloom
 is less truthful than the unrelenting sun.
 He knows them both to be weathered in the cascade
 of the years, beyond redress -- still, his hand
 which has crept without volition over the linen
 to clasp hers, touches, not the flesh time mars,
 but the undimmed radiance of her love, pulsing
 stronger for the passage of the years since first
 he touched her. His hand tightens over hers
 in that familiar reflex which has saved him,
 times beyond remembering, from drowning.
-- Tony Scanlon
With the romantic anniversary of Valentine's Day approaching, here's a romantic
poem from Tony Scanlon. A romantic poem for the over-50s.  What's moving in the
poem is the tribute it pays the durability and depth of a love beyond the
ephemeral and passionate urgency of youth -- though that's also pretty good!

I don't have any biographical information about the poet. The poem is a
singleton in an anthology of Australian verse.

William Grey

Absences -- Dom Moraes

Guest poem sent in by Priya Chakravarthi
(Poem #1618) Absences
 Smear out the last star.
 No lights from the islands
 Or hills. In the great square
 The prolonged vowel of silence
 Makes itself plainly heard
 Round the ghost of a headland
 Clouds, leaves, shreds of bird
 Eddy, hindering the wind.

 No vigils left to keep.
 No enemies left to slaughter.
 The rough roofs of the slopes,
 Loosely thatched with splayed water,
 Only shelter microliths and fossils.
 Unwatched, the rainbows build
 On the architraves of hills.
 No wounds left to be healed.

 Nobody left to be beautiful.
 No polyp admiral to sip
 Blood and whiskey from a skull
 While fingering his warships.
 Terrible relics, by tiderace
 Untouched, the stromalites breathe.
 Bubbles plop on the surface,
 Disturbing the balance of death.

 No sound would be heard if
 So much silence was not heard.
 Clouds scuff like sheep on the cliff.
 The echoes of stones are restored.
 No longer any foreshore
 Or any abyss, this
 World only held together
 By its variety of absences.
-- Dom Moraes
(From A Variety Of Absences: the collected memoirs of Dom Moraes,
 Omnibus edition, 2003)

I'm better acquainted with Dom Moraes's prose than his poetry. When I read
his memoir 'My son's father' in college I was mighty impressed with the
range of his associations (was it the intended effect?) and the sheer
quality of his prose. It was only when he died in 2004 that I really began
to look around for his poetry. There isn't a whole lot of it on the Internet
but here is one poem I really liked.

Moraes has been in the news for several reasons - his books of prose,
controversy with co-author Sarayu Srivatsa, biography, anthologies, his
marriages - but I suspect most people think of him as a poet who stretched
beyond his genre. Or should I just speak for myself?


The poet on the poem 'Absences':

    I came back to Bombay from Madhya Pradesh in early 1982, not knowing
    exactly what I would do next. Leela had been appointed editor of a
    magazine, and was away most of the day. During this time I wandered
    around the city. I visited scantily stocked bookshops; I walked by the
    polluted sea. I did this one afternoon, when the tide was low; there
    were beached boats on the wet sand, and, across the shimmery, gauze-like
    water beyond, a single island lay, with a look of solitude.  There was
    nobody about. A peculiar shiver ran down my spine, and at first I
    thought I must be ill. Then I recognized my own symptoms. I had not felt
    like this for seventeen years.

    Certain words and phrases came to my mind. I went home, sat down and
    began to write a poem; it was about what it would be like if everyone in
    the world was dead. As I worked, I felt pure power coming out of me.  I
    was concentrated to such an extent that the world around me did, in
    fact, seem dead: there was only me left, and my writing hand. It was a
    sensation that I had forgotten, slightly unpleasant, but simultaneously
    exceptionally exciting. After about four hours, I could not continue any
    more. I followed an old habit, and put what I had written aside for some

    During these days I worried; what if, when I went back to the poem, it
    was no longer there, was no longer as good as I had thought while at
    work on it?  When I returned to my notebook, the two days being up, I
    found it was still there, and I could see some of what needed to be
    done. I continued to work on it. It was protean, taking on different
    shapes as I worked, until at last one strong shape remained.

    I typed this out, and called it 'Absences'. It was the first poetry I
    had written in seventeen years which I felt was poetry. It was like
    nothing I had previously written, but, partly because of that, I felt
    once more what Cecil Day Lewis called 'The Poet's inward pride.  The
    certainty of power'...  Perhaps I should quote it here. I feel a
    tremendous pride in it still, not because of its quality, but because it
    was the precursor of a great deal of new poetry in the years to come, a
    John the Baptist.

         -- Dom Moraes


There's a biography up at Wikipedia:

Poem for Everyone -- John T Wood

Guest poem sent in by Ramesh MV
(Poem #1617) Poem for Everyone
 I will present you
 if you are patient and tender.
 I will open drawers
 that mostly stay closed
 and bring out places and people and things
 sounds and smells,
 loves and frustrations,
 hopes and sadnesses,
 bits and pieces of three decades of life
 that have been grabbed off
 in chunks
 and found lying in my hands.
 they have eaten
 their way into my memory,
 carved their way into
 my heart.
 - you or i will never see them -
 they are me.
 if you regard them lightly,
 deny that they are important
 or worse, judge them
 i will quietly, slowly,
 begin to wrap them up,
 in small pieces of velvet,
 like worn silver and gold jewelry,
 tuck them away
 in a small wooden chest of drawers

 and close.
-- John T Wood

I am not a big connoisseur of poetry, and often have difficulty
distinguishing poetry from prose masquerading as poetry just because one
sentence is in many lines. (Btw, I would love it if someone could actually
tell me how to make this distinction). This poem actually struck me because
of the wonderful use of space. The choice of word-line placement is
remarkable - it actually slowed down my reading speed and made me pause at
times... if not for content, but only for structure and presentation, this
is one of the better poems that I have come across.


Ramesh MV


Some reviews:
  [broken link]

I couldn't find a biography online; if you have a link to one please post it.

Give All To Love -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Guest poem sent in by Aseem
(Poem #1616) Give All To Love
 Give all to love;
 Obey thy heart;
 Friends, kindred, days,
 Estate, good fame,
 Plans, credit, and the Muse -
 Nothing refuse.

 'Tis a brave master;
 Let it have scope:
 Follow it utterly,
 Hope beyond hope;
 High and more high,
 It dives into noon,
 With wing unspent,
 Untold intent;
 But it is a god,
 Knows its own path,
 And the outlets of the sky.

 It was not for the mean;
 It requireth courage stout,
 Souls above doubt,
 Valor unbending;
 Such 'twill reward, -
 They shall return
 More than they were,
 And ever ascending.

 Leave all for love;
 Yet, hear me, yet,
 One word more thy heart behoved,
 One pulse more of firm endeavor,-
 Keep thee to-day,
 To-morrow, for ever,
 Free as an Arab
 Of thy beloved.
 Cling with life to the maid;
 But when the surprise,
 First vague shadow of surmise,
 Flits across her bosom young
 Of a joy apart from thee,
 Free be she, fancy-free;
 Nor thou detain her vesture's hem,
 Nor the palest rose she flung
 From her summer diadem.

 Though thou loved her as thyself,
 As a self of purer clay,
 Though her parting dims the day,
 Stealing grace from all alive;
 Heartily know,
 When half-gods go,
 The gods arrive.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
The first time I came across this poem I was 16 (I was going through a major
Poe phase and ended up with a book that also included a bunch of poems by
Emerson). I remember being fairly unimpressed by it at the time. The short
lines had a restless, seductive beat, but the sentiments seemed trite and
the imagery uninspired and the whole thing had a vaguely Hallmark Card feel
to it.

Six years later, looking for a poem to console a friend who was going
through a break-up I came across it again - and realised how totally perfect
it is. It's not just the breathtaking optimism of the last three lines (so
much more heartening, for example, than "Better to have loved and lost /
than never to have loved at all"). It's also that reading the poem a second
time you realise that all that stuff that seemed like a rehearsal of
platitudes the first time around is really unflinching courage - an almost
heroic refusal to shy away from love just when it would be most tempting to
deny it. Emerson has elevated love to an act of faith - he demands that we
believe in it with every morsel of our being but also denies us any claims
on it.

The other thing that makes this poem so moving is the simplicity of the
phrasing. Which is not to say that the language isn't beautiful (where else
can you find a love that "dives into noon / with wing unspent" only to
discover that it "knows its own path / and the outlets of the sky"), but the
overall effect is not of someone trying to write poetry, but of someone
simply saying what he thinks. Emerson is so sure that the emotion in his
poem will ring true that he isn't afraid to use cliche, isn't afraid of
overstating his point. That's why he can bring himself to say "Though her
parting dims the day / Stealing grace from all alive" - words that will seem
overblown to the sophisticated critic, but frighteningly real to someone
disappointed in love.

It's probably a morbid thing to say, but this is my favourite break-up poem.
It's the one I prescribe to every one of my friends who's been through a
broken relationship (and the number just grows and grows).  It's the one
I've used myself. So I figured you might as well have it up on Minstrels.
Just in case.


P.S. Speaking of famous poets not represented on Minstrels - Emerson is
another startling exception - you don't have a single of his poems
officially in the index (though comments to both Poem #949 and Poem #580 do
quote him)!


Biography and Works:

The Gruffalo -- Julia Donaldson

Guest poem sent in by Martin Davis
(Poem #1615) The Gruffalo
 A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood.
 A fox saw the mouse, and the mouse looked good.

 "Where are you going to, little brown mouse?
 Come and have lunch in my underground house."

 "It's terribly kind of you, Fox, but no –
 I'm going to have lunch with a gruffalo."

 "A gruffalo?  What's a gruffalo?"
 "A gruffalo!  Why, didn't you know?

 He has terrible tusks, and terrible claws,
 And terrible teeth in his terrible jaws."

 "Where are you meeting him?"
 "Here, by these rocks,
 And his favourite food is roasted fox."

 "Roasted fox!  I'm off!" Fox said.
 "Goodbye, little mouse," and away he sped.

 "Silly old Fox!  Doesn't he know,
 There's no such thing as a gruffalo?"

 On went the mouse through the deep dark wood.
 An owl saw the mouse, and the mouse looked good.

 "Where are you going to, little brown mouse?
 Come and have tea in my treetop house."

 "It's terribly kind of you, Owl, but no –
 I'm going to have tea with a gruffalo."

 "A gruffalo?  What's a gruffalo?"
 "A gruffalo!  Why, didn't you know?

 He has knobbly knees, and turned-out toes,
 And a poisonous wart at the end of his nose."

 "Where are you meeting him?"
 "Here, by this stream,
 And his favourite food is owl ice cream."

 "Owl ice cream!  Toowhit toowhoo!"
 "Goodbye, little mouse," and away Owl flew.

 "Silly old Owl!  Doesn't he know,
 There's no such thing as a gruffalo?"

 On went the mouse through the deep dark wood.
 A snake saw the mouse, and the mouse looked good.

 "Where are you going to, little brown mouse?
 Come for a feast in my logpile house."

 "It's terribly kind of you, Snake, but no –
 I'm having a feast with a gruffalo."

 "A gruffalo?  What's a gruffalo?"
 "A gruffalo!  Why, didn't you know?

 His eyes are orange, his tongue is black,
 He has purple prickles all over his back."

 "Where are you meeting him?"
 "Here, by this lake,
 And his favourite food is scrambled snake."

 "Scrambled snake!  It's time I hid!"
 "Goodbye, little mouse," and away Snake slid.

 "Silly old Owl!  Doesn't he know,
 There's no such thing as a gruffal...?"


 But who is this creature with terrible claws
 And terrible teeth in his terrible jaws?
 He has knobbly knees, and turned-out toes,
 And a poisonous wart at the end of his nose.
 His eyes are orange, his tongue is black,
 He has purple prickles all over his back.

 "Oh help!  Oh no!
 It's a gruffalo!"

 "My favourite food!" the Gruffalo said.
 "You'll taste good on a slice of bread!"

 "Good?" said the mouse.  "Don't call me good!
 I'm the scariest creature in this wood.
 Just walk behind me and soon you'll see,
 Everyone is afraid of me."

 "All right," said the Gruffalo, bursting with laughter.
 "You go ahead and I'll follow after."

 They walked and walked till the Gruffalo said,
 "I hear a hiss in the leaves ahead."

 "It's Snake," said the mouse.  "Why, Snake, hello!"
 Snake took one look at the Gruffalo.
 "Oh crumbs!" he said, "Goodbye, little mouse!"
 And off he slid to his logpile house.

 "You see?" said the mouse.  "I told you so."
 "Amazing!" said the Gruffalo.

 They walked some more till the Gruffalo said,
 "I hear a hoot in the trees ahead."

 "It's Owl," said the mouse.  "Why, Owl, hello!"
 Owl took one look at the Gruffalo.
 "Oh dear!" he said, "Goodbye, little mouse!"
 And off he flew to his treetop house.

 "You see?" said the mouse.  "I told you so."
 "Astounding!" said the Gruffalo.

 They walked some more till the Gruffalo said,
 "I can hear feet on the path ahead."

 "It's Fox," said the mouse.  "Why, Fox, hello!"
 Fox took one look at the Gruffalo.
 "Oh help!" he said, "Goodbye, little mouse!"
 And off he ran to his underground house.

 "Well, Gruffalo," said the mouse.  "You see?
 Everyone is afraid of me!
 But now my tummy's beginning to rumble.
 My favourite food is – gruffalo crumble!"

 "Gruffalo crumble!" the Gruffalo said,
 And quick as the wind he turned and fled.

 All was quiet in the deep dark wood.
 The mouse found a nut and the nut was good.
-- Julia Donaldson
Following on from the Richard Edwards poem, I would like to continue the
theme of childhood poetry and submit for your consideration 'The Gruffalo'
by Julia Donaldson.  I only discovered it last week, when searching in the
College library for a book I could read to a four year old I'd been asked to
babysit over the weekend.  (My own son is 34, so I'm a bit out of touch with
children's books!)

I picked it up because I was taken with the illustration on the cover and
the pleasing portmanteau name of the eponymous central character; but then,
when I came to read it, I loved the spare narrative, the repetition with
variation, the overall quest structure of entering a labyrinth and
returning, and the central twist to the story.  I'm sorry that you're
missing the wonderful illustrations by Axel Scheffler, particularly his
insouciant mouse and befuddled gruffalo, but I think that the poem is so
strong that it stands without them.  It's also, of course, got that element
that you really need with small children – it's great fun to perform!  This
is a real classic in just 693 words; I bet that those who are three and four
now will be reading it to their children in years to come!

Martin Davis


 The official gruffalo website is at :

 and this has links through to information about Julia Donaldson and Axel

 A UK Theatre Company is running a touring stage production in 2005 :
   [broken link]

When I Was Three -- Richard Edwards

(Poem #1614) When I Was Three
 When I was three, I had a friend
 Who asked me why bananas bend,
 I told him why, but now I'm four
 I'm not so sure...
-- Richard Edwards
I was randomly browsing through some children's poetry when I came across
this delightful little piece. It reminds me of Silverstein, or perhaps
Milne, in its light-hearted exploration of the myriad little rites of
passage that mark childhood. I particularly love the way the poem strikes a
balance between seriousness (from the narrator's point of view) and warm
amusement (from a grown up perspective), and how, despite the humour,
there's a revelation that borders on the profound.

Incidentally, the narrator shows remarkable precocity in realising at age
four that he didn't know everything - I think the average age for that
particular rite of passage is closer twenty one these days :)



Somewhat minimal biography and a review:

Temporary Well Being -- Kenneth Burke

Guest poem sent in by Neville Clemens
(Poem #1613) Temporary Well Being
 The pond is plenteous
 The land is lush,
 And having turned off the news
 I am for the moment mellow.

    With my book in one hand
    And my drink in the other
    What more could I want

 But fame,
 Better health,
 And ten million dollars?
-- Kenneth Burke
I was loitering about New York's Pennsylvania Station about a month ago waiting
for my train to arrive when I came across these lines engraved on one of the
walls. The station had been renovated a few years ago and the new polished
granite walls were liberally garnished with delightful short poems (I suppose
one isn't inclined to read epic ballads when there is a train to catch) such as
this one, by poets from in and around the tri-state area.

From the snippets that I remembered when I got back home, I wasn't able to find
the poem on the internet. So last week as I passed by the wall again, I
stopped, stared and memorized it the best I could - and here it is. I'm not
sure if this is part of a larger poem, but in any case I think it stands very
nicely on its own. [verified against a copy on the net -- martin]

This poem, to me, speaks out against what I call 'selective renunciation'. It's
an argument I've had with my parents on many an occasion. We urban people tend
to romanticize the countryside and the hill stations and often express our
desire to leave everything behind and retire to some such place and give it all
up - only we don't *really* want to give it all up. We still want a nice warm
house, a department store nearby, a bank to keep our money safe, a nice school
for our children, a car to move about and so on and so forth till we've utterly
destroyed the charm of the place, and then we move on to romanticizing the next
pristine spot.

So let's stop calling ourselves 'nature lovers'. We're urban animals and living
in an urban jungle is just the cross we'll have to bear, as responsible human
beings. Either that or we go and live by yonder pond in yonder woods like
yonder Dead Poet if we truly wish to 'suck the marrow out of life'.





The Coromandel Fishers -- Sarojini Naidu

Guest poem sent in by Hema Manicka
(Poem #1612) The Coromandel Fishers
 Rise, brothers, rise; the wakening skies pray to the morning light,
 The wind lies asleep in the arms of the dawn like a child that has cried all
 Come, let us gather our nets from the shore and set our catamarans free,
 To capture the leaping wealth of the tide, for we are the kings of the sea!

 No longer delay, let us hasten away in the track of the sea gull's call,
 The sea is our mother, the cloud is our brother, the waves are our comrades
 What though we toss at the fall of the sun where the hand of the sea-god
 He who holds the storm by the hair, will hide in his breast our lives.

 Sweet is the shade of the cocoanut glade, and the scent of the mango grove,
 And sweet are the sands at the full o' the moon with the sound of the voices
we love;
 But sweeter, O brothers, the kiss of the spray and the dance of the wild
foam's glee;
 Row, brothers, row to the edge of the verge, where the low sky mates with the
-- Sarojini Naidu
Sarojini Naidu's "The Coromandel Fishers". I came across this poem the
other day.  One of those long forgotten poems from high school. What
struck me was the lines like "the sea is our mother ...". I have lived
by the sea a long time. The sea, to me, was a friend, a loving and
giving friend. Now, just over a month, after the deadly tsunami, I am
shaken by its fury.


[Martin adds]

Though I used to be quite fond of Sarojini Naidu back in school, I haven't
explored her work in ages. Today's delightfully lyrical poem, rippling as a
wave, gliding like a gull over the water, reminded me just why I enjoyed her
work so much. Such meticulous attention to the musical sound of the words is
becoming increasingly rare nowadays - say what you will about Naidu, but
that is one thing she got absolutely right.


Neutral Tones -- Thomas Hardy

Guest poem sent in by Cristina Gazzieri
(Poem #1611) Neutral Tones
 We stood by a pond that winter day,
 And the sun was white, as though chidden of God,
 And a few leaves lay on the starving sod,
   —-They had fallen from an ash, and were gray.

 Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove
 Over tedious riddles solved years ago;
 And some words played between us to and fro-—
   On which lost the more by our love.

 The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing
 Alive enough to have strength to die;
 And a grin of bitterness swept thereby
   Like an ominous bird a-wing...

 Since then, keen lessons that love deceives,
 And wrings with wrong, have shaped to me
 Your face, and the God-curst sun, and a tree,
   And a pond edged with grayish leaves.
-- Thomas Hardy
This poem was written in 1890 and published in 1898 and yet, its images and
taste are already those of the twentieth century. The scene proposed by Hardy
is reduced to very few symbolic elements; the pond, the white sun, a few leaves
on the "starving sod" and an ash tree. An image of sterility which foreruns the
best poems by Eliot, though deprived of his intellectual cultivated references
and much more deeply bound to our perception of really experienced failure in
human relationship.

While Eliot is an outside observer of the aridity of man’s life in his age,
Hardy, or his poetic ego, is personally exposing his own scorched bruises. The
poetic voice addresses his woman in the first person and he explores their
mutual feelings without hypocrisy. He indulges on the mean, shabby, ungenerous
words and rancorous considerations, which may typically accompany the end of a
love story. Yet, from line twelve, it becomes evident that what he is relating
was not simply the squalid end of a love story, but a marking experience, a
malediction, which would prevent him from having any kind of love fulfilment in
his life. When I first read the poem I expected some sensual references after
the words "the smile on your mouth" and so, I found the crescendo of sinister
bitterness really striking. I also like the final polysyndeton, which
re-proposes the initial images, but much more pregnant and meaningful, at this
point of the poem.


For the Man Who Taught Tricks to Owls -- David Wagoner

Guest poem sent in by Alan S Kornheiser
(Poem #1610) For the Man Who Taught Tricks to Owls
 You say they were slow to learn. The brains of owls
    Went down in your opinion through long hours
       Of unresponsive staring
 While you showed them how to act out minor parts
    In the world of Harry Potter. Come with me now
       Into the night, perch motionless, balanced
 On a branch above a thicket, where every choice
    Of a flight path is more narrow
       Than your broad wing-span, more jagged
 And crooked than patterns of interrupted moonlight
    On twigs and fallen leaves, where what you take
       In silence with claws and beak to stay alive
 Knows everything about you except your tricks,
    Except where you're going to be in the next instant
       And how you got there without anyone's help
-- David Wagoner
I don't know about you, but I find most of today's published poetry (ie,
poetry published in non-poetry magazines) either too predictable or too
private. Finally, here's one---from the current issue of The New
Republic---that is neither.

The Harry Potter stories feature owls who carry messages. To do this in the
movies, an "owl wrangler" has trained a number of owls to do various owl
tricks. Through the wonders of digital photography, these tricks are
multiplied, and one owl flying from here to there become dozens flying
within a vast building. You can watch the owls being trained and see their
flights become movies in a TV feature that's been shown on one or another of
the "Discovery-type" channels. It appears that the wrangler does not greatly
admire owl intelligence. It also appears that the poet does not greatly
admire wrangler intelligence.

Like all good nature poems, this one succeeds by being perfectly accurate in
describing the natural world and through that accuracy tells us about more
than just that world.

About the poet, I am embarrassed to say I knew nothing, nor do we have any
of his other works published. A search discloses the extent of my ignorance,
since David Wagoner (b. 1926) is a chancellor of the Academy of American
Poets and editor of the journal Poetry Northwest. The author of ten novels,
he has also written many volumes of poetry, the latest of which is Walt
Whitman Bathing (1996).

Alan Kornheiser


Here's the Academy of American Poets page on Wagoner:
  [broken link]

Mrs. Thatcher -- Sue Townsend

(Poem #1609) Mrs. Thatcher
 Do you weep, Mrs Thatcher, do you weep?
 Do you wake, Mrs Thatcher, in your sleep?
 Do you weep like a sad willow?
 On your Marks and Spencer's pillow?
 Are your tears molten steel?
 Do you weep?
 Do you wake with 'Three million' on your brain?
 Are you sorry that they'll never work again?
 When you're dressing in your blue, do you see the waiting queue?
 Do you weep, Mrs Thatcher, do you weep?
-- Sue Townsend
Notes: In the voice of Adrian Mole, from "The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole,
        Aged 13 3/4" (or, possibly, "Growing Pains" - I don't have my copy handy)

  "Unemployment soon passed three million, a figure unthinkable just a few
  years beforehand. This economic crisis sparked deep rivalry in the cabinet
  and triggered a number of high profile resignations."

Writing bad fictional poets is a delicate and seldom-mastered art. It is not
enough to write bad poetry - the poetry has to be *convincingly* bad, and
bad in such a way as to let the reader sympathise with the "poet" who
doubtless thought it one of his masterpieces. (Quoth the young master Mole,
"I think my poem is extremely brilliant. It is the sort of poem that could
bring the government to its knees.")

Above all, one should never get the impression that the author is
self-consciously writing a bad poem. Douglas Adams fell into this trap, for
instance, with his Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings poem about the dead swans,
which definitely detracted from it. Luckily, Townsend makes no such mistake;
her Adrian Mole poems are uniformly brilliant, the kind of bad poetry that
gets written by your angsty high school classmate, except that they somehow
manage to be hilariously funny as well. ("Mrs. Thatcher" is actually a pretty
good poem compared to the rest of the collection - indeed, the reason I
chose to run it rather than some of the more egregiously bad poems is that I
find it surprisingly memorable and fun to recite to myself.)



More about the Adrian Mole books
  [broken link]

(and if you haven't read them, I strongly urge you to - the first few, in
particular, are altogether brilliant). There's a great review here:
  [broken link] of Townsend: