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Elizabeth -- Michael Ondaatje

Guest poem submitted by Kamalika Chowdhury:
(Poem #1708) Elizabeth
 Catch, my Uncle Jack said
 and oh I caught this huge apple
 red as Mrs Kelly's bum.
 It's red as Mrs Kelly's bum, I said
 and Daddy roared
 and swung me on his stomach with a heave.
 Then I hid the apple in my room
 till it shrunk like a face
 growing eyes and teeth ribs.

 Then Daddy took me to the zoo
 he knew the man there
 they put a snake around my neck
 and it crawled down the front of my dress
 I felt its flicking tongue
 dripping onto me like a shower.
 Daddy laughed and said Smart Snake
 and Mrs Kelly with us scowled.

 In the pond where they kept the goldfish
 Philip and I broke the ice with spades
 and tried to spear the fishes;
 we killed one and Philip ate it,
 then he kissed me
 with the raw saltless fish in his mouth.

 My sister Mary's got bad teeth
 and said I was lucky, hen she said
 I had big teeth, but Philip said I was pretty.
 He had big hands that smelled.

 I would speak of Tom, soft laughing,
 who danced in the mornings round the sundial
 teaching me the steps of France, turning
 with the rhythm of the sun on the warped branches,
 who'd hold my breast and watch it move like a snail
 leaving his quick urgent love in my palm.
 And I kept his love in my palm till it blistered.

 When they axed his shoulders and neck
 the blood moved like a branch into the crowd.
 And he staggered with his hanging shoulder
 cursing their thrilled cry, wheeling,
 waltzing in the French style to his knees
 holding his head with the ground,
 blood settling on his clothes like a blush;
 this way
 when they aimed the thud into his back.

 And I find cool entertainment now
 with white young Essex, and my nimble rhymes.
-- Michael Ondaatje
Deviating from the theme of poems remembered to a poem of historical
premise, I would like to submit Michael Ondaatje's "Elizabeth" (from
"There's a Trick With a Knife I'm Learning to Do: Poems, 1962-1978").
History is, after all, a sum of all memories.

In characteristic Ondaatje style, this poem explores several scenes with
still-life precision, each complete and powerful in its imagery, each
seemingly isolated at the outset except for the narrator's voice threading
through. Only as you read along, the impressions merge and the whole story
emerges with subtlety and depth.

But to me, on first encounter, a startling realisation lay in its hidden
historical references. This is a poem set in a retrospective slice of the
life of Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of the infamous King Henry VIII and Anne
Boleyn, often known as the Virgin Queen.

The theme of the poem itself is dark, rendered harsh when the poet uses a
coldly detached tone, infinitely harsher in first person narrative. This
poem stands by itself. Even so, perhaps the most compelling thing about it
is that it brings history out of books and into the ruthless light of



The obvious characters in the story are Philip II of Spain, who ended up
married to Elizabeth's half-sister Mary I, Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour
of Sudeley, and Robert Devereux, earl of Essex. Uncle Jack possibly refers
to Lord John Grey, and Mrs. Kelly could be Katherine Parr, Henry's 6th and
last wife, who was later married to Seymour and brought Elizabeth into their
household. Ambitious Seymour died in a gruesome execution without being
given a trial. Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower of London by Mary I,
and later went on to succeed her to the throne of England. Essex was a
favourite of the queen at court in later years, before she had to have him
put to death for treason .


The whole story is told here:

Wikipedia on Queen Elizabeth I:

Blowin' in the Wind -- Bob Dylan

Guest poem sent in by Aseem
(Poem #1707) Blowin' in the Wind
 How many roads must a man walk down
 Before you call him a man?
 Yes, 'n' how many seas must a white dove sail
 Before she sleeps in the sand?
 Yes, 'n' how many times must the cannon balls fly
 Before they're forever banned?
 The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
 The answer is blowin' in the wind.

 How many years can a mountain exist
 Before it's washed to the sea?
 Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist
 Before they're allowed to be free?
 Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head,
 And pretend he just doesn't see?
 The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
 The answer is blowin' in the wind.

 How many times must a man look up
 Before he can see the sky?
 Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have
 Before he can hear people cry?
 Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take till he knows
 That too many people have died?
 The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind,
 The answer is blowin' in the wind.
-- Bob Dylan
If there's ever a song that cries out to be memorised - this is it. I
can still remember being nine years old and listening to it over and
over, trying to ensure that the words would stay in my head forever. It
wasn't just that the words were beautiful and moving (if anything the
message of war and oppression seemed far less relevant then - back in
the 80's, at the age of 9 - than it does now); it was that listening to
the rhythm of the questions and the soft strumming of the guitar and
that simple, weary, heartfelt and almost speaking voice that could only
be Dylan, I was discovering what poetry really was. Not just pretty
images and melodic rhymes, not just fine sounding words arranged in
neat stanzas, not just daffodils and boys on burning decks, but the
voice of a real person, an attitude, a way of looking at the world.

The folksy "Yes 'n"'s notwithstanding, this is a great poem. Not just
because the rhyme scheme works perfectly, and the pattern of three
repeated questions is brilliant and the metaphors are powerful and the
lines themselves are memorable; but because it's a collection of a few
simple words that has the power to reach out and grab you by the heart.
Because every time you see the war footage on CNN or the pictures from
Abu Ghraib or Sudan or 9/11, the words will come back to haunt you.
Because long after Dylan is dead generations of singers and activists
will find in these simple lyrics  a sense of understanding and the
courage to go on. Because this simple little song sums up the entire
history of the human endeavour: our struggle to define ourselves as
people, our quest for peace and our bewilderment at the world's
cruelty. Because there's something about this song that makes it an
authentic poetic experience, something that you can't pin down but
can't help feeling, something that is, well, "blowin' in the wind".


Carmen XLVI -- Gaius Valerius Catullus

Guest poem sent in by Emlen
(Poem #1706) Carmen XLVI
 Now spring is bringing back the warmer days,
 Now the rage of the equinoctial sky
 Falls silent in Zephyr's pleasant breezes.
 Catullus, leave behind the Phrygian fields,
 And the rich land of sweltering Nicaea:
 Let's fly off to Asia's glorious cities.
 Now the anxious mind is wild to travel,
 Now the happy feet come alive with zeal,
 O dear band of comrades, fare you well,
 Who set off together from our far-off home,
 But different roads lead back in different ways.
-- Gaius Valerius Catullus
Note: Latin version appended below. Please write in if you know the
translator. Carmen (plural carmina) is the Latin for a lyric poem.

 I think this fits the theme of "poems known by heart" (I just joined the
list, and so far haven't been able to access the most recent poems on the
Index, so my sense of the theme may be off). Certainly, at my high school,
which had a big Latin program, it was always on a few senior yearbook pages.
And it definitely fits the season (well, maybe a bit late), and my life at
the moment.

 Like a lot of Catullus, this poem is a bit dizzying: even though it's
only 11 lines, when you get on at the beginning you really don't know where
you're going to end up. It starts off as a spring poem, then suddenly it's a
travel poem, and then finally a good-bye poem.

 The poem is pretty naturally divided into two halves, marked by the two
anaphoras (repetitions) of "now." The first half begins with the coming of
spring, then moves down from the sky to the earth, and personalizes from
"springtime" to "time for Catullus to leave" (addressing himself by name is
a pretty common device in Catullus). Then the two "now" lines of the second
half are sort of a second version of lines 1-2; the changes in Catullus are
like another set of natural spring changes (the word "vigescunt," which is
what C.  says his feet are doing, is commonly applied to plants). The way he
describes his longing to leave as an involuntary, natural process helps
create the sadness of the last lines: he doesn't want to part from his
comrades, but he has no control over his anxious mind and feet. (Describing
conflicting emotions is perhaps what Catullus is best at; probably his most
famous poem is the one that begins "I hate and I love.")

 Context: Catullus went to Bithynia (the "Phrygian fields," now
northwest Turkey; Nicaea was a city in Bithynia, at the time rather
unimportant), probably in 57-56 BCE, in the service of the praetor Memmius
(it didn't go very well, and elsewhere C. has obscene insults for Memmius).
Apparently (from this poem; we have almost no outside sources about C.'s
life) he decided to do some tourism in Asia on the way home. "Asia" is not
what we call Asia, but the province to the south of Bithynia, still in
modern Turkey. It included a number of famous and (already) ancient cities.

 It's a nice poem. Hope you like it. And, finally, the original Latin:

  Iam ver egelidos refert tepores,
  Iam caeli furor aequinoctialis
  Iucundis Zephyri silescit aureis.
  Linquantur Phrygii, Catulle, campi
  Nicaeaeque ager uber aestuosae:
  Ad claras Asiae volemus urbes.
  Iam mens praetrepidans avet vagari,
  Iam laeti studio pedes vigescunt.
  O dulces comitum valete coetus,
  longe quos simul a domo profectos
  diversae varie viae reportant.

N.B.: "aureis" is an archaic spelling for "auris."



There's a biography attached to Poem #1463

Wikipedia entry:

The Chambered Nautilus -- Oliver Wendell Holmes

Guest poem submitted by Mac Robb:
(Poem #1705) The Chambered Nautilus
 This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
 Sail the unshadowed main,-
 The venturous bark that flings
 On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
 In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
 And coral reefs lie bare,
 Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.

 Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
 Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
 And every chambered cell,
 Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
 As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
 Before thee lies revealed,-
 Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!

 Year after year beheld the silent toil
 That spread his lustrous coil;
 Still, as the spiral grew,
 He left the past year's dwelling for the new,
 Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
 Built up its idle door,
 Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.

 Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
 Child of the wandering sea,
 Cast from her lap, forlorn!
 From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
 Than ever Triton blew from wreathed horn;
 While on mine ear it rings,
 Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:-

 Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
 As the swift seasons roll!
 Leave thy low-vaulted past!
 Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
 Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
 Till thou at length art free,
 Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea!
-- Oliver Wendell Holmes

The current theme of poems known by heart (and often no longer read, much
less memorised) is in its way as much fun as the discovery in Minstrels of
poems hitherto unknown to me, by poets both known and unknown. It was, in
fact, my own modest commentary on Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Song" a few days back
that put me in mind of Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, Henry
Wadsworth Longfellow and John Greenleaf Whittier - the "Fireside Poets" of
mid-nineteenth century New England, whose verses were till recently
mainstays of primary school "readers" and known to everyone who attended
public school in North America. So much so that many of the famous lines
from such poets remain clichés while their sources have faded from the
popular canon.

"The Chambered Nautilus" is doubtless one such - "Build thee more stately
mansions O my soul" is sometimes thought a quotation from holy writ, Milton
or Shakespeare. Not so, of course. Oliver Wendell Holmes is perhaps mostly
remembered nowadays as the father and namesake of the eminent puisne justice
of the US Supreme Court ("Well, if he was 'junior' there must have been a
'senior,' right?"). It was once the other way around and Holmes Senior, who
was a professor of anatomy and physiology at Harvard Medical School, was
known even more widely for his poetry, originally published in The Atlantic
Monthly, of which he was a founder and which he named, than for his eminence
as a physician and medical educator.

Perhaps as much as its old-fashioned quality of their verse it's the old
fashioned liberalism of their opinions that has caused the Fireside Poets'
eclipse, particularly among those who might seem their modern constituency.
Holmes was a proponent of science as the discreditor of the Calvinistic
orthodoxy of his Puritan forbears and, well... we used to think the Scopes
Monkey Trial was the ludicrous last gasp of fundamentalism in modern life
but look where we are these days.

The nautilus is a cephalopod of the Indian and Pacific oceans; it adds a new
chamber to its spiral shell each year and annually moves into a more stately
mansion. (The Greeks thought it could erect a membrane and sail - the
reference in lines 3-5.) And whereas the Calvinism of traditional
Congregationalism and Presbyterianism propounded ideas such as
predestination, original depravity and original grace, Holmes hopefully saw
the shellfish's shell-building as a metaphor for man's ability to seek and
find ever higher attainment.

Remember too that it was published in 1858, and it can't be a coincidence
that this was a year after the infamous Dred Scott decision of the American
Supreme Court which confirmed the legitimacy of slavery in the South and
ruled the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional - thus bringing the issue to
even greater national attention and strengthening the resolve of high-minded
Yankee abolitionists.

Mac Robb
Brisbane, Australia

[thomas adds] I've only just noticed that I forgot to credit Mac Robb with
the submission of and commentary to Poem #1700, "The Pilgrim" by John
Bunyan. Many thanks to Mac and to all the other submitters of the guest
poems we've run on the Minstrels mailing list. -t.

Do not Stand at my Grave and Weep -- Mary Frye

Guest poem sent in by Vijay
(Poem #1704) Do not Stand at my Grave and Weep
 Do not stand at my grave and weep,
 I am not there, I do not sleep.
 I am a thousand winds that blow,
 I am the softly falling snow.
 I am the gentle showers of rain,
 I am the fields of ripening grain.
 I am in the morning hush,
 I am in the graceful rush
 Of beautiful birds in circling flight.
 I am the starshine of the night.
 I am in the flowers that bloom,
 I am in a quiet room.
 I am in the birds that sing,
 I am in each lovely thing.
 Do not stand at my grave and cry,
 I am not there -- I do not die.
-- Mary Frye

Last night, having watered the plants, my Swiss flatmate and I were standing
in our terrace garden looking at the stars, with Zurich shimmering on one
side and a mountain on the other. He amazed me completely by reciting this
poem. The poem was written on a tombstone in the cemetry he used to pass
everyday on his way to primary school. He (and apparently quite a few other
kids from his school) unconsciously memorised the poem. Some poems you
memorise somehow become yours, so here's me submitting his poem to your
brilliant theme!



Representative Poetry Online notes that there are two distinct versions of the
poem floating around, and explains:
    Version 1 may be what the Federal Printing Press produced as a postcard
    for Margaret Scharzkopf's parents' friends. It differs from Version 2,
    claimed by Frye in 2000 as her original, to judge by what she read from
    that for Kelly Ryan on the Ideas interview, lines 11-14 and the present
    tense "do" in line 16.

You can see both versions up at

The Oblation -- Algernon Charles Swinburne

Guest poem submitted by Deepak Ramachandran
(Poem #1703) The Oblation
 Ask nothing more of me, sweet,
 All I can give you I give
 Heart of my heart, were it more,
 More would be laid at your feet:
 Love that should help you to live,
 Song that should spur you to soar.

 All things were nothing to give
 Once to have sense of you more,
 Touch you and taste of you, sweet,
 Think you and breathe you and live,
 Swept of your wings as they soar,
 Trodden by chance of your feet.

 I that have love and no more
 Give you but love of you, sweet;
 He that hath more, let him give;
 He that hath wings, let him soar;
 Mine is the heart at your feet
 Here, that must love you to live
-- Algernon Charles Swinburne
I've been lurking on the minstrels list for a long time, and I never thought
my first submission would be a Swinburne. I usually don't like his poems
cause they seem florid and sentimental. But this one I like because it's
elegant and has balance.

I came across it while rereading Joyce's Ulysses. Buck Mulligan sings lines
3 and 4 mockingly to his milklady after paying part of his bill.  Elsewhere
in the Telemachus chapter, Mulligan asks "Isn't the sea what Algy calls it?
A grey sweet mother?" (a reference to Swinburne's Triumph of Time).  I like
to think that in having a pompous dislikable character like Mulligan quote
Swinburne so much, Joyce was expressing his opinion on Algy's poetry.

I'd like to dedicate this submission to two people: Jacob, my roommate who
can find it in his cynical heart to like Swinburne's poems after sniggering
at pretty much everything else, and Kamalika, who coerced me into making a
submission, and suggesting that I use the Ulysses reference as an excuse for
submitting sappy love poetry.


Untitled -- Samuel Beckett

Guest poem sent in by Barbara Kay Bosserman
(Poem #1702) Untitled
 My way is in the sand flowing
 between the shingle and the dune
 the summer rain rains on my life,
 on me my life harrying fleeing
 to its beginning to its end

 My peace is there in the receding mist
 when I may cease from treading these long shifting thresholds
 and live the space of a door
 that opens and shuts

 je suis ce cour de sable qui glisse
 entre le galet et le dune
 le pluie d'etre pleur sur ma vie
 sur moi ma vie qui me fuit me poursuit
 et finira le jour de son commencement

 cher instant je te vois
 dan ce rideau de brume qui recule
 ou je n'aurai plus a fouler ces long seuils mouvants
 et vivrai le temps d'une porte
 qui s'ouvre et se referme
-- Samuel Beckett
       (1948, from "Collected Poems in English and French")

My first encounter with this poem was as an undergraduate back in the
mid-eighties. Although I almost never studied in the library, the effect of
upcoming finals on the temper of my normally pleasant roommate induced me to
study there one semester. I ended up near the poetry section more by
accident than design. Bored by whatever I was supposed to be studying, I
happened to see an old, thin volume of poems which I started flipping
through. Twenty years later, I can't remember much from any of my classes,
but I can still recite several of those poems (the English versions anyway)
from memory.

Back then, I would have been certain I knew the poem's meaning. Now, I'll
just say that I like how it sounds when recited aloud, its sea imagery, and
the fact that -- while it seems to acknowledge life's futility (those long
shifting thresholds), when I read it I feel some ultimate sense of
rightness about everything.

Beckett is, of course, better known as a playwright than a poet. His most
famous work is Waiting for Godot.

Barbara Kay Bosserman



The parent site is a good collection of Beckett links:

Ode to the Lemon -- Pablo Neruda

Guest poem submitted by Neha Kumar :
(Poem #1701) Ode to the Lemon
 From blossoms
 by the moonlight,
 from an
 aroma of exasperated
 steeped in fragrance,
 drifted from the lemon tree,
 and from its planetarium
 lemons descended to the earth.

 Tender yield!
 The coasts,
 the markets glowed
 with light, with
 unrefined gold;
 we opened
 two halves
 of a miracle,
 congealed acid
 from the hemispheres
 of a star,
 the most intense liqueur
 of nature,
 unique, vivid,
 born of the cool, fresh
 of its fragrant house,
 its acid, secret symmetry.

 sliced a small
 in the lemon,
 the concealed apse, opened,
 revealed acid stained glass,
 oozed topaz,
 cool architecture.

 So, when you hold
 the hemisphere
 of a cut lemon
 above your plate,
 you spill
 a universe of gold,
 yellow goblet
 of miracles,
 a fragrant nipple
 of the earth's breast,
 a ray of light that was made fruit,
 the minute fire of a planet.
-- Pablo Neruda
The imagery is exquisite. Neruda is my favorite poet, but I only just
stumbled upon his collection of odes
( and was pleasantly
surprised to note his versatility. A master of expression of human emotions,
he brings to life the most mundanely inanimate of things.


The Bells of Heaven -- Ralph Hodgson

Guest poem sent in by Bob Williams
(Poem #1700) The Bells of Heaven
 'Twould ring the bells of heaven,
 The wildest peal for years,
 If Parson lost his senses
 And people came to theirs.
 And he and they together
 Knelt down with angry prayers
 For tamed and shabby tigers,
 And dancing dogs and bears,
 And wretched, blind pit ponies,
 And little hunted hares.
-- Ralph Hodgson
This is a poem that lives vividly in mind, memory and heart. The skill is
great but concealed. Imagery of the opening lines carries us deep into the
poem before what we know what it is about. If the reader gets as far as
'angry prayers,' there is no way out and the reader must go on to the end.
The last four lines are carefully built with a choice of the feral and the
domestic victims of man's inhumanity. The sound is brittle and matches the
idea of these victim's vulnerability. The controlled wrath of the poet is
awesome.  His lines crackle.

Bob Williams



We've run one of Hodgson's poems before: The Gipsy Girl [Poem #517], which
displays the same finely-controlled wrath.

The Pilgrim -- John Bunyan

(Poem #1699) The Pilgrim
 Who would true valour see,
 Let him come hither;
 One here will constant be,
 Come wind, come weather
 There's no discouragement
 Shall make him once relent
 His first avowed intent
 To be a pilgrim.

 Whoso beset him round
 With dismal stories
 Do but themselves confound;
 His strength the more is.
 No lion can him fright,
 He'll with a giant fight,
 He will have a right
 To be a pilgrim.

 Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
 Can daunt his spirit,
 He knows he at the end
 Shall life inherit.
 Then fancies fly away,
 He'll fear not what men say,
 He'll labour night and day
 To be a pilgrim.
-- John Bunyan
Continuing with the theme of poems known by heart, I submit this song from
Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Not worthy-to-be memorised so much as
impossible, once heard, not to recall line-for-line, I think.

Time was, we are often told, that even the least literate household in the
English-speaking world contained the King James Bible, Pilgrim's Progress
and a set of Shakespeare. I am mildly sceptical; my first acquaintance with
Bunyan came from primary schoolteachers reading Louisa May Alcott's Little
Women aloud in class, and the New England Transcendentalists were hardly
among the least literate of folk. But then my grandparents - Victorians,
certainly, by birthdate -- were the first generation of their respective
families to be native Anglophones and their bookshelves were more likely to
contain in addition to the King James Bible (of course), travelling salesman
encyclopedias and the collected William Cowper.

I first encountered Pilgrim's Song when I played the organ in Anglican
churches in Canada; set to the cheerful Sussex tune Monks Gate, which was
among the many folk tunes rescued and collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams,
Percy Dearmer and others in the closing years of the 19th century and
popularised by being set to hymn texts in the English Hymnal. Actually, come
to think of it, I first heard it at Ottawa Cathedral in the company of a
prelate friend; the preacher was Chief Buthelezei and the pilgrimage alluded
to was that of the South African people to freedom.

Once heard to that tune, Pilgrim's Song is, as I say, unforgettable; I later
played the organ in Australian churches and taught in an Australian private
school. A substantial proportion of Australians are educated in
church-affiliated private schools, and the result is that choosing Pilgrim's
Song for a funeral in Australia guarantees a lusty congregational response.
Odd that it is so little known among evangelical Protestants, whether
liberal (it is unknown in the United Church of Canada) or conservative
(equally unknown by American Baptists), when Bunyan was a Strict Baptist who
spent years in prison for refusing to conform to the Church of England after
the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 when the intolerance of the Puritans
during the Commonwealth was amply compensated for when the Church of England
returned to episcopacy. Pity; it makes for a wonderfully hearty and vigorous
funeral when the congregation knows it and therefore sings it heartily. And
when the obligatory scripture readings are supplemented by "Fear no more the
heat o' the sun" from Shakespeare's "Cymbeline" and maybe Auden's "Stop all
the clocks" (though, alas, the movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral" has
somewhat reduced its novelty) well,..

There is a rather anemic "modernised" version in some American hymnals; it
is deservedly obscure. Who could possibly be moved by this dross in
comparison with lions, giants, hobgoblins and foul fiends?

 He who would valiant be 'gainst all disaster,
 Let him in constancy follow the Master.
 There's no discouragement shall make him once relent
 His first avowed intent to be a pilgrim.

 Who so beset him round with dismal stories
 Do but themselves confound-his strength the more is.
 No foes shall stay his might; though he with giants fight,
 He will make good his right to be a pilgrim.

 Since, Lord, Thou dost defend us with Thy Spirit,
 We know we at the end, shall life inherit.
 Then fancies flee away! I'll fear not what men say,
 I'll labour night and day to be a pilgrim.

Mac Robb
Brisbane, Australia

When I was Young and Ignorant -- Patrick Barrington

Guest poem sent in by William Grey
(Poem #1698) When I was Young and Ignorant
 When I was young and ignorant I loved a Miss McDougall,
 Our days were spent in happiness, although our means were frugal;
 We did not sigh for worldly wealth, for vain and tawdry treasures,
 We were a simple country pair with simple country pleasures.
 Beneath the village chestnut-tree it was our joy to meet once;
 We used to tread the dewy fields with wonder-waking feet once;
 We wandered once in leafy lanes and walked in Woodlands shady;
 But now she's gone to Birmingham to be a Bearded Lady

 I loved her as I loved my life when I was young and tender,
 And happily our time was spent although our means were slender.
 We used to pass the golden days in countrified pursuits once;
 We walked through simple country bogs in simple country boots once.
 High hopes of happiness I had, but now my hopes are zero,
 Alas!  My love has left me now to carve her own career O;
 Not all the hopes of her I had of her are worth a maravedi;
 My love has gone to Birmingham to be a Bearded Lady.

 My love now dwells in circus halls with clowns and tight-rope dancers,
 Where dromedaries play bassoons and sea-lions do the lancers;
 She moves amongst trick-bicyclists, buffoons and comic waiters,
 With elephants and acrobats and prestidigitators.
 No longer daily by my side she wanders through the hay now,
 The glamour of the public eye has lured are far away now.
 Remorseless Fates, my tender hopes how cruelly betrayed ye!
 My love has gone to Birmingham to be a Bearded Lady.

 When I was young and ignorant I loved a Miss McDougall;
 But that was e'er she heard the call of Fame's imperious bugle.
 I thought her kind as she was fair, but I was green and calfish;
 My love, though brighter than a star, was colder than a starfish.
 High hopes of happiness I had when I was young and tender;
 But time and tide have falsified my juvenile agenda.
 Farewell, my castle is in the air! Phantasmal mansions, fade ye!
 My love has gone to Birmingham to be a Bearded Lady.
-- Patrick Barrington
Another chequered romantic adventure from the imagination of Patrick
Barrington, once again from 'Songs of a Sub-Man' (London: Methuen & Co Ltd,
1934). Earlier romantic adventures by Barrington on Minstrels are [1] and
[2].  As usual an eccentric choice of lover and also, as usual, romantic
disappointment.  Though Barrington never married I wonder: was he ever

William Grey

[1] Poem #1551, My Love is a Theosophist -- Patrick Barrington
[2] Poem #1597, I Met a Lady in the Wood -- Patrick Barrington

[Martin adds]

This one hits a new high for tortured yet perfect rhymes (even if he stole
the "worth a maravedi"/lady rhyme from Gilbert! :)). Calfish/starfish was
particularly groanworthy, especially since you can see it coming when he
mentions the star. Delightful stuff.

Tithonus -- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Guest poem submitted by Hilary Caws-Elwitt:
(Poem #1697) Tithonus
     The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
 The vapors weep their burthen to the ground,
 Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
 And after many a summer dies the swan.
 Me only cruel immortality
 Consumes; I wither slowly in thine arms.
 Here at the quiet limit of the world,
 A white-haired shadow roaming like a dream
 The ever-silent spaces of the East,
 Far-folded mists, and gleaming halls of morn.
     Alas! for this gray shadow, once a man--
 So glorious in his beauty and thy choice,
 Who madest him thy chosen, that he seemed
 To his great heart none other than a God!
 I asked thee, "Give me immortality."
 Then didst thou grant mine asking with a smile,
 Like wealthy men who care not how they give.
 But thy strong Hours indignant worked their wills,
 And beat me down and marred and wasted me,
 And though they could not end me, left me maimed
 To dwell in presence of immortal youth,
 And all I was ashes.  Can thy love,
 Thy beauty, make amends, though even now,
 Close over us, the silver star, thy guide,
 Shines in those tremulous eyes that fill with tears,
 To hear me?  Let me go; take back thy gift.
 Why should a man desire in any way
 To vary from the kindly race of men,
 Or pass beyond the goal of ordinance
 Where all should pause, as is most meet for all?
     A soft air fans the cloud apart; there comes
 A glimpse of that dark world where I was born.
 Once more the old mysterious glimmer steals
 From thy pure brows, and from thy shoulders pure,
 And bosom beating with a heart renewed.
 Thy cheek begins to redden through the gloom,
 Thy sweet eyes brighten slowly close to mine,
 Ere yet they blind the stars, and the wild team
 Which love thee, yearning for thy yoke, arise,
 And shake the darkness from their loosened manes,
 And beat the twilight into flakes of fire.
     Lo! ever thus thou growest beautiful
 In silence, then before thine answer given
 Departest, and thy tears are on my cheek.
     Why wilt thou ever scare me with thy tears,
 And make me tremble lest a saying learnt,
 In days far-off, on that dark earth be true?
 "The Gods themselves cannot recall their gifts."
     Ay me! ay me! with what another heart
 In days far-off, and with what other eyes
 I used to watch--if I be he that watched--
 The lucid outline forming round thee; saw
 The dim curls kindle into sunny rings;
 Changed with thy mystic change, and felt my blood
 Glow with the glow that slowly crimsoned all
 Thy presence and thy portals, while I lay,
 Mouth, forehead, eyelids, growing dewy-warm
 With kisses balmier than half-opening buds
 Of April, and could hear the lips that kissed
 Whispering I knew not what of wild and sweet,
 Like that strange song I heard Apollo sing,
 While Ilion like a mist rose into towers.
     Yet hold me not forever in thine East;
 How can my nature longer mix with thine?
 Coldly thy rose shadows bathe me, cold
 Are all thy lights, and cold my wrinkled feet
 Upon thy glimmering thresholds, when the steam
 Floats up from those dim fields about the homes
 Of happy men that have the power to die,
 And grassy barrows of the happier dead.
 Release me, and restore me to the ground.
 Thou seest all things, thou wilt see my grave;
 Thou wilt renew thy beauty morn by morn,
 I earth in earth forget these empty courts,
 And thee returning on thy silver wheels.
-- Alfred, Lord Tennyson
[My first submission to Minstrels, which I've been enjoying for several
years now!]

Continuing on the "memorized" theme, this is one of my all-time favorite
poems, which I memorized about ten years ago. I still remember chunks but
need to brush up to be able to recite the whole thing again (the longer the
poem, the more maintenance it needs in my mind!).

_Tithonus_ still gives me shivers to read, and even more so to say aloud.
It's the "after" of the myth in which Eos, goddes of dawn, falling in love
with a young man who asks her for the gift of immortality. He gets eternal
life but not eternal youth.

Tennyson's personalization of Dawn captures the perfectly silent, slow,
spectacular changes of sunrise; to me it evokes both its beauty and its
chill loneliness, the sublime aspect of this enormous dramatic change that
happens every morning yet which we often barely notice. The contrast between
the glamour of the immortals and the small human scale is so clear yet
subtle ("cold my wrinkled feet!"). But what I love most about this poem is
its depiction of death as a natural end, a part of life, rejoining the earth
like the woods that decay and fall.

Hilary Caws-Elwitt.

nobody loses all the time -- e e cummings

Guest poem sent in by Lisa
(Poem #1696) nobody loses all the time
 nobody loses all the time

 i had an uncle named
 Sol who was a born failure and
 nearly everybody said he should have gone
 into vaudeville perhaps because my Uncle Sol could
 sing McCann He Was A Diver on Xmas Eve like Hell Itself which
 may or may not account for the fact that my Uncle

 Sol indulged in that possibly most inexcusable
 of all to use a highfalootin phrase
 luxuries that is or to
 wit farming and be
 it needlessly

 my Uncle Sol's farm
 failed because the chickens
 ate the vegetables so
 my Uncle Sol had a
 chicken farm till the
 skunks ate the chickens when

 my Uncle Sol
 had a skunk farm but
 the skunks caught cold and
 died and so
 my Uncle Sol imitated the
 skunks in a subtle manner

 or by drowning himself in the watertank
 but somebody who'd given my Uncle Sol a Victor
 Victrola and records while he lived presented to
 him upon the auspicious occasion of his decease a
 scruptious not to mention splendiferous funeral with
 tall boys in black gloves and flowers and everything and
 i remember we all cried like the Missouri
 when my Uncle Sol's coffin lurched because
 somebody pressed a button
 (and down went
 my Uncle

 and started a worm farm)
-- e e cummings
I knew if I thought long enough I'd come up with a poem I've been moved to
memorize that isn't (insha'allah) on the Minstrels all ready.

I love e.e. cummings.  My favorite poem is "Anyone lived in a pretty how
town" (Poem #1260) which has the most beautiful melody of any poem I've ever
encountered.  But this is my second favorite.  How charming, the description
of Uncle Sol; how fitting and even touching that he won at last.  And as I
contemplate my occasional wins and my frequent losses in this world, it is
comforting to realize that no one can lose all the time.  Is it symbolic
that this perpetual loser is named after the sun -- and if so, how?  Or is
the poem merely straightforward?  Whatever else it does, it shows us a side
of cummings we rarely see -- his frivolous side.


As You Came from the Holy Land -- Sir Walter Raleigh

Guest poem submitted by Fraser Spratt :
(Poem #1695) As You Came from the Holy Land
 As you came from the holy land
    Of Walsinghame,
 Met you not with my true love
    By the way as you came ?

 How shall I know your true love,
    That have met many one,
 As I went to the holy land,
    That have come, that have gone ?

 She is neither white nor brown,
    But as the heavens fair ;
 There is none hath a form so divine
    In the earth or the air.

 Such a one did I meet, good sir,
    Such an angel-like face,
 Who like a queen, like a nymph, did appear,
    By her gait, by her grace.

 She hath left me here all alone,
    All alone, as unknown,
 Who sometimes did me lead with herself,
    And me loved as her own.

 What's the cause that she leaves you alone,
    And a new way doth take,
 Who loved you once as her own,
    And her joy did you make ?

 I have loved her all my youth,
    But now old, as you see,
 Love likes not the falling fruit
    From the withered tree.

 Know that Love is a careless child,
    And forgets promise past ;
 He is blind, he is deaf when he list,
    And in faith never fast.

 His desire is a dureless content,
    And a trustless joy ;
 He is won with a world of despair,
    And is lost with a toy.

 Of womankind such indeed is the love,
    Or the word love abusèd,
 Under which many childish desires
    And conceits are excusèd.

 But true love is a durable fire,
    In the mind ever burning,
 Never sick, never old, never dead,
    From itself never turning.
-- Sir Walter Raleigh
I've been listening to Andrew Motion's "A Map of British Poetry" series on
Radio 4 [1] and have simply been blown away by every show. The vast range of
poetry that is being performed is amazing, and all the actors they've hired
are simply outstanding, Simon Russell Beale especially. It was his reading
of this poem I'm submitting that opened my eyes, if you will, to just how
moving poetry can be.

And you know, there's a lot of brilliant analysis in this archive, and for
that I applaud all involved. It can, however, feel slightly unnecessary and
intimidating on occasion. That of course may simply be my limited experience
showing through. Nevertheless, I know what effects me emotionally and this
poem most certainly does that.



Learning -- Judith Viorst

Guest poem sent in by Kathryn Stinson
(Poem #1694) Learning
 I'm learning to say thank you.
 And I'm learning to say please.
 And I'm learning to use Kleenex,
 Not my sweater, when I sneeze.
 And I'm learning not to dribble.
 And I'm learning not to slurp.
 And I'm learning (though it sometimes really hurts me)
 Not to burp.
 And I'm learning to chew softer
 When I eat corn on the cob.
 And I'm learning that it's much
 Much easier to be a slob.
-- Judith Viorst
I memorized Viorst's "Learning" with my third grade son and recited it in
front of his third grade class, with him.  What a pleasure to share it,
parenting the same child who memorized it with me, as he was actually
learning little nuances of polite living.

It was a class assignment, and all the children memorized something and then
stood to recite, some with their parents, some going it alone.

Public school teachers are unsung heroes.  I thank mine whenever I get the

And a bunch of them have put together poetry sites for the little guys.
Here's a gateway site for several good children's poetry sites:

~Kathryn Stinson


 Judith Viorst is the author of eight collections of poetry and five books of
 prose, including the bestseller Necessary Losses and her comic novel,
 Murdering Mr. Monti.


 Viorst has ... written twelve children's books, among them the classic
 Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible,  No Good, Very Bad Day.


 The current theme, poems worthy of memorisation, started at Poem #1687

The Garden -- Andrew Marvell

Guest poem submitted by Andrew Bateman:
(Poem #1693) The Garden
 How vainly men themselves amaze
 To win the palm, the oak, or bays,
 And their uncessant labors see
 Crowned from some single herb or tree,
 Whose short and narrow-vergèd shade
 Does prudently their toils upbraid;
 While all the flowers and trees do close
 To weave the garlands of repose.

 Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,
 And Innocence, thy sister dear!
 Mistaken long, I sought you then
 In busy companies of men:
 Your sacred plants, if here below,
 Only among the plants will grow;
 Society is all but rude,
 To this delicious solitude.

 No white nor red was ever seen
 So amorous as this lovely green;
 Fond lovers, cruel as their flame,
  Cut in these trees their mistress' name.
 Little, alas, they know or heed,
 How far these beauties hers exceed!
 Fair trees! wheresoe'er your barks I wound
 No name shall but your own be found.

 When we have run our passion's heat,
 Love hither makes his best retreat:
 The gods who mortal beauty chase,
 Still in a tree did end their race.
 Apollo hunted Daphne so,
 Only that she might laurel grow,
 And Pan did after Syrinx speed,
 Not as a nymph, but for a reed.

 What wondrous life is this I lead!
 Ripe apples drop about my head;
 The luscious clusters of the vine
 Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
 The nectarine and curious peach
 Into my hands themselves do reach;
 Stumbling on melons as I pass,
 Insnared with flowers, I fall on grass.

 Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
 Withdraws into its happiness:
 The mind, that ocean where each kind
 Does straight its own resemblance find;
 Yet it creates, transcending these,
 Far other worlds, and other seas;
 Annihilating all that's made
 To a green thought in a green shade.

 Here at the fountain's sliding foot,
 Or at some fruit-tree's mossy root,
 Casting the body's vest aside,
 My soul into the boughs does glide:
 There like a bird it sits and sings,
 Then whets and combs its silver wings;
 And, till prepared for longer flight,
 Waves in its plumes the various light.

 Such was that happy garden-state,
 While man there walked without a mate:
 After a place so pure and sweet,
 What other help could yet be meet!
 But 'twas beyond a mortal's share
 To wander solitary there:
 Two paradises 'twere in one
 To live in Paradise alone.

 How well the skillful gardener drew
 Of flowers and herbs this dial new;
 Where from above the milder sun
 Does through a fragrant zodiac run;
 And, as it works, the industrious bee
 Computes its time as well as we.
 How could such sweet and wholesome hours
 Be reckoned but with herbs and flowers!
-- Andrew Marvell

Given the last poem ("You, Andrew Marvell" by Archibald MacLeish, Poem
#1692) I thought it would be good to include Marvell's "The Garden." I have
no idea what this poem is about. The garden relates to Earth and to
Paradise, and there is a to and fro between human endeavour and the mindless
perfection of the garden. There are religious overtones (and who, living in
Marvell's England, at war between the King/Church of England and
Puritanism/Parliament could avoid such overtones?). All I can say is that
this poem has wandered around my head since I  first read it. At times when
everything seems to be going to the dogs, I find much comfort in the quiet
sanity of the lines

   Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
   Withdraws into its happiness:
   The mind, that ocean where each kind
   Does straight its own resemblance find;
   Yet it creates, transcending these,
   Far other worlds, and other seas;
   Annihilating all that's made
   To a green thought in a green shade.

For me, if he had written nothing else, this would have been enough. You
could argue that the lines "Two paradises 'twere in one / To live in
Paradise alone." are misogynist, but the rest of the work, I think,
compensates for this.


Excerpts from a Father's Wisdom -- A K Ramanujan

Guest poem submitted by Rama Rao, a stanza from:
(Poem #1692) Excerpts from a Father's Wisdom
 Do not worry about Despair
 Just comb your hair
 Despair is a strange disease
 I think it even happens to trees.
-- A K Ramanujan
Sometimes a poem seeps in without one realising, and resonates. Ramanujan,
in my opinion the finest Indian poet to have written in English, is often
simple and matter-of-fact in his themes. Yet I find these lines haunting and
melancholic and memorisable.

Rama Rao.

You, Andrew Marvell -- Archibald MacLeish

Guest poem sent in by Vivek Narayanan
(Poem #1691) You, Andrew Marvell
And here face down beneath the sun
Here upon Earth's noonward height
To feel the always coming on
The always rising of the night:

To feel creep up the curving East
The earthy chill of dusk and slow
upon those underlands the vast
And ever climbing shadow grow

And strange at Ecbatan the trees
Take leaf by leaf the evening strange
The flooding dark about their knees
The mountains over Persia change

And now at Kermanshah the gate
Dark empty and the withered grass
And through the twilight now the late
Few travellers in the Westward pass

And Baghdad darken and the bridge
Across the silent river gone
And through Arabia the edge
of evening widen and steal on

And deepen in Palmyra's street
The wheel-rut in the ruined stone
And Lebanon fade out and Crete
High through the clouds and overblown

And over Sicily the air
Still flashing with the landward gulls
And loom and slowly disappear
The sails above the shadowy hulls

And Spain go under and the shore
Of Africa the gilded sand
And evening vanish and no more
The low pale light across that land

Nor now the long light on the sea:

And here face downward in the sun
To feel how swift how secretly
The shadow of the night comes on...
-- Archibald MacLeish
My number one memorisable poem has to be at the moment Roethke's The Waking;
of course it's not about sleep at all, but the sleep of reason and anxiety,
ie., an attempt to put reason and anxiety to sleep.  Sure enough, it seems
to have a very real, calming effect on me when I recite it to myself: which
leads me to believe that the number one reason we memorise poems is that so
they may be internalised in the living body and have an actual, physical
effect, be a way of reforming the self.  Well... since that one is already
in the archive, I'm typing up this other famous poem from memory, a
remarkable visualization of time in the shadow that creeps as the Earth

The poem's own movement/cadence and its eschewing of punctuation makes for a
physical mimesis of the shadow's constant growing; and it manages both a
very large scale and a minuteness of seen detail: such as (and how!) the
wheel-rut left by centuries of wheels on Palmyra's street.

Slightly longish, MacLeish's poem is nevertheless surprisingly easily to
memorise because of the rhymed quartrains and the very steady, measured
iambic (te-tum te-tum) line which is stretched out longingly by all those
long vowels.  When I checked my version out against the poem at the website there were a few things I'd gotten wrong, I'd typed: "the"
for "those" in the 7th line, "darken" instead of "deepen" in the 21st line,
and "downward" instead of "landward" in the 26th line.  Thus the exercise
was a very good one which made me pay renewed attention again to MacLeish's
subtle and rather careful word-choices.

I'd also kept the last four lines together and not used any punctuation.
The punctuation seems to be a bit different in different versions on the
net; for instance, in one version the poem ends in an ellipsis, in another in
a full stop-- which makes me think, my humble opinion, that perhaps the poem
would indeed be better without any punctuation at all.

One clarification may also aid the memorising of the poem: going strictly by
sense, the third stanza parses out as follows: "... and strange at Ecbatan,
the trees take leaf by leaf the evening; strange, the flooding dark about
their knees, the mountains over Persia change."  So there should be a slight
pause or breath just before the second "strange" to make the enjambment



A great piece by Mark Strand on today's poem:


Today's poem is very reminiscent,  in tone, feel and rhythm, of
Auden's "The Fall
of Rome" [Poem #494]

Patriotism -- Sir Walter Scott

Guest poem submitted by Amulya Gopalakrishnan:
(Poem #1690) Patriotism
 Breathes there the man with soul so dead,
 Who never to himself hath said,
    "This is my own, my native land!"
 Whose heart hath ne'er within him burn'd
 As home his footsteps he hath turn'd
    From wandering on a foreign strand?
 If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
 For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
 High though his titles, proud his name,
 Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
 Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
 The wretch, concentred all in self,
 Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
 And, doubly dying, shall go down
 To the vile dust from whence he sprung,
 Unwept, unhonour'd, and unsung.
-- Sir Walter Scott
        From "The Lay of the Last Minstrel", Canto VI.

Here's a poem I memorized out of sheer love. Somehow, when I was seven or
eight, I couldn't get enough of swelling patrotic sentiment. This one, and
"Rule, Brittania!" were particular favourites (I wasn't discriminating about
which country)... Though it sounds very different now, I still instinctively
resist notions of a post-national world: there's a dire voice in my head
that goes, "unwept, unhonoured and unsung". :)


When in Disgrace with Fortune and Men's Eyes (Sonnet XXIX) -- William Shakespeare

Guest poem sent in by Aseem

Continuing the theme of poems worth memorising:
(Poem #1689) When in Disgrace with Fortune and Men's Eyes (Sonnet XXIX)
 When in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,
 I all alone beweep my outcast state,
 And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
 And look upon myself and curse my fate.
 Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
 Featur'd like him, like him with friends possessed,
 Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
 With what I most enjoy contented least,
 Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
 Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
 (Like to the Lark at break of day arising)
 From sullen earth sings hymns at Heaven's gate,
 For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings,
 That then I scorn to change my state with Kings.
-- William Shakespeare
It's not so much that this sonnet moves me to memorise it, it's more that
(like much of Shakespeare) the language in it rings so true that having read
it once it's impossible to get it out of my head.

In many ways, Sonnet XXIX has always struck me as the perfect sonnet.  It's
not just that it's a brilliant demonstration of Shakespeare's incredible
command over the language. It's also the flawless marriage of that language
with form and content. Notice how the first eight lines form a sort of
prison of despair - a prison in which the lines pace restlessly back and
forth - and then the sextet that follows is a soaring escape from this
feeling, five lines of such incredible beauty that just reading them you can
hear your heart soar like a bird released. And Shakespeare doesn't just give
you the image to go with the feeling, he gives you a 12th line that seems to
follow from both the 10th and the 11th, making an otherwise tired metaphor
come breathlessly alive.

Plus of course there's the rhythm of the whole thing, the way every line
seems to trip so lightly onto your tongue, that it's almost impossible to
see how the thing could have been said any differently.  This is the
Shakespeare of the great monologues - a man whose gift for speech writing
has few equals. The wording is precise (and rich with little nuggets of wit
such as "what I most enjoy, contented least" or "change my state with
Kings") yet amazingly natural, even four centuries after the sonnet was
written. And there's something about lines 10-12 - a sort of singing
exultation - that make them truly unforgettable. The only thing I can think
of that can bring me such instant joy is the opening movement of Beethoven's
6th Symphony.

W.H. Auden described poetry as "a way of happening, a mouth". (In Memory of
W. B. Yeats [Poem #50] - another poem I remember every word of). Nowhere is
that as true as it is in Shakespeare - this is not simply a poem I remember,
it's a poem that is a part of how I think, a voice in my head.  Every time I
find myself envying someone in office, I can hear that voice mutter
"Desiring this man's art and that man's scope"; every time I try to get a
document through some government bureacracy I find myself repeating "Trouble
deaf heaven with my bootless cries"; every time I step out of my building
with a hangover and it's a beautiful, sunlit morning and the sky is a
brilliant blue the words in my head are "Like to a lark at break of day
arising / From sullen earth sings hymns at Heaven's gate".


P.S. I can't believe you don't already have this on Minstrels!

The Bread-Knife Ballad -- Robert Service

Carrying on with the theme, here's a guest poem from Michelle Marie
(Poem #1688) The Bread-Knife Ballad
 A little child was sitting upon her mother's knee
 and down her cheeks the bitter tears did flow;
 and as I sadly listened, I heard this tender plea,
 'twas uttered in a voice so soft and low...

     Please, Mother, don't stab Father with the bread-knife.
     Remember 'twas a gift when you were wed.
     But if you must stab Father with the bread-knife,
     Please, Mother, use another for the bread.

 "Not guilty!" said the Jury, and the Judge said, "Set her free,
 but remember this must not occur again.
 Next time, you must listen to your little daughter's plea."
 Then all the Court did join in this refrain...

     Please, Mother, don't stab Father with the bread-knife.
     Remember 'twas a gift when you were wed.
     But if you must stab Father with the bread-knife,
     Please, Mother, use another for the bread.
-- Robert Service
Martin has requested poems which we have been moved to memorise. The nursery
rhyme, "Curly Locks" which he posted is a particular favourite of mine...
along with:

  There was a little girl
  who had a little curl
  right in the middle of her forehead,
  and when she was good
  she was very very good...
  and when she was bad
  she was horrid.

I could go on quoting nursery rhymes all evening - I have memorised hundreds
:) not because I have children... I just love them for their fun and
quotability in any situation.

However, the poem I would like to offer for the minstrels archive is not a
nursery rhyme, although it shares a similar structure. It is:

Chorus from 'The Bread-Knife Ballad'
by Robert William Service

  Please, Mother, don't stab Father with the bread-knife.
  Remember 'twas a gift when you were wed.
  But if you must stab Father with the bread-knife,
  Please, Mother, use another for the bread.

That is all I ever knew of this poem, and I think it stands brilliantly on
its own. Having been started on the path, I soon found the rest of the poem.
While it has nowhere near the strength of the chorus for memorability, I
have included it for the sake of completeness.


[Martin adds]

Michelle's poem and commentary reminded me of Thackeray's "Sorrows of Werther"
[Poem #183], which, coincidentally, I'd originally read and memorised only the
last verse of. I agree with her that the chorus of today's poem stands on its
own very well, and is far more memorable than the poem-as-a-whole.

Why so Pale and Wan? -- John Suckling

Guest poem submitted by Nisha Susan:
(Poem #1687) Why so Pale and Wan?
 Why so pale and wan, fond lover?
        Prithee, why so pale?
 Will, when looking well can't move her,
        Looking ill prevail?
        Prithee, why so pale?

 Why so dull and mute, young sinner?
        Prithee, why so mute?
 Will, when speaking well can't win her,
        Saying nothing do 't?
        Prithee, why so mute?

 Quit, quit for shame! This will not move;
        This cannot take her.
 If of herself she will not love,
        Nothing can make her:
        The devil take her!
-- John Suckling
I thought I would add my bit to the poems-one-has-been-moved-to-memorize
theme. Great theme by the way.

This poem is great fun and just terribly useful which is not something one
can say about many poems. This poem is as good as a spanner in the house. If
it cannot make a friend in the romantic doldrums laugh, the friend is
currently beyond redemption.

Suckling is one  of the Cavalier poets, the poets of the court of Charles I.
His writing is marked for its witty but ultra-casual style. This lyric poem
is from his play Aglaura which had two endings (one tragic and one happy)
but didn't quite make it in the box office. There has been much speculation
about whether Suckling was someone who wrote in semi-serious vein to hide
his sharp, social insights and rejection of ritual or someone who was never
serious about the craft of writing.

More about the good man:


Curly-locks -- Traditional

This week's theme: poems you've been moved to memorise
(Poem #1686) Curly-locks
 Curly-locks, Curly-locks, wilt thou be mine?
 Thou shalt not wash dishes, nor yet feed the swine,
 But sit on a cushion and sew a fine seam,
 And dine upon strawberries, sugar, and cream!
-- Traditional
Minstrels member Bronson Stocker suggested a great idea for a theme - "Must
memorise poems". I decided to alter that slightly, to poems that people have
been actually moved to memorise themselves - surely the sincerest indication
that a poem is worth memorising! However, my enthusiasm soon ran into a
small snag - I've already *run* all the poems I felt compelled to memorise,
most of them in the first fine careless rapture of starting Minstrels, and I
daresay Thomas has done the same.

Happily, I remembered that I've been meaning to run another nursery rhyme
for a while now, and nursery rhymes are surely the canonical example of
poems that people have memorised. They're also wonderful examples of
memorable poetry, with strong rhythms, perfect rhymes (the wonders of an
oral tradition) and (unlike a lot of children's poetry) a vocabulary that
does not condescend to the reader.

Indeed, I've learnt a fair amount from nursery rhymes - what a dapple horse
was, and a tuffet, and comfits, the names of a good many historic churches
in London (taking what I mentally called the "Oranges and Lemons tour as a
college student was a wonderful combination of discovery and nostalgia),
that Thirty Days had September, and a lot of other things that seeped in by
osmosis when I was simply enjoying the sounds and shapes of the words.

And why this particular nursery rhyme? Simply because to this day I cannot
eat a strawberry without having the beautifully rhythmic phrase "and dine
upon strawberries, sugar and cream" running through my mind. Some poems
simply work their way into your brain with no effort on your part.


[Folk Process]

Another, and, I speculate, later version runs:

    Bonny lass! bonny lass! will you be mine?
    Thou shalt neither wash dishes, nor serve the wine;
    But sit on a cushion, and sew up a seam,
    And dine upon strawberries, sugar and cream.

(I suspect the "later" because the specific "curly-locks" has been replaced
by the more generic "bonny lass", and "feed the swine" to the more genteel
"serve the wine". I could well be wrong, though.)

In the nursery rhyme, I've seen the word 'dine' in the last line replaced by
"feed", "sup" and "feast" variously; I've chosen to run the version I learnt
as a kid. Line 2 is sometimes "Thou shalt not wash *the* dishes",
suggesting that the first foot changes from "thou SHALT" to "thou shalt
NOT", arguably a more sensible stressing, but the two unstressed syllables
in the start break out of the poem's rhythm. I've also seen "nor feed the
swine", which matches the "Bonny lass" version above, but doesn't scan as
satisfyingly as "nor yet feed the swine"


Two pages speculating on the poem's origins:
  [broken link]


To reiterate, we're running a theme on poems you've been moved to memorise -
do send your favourites in!