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I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed -- Emily Dickinson

Guest poem sent in by Aseem
(Poem #1743) I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed
 I taste a liquor never brewed,
 From tankards scooped in pearl;
 Not all the vats upon the Rhine
 Yield such an alcohol!

 Inebriate of air am I,
 And debauchee of dew,
 Reeling, through endless summer days,
 From inns of molten blue.

 When landlords turn the drunken bee
 Out of the foxglove's door,
 When butterflies renounce their drams,
 I shall but drink the more!

 Till seraphs swing their snowy hats,
 And saints to windows run,
 To see the little tippler
 Leaning against the sun!
-- Emily Dickinson
Just a quick response to Zen's tea poem [Poem #1743] (which, incidentally, I
have absolutely no memory of ever sending her). Figured if we were doing
poems about drinking and beverages more generally (I sense a theme coming on
- Martin / Thomas?) we can't do without including this little marvel of a

Today's poem is not, emphatically, one of Dickinson's best. Some of the
lines border on trite and the overall effect is of something light and
harmless, the intense power that I love Dickinson for is missing. But it's
precisely this frothiness that makes this poem such a delightful read.
Poetry really doesn't get sweeter and happier than this - to read these 16
lines is to experience the very giddiness that Dickinson is trying to
describe. There are some exquisite phrases here "Inebriate of air am I / and
debauchee of dew" and "inns of molten blue" and Dickinson's quicksilver
lines create a sense of footsteps dancing lightly through across the page
which is simply exquisite.

This is a poem one could truly get drunk on.


Other suggested reading on minstrels:

John Agard's Coffee in Heaven [Poem #1071]
(another poem we owe to Zen - you're really obsessed, aren't you?)
Vikram Seth's Sit [Poem #966]
Harold Monro's Milk for the Cat [Poem #727]
Rumi's The Tavern [Poem #514]
Harivansh Rai Bacchan's Madhusala [Poem #72]
Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat (extract) [Poem #162]

A Pot Of Tea -- Robert Service

Guest poem submitted by Zenobia Driver:
(Poem #1742) A Pot Of Tea
 You make it in your mess-tin by the brazier's rosy gleam;
 You watch it cloud, then settle amber clear;
 You lift it with your bay'nit, and you sniff the fragrant steam;
 The very breath of it is ripe with cheer.
 You're awful cold and dirty, and a-cursin' of your lot;
 You scoff the blushin' 'alf of it, so rich and rippin' 'ot;
 It bucks you up like anythink, just seems to touch the spot:
 God bless the man that first discovered Tea!

 Since I came out to fight in France, which ain't the other day,
 I think I've drunk enough to float a barge;
 All kinds of fancy foreign dope, from caffy and doo lay,
 To rum they serves you out before a charge.
 In back rooms of estaminays I've gurgled pints of cham;
 I've swilled down mugs of cider till I've felt a bloomin' dam;
 But 'struth! they all ain't in it with the vintage of Assam:
 God bless the man that first invented Tea!

 I think them lazy lumps o' gods wot kips on asphodel
 Swigs nectar that's a flavour of Oolong;
 I only wish them sons o' guns a-grillin' down in 'ell
 Could 'ave their daily ration of Suchong.
 Hurrah! I'm off to battle, which is 'ell and 'eaven too;
 And if I don't give some poor bloke a sexton's job to do,
 To-night, by Fritz's campfire, won't I 'ave a gorgeous brew
 (For fightin' mustn't interfere with Tea).
 To-night we'll all be tellin' of the Boches that we slew,
 As we drink the giddy victory in Tea.
-- Robert Service
Here's a nice poem on tea. Actually I got it from Aseem who seems to be
contributing a lot to the Minstrels these days, dunno why he has not
submitted this one yet. I love tea, hence the very title of this poem grabs
my attention. Love the simple and matter-of-fact way in which the poem
announces its existence - "a pot of tea". These are my favourite lines:

 You're awful cold and dirty, and a-cursin' of your lot;
 You scoff the blushin' 'alf of it, so rich and rippin' 'ot;
 It bucks you up like anythink, just seems to touch the spot:
 God bless the man that first discovered Tea!

I just love having a warm, fragrant cup of tea when I am tired - just the
smell of the brew makes me feel better.


To the Moon -- Percy Bysshe Shelley

Guest poem sent in by Aseem
(Poem #1741) To the Moon
 Art thou pale for weariness
 Of climbing heaven, and gazing on the earth,
 Wandering companionless
 Among the stars that have a different birth,—
 And ever-changing, like a joyless eye
 That finds no object worth its constancy?
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley
Every time I look through the Minstrels archive, I'm always saddened to see
how poorly represented Shelley is on the site (yes, Martin, I know you don't
much care for him, but still). All right, so he tends to get a little
carried away; yes, he doesn't have quite the ear that Keats does, or Byron;
fine, his images tend to pile one upon the other until they become
suffocating, almost annoying (What was it Shakespeare said: "give me excess
of it, that surfeiting / The appetite may sicken and so die."); true, he
could have used a good editor. All of that does not detract from the fact
that Shelley is, IMHO, one of the most visionary and passionate of poets to
grace the English language, one of its most strident and lyrical voices; a
young man capable, at his best, of such burning purity of image that few
poets before or since could match him.  Certainly a poet who deserves to be
better represented on the site than he currently is.

This poem is the first step towards achieving that representation. It's a
brilliant little gem of a poem, a glorious example of just how stunning
Shelley could be when he didn't overdo it. The double image of the moon
roaming disconsolate through the night sky and Youth searching restlessly
for spiritual beauty is both crystal clear and oddly compelling. To read
this poem aloud is to experience the sadness and the despair of the speaker
- no mean feat for a poem that is all of six lines long. This is a
quintessentially romantic poem: it combines a sense of haunting lyricism
with one of the most spectacularly visual closing lines in all of poetry:
'Ever changing like a joyless eye / That finds no object worth its
constancy'. (The failure of the last line to rhyme only heightens the
overall impact of the stanza in my view - it sharpens the ending, makes it,
somehow, more fragile).

It's always seemed to me that Shelley, with his restless, tormented, uneven
poems, with his visions of political and lyrical grandeur combined with
periods of dark depression, is truly a poet of a 'different birth'. The
least we can do is make sure he has all his best poems with him, to keep him


[Martin adds]

While it is true that I dislike the majority of Shelley's work, I have never
denied his essential genius, and I have ever urged readers who *are* fans of
his poetry to fill up the lacuna. I heartily agree that he deserves to be
better represented in the archives, but my primary criterion for selecting a
poem has always been my enjoyment of said poem; therefore, I leave the
Shelley poems to people like Aseem, who has done a far better job of writing
about him than I could have. (I believe that I speak for Thomas too in this


Covering Two Years -- Weldon Kees

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1740) Covering Two Years
 This nothingness that feeds upon itself:
 Pencils that turn to water in the hand,
 Parts of a sentence, hanging in the air,
 Thoughts breaking in the mind like glass,
 Blank sheets of paper that reflect the world
 Whitened the world that I was silenced by.

 There were two years of that. Slowly,
 Whatever splits, dissevers, cuts, cracks, ravels, or divides
 To bring me to that diet of corrossion, burned
 And flickered to its terminal. - Now in an older hand
 I write my name. Now with a voice grown unfamiliar,
 I speak to silences of altered rooms,
 Shaken by knowledge of recurrence and return.
-- Weldon Kees
A month ago, I'd never heard of Weldon Kees. Then Anthony Lane wrote an
article about him in the New Yorker [1] and I went out and got Kees'
collected poems from the library and before I knew it another poet had been
added to my ever-growing list of American Greats (and to my order list at
Amazon, sigh!).

The truth is, Kees is not really one poet - he's two. The younger Kees is a
clever enough poet, a product of his time, writing poems filled with wit and
intelligence that impress you with their craft but don't necessarily move
you. There are some beautiful images here, some truly skilled writing
("Distance upon distance, cloud on cloud, / Crayons of smoke that sketch
blue sky / With gray appeals." - Two Cities; or check out, if you can a poem
called Early Winter), his poems have an air of meticulous observation about
them, of quiet detail which make them a rewarding read. But there's
something disconnected about these poems, as if they do not really touch
Kees' heart. Plus there's the Eliot influence which shows through clearly,
and is certainly not compatible with Kees' own style - in trying to emulate
his masters, Kees does himself a grave disservice. If you're a form buff
though you might really enjoy these poems - Kees writes some of the most
skilled sestinas I've ever read, and there are a couple of villanelles in
there as well.

But it's the later Kees that I truly fell in love with. There are glimpses
of this side of Kees in The Fall of the Magicians, but it's only in the
poems he wrote in the early 1950's (Poems 1947 - 1954) and in particular in
his uncollected poems that this side of him comes alive. The poems from this
period are premonitions of Lowell, even of Plath. Kees writes like a man
trying to fight off his demons with the aid of poetry; there is a note of
authentic despair in his voice (even though he struggles to maintain a
distant, almost academic tone) that gives these poems a sense of deep
autumnal urgency.

Today's poem is a good example of this - there are some beautiful lines here
("Blank sheets of paper that reflect the world / Whitened the world I was
silenced by") but what really makes this poem work is the sense of defeat
and dread: the first stanza paralysed and helpless, the second at once a
revival and a surrender, a portrait of a man granted a small reprieve, but
faced (as the last line tells us) with the inevitable return of his
depression. Any man who can dismiss two years of his life in half a line
("There were two years of that.") is a poet: brave, precise and true.


[1] You can read Lane's article at:

There's also a biography of Kees at:

And a selection of his poems at:
[broken link]

Three Songs of Shattering - I -- Edna St Vincent Millay

(Poem #1739) Three Songs of Shattering - I
 The first rose on my rose-tree
   Budded, bloomed, and shattered,
 During sad days when to me
           Nothing mattered.

 Grief of grief has drained me clean;
   Still it seems a pity
 No one saw, -- it must have been
           Very pretty.
-- Edna St Vincent Millay
I was reading through a Dorothy Parker collection, and pondering Millay's
influence on her poems, when it occurred to me that we hadn't had a Millay
poem in a while. This one came to mind naturally enough, as being very
reminscent of Parker's work, and it highlights many of the things I enjoy
about both poets - the precision of form and language (and a precision that
manages to be flowingly organic rather than sterile), the ability to find
startlingly moving metaphors in the most seemingly everyday situations, the
mastery of bathos, and above all, the perfectly controlled outpouring of
pain and grief beneath the surface of a superficially light poem.

Tangentially, the first episode of the US TV show "Desperate Housewives"
aired here recently, and I felt that the general tone and content was very
reminiscent of Millay's poetry. Did anyone else make that particular


Mahi-Mahi -- Mairead Byrne

Guest poem submitted by Moses Lei, [broken link]
(Poem #1738) Mahi-Mahi
 Cooked onshore.

 Better than a William Carlos Williams poem.
-- Mairead Byrne
Mahi-mahi[1] ("strong-strong" in Hawai'ian) is a sweet tropical fish also
known as the dolphin fish or dorado. You can find some good recipes here[2].
Or, you can buy seasoned fillets of it at Trader Joe's. Delicious!

This poem is from Mairead Byrne's blog, Heaven[3]. It made me laugh because
it's a parody on WCW's shorter poems, like "The Red Wheelbarrow" or "This is
just to say." I guess it takes a poetry geek like me to think anything of
this poem, and I thought I would share it with the other poetry geeks out
there on the minstrels list!

Mairead Byrne is an Irish poet who now teaches at the Rhode Island School of
Design in Providence. More about her can be found at her home page at
Soundeye[4] or an interview with her at[5]. She
writes new poetry daily and she is almost constantly updating her blog,
which consists completely of poetry.

  [4]: [broken link]


Monet Refuses the Operation -- Lisel Mueller

Guest poem sent in by Joe Riley
(Poem #1737) Monet Refuses the Operation
 Doctor, you say that there are no haloes
 around the streetlights in Paris
 and what I see is an aberration
 caused by old age, an affliction.
 I tell you it has taken me all my life
 to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
 to soften and blur and finally banish
 the edges you regret I don't see,
 to learn that the line I called the horizon
 does not exist and sky and water,
 so long apart, are the same state of being.
 Fifty-four years before I could see
 Rouen cathedral is built
 of parallel shafts of sun,
 and now you want to restore
 my youthful errors: fixed
 notions of top and bottom,
 the illusion of three-dimensional space,
 wisteria separate
 from the bridge it covers.
 What can I say to convince you
 the Houses of Parliament dissolve
 night after night to become
 the fluid dream of the Thames?
 I will not return to a universe
 of objects that don't know each other,
 as if islands were not the lost children
 of one great continent.  The world
 is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
 becomes water, lilies on water,
 above and below water,
 becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
 and white and cerulean lamps,
 small fists passing sunlight
 so quickly to one another
 that it would take long, streaming hair
 inside my brush to catch it.
 To paint the speed of light!
 Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
 burn to mix with air
 and changes our bones, skin, clothes
 to gases.  Doctor,
 if only you could see
 how heaven pulls earth into its arms
 and how infinitely the heart expands
 to claim this world, blue vapor without end.
-- Lisel Mueller
I came across this amazing poem in an anthology and I am surprised that it
isn't known better.  Just wanted to share.  A web version, with graphics and
sound, can be found at:


[Martin adds]

I agree with Joe - this is an absolutely fascinating poem, and I thank him
for introducing me to it. I must admit I had some doubts as to how well
Mueller could fulfil the poem's initial promise, but I needn't have worried-
the execution never faltered, the images built up atop one another without
ever getting repetitive (no easy feat, that), and the poem was permeated
with that unique magic that distinguishes Monet's paintings. Wonderful stuff


Meeting at Night -- Robert Browning

Guest poem sent in by "Kamalika Chowdhury"
(Poem #1736) Meeting at Night
 The gray sea and the long black land;
 And the yellow half-moon large and low;
 And the startled little waves that leap
 In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
 As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
 And quench its speed i' the slushy sand.

 Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
 Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
 A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
 And blue spurt of a lighted match,
 And a voice less loud, thro' its joys and fears,
 Than the two hearts beating each to each!
-- Robert Browning
Late last night I was dusting down my old volume of Browning, when on
an impulse I decided to google on whether you have "Meeting at Night"
on the archive. Picture my surprise when I realised that you'd almost
run it, but not quite! (Refer Poem #814 - Parting at Morning.)

Both poems were first published in Dramatic Romances and Lyrics, 1845,
as "I Night, II Morning," and given the present titles in 1849.

The richness of visual detail captured in these few lines is as grand
as any story Browning told. The rhyme - abccba - is carried off
effortlessly, unnoticed in the building rhythm of the narrative. I
particularly love the momentum and anticipation of the final stanza.
And there is something especially exciting about the cadence of the
lovely lines "And the startled little waves that leap/ In fiery
ringlets from their sleep".


Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher -- Nissim Ezekiel

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul
(Poem #1735) Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher
 To force the pace and never to be still
 Is not the way of those who study birds
 Or women. The best poets wait for words.
 The hunt is not an exercise of will
 But patient love relaxing on a hill
 To note the movement of a timid wing;
 Until the one who knows that she is loved
 No longer waits but risks surrendering -
 In this the poet finds his moral proved
 Who never spoke before his spirit moved.

 The slow movement seems, somehow, to say much more.
 To watch the rarer birds, you have to go
 Along deserted lanes and where the rivers flow
 In silence near the source, or by a shore
 Remote and thorny like the heart's dark floor.
 And there the women slowly turn around,
 Not only flesh and bone but myths of light
 With darkness at the core, and sense is found
 But poets lost in crooked, restless flight,
 The deaf can hear, the blind recover sight.
-- Nissim Ezekiel
I've never been a big Ezekiel fan. I see why he's so important to Indian
English poetry and am happy to pay him the respect due to a literary
ancestor who made so much of what followed (Mahapatra, Ramanujan, Kolatkar)
possible, but I'm generally unimpressed by his poems. I find him a little
too desperately modern, as if he were writing more out of a desire to be
witty or different than from any real poetic vision.

Which is why it's somewhat ironic that this should be the one exception -
the one poem of his that I truly treasure. To be honest, I don't even like
the whole poem - I think the last few lines are kitschy and trite, but I'm
willing to overlook that for the sake of that breathless, exquisite first
paragraph (and the first five lines of the second one). I cannot think of a
poem where a fairly complex triple metaphor is carried off more
effortlessly, more gracefully. The images of poet, lover and birdwatcher
seem to fuse seamlessly together; the effect is almost visual - like
watching a camera fade gently from one to the other. The language itself
seems relaxed, patient. The clever rhyme pattern combines with the ebb and
flow of the lines to give that first paragraph a strangely lilting,
uplifting quality, combined with a sense of great peace.

But it's not just the sound or the imagery of the poem that makes this poem
work, it's also the idea. To find the one common trait between these three
very different activities is genius enough, but Ezekiel expresses them
beautifully, finding exactly the right phrases to make the comparison come
alive. And there is, in that idea, something deeply moving (at least for
me). This is not a poem I admired simply for its beauty or wit, this is a
poem that has stayed with me through the years, become a part of the way I
think and act and feel. It's a poem that comes back to me every time I find
myself trying too hard to write; it's a poem that informs my

"In this the poet finds his moral proved / Who never spoke before his spirit
moved", Ezekiel writes. This is one of the few times in all his poems that I
think he's seriously sticking to that advice; and the evidence is,
literally, overwhelming.


[1] I've never been much for bird-watching, so that's one part of this poem
I can't really speak to.

On Laws (The Prophet, Chapter 13) -- Kahlil Gibran

Guest poem sent in by Rajarshi Bandopadhyay
(Poem #1734) On Laws (The Prophet, Chapter 13)
 Then a lawyer said, "But what of our Laws, master?"
 And he answered:

 You delight in laying down laws,
 Yet you delight more in breaking them.
 Like children playing by the ocean who build sand-towers with
   constancy and then destroy them with laughter.
 But while you build your sand-towers the ocean brings more sand to the shore,
 And when you destroy them, the ocean laughs with you.
 Verily the ocean laughs always with the innocent.

 But what of those to whom life is not an ocean, and man-made laws are
   not sand-towers,
 But to whom life is a rock, and the law a chisel with which they
   would carve it in their own likeness?
 What of the cripple who hates dancers?
 What of the ox who loves his yoke and deems the elk and deer of the
   forest stray and vagrant things?
 What of the old serpent who cannot shed his skin, and calls all
   others naked and shameless?
 And of him who comes early to the wedding-feast, and when over-fed
   and tired goes his way saying that all feasts are violation and all
   feasters law-breakers?

 What shall I say of these save that they too stand in the sunlight,
   but with their backs to the sun?
 They see only their shadows, and their shadows are their laws.
 And what is the sun to them but a caster of shadows?
 And what is it to acknowledge the laws but to stoop down and trace
   their shadows upon the earth?

 But you who walk facing the sun, what images drawn on the earth can hold you?
 You who travel with the wind, what weathervane shall direct your course?
 What man's law shall bind you if you break your yoke but upon no
   man's prison door?
 What laws shall you fear if you dance but stumble against no man's
   iron chains?
 And who is he that shall bring you to judgment if you tear off your
   garment yet leave it in no man's path?
 People of Orphalese, you can muffle the drum, and you can loosen the
   strings of the lyre, but who shall command the skylark not to sing?
-- Kahlil Gibran
In the light of recent terrorist attacks, there have been various
denunciations of fundamentalist and extremist ideologies, especially
the Islamic variety. IMHO, no matter what religion or philosophy it
subscribes to, extremism is dangerous, because it leads to conflict,
intolerance and violence.

Several articles in recent editions of prominent news sources have
attempted to analyse what drives seemingly normal young men to such
extremes, and they seem to come up with common themes:  youthful
rebellion, spiritual yearning, immigrant isolation, racial
discrimination, sexual repression and existentialist crises.

IMHO, the primary cause for these young men to blow themselves up is
none but the oldest criminal motive, that which caused Cain to slay
Abel: envy. Envy that their own orthodox beliefs, which aims at
suppressing every human pleasure and instinct, do not bring them
happiness, whereas  supposedly inferior cultures seem to be doing so
much better.

Gibran condemns those who would impose arbitrary morality on humanity
"the cripple who hates dancers", and ends the chapter ends on a
resounding blow for personal freedom of the human spirit, within the
limits of self-restraint, "tear off your garment yet leave it in no
man's path".


  Gibran bio at

The Prodigal, 3.II -- Derek Walcott

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1733) The Prodigal, 3.II
 The tidal motion of refugees, not the flight of wild geese,
 the faces in freight cars, haggard and coal-eyed,
 particularly the peaked stare of children,
 the huge bundles crossing bridges, axles creaking
 as if joints and bones were audible, the dark stain
 spreading on maps whose shapes dissolve their frontiers
 the way that corpses melt in a lime-pit or
 the bright mulch of autumn is trampled into mud,
 and the smoke of a cypress signals Sachsenhausen,
 those without trains, without mules or horses,
 those who have the rocking chair and the sewing machine
 heaped on a human cart, a waggon without horses
 for horses have long galloped out of their field
 back to the mythology of mercy, back to the cone
 of the orange steeple piercing clouds over the lindens
 and the stone bells of Sunday over the cobbles,
 those who rest their hands on the sides of their carts
 as if they were the flanks of mules, and the women
 with flint faces, with glazed cheekbones, with eyes
 the colour of duck-ponds glazed over with ice,
 for whom the year has only one season, one sky:
 that of rooks flapping like torn umbrellas,
 all have been reduced into a common language,
 the homeless, the province-less, to the incredible memory
 of apples and clean streams, and the sound of milk
 filling the summer churns, where are you from,
 what was your district, I know that lake, I know the beer,
 and its inns, I believed in its mountains,
 now there is a monstrous map that is called Nowhere
 and that is where we're all headed, behind it
 there is a view called the Province of Mercy,
 where the only government is that of the apples
 and the only army the wide banners of barley
 and its farms are simple, and that is the vision
 that narrows in the irises and the dying
 and the tired whom we leave in ditches
 before they stiffen and their brows go cold
 as the stones that have broken our shoes,
 as the clouds that grow ashen so quickly after danw
 over palm and poplar, in the deceitful sunrise
 of this, your new century.
-- Derek Walcott
Finally managed to get my hands on Walcott's new book (The Prodigal; Farrar,
Straus and Giroux, New York, 2004) and was so totally overwhelmed by it that
felt I had to share it on Minstrels. This is classic Walcott - not perhaps
the singing genius of Omeros but more the soft-spoken, wise old man we've
come to know and love from Tiepolo's Hound. The poems here are rich with
melodies, gentle miracles of language - the voice of someone who speaks
softly but exactly. If Walcott seems to ramble a bit, like an old man
reminscing, this is no more than an act, a carefully constructed illusion.
Behind the stream of consciousness flow of these poems breathes a poet of
incredible talent, so that reading his work you can see the occassional
phrase gleam out at you, like sunlight shining for a moment on a great
river. This in itself is proof of Walcott's fecundity - some of the lines
here are so searing that a lesser poet would have dedicated an entire poem
to them - Walcott, however, just tosses them in casually, almost without
noticing. Nor is the flow of this poem an accident; the little leaps that
Walcott makes are surprising but also entirely natural, and the different
thoughts and threads of the poem assemble easily into an overall image, a
vision of refugees travelling along a country road, that is intensely real.

There's no real reason why I chose this section of The Prodigal over any
other (well, okay, so the fact that it's not too long to type in may have
had something to do with it!) - I pretty much opened the book at random and
picked a section to send in. So if you really want to experience the full
power of Walcott's writing - read the book. Trust me, it's worth it.


A Narrow Fellow in the Grass -- Emily Dickinson

Guest poem submitted by Joanne Nakaya:
(Poem #1732) A Narrow Fellow in the Grass
 A narrow Fellow in the Grass
 Occasionally rides -
 You may have met him? Did you not
 His notice instant is -

 The Grass divides as with a comb -
 A spotted Shaft is seen,
 And then it closes at your Feet
 And opens further on -

 He likes a Boggy Acre -
 A Floor too cool for Corn -
 Yet when a Boy and barefoot
 I more than once at Noon,

 Have passed I thought a Whip Lash
 Unbraiding in the Sun
 When stooping to secure it
 It wrinkled And was gone -

 Several of Nature's People
 I know and they know me
 I feel for them a transport
 Of Cordiality;

 But never met this Fellow
 Attended or alone
 Without a tighter Breathing
 And Zero at the Bone.
-- Emily Dickinson
This version of the poem is from "The Poems of Emily Dickinson", edited by
R. W. Franklin and published by The Belknap Press of Harvard University.

My favorite poetess of all time is Emily Dickinson.  She is so concise.  The
brevity of her poetry lends an intensity that I have found in the renderings
of very few poets.  I also find her poetry eternal.  I have chosen this poem
because every time I read it I remember meeting a snake in the grass while
tromping through our back fields when I was a child in Vermont.  A "tighter
Breathing / And Zero at the Bone" is exactly how it felt.  She never
identifies the 'Fellow' as a snake; she doesn't need to.  Her use of
language is superb and there is no doubt of whom she speaks.  Despite the
language that might appear odd to our generation, her message here, and
thoughout her poetry, transcends time.

Joanne Nakaya.

Nonadaptation -- Czeslaw Milosz

Guest poem submitted by Sarah Korah :
(Poem #1731) Nonadaptation
 I was not made to live anywhere except in Paradise.

 Such, simply, was my genetic inadaptation.

 Here on earth every prick of a rose-thorn changed into a wound.
 whenever the sun hid behind a cloud, I grieved.

 I pretended to work like others from morning to evening,
 but I was absent, dedicated to invisible countries.

 For solace I escaped to city parks, there to observe
 and faithfully describe flowers and trees, but they changed,
 under my hand, into the gardens of Paradise.

 I have not loved a woman with my five senses.
 I only wanted from her my sister, from before the banishment.

 And I respected religion, for on this earth of pain
 it was a funereal and a propitiatory song.
-- Czeslaw Milosz
As a statement of intent, and as a memorable first line, Milosz makes things
very clear by saying "I was not made to live anywhere except in Paradise".
Yet in typical Milosz style, what follows is NOT a funny, escapist take on
life. Instead we're treated to 13 lines of intelligent, memorable poetry.

It amuses me that whenever I quote from this poem, I tend to choose the
light hearted lines ("I pretended to work like others from morning to
evening, but I was absent, dedicated to invisible countries.").. and people
naturally assume that it's from a funny poem. Talk of taking a quote out of
context !

Czeslaw Milosz's bio, and more of his poems, can be found on minstrels at

Sarah Korah.

You're the Top -- Cole Porter

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1730) You're the Top
 You're the top!
 You're the Coliseum.
 You're the top!
 You're the Louvre Museum.
 You're a melody
 From a symphony
 By Strauss
 You're a Bendel bonnet,
 A Shakespeare sonnet,
 You're Mickey Mouse!

 You're the Nile,
 You're the Tower of Pisa,
 You're the smile
 On the Mona Lisa
 I'm a worthless check,
 A total wreck,
 A flop!
 But if, baby, I'm the bottom
You're the top!

 You're the top!
 You're Mahatma Gandhi.
 You're the top!
 You're Napoleon Brandy.
 You're the purple light
 Of a summer night
 In Spain,
 You're the National Gallery
 You're Garbo's salary,
 You're cellophane!

 You're sublime,
 You're a turkey dinner,
 You're the time
 Of a Derby winner,
 I'm a toy balloon
 That's fated soon
 To pop
 But if, baby, I'm the bottom,
 You're the top!

 You're the top!
 You're an arrow collar
 You're the top!
 You're a Coolidge dollar,
 You're the nimble tread
 Of the feet of Fred
 You're an O'Neill drama,
 You're Whistler's mama,
 You're camembert!

 You're a rose,
 You're Inferno's Dante,
 You're the nose
 On the great Durante.
 I'm just in a way,
 As the French would say,
 "de trop".
 But if, baby, I'm the bottom,
 You're the top!

 You're the top!
 You're a dance in Bali.
 You're the top!
 You're a hot tamale.
 You're an angel, you,
 Simply too, too, too
 You're a Boticcelli,
 You're Keats, you're Shelley,
 You're Ovaltine!

 You're a boom,
 You're the dam at Boulder,
 You're the moon,
 Over Mae West's shoulder,
 I'm the nominee
 Of the G.O.P.
 Or GOP!
 But if, baby, I'm the bottom,
 You're the top!

 You're the top!
 You're a Waldorf salad.
 You're the top!
 You're a Berlin ballad.
 You're the boats that glide
 On the sleepy Zuid-
 -er Zee,
 You're an old Dutch master,
 You're Lady Astor,
 You're broccoli!

 You're romance,
 You're the steppes of Russia,
 You're the pants,
 On a Roxy usher,
 I'm a broken doll,
 A fol-de-rol,
 A blop,
 But if, baby, I'm the bottom,
 You're the top!
-- Cole Porter
Was listening to my old Ella Fitzgerald recordings [1] of the Cole Porter
songbook, and decided to see if he was represented on Minstrels. Discovered
that he doesn't feature on the site at all, so figured would send in one of
my favourite songs of all time. "You're the Top", is, of course, one of the
many classic jazz standards that Porter has given us (other familiar tunes
include: 'I Love Paris', 'Begin the Beguine' 'I've got you under my skin'
'Easy to Love' 'You do something to me' 'De-lovely' 'I get a kick out of
you', etc., etc.) - but it's the one that, IMHO, best shows off his
incredible skill as a songwriter.

What makes the song particularly brilliant is the fact that it's at once a
parody and an exquisitely crafted piece of music (I'm reminded of Mozart in
Cosi fan tutte - all those stunning arias for what is essentially a false
love). This is a song that is (forgive the pun) completely over the top -
Porter takes the fine art of paying extravagant compliments / making
exaggerated comparisons to ridiculous extremes, but it's a parody done with
such good will, such conscious self-ridicule, such amazing quickness of wit,
that you can't help being a little moved even as you're laughing out loud.

And laughing out loud you should be - this is a truly hilarious song. What I
love about it most is the way it constantly fluctuates between the sublime
and the mundane ("you're a Bendel bonnet / A Shakespeare sonnet / You're
Mickey Mouse" or "You're Botticelli / You're Keats, You're Shelley / You're
Ovaltine!) so that the very contrast between the different things the loved
one is compared to is incredibly funny. Plus, of course, the references are
thrilling in themselves - forget bright copper kettles and warm woolen
mittens, if there was a ever a list of my favourite things (well, maybe not
Bendel Bonnets, but Dante and Shakespeare and Keats and Shelley and Berlin
ballads and O'Neill dramas and Strauss and Napoleon Brandy and Fred Astaire
and Waldorf Salads? wow!) this is it. And added to it, there's Porter's
wonderful sense of humour (this is a man who wrote a song with the lyrics
"Mr. Harris, plutocrat / Wants to give my cheek a pat / If the Harris pat
means a Paris hat, Hurray!") - how can you not love a man who would actually
write a song that went "I'm the nominee / of the G.O.P. / Or GOP"?

But behind the seemingly gay and effortless rhythm of the song (and the
sense of things being a little forced, a little raw around the edges) is
Porter's incredible craftsmanship. To begin with, this is an incredibly
complicated rhyme pattern to pull off: ababccdeed fgfghhaia with the 'a' -
the -op sound - being repeated through all the stanzas. And all of this with
short punchy lines, with some of the rhymes being virtually internal. This
is truly a virtuoso accomplishment, specially when you consider that these
are song lyrics, and so Porter not only has to get the lines to rhyme per
se, he also needs to get them to go together with the same general rhythm.
The fact that he makes it so fluid, so effortless, actually managing to
enhance the punchline of some of his lines with the tune (and always keeping
you guessing as to the next line - an effect I've hardly ever seen this side
of Urdu Ghazals) is simply breathtaking.

Bottomline: I defy anyone to listen to this song and not end up grinning (if
not actually laughing aloud) at its perfectly balanced mix of intelligence,
wit and pure silliness. I defy anyone to get through all five stanzas and
not feel his or her heart leap with the soaring notes of that final "You're
the Top!". I defy anyone to listen to this song and not end up falling in
love with it.


[1] Although to really appreciate this song, check out the Louis Armstrong
version - that deep moaning voice singing "mama, you're the smile / on the
Mona Lisa" so sweet you can taste it.

The Star-Spangled Banner -- Francis Scott Key

Guest poem sent in by Emlen Smith
[our apologies to Emlen; this was meant to go out yesterday - ed.]
(Poem #1729) The Star-Spangled Banner
 Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light,
 What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
 Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
 O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
 And the rockets' red glare,
 The bombs bursting in air,
 Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
 O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
 O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

 On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
 Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
 What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
 As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
 Now it catches the gleam
 Of the morning's first beam,
 In full glory reflected now shines on the stream:
 'Tis the star-spangled banner! O long may it wave
 O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

 And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
 That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
 A home and a country should leave us no more?
 Their blood has wiped out their foul footstep's pollution.
 No refuge could save
 The hireling and slave
 From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
 And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
 O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

 Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
 Between their loved homes and the war's desolation!
 Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land
 Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
 Then conquer we must,
 When our cause it is just,
 And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
 And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
 O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
-- Francis Scott Key
I think the National Anthem is underappreciated as a poem. We Americans take
it for granted, or if we think about it, probably assume we only like it out
of tradition (and I doubt anyone else knows it at all). It's not, I admit,
Shakespeare, but it's a fine poem, worth looking over more closely
(Americans are lucky in this respect; the lyrics of "God Save the Queen"
are, no offense to anyone, pretty dull.).

"The Star-Spangled Banner" requires a bit of context to be understood:
during the War of 1812, Key went out in a truce ship toward the British
fleet to negotiate the release of a prisoner who was a friend of his. Before
he returned, the British attacked Fort McHenry, 8 miles away; Key watched
from the sea, amid "the foe's haughty host." When the fighting stopped at
night, he could not see what had happened, and had to wait till morning for
the flag to appear.

It's a shame that we generally only sing the first verse, which ends on a
cliffhanger -- does that banner still wave, or what? (People often get
confused by line 7, which says that the flag WAS still there at twilight;
Key can't see once night falls, and wonders if it will still be there in the
morning.) Read rightly, verse 1 is just preparation, building up suspense:
we start with a question, interrupt for a little proud reminiscence, but
then come back to the same question. This verse is the whole long, anxious
night of September 13, 1814, drifting, waiting, surrounded by foes who know
no more than we do.

Which sets us up for verse 2, my favorite. The tenseness of verse 1 is still
there at the beginning, in the dread silence and the fitful, teasing breeze
-- but it exists only to be broken. After the two short lines 14 and 15, the
flag's full appearance bursts out, and you (or at least, I) just want to get
up and cheer. Verse 2 is about that one moment, when relief floods in all at
once and drowns our uncertainty, that sudden leap of the heart as we see the
flag. It's the same jump that interrupts the beginning of the refrain in
line 17; in all the other verses that line is an unbroken thought, but here
it has an exclamation point and an "O" in the middle.

The third verse is a source of some embarrassment now that the British are
our friends again, and is omitted even more often than the second and
fourth.  But we lose something when we omit it. "The Star-Spangled Banner"
is a whole; it travels naturally from one verse to the next. The great
release of verse 2 must, inevitably, pour out the gloating of verse 3. "And
where is that band...." We can see Key, as soon as the first moment of joy
is past, turning his head to look for those arrogant Brits in the ships
around him, who, remember, have been waiting just as anxiously as he has.
The poem would be more kind and polite if it passed immediately into the
sober reflection of verse 4 without any emotion, or even with emotions a bit
less savage; but it would read like a poem composed to educate men, not like
a sincere, joyful celebration of victory. (Besides, this is nothing. If you
want a really bloodthirsty national anthem, try reading the Marseillaise.)

But we do get some sober reflection at last. Once he's gotten that gloating
out of his system, Key doesn't just continue jumping on British graves. He
turns calm and serious, and he gives us a moral lesson, as, after all, he
has to.  There isn't any wildly original insight here, of course, and there
isn't meant to be: the force comes from the simple, strong, short words in
the three rhyming lines 32-34. The point isn't to teach us anything new, but
to remind us of what we already know, to make sure that we don't get carried
away with our (appropriate) joy in victory, but calm down and think about
the purpose of that victory, and the Power that gave it to us. Then,
finally, we get the joy again, enhanced, not reduced, by the lesson, when
the refrain comes back.

Key's use of the refrain, by the way, is masterful. The variation
effectively fits it to each verse, and the movement of each verse builds
toward it in a different way, so that it never becomes boring, or seems put
in just because it has to be there.

So, basically, I like this poem. (Of course, it's better with the music,
which I believe was a traditional English drinking tune or something;
certainly not original. I am utterly unqualified to discuss the quality of
the music at all.) I admit, of course, that I like it more because it's
associated, to say the least, with American patriotism, because I've heard
it played at a million baseball games, etc. But I think, even without that,
that it's a real good poem. I'd be interested to know how it strikes
English, Australian, Indian, etc. readers, who don't have my biases. Happy
Independence Day.



You can hear the song, and find a biography of Key, at:
  [broken link]

Cecil Adams on the origins of the tune:

The Stories -- Stephen Dunn

Guest poem sent in by Sarah Korah
(Poem #1728) The Stories
 I was unfaithful to you last week.
 Thought I tried to be true
 to the beautiful vagaries
 of our unauthorized love,
 I told a stranger our story,
 arranging and rearranging us
 until we were orderly, reduced.
 I didn't want to sleep with this stranger.
 I wanted, I think, to see her yield,
 to sense her body's musculature,
 her history of sane resistance
 become pliable, as yours had
 twenty-two years ago.
 I told her we met in parks
 and rest stops along highways.
 Once, deep in the woods,
 a blanket over stones and dirt.
 I said that you were, finally,
 my failure of nerve,
 made to the contours of my body,
 so wrongly good for me
 I had to give you up.
 Listening to myself, it seemed
 as if I were still inconsolable,
 and I knew the seductiveness in that,
 knew when she'd try to console me
 I'd allow her the tiniest of victories.
 I told her about Laguna, the ruins
 we made of each other.
 To be undone -- I said I learned
 that's what I'd always wanted.
 We were on a train from Boston
 to New York, this stanger and I,
 the compartment to ourselves.
 I don't have to point out to you
 the erotics of such a space.
 We'd been speaking of our marriages,
 the odd triumphs of their durations.
 "Once....," I said, and my betrayal began,
 and did not end.
 She had a story, too.
 Mine seemed to coax hers out.
 There was this man she'd meet
 every workday Thursday at noon.
 For three years, every Thursday
 except Thanksgiving. She couldn't
 bear it anymore, she said,
 the lies, the coming home.
 Ended, she said.
 Happiest years of my life, she said.
 At that moment (you understand)
 we had to hug, but that's all we did.
 It hardly matters. We were in each other's
 sanctums, among the keepsakes,
 we'd gone where most sex cannot go.
 I could say that telling her our story
 was a way of bringing you back to life,
 and for a while it was, a memorial
 made of memory and its words.
 But here's what I knew:
 Watching her react, I was sure I'd tell
 our story again, to others. I understood
 how it could be taken to the bank,
 and I feared I might not ever again
 feel enough to know when to stop.
-- Stephen Dunn
I once watched in stunned silence as a girl in our bus gave the driver a
detailed account of what was going wrong in her life. It made me wince.. and
also wonder if it's somehow easier for people to reveal their innermost
thoughts and fears to absolute strangers ?

Do public dissemblers feel embarrassed later on? Does talking in public
help them gain a new perspective.. or is it merely addictive? Trust Stephen
Dunn to come up with a beautiful poem on the topic.

The day a cherished memory becomes an 'orderly, reduced' story, something
has slowly, but surely, changed..

Sarah Korah

When The Great Gray Ships Come In -- Guy Wetmore Carryl

A week after the signing of the treaty of peace with Spain, Sampson's fleet
came into New York harbor.
(Poem #1727) When The Great Gray Ships Come In
 To eastward ringing, to westward winging, o'er mapless miles of sea,
 On winds and tides the gospel rides that the furthermost isles are free;
 And the furthermost isles make answer, harbor, and height, and hill,
 Breaker and beach cry, each to each, "'Tis the Mother who calls! Be still!"
 Mother! new-found, beloved, and strong to hold from harm,
 Stretching to these across the seas the shield of her sovereign arm,
 Who summoned the guns of her sailor sons, who bade her navies roam,
 Who calls again to the leagues of main, and who calls them this time home!

 And the great gray ships are silent, and the weary watchers rest;
 The black cloud dies in the August skies, and deep in the golden west
 Invisible hands are limning a glory of crimson bars,
 And far above is the wonder of a myriad wakened stars!
 Peace! As the tidings silence the strenuous cannonade,
 Peace at last! is the bugle-blast the length of the long blockade;
 And eyes of vigil weary are lit with the glad release,
 From ship to ship and from lip to lip it is "Peace! Thank God for peace!"

 Ah, in the sweet hereafter Columbia still shall show
 The sons of these who swept the seas how she bade them rise and go;
 How, when the stirring summons smote on her children's ear,
 South and North at the call stood forth, and the whole land answered "Here!"
 For the soul of the soldier's story and the heart of the sailor's song
 Are all of those who meet their foes as right should meet with wrong,
 Who fight their guns till the foeman runs, and then, on the decks they trod,
 Brave faces raise, and give the praise to the grace of their country's God!

 Yes, it is good to battle, and good to be strong and free,
 To carry the hearts of a people to the uttermost ends of sea,
 To see the day steal up the bay, where the enemy lies in wait,
 To run your ship to the harbor's lip and sink her across the strait:—
 But better the golden evening when the ships round heads for home,
 And the long gray miles slip swiftly past in a swirl of seething foam,
 And the people wait at the haven's gate to greet the men who win!
 Thank God for peace! Thank God for peace, when the great gray ships come in!
-- Guy Wetmore Carryl
       August 20, 1898

Having long been a fan of Carryl's humorous poems, it was interesting here
to see him turn his hand to "stirring" verse. What was underscored for me
was that the same talents that made him such a master of the former genre
stood him in good stead here too - above all, the understanding that rhyme
and metre are not mere adjuncts to a poem, but, often, its very heartbeat.

The poem conveys its central emotion very well indeed, but despite the
superficial reference to peace, that emotion is not really the relief of
peace - rather, it is the heady exultation of victory. This is an
incontrovertibly martial poem, swept along by the anapests and internal
rhymes, by the constant reference  to the foe and the turbulent images like
"And the long gray miles slip swiftly past in a swirl of seething foam".

And, ultimately, this is a patriotic poem - a poem where

 Brave faces raise, and give the praise to the grace of their country's God!

And if Carryl does tap a rather easy source of emotion and imagery, he does
so exquisitely well. The only problem with the poem is that, despite its
excellent execution, it ends up sounding very generic. I enjoyed reading it,
but (in sharp contrast to the brilliant humorous poems we've already run), I
cannot call it in any way memorable.



Bob Blair calls the poem "almost a primer of American patriotism" - his
explanation is well worth a read:

Previous Carryl poems on Minstrels:
  [broken link]

Spanish American War: