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The Jolly Company -- Rupert Brooke

Guest poem submitted by Mike Christie:
(Poem #1857) The Jolly Company
 The stars, a jolly company,
     I envied, straying late and lonely;
 And cried upon their revelry:
     "O white companionship! You only
 In love, in faith unbroken dwell,
 Friends radiant and inseparable!"

 Light-heart and glad they seemed to me
     And merry comrades (even so
 God out of heaven may laugh to see
     the happy crowds; and never know
 that in his lone obscure distress
 each walketh in a wilderness).

 But I, remembering, pitied well
     And loved them, who, with lonely light,
 In empty infinite spaces dwell,
     Disconsolate. For, all the night,
 I heard the thin gnat-voices cry,
 Star to faint star, across the sky.
-- Rupert Brooke
I have never been a particular fan of Rupert Brooke, but I think he has the
occasional gift for a perfect turn of phrase.  In this case I knew the
phrase before I knew the poem: the last two and a half lines of this poem,
to be exact.  John Wyndham (the author of "The Day of the Triffids") quotes
them in one of his more obscure books, "The Outward Urge".  I read that book
many years ago and loved the lines, but I only recently found the original

The poem itself is competent, and I am glad to have found it.  But to me it
turns from silver to gold at the end; those two lines are wonderfully
evocative, and bring the poem's theme out with surgical and emotional


PS. I found this version on the web, so if [any Minstrels reader has] a text
to check that would be good, since I have no faith in the accuracy of web

Night in Arizona -- Sara Teasdale

(Poem #1856) Night in Arizona
 The moon is a charring ember
 Dying into the dark;
 Off in the crouching mountains
 Coyotes bark.

 The stars are heavy in heaven,
 Too great for the sky to hold --
 What if they fell and shattered
 The earth with gold?

 No lights are over the mesa,
 The wind is hard and wild,
 I stand at the darkened window
 And cry like a child.
-- Sara Teasdale

One of my favourite things about Teasdale's work is her ability to blend the
external and the internal, to choose, time and again, precisely the right
words to both evoke a vivid sensory image and an intense feeling of empathy
with the poet's emotional reaction.

Today's poem is an excellent example - the deceptively simple and minimalist
description of the Arizona night is at once haunting and evocative; the
images just the right blend of universality and specificity that every word
triggers a flood of associations. The final two lines, far from begin an
abrupt intrusion of the first person "I" into an otherwise detached poem,
feel completely natural - the narrator has in some sense cast her presence
over the poem all along.

Like my favourite Teasdale poem, "Morning" [Poem #113], today's poem is
ultimately about the resonance between the poet's spirit and the sweep of the
world around her. When done right (and few people do it better than
Teasdale), this renders a poem both powerful and intensely memorable - not
just for the specific lines and phrases, but for a very individual 'feel'
which is hard to put into words, but which is indisputably present.


The Ways We Touch -- Miller Williams

Guest poem submitted by Rachael Shaw:
(Poem #1855) The Ways We Touch
 Have compassion for everyone you meet,
 even if they don't want it.
 What appears bad manners, an ill temper or cynicism
 is always a sign of things no ears have heard,
 no eyes have seen.
 You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets
the bone.
-- Miller Williams
I have recently moved to Nashville, Tennessee - the home of country music. I
was fortunate on my first night in town to see a rare performance by
singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams and her father, poet Miller Williams
called 'Poetry Said, Poetry Sung'. Miller Williams recited a poem and
Lucinda picked a song to play that would fit the poem her dad had just read.

His poems really spoke to me and I went to the library the following day to
look for his work. On reading a few poems from 'Points of Departure' and
'Some Jazz a While', I was disappointed that the poems did not have such an
impact on me as they did when they were spoken by Miller the night before. I
fear this may happen with readers as well so I ask that you imagine an old,
grey man of slight stature and big glasses, whose body rocks when he laughs
and whose voice crackles when he talks ever so slowly. A man who knows of
struggle and loss. At one point during the show Lucinda said "Takes me
longer to say in a song what dad can do in a few lines." I think this is so
very true. For me, 'The Ways We Touch' was made to be spoken.

To experience Miller Williams, click on this videolink:
  [broken link]
Miller was chosen to read a poem at Bill Clinton's innaugauration in 1997
('Of History and Hope').


The Story We Know -- Martha Collins

(Poem #1854) The Story We Know
 The way to begin is always the same. Hello,
 Hello. Your hand, your name. So glad, Just fine,
 And Good-bye at the end. That's every story we know,

 And why pretend? But lunch tomorrow? No?
 Yes? An omelette, salad, chilled white wine?
 The way to begin is simple, sane, Hello,

 And then it's Sunday, coffee, the Times, a slow
 Day by the fire, dinner at eight or nine
 And Good-bye. In the end, this is a story we know

 So well we don't turn the page, or look below
 The picture, or follow the words to the next line:
 The way to begin is always the same Hello.

 But one night, through the latticed window, snow
 Begins to whiten the air, and the tall white pine.
 Good-bye is the end of every story we know

 That night, and when we close the curtains, oh,
 We hold each other against that cold white sign
 Of the way we all begin and end. Hello,
 Good-bye is the only story. We know, we know.
-- Martha Collins
"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,/ Creeps in this petty pace from
day to day,/ To the last syllable of recorded time" - poets and writers have
never had a problem expressing the dull, measured tread of day following day
following day, and "The Story We Know" is a fine example of the genre.
Collins uses a variant of the villanelle form to good effect, a series of
"every day the same" verses bracketed and counted off by the endless rounds
of "hello" and "good-bye".

Where the poem really drew me in, though, was in the penultimate verse, the
brilliantly placed "But one night" jolting the reader awake with the promise
that this time around, things are different. The poem after that gets
steadily deeper, as we take a metaphorical step back and see the darker
shadow of life and death wrap itself around the flickering round of days,
and the poignant conclusion summing it all up:

 Good-bye is the only story. We know, we know.




Thunder Road -- Bruce Springsteen

Guest poem submitted by Mark Penney:
(Poem #1853) Thunder Road
 The screen door slams
 Mary's dress waves
 Like a vision she dances across the porch
 As the radio plays
 Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
 Hey, that's me, and I want you only
 Don't turn me home again
 Cause I just can't face myself alone again

 Don't run back inside, darling,
 You know just what I'm here for
 So you're scared and you're thinking
 That maybe we ain't that young anymore
 Show a little faith, there's magic in the night
 You're not a beauty, but hey, you're all right
 Oh, and that's all right with me.

 You can hide 'neath the covers
 And study your pain
 Make crosses from your lovers,
 Throw roses in the rain
 Waste your summer praying in vain
 For a savior to rise from these streets
 Well I'm no hero, that's understood
 All the redemption I can offer, girl,
 Is beneath this dirty hood
 With a chance to make it good somehow
 Baby, what else can we do now

 Except roll down the window
 And let the wind blow back your hair
 The night's busting open
 These two lanes will take us anywhere
 We've got one last chance to make it real
 To trade in these wings on some wheels
 Climb in back
 Heaven's waiting on down the tracks

 Oh, come take my hand
 We're riding out tonight to case the promised land
 Oh, Thunder Road, oh, Thunder Road
 Lying out there like a killer in the sun
 I know it's late, but we can make it if we run
 Oh, Thunder Road,
 Sit tight, take hold, Thunder Road.

 Well I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk
 And my car's out back if you're ready to take that long walk
 From the front porch to my front seat
 The door's open but the ride it ain't free
 And I know you're lonely for words that I ain't spoken
 But tonight we'll be free
 All the promises will be broken

 There were ghosts in the eyes
 Of all the boys you sent away
 They haunt this dusty beach road
 In the skeleton frames of burnt-out Chevrolets
 They scream your name at night in the street
 Your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet
 And in the lonely cool before dawn
 You can hear their engines roaring on
 But when you get to the porch they're gone
 On the wind, so Mary climb in,
 It's a town full of losers
 And I'm pulling out of here to win.
-- Bruce Springsteen
I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  some, but by no means all, song
lyrics work when you look at them independently as poems.  This is one of
the ones that does, in a very big way.

True, Springsteen's "story songs" are often too wordy, but he has a real
talent for indelible images.  And this song is fairly overflowing with them.
In my opinion, the ragged length of the lines (some of them actually have
too many syllables to fit the music!) and the irregular rhythm and rhyme
actually add something in this case -- a certain restless drive, that
underpins what we think of the main character.  (Listening to this song, you
keep feeling like it's going to settle into a regular ballad structure, with
abab rhymes and so on, but it never quite does.  For example, the "Thunder
Road" part in the middle looks like it's going to be a chorus, but ... nope,
it never comes back.  The whole thing almost feels improvised, a sort of
rush of disconnected thoughts.)

On the surface, it's just a testosterone-laden teenaged boy, trying to go on
a ride with, and maybe sleep with, a girl.  But Springsteen's approach to
the main character is interestingly divided -- simultaneously identifying
with this kid, but also keeping some objective distance.  (Look at that
virtuosic last verse for evidence:  what kid, trying to impress a girl,
would be thinking all those things at once?  It all of a sudden turns so
bitter and cynical -- "They haunt this dusty beach road / In the skeleton
frames of burnt-out Chevrolets" -- it's clear we're looking at the kid not
only through his own eyes, but through the author's as well.)

But my god, the images.  The first four lines are incredible.  And the third
verse.  And the last one.  It's one of those songs that you learn the words
to, because the words themselves are so delicious.

Lastly, you've got to say that the song is a little one-sided.  I'd love to
hear Mary's side of things.  Maybe it'd start something like this:

 A car horn honks
 I look to see who's there
 It's that Bruce again in his '63 Chevy
 And his unkempt hair
 "Dom-do-de-wah" sings Roy,
 "Only the lonely," and this boy.
 What can I do to make him
 Leave me alone and go away again?


Don Juan: Canto I (excerpt) -- George Gordon, Lord Byron

(Poem #1852) Don Juan: Canto I (excerpt)
 Most epic poets plunge 'in medias res'
 (Horace makes this the heroic turnpike road),
 And then your hero tells, whene'er you please,
 What went before- by way of episode,
 While seated after dinner at his ease,
 Beside his mistress in some soft abode,
 Palace, or garden, paradise, or cavern,
 Which serves the happy couple for a tavern.

 That is the usual method, but not mine-
 My way is to begin with the beginning;
 The regularity of my design
 Forbids all wandering as the worst of sinning,
 And therefore I shall open with a line
 (Although it cost me half an hour in spinning)
 Narrating somewhat of Don Juan's father,
 And also of his mother, if you'd rather.
-- George Gordon, Lord Byron
I love Byron's work, both his exquisitely crafted short poems and the longer
epics like the superbly readable "Don Juan". I've just noticed that I have
yet to post an excerpt from the latter, so here's a delightfully irreverent,
tongue-in-cheek bit from the first canto.

This is one of my favourite forms of "parodic" verse, where the poet is, on
the face of it, mocking his own work as he is writing it, but on closer
examination is actually sending up the entire genre (in this case, epic
poetry). Chaucer had some nice examples of this (I speculate, with neither
proof nor knowledge, that later poets were influenced by him), and Byron
himself indulged in the practice on several occasions.

One of the things I love about Byron is how effortless he can make the
writing of perfectly polished verse seem, and that facility definitely shows
up here. Furthermore, you can read the lines and picture the enjoyment -
and, even more, the *fun* he doubtless derived from writing them.

Here's the immediately following "opening" he alludes to:

  'T is pity learned virgins ever wed
      With persons of no sort of education,
  Or gentlemen, who, though well born and bred,
      Grow tired of scientific conversation:
  I don't choose to say much upon this head,
      I 'm a plain man, and in a single station,
  But-- Oh! ye lords of ladies intellectual,
  Inform us truly, have they not hen-peck'd you all?

Not, sadly, one of his best efforts, despite the half-hour it cost him, but
I guess that's the way it goes :). Though, more seriously, while it is very
easy to pick on specific passages of Don Juan, that isn't really the point -
taken as a whole, it's a wonderful work, and well worth a read-through.

(Okay, I can't resist quoting the next verse too, since for sheer delicious
silliness it's one of my favourite bits from the first canto:

  It was upon a day, a summer's day;--
      Summer's indeed a very dangerous season,
  And so is spring about the end of May;
      The sun, no doubt, is the prevailing reason;
  But whatsoe'er the cause is, one may say,
      And stand convicted of more truth than treason,
  That there are months which nature grows more merry in,--
  March has its hares, and May must have its heroine.



Wikipedia on Byron:,_6th_Baron_Byron

A complete and annotated text of Don Juan:

The Discovery of the Pacific -- Thom Gunn

Guest poem submitted by Elko Tchernev:
(Poem #1851) The Discovery of the Pacific
 They lean against the cooling car, backs pressed
 Upon the dusts of a brown continent,
 And watch the sun, now Westward of their West,
 Fall to the ocean. Where it led they went.

 Kansas to California. Day by day
 They travelled emptier of the things they knew.
 They improvised new habits on the way,
 But lost the occasions, and then lost them too.

 One night, no-one and nowhere, she had woken
 To resin-smell and to the firs' slight sound,
 And through their sleeping-bag had felt the broken
 Tight-knotted surfaces of the naked ground.

 Only his lean quiet body cupping hers
 Kept her from it, the extreme chill. By degrees
 She fell asleep. Around them in the firs
 The wind probed, tiding through forked estuaries.

 And now their skin is caked with road, the grime
 Merely reflecting sunlight as it fails.
 They leave their clothes among the rocks they climb,
 Blunt leaves of iceplant nuzzle at their soles.

 Now they stand chin-deep in the sway of ocean,
 Firm West, two stringy bodies face to face,
 And come, together, in the water's motion,
 The full caught pause of their embrace.
-- Thom Gunn
I'd like to bring to your attention my favorite Thom Gunn poem. I won't
attempt "beating it with a hose to find out what it really means", as Billy
Collins says in his "Introduction To Poetry" that appeared on Minstrels in
October 2005. Rather, I'd ask all of you to enjoy it as well as you can,
hopefully as much as I enjoyed it.

Elko Tchernev.

Description -- Shel Silverstein

(Poem #1850) Description
 George said, "God is short and fat."
 Nick said, "No, He's tall and lean."
 Len said, "With a long white beard."
 "No," said John, "He's shaven clean."
 Will said, "He's black," Bob said, "He's white."
 Rhonda Rose said, "He's a She."
 I smiled but never showed 'em all
 The autographed photograph God sent to me.
-- Shel Silverstein
I love the way Silverstein can write on several levels at once, and appeal
to the reader on all of those levels. Like Saxe's archetypal "Blind Men and
the Elephant" (and, seriously, who wasn't reminded of that?), today's poem
uses humour and a healthy dash of absurdity to highlight what, in other
contexts, is a very heated question indeed - and, for such is the gift of
the poet, does so entirely without offense.

The technique of using children as mouthpieces to examine philosophical
questions is by no means unique to Silverstein, but it is a technique he
wields very well, and it makes his poems both a pleasure to read and a
source of reflection. "Description" is, perhaps, a trifle more facile, a
trifle less engaging than such masterpieces as "The Little Boy and the Old
Man" [Poem #996], but it is a charming poem for all that.


Response -- Mary Ursula Bethell

Guest poem submitted by Stephanie Pegg:
(Poem #1849) Response
 When you wrote your letter it was April,
 And you were glad that it was spring weather,
 And that the sun shone out in turn with showers of rain.

 I write in waning May and it is autumn,
 And I am glad that my chrysanthemums
 Are tied up fast to strong posts,
 So that the south winds cannot beat them down.
 I am glad that they are tawny coloured,
 And fiery in the low west evening light.
 And I am glad that one bush warbler
 Still sings in the honey-scented wattle...

 But oh, we have remembering hearts,
 And we say 'How green it was in such and such an April,'
 And 'Such and such an autumn was very golden,'
 And 'Everything is for a very short time.'
-- Mary Ursula Bethell
My first encounter with this poem was on a tape on which my sister had read
out poems that she liked and sent me for my birthday, and maybe ten years
later I still remember this one.  It's just after Easter right now, which in
New Zealand means hot cross buns, chocolate eggs, and lots of rain while
everyone hunkers down for chilly winter.  This poem strikes me as an
appropriate follow up for Poem #1851 celebrating the advent of a northern
hemisphere spring.

Stephanie Pegg

In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself -- Wislawa Szymborska

Guest poem submitted by Sachin Desai:
(Poem #1848) In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself
 The buzzard never says it is to blame.
 The panther wouldn't know what scruples mean.
 When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame.
 If snakes had hands, they'd claim their hands were clean.

 A jackal doesn't understand remorse.
 Lions and lice don't waver in their course.
 Why should they, when they know they're right?

 Though hearts of killer whales may weigh a ton,
 in every other way they're light.

 On this third planet of the sun
 among the signs of bestiality
 a clear conscience is Number One.
-- Wislawa Szymborska
        Translated by Stanislaw Baraczak and Clare Cavanagh.

This poem is straightforward and needs no interpretation. Wislawa Szymborska
writes simple poems that have a touch of the profound. This poem falls
neatly in that category.

Sachin Desai.

[thomas adds]

Sachin is exactly correct: Szymborska's poem seems simple enough on the
surface, but is touched by the profound. Specifically, I wonder to what
extent the poet is being ironic. It's almost a cliche to state that humans
are the only animals possesed of a conscience, and hence that they are in
some sense "superior" to mere beasts. And indeed, that's what today's poem
says, taken at face value.

But is that all there is to it? After all, one could argue that lions and
lice may "know they're right" simply because they *are* right: it is in
their nature to kill wildebeest or suck blood. Hence they should *not* feel
remorse or shame. Whereas humans can and often do do things which later
prick their conscience; feeling scruples afterward may be "civilized", but
it doesn't alter the deed itself. So perhaps humans are the more guilty ones
after all?

I'm reminded of this little gem by D. H. Lawrence, contrasting two types of

 "The Mosquito Knows"

 The mosquito knows full well, small as he is
 he's a beast of prey.
 But after all
 he only takes his bellyful,
 he doesn't put my blood in the bank.

        -- D. H. Lawrence


Consolation for Tamar -- A E Stallings

Guest poem submitted by J. Goard:
(Poem #1847) Consolation for Tamar
 (on the occasion of her breaking an ancient pot)

 You know I am no archeologist, Tamar,
 And that to me it is all one dust or another.
 Still, it must mean something to survive the weather
 Of the Ages-earthquake, flood, and war-

 Only to shatter in your very hands.
 Perhaps it was gravity, or maybe fated-
 Although I wonder if it had not waited
 Those years in drawers, aeons in distant lands,

 And in your fingers' music, just a little
 Was emboldened by your blood, and so forgot
 That it was not a rosebud, but a pot,
 And, trying to unfold for you, was brittle.
-- A E Stallings
    I've thought in the past about bringing a Stallings poem to the
Minstrels, since I consider her among the best living (let alone young!)
poets working primarily in formal verse.  As it turns out, a blog entry
concerning Frost's "The Road Not Taken" led me to think about "Consolation
for Tamar", another poem which manages both a concise elegance and a great
despairing depth.
    For me, this is a gutwrenching love poem, asking us to consider where
value - really valuable value - might come from, how it might ever express
itself, and how anyone might ever notice.  The narrator is apparently a
cynic, known to have expressed a disinterest in that which is precious to
Tamar, and attempts a "consolation" for what, to her, feels like a profound
loss.  But it's a strange, bittersweet consolation: Tamar herself is
special, special enough to make the eternal aspire to the ephemeral,
consuming itself.  As, presumably, does the narrator in the moment of the
    I love how the initial hexameter lines (before it settles into
pentameter in line 3) have an unwieldiness that reinforces the narrator's
reputation as a jaded soul.  I love how he (as I typically imagine it to be
a man, a point I probably wouldn't even mention if the poet were male, alas)
so casually passes over gravity and fate as explanations, as if divine
providence and pure materialism were just two versions of the same
uninspired worldview.  I love the alliteration in "emboldened by your
blood", and all of the internal rhyme and other intertwined elements of the
final three lines.
    But mostly, I'm attracted by the central reflexive metaphor. The
narrator becomes the pot, and the articulation of the poem becomes a
shattering.  His budding love for Tamar has made him (perhaps briefly)
forget his natural cynicism; yet, in crafting a confession of love and a
recognition of her specialness, he has also delivered her a dreadful idea
about longing and loss.

J. Goard.

Poet's page: [broken link]

Spring and all -- William Carlos Williams

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1846) Spring and all
 By the road to the contagious hospital
 under the surge of the blue
 mottled clouds driven from the
 northeast -- a cold wind. Beyond, the
 waste of broad, muddy fields
 brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

 patches of standing water
 the scattering of tall trees

 All along the road the reddish
 purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
 stuff of bushes and small trees
 with dead, brown leaves under them
 leafless vines --

 Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
 dazed spring approaches --

 They enter the new world naked,
 cold, uncertain of all
 save that they enter. All about them
 the cold, familiar wind --

 Now the grass, tomorrow
 the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf

 One by one objects are defined --
 It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

 But now the stark dignity of
 entrance -- Still, the profound change
 has come upon them: rooted they
 grip down and begin to awaken
-- William Carlos Williams
It's Spring!! And what better way to sing the spring's advent but with this
glorious Williams' poem.

I love the way this poem captures the sense of dead things coming to life,
that stirring, quickening sensation that makes Spring such a magical time of
the year. The way the season seems to take hold of everything ("rooted they
/ grip down and begin to awaken"), and the world seems to take on colour and
shape again.

The best adjective I can think of to describe this poem is the one Williams
gives us himself: contagious.


The Composer -- W H Auden

Guest poem submitted by Janice:
(Poem #1845) The Composer
 All the others translate: the painter sketches
 A visible world to love or reject;
 Rummaging into his living, the poet fetches
 The images out that hurt and connect.
 From Life to Art by painstaking adaption
 Relying on us to cover the rift;
 Only your notes are pure contraption,
 Only your song is an absolute gift.

 Pour out your presence, O delight, cascading
 The falls of the knee and the weirs of the spine,
 Our climate of silence and doubt invading;
 You, alone, alone, O imaginary song,
 Are unable to say an existence is wrong,
 And pour out your forgiveness like a wine.
-- W H Auden
Auden always surprises me. Just when I think I've read everything, or almost
everything, out pops another poem that I've never seen -- and end up loving.
Take "The Composer" for example. I have Auden's collected poems lovingly
stashed on my book shelf and then I find this poem on my GRE subject test --
the one I took last Saturday! Just goes to show that poetry does truly find
you and not the other way round!

I love what he says about the painter and the poet, even though they only
'translate'... interesting how he says 'relying on us to cover the rift'.
And then suddenly -- almost like a symphony itself -- the poem takes off and
rises high above itself when he describes music. Music that delights,
uplifts, cascades over us and 'our climate of silence and doubt invading'.
So beautiful :)


A Barred Owl -- Richard Wilbur

Guest poem sent in by an anonymous member:
(Poem #1844) A Barred Owl
 The warping night-air having brought the boom
 Of an owl's voice into her darkened room,
 We tell the wakened child that all she heard
 Was an odd question from a forest bird,
 Asking of us, if rightly listened to,
 "Who cooks for you?" and then "Who cooks for you?"

 Words, which can make our terrors bravely clear,
 Can also thus domesticate a fear,
 And send a small child back to sleep at night
 Not listening for the sound of stealthy flight
 Or dreaming of some small thing in a claw
 Borne up to some dark branch and eaten raw.
-- Richard Wilbur
As the parent of a young child myself, it is easy for me to relate to what
the poet calls the easy "domestication of fear" . It is probably the eternal
conundrum of the parent, treading the line between a desire to protect and
the truth.  Richard Wilbur has a stark sense of the violence that lurks in
the mundane. The last line sends chills up my spine.


There is an excellent recording of the poet reading the "Barred Owl"
at The Poetry Archive:

Previous Wilbur Poems on Minstrels (with biography):

Wikipedia entry:

The Marines Have Landed on the Shores of Santo Domingo -- Phil Ochs

Today's lyrics are from _Phil Ochs in Concert_; I've transcribed the
introductory patter below, since it ought to count as part of the song...

 There's been a drastic change in American foreign policy in recent months.
 Take the Dominican Republic - which we did [pause while audience laughs and
 applauds] - a little while ago, killing a few people here and there (mostly
 there), saving the day for freedom and democracy in the western hemisphere
 once again, folks. I was over there, entertaining the troops (I won't say
 which troops) - over there with a USO group including Walter Lippman and
 Soupy Sales. I played there in a small coffeehouse called The Sniper, and
 this was my most unpopular song, with the poetic, symbolic title of _The
 Marines Have Landed on the Shores of Santo Domingo_ ...
(Poem #1843) The Marines Have Landed on the Shores of Santo Domingo
 And the crabs are crazy, they scuttle back and forth, the sand is burning
 And the fish take flight and scatter from the sight, their courses turning
 As the seagulls rest on the cold cannon nest the sea is churning.
 The marines have landed on the shores of Santo Domingo.

 The fishermen sweat, they're pausing at their nets, the day's a-borning
 As the warships sway and thunder in the bay, loud in the morning.
 But the boy on the shore's throwing pebbles no more, he runs a-warning
 That the the marines have landed on the shores of Santo Domingo.

 The streets are still, there's silence in the hills, the town is sleeping
 And the farmers yawn in the grey silver dawn, the fields they're keeping
 As the first troops land and step into the sand, the flags are weeping.
 The marines have landed on the shores of Santo Domingo.

 The unsmiling sun is shining down upon the singing soldiers
 In the cloud dust whirl they whistle at the girls, they're getting bolder
 Ah, the old women sigh, think of memories gone by, they shrug their shoulders.
 The marines have landed on the shores of Santo Domingo.

 Ready for the tricks, their bayonets are fixed, now they are rolling
 And the tanks make tracks past the trembling shacks where fear's unfolding
 All the young wives afraid, turn their backs to the parade
        with babes they're holding
 The marines have landed on the shores of Santo Domingo

 A bullet cracks the sound, the army hits the ground, the sniper's calling
 So they open up their guns, a thousand to one, no sense in stalling
 He clutches at his head and totters on the edge, look now he's falling
 The marines have landed on the shores of Santo Domingo

 In the red plaza square, the crowds come to stare, the heat is leaning
 And the eyes of the dead are turning every head to the widows screaming
 But the soldiers make a bid, giving candy to the kids, their teeth are
 The marines have landed on the shores of Santo Domingo

 Up and down the coast, the generals drink a toast, the wheel is spinning
 And the cowards and the whores are peeking through the doors
        to see who's winning
 But the traitors will pretend that it's getting near the end,
        when it's beginning
 The marines have landed on the shores of Santo Domingo

 And the crabs are crazy, they scuttle back and forth, the sand is burning
 And the fish take flight and scatter from the sight, their courses turning
 As the seagulls rest on the cold cannon nest, the sea is churning
 The marines have landed on the shores of Santo Domingo
-- Phil Ochs
I recently had the pleasure to read "On the thirtieth anniversary of a
suicide" [see links], Chris Clarke's beautiful tribute to Phil Ochs, and was
moved to follow suit. So here, slightly late, is a posting in memory of that
sadly vanished genius.

Ochs has, right from the moment I first discovered him, firmly taken his
place as my favourite folksinger - his combination of lyrics, music, voice
and performance is to my mind unparalleled. Furthermore, despite a genuine
passion and, often, anger driving his songs, he never loses a certain touch
of dry irony that makes his songs extremely effective.

Today's song is unusual in how well it stands without the accompanying
music. The atmosphere is skilfully built up and sustained, the word choices
revealing considerable care that is masked by the steady flow of the lines.
The relentless rhythm, the long lines with their heavy use of internal
rhymes, carry the listener along with the course of the invasion, Ochs's
commentary indirect but powerful and unmistakable.

And, as with much of Ochs's work, the song has lost none of its relevance
with the passing of the years. Chris Clarke really did say it best:

  And so this is how it is: We need you more than we did then
  and what right you had to take yourself I cannot understand.
  We had no claim on you, we could not keep you 'gainst your will
  but the songs you sang to us before we're needing once again
  and the fires that burn in Baghdad are the same that burned Phnom Penh,
  and the color of the skin on all the children that we kill.
  There are those of us who, one more time, are trying to take a stand
  and we really could have used your help here, Phil.



 "On the thirtieth anniversary of a suicide":

 Phil Ochs (December 19, 1940 – April 9, 1976) on Wikipedia:

 Lyrics collection (including several tribute songs):

 The Dominican Republic invasion:

Hesperus -- John Clare

Guest poem submitted by Gavin Duley:
(Poem #1842) Hesperus
 Hesperus the day is gone
 Soft falls the silent dew
 A tear is now on many a flower
 And heaven lives in you

 Hesperus the evening mild
 Falls round us soft and sweet
 'Tis like the breathings of a child
 When day and evening meet

 Hesperus the closing flower
 Sleeps on the dewy ground
 While dews fall in a silent shower
 And heaven breathes around

 Hesperus thy twinkling ray
 Beams in the blue of heaven
 And tells the traveller on his way
 That earth shall be forgiven
-- John Clare
I would like to suggest John Clare's poem "Hesperus". Minstrels has already
run his most famous poem "I Am", but Clare wrote many other poems which are
equally good.

I first heard about Clare on a radio program on BBC Radio 3 a few years
back, and he is now one of my favourite poets. At his best his work has a
simplicity and immediacy to it that makes them very effective and very

Clare's patrons tried to convince him to 'raise his views' and 'prove
himself capable of talking of higher subjects than Birds and Flowers'.
Thankfully, Clare took little notice of this 'helpful' advice, and managed
to find his own voice which was at once simple, lyrical,
direct and extremely beautiful.

As a clarification, WordNet defines Hesperus thus: "S: (n) evening star,
Hesperus, Vesper (a planet (usually Venus) seen at sunset in the western

I hope you enjoy this poem too, it's one of my favourites.


[ Reference: 'John Clare' (1984).
  eds. Eric Robinson & David Powell
  The Oxford Authors, Oxford University Press, Oxford. ]

Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms -- Thomas Moore

(Poem #1841) Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms
 Believe me, if all those endearing young charms,
 Which I gaze on so fondly to-day,
 Were to change by to-morrow, and fleet in my arms,
 Live fairy-gifts fading away,
 Thou wouldst still be adored, as this moment thou art,
 Let thy loveliness fade as it will,
 And around the dear ruin each wish of my heart
 Would entwine itself verdantly still.

 It is not while beauty and youth are thine own,
 And thy cheeks unprofaned by a tear,
 That the fervor and faith of a soul may be known,
 To which time will but make thee more dear!
 No, the heart that has truly loved never forgets,
 But as truly loves on to the close,
 As the sunflower turns on her god when he sets
 The same look which she turned when he rose!
-- Thomas Moore
For some inexplicable reason, Moore simply doesn't seem to feature here on
Minstrels. Indeed, looking back through the archives, I see that in our
entire seven year history, we have only run one of his poems[1] - truly odd for
a poet of his charm and prominence.

Today's poem is one of Moore's most famous, and justly so. The theme itself
is a popular enough one, and Moore's gift for musical verse makes his lines
a delight to read and recite, but it is the last two lines that take a good
poem and make it immortal. As startlingly apt a comparison as any I've seen,
and far more memorable than most.

[1] I also note that I was surprised then too



Wikipedia on Moore:

The Seed Shop -- Muriel Stuart

Another random discovery from the Poet's Corner...
(Poem #1840) The Seed Shop
 Here in a quiet and dusty room they lie,
 Faded as crumbled stone or shifting sand,
 Forlorn as ashes, shrivelled, scentless, dry -
 Meadows and gardens running through my hand.

 In this brown husk a dale of hawthorn dreams;
 A cedar in this narrow cell is thrust
 That will drink deeply of a century's streams;
 These lilies shall make summer on my dust.

 Here in their safe and simple house of death,
 Sealed in their shells, a million roses leap;
 Here I can blow a garden with my breath,
 And in my hand a forest lies asleep.
-- Muriel Stuart

There's nothing excitingly brilliant about this poem, but it gives me a
certain quiet pleasure, both for the imagery and for the 'feel' of the verse
itself. There is a soothing consistency in the rhythm and word choices, and
some genuinely beautiful lines - it would be a lovely poem to print in an
almanac, for instance, or in a collection of 'fireside poetry'.



Wikipedia entry:

Poems by Muriel Stuart:

The Lowest Trees Have Tops -- Edward Dyer

Guest poem submitted by Stephen Martin:
(Poem #1839) The Lowest Trees Have Tops
 The lowest trees have tops, the ant her gall,
 The fly her spleen, the little spark his heat;
 The slender hairs cast shadows, though but small,
 And bees have stings, although they be not great;
     Seas have their source, and so have shallow springs;
     And love is love, in beggars and in kings.

 Where waters smoothest run, there deepest are the fords:
 The dial stirs, yet none perceives it move;
 The firmest faith is found in fewest words,
 The turtles do not sing, and yet they love;
     True hearts have ears, and eyes, no tongues to speak:
     They hear, and see, and sign, and then they break.
-- Edward Dyer
Sir Edward Dyer (1543?-1607) was a friend of Sidney and Spenser. He was also
Elizabeth's ambassador to the Danish court for a while and, according to
Ashmole's Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, an associate of Dr Dee and Edward
Kelley, travelling alchemical chancers of their day. (Not that I really know
this, but I clicked on the links that might suggest I do).

The poem stands like an oak in a wood.  What did he have to sign, I wonder?

Stephen Martin.

A Green Crab's Shell -- Mark Doty

(Poem #1838) A Green Crab's Shell
 Not, exactly, green:
 closer to bronze
 preserved in kind brine,

 something retrieved
 from a Greco-Roman wreck,
 patinated and oddly

 muscular. We cannot
 know what his fantastic
 legs were like--

 though evidence
 suggests eight
 complexly folded

 scuttling works
 of armament, crowned
 by the foreclaws'

 gesture of menace
 and power. A gull's
 gobbled the center,

 leaving this chamber
 --size of a demitasse--
 open to reveal

 a shocking, Giotto blue.
 Though it smells
 of seaweed and ruin,

 this little traveling case
 comes with such lavish lining!
 Imagine breathing

 surrounded by
 the brilliant rinse
 of summer's firmament.

 What color is
 the underside of skin?
 Not so bad, to die,

 if we could be opened
 into this--
 if the smallest chambers

 of ourselves,
 revealed some sky.
-- Mark Doty
I like Doty's straightforward, almost stream-of-consciousness style - he
eschews stylistic tricks in favour of saying what he has to say, but his
language is precise and exquisite for all that, and his poems thoughtful and
revealing. Today's is a good example - the crab shell is described in
beautiful detail, with an engaged subjectivity that reinforces its
comparison to a work of art (note, also, the whole life-imitating-art
inversion), and the segue into a more personal musing feels perfectly

And I love the ending, with its suggestion of an Escherian
worlds-within-worlds landscape - indeed, it was that image that made me
pick this poem out of a collection of Doty's works to run here.



We've run one of Doty's poems before, the exquisite Broadway [Poem #1175]:


Wikipedia entry:

Episode of Hands -- Hart Crane

Guest poem submitted by Mark Penney:
(Poem #1837) Episode of Hands
 The unexpected interest made him flush.
 Suddenly he seemed to forget the pain,--
 Consented,--and held out
 One finger from the others.

 The gash was bleeding, and a shaft of sun
 That glittered in and out among the wheels,
 Fell lightly, warmly, down into the wound.

 And as the fingers of the factory owner's son,
 That knew a grip for books and tennis
 As well as one for iron and leather,--
 As his taut, spare fingers wound the gauze
 Around the thick bed of the wound,
 His own hands seemed to him
 Like wings of butterflies
 Flickering in the sunlight over summer fields.

 The knots and notches,--many in the wide
 Deep hand that lay in his,--seemed beautiful.
 They were like the marks of wild ponies' play,--
 Bunches of new green breaking a hard turf.

 And factory sounds and factory thoughts
 Were banished from him by that larger, quieter hand
 That lay in his with the sun upon it.
 and as the bandage knot was tightened
 The two men smiled into each other's eyes.
-- Hart Crane
Where do you start with this beautiful poem?

Two men, described only through their hands, meet and briefly connect.  By
the way the hands are described, you know they're from vastly different
worlds, but both pairs of hands are beautiful (differently).  As the
front-office boy bandages the worker's wounded hand, a link of common
humanity is formed -- all wordlessly.  Each of them forgets who he is and
where he is, and simply becomes a fellow human being.  The bandage is, in
many ways, what knots them together.  That, and the smile, of course.

It has a certain feel of parable about it, starting with that epigrammatic
and unforgettable title, "Episode of Hands."

Of course, you're seeing the whole thing from the white-collar guy's point
of view -- Crane really did work in the front office of his father's factory
for a time -- so there are certainly questions you can ask: is it
politically too naive? is it, instead, elitist?  Also, I'd be remiss in not
pointing out that this poem is Exhibit A if you want to talk about Crane as
a gay poet, since here (for once) that particular subtext doesn't require
ridiculous leaps of logic to read in.  But you don't need to talk about any
of those things -- save that for the classroom.  As a reader, this stream of
quietly beautiful, creative images is enough.  Hands as butterflies.  Hands
as open fields, complete with horses running in them.  Hands as a microcosm
of what makes us human.

Notice also how the light -- striking the wound, as if washing it, filtering
in through the wheels (gears, etc., in the factory) -- is curative, and
seems itself to banish the sounds of the factory, to suggest or even create
the outdoor images that Crane uses.  Also, with the light comes a complete
absence of sound.  The bond between the two is almost necessarily wordless
-- a bandage, a shaft of light, an exchange of smiles.  The quiet of the
poem is palpable -- it's part of what makes it great.

I love Hart Crane like crazy, and this poem is one of the reasons why.


Don't let that horse -- Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Guest poem submitted by Dale Rosenberg:
(Poem #1836) Don't let that horse
   Don't let that horse
          eat that violin
 cried Chagall's mother
              But he
         kept right on
 And became famous
 And kept on painting
                   The Horse With Violin In Mouth
 And when he finally finished it
 he jumped up upon the horse
                  and rode away
         waving the violin
 And then with a low bow gave it
 to the first naked nude he ran across
 And there were no strings
-- Lawrence Ferlinghetti
I was surprised to see that only two of Ferlinghetti's poems have made it to
minstrels.  He's my favorite of the Beat poets, and this is one of my
favorite poems of his.  I love his exuberance and the sheer *fun* of his
poems.  In this one I admire his ability to use humor without snarkiness, to
convey the joy of creation of art.  I saw him read this one when I was in
high school.  I can still see his smile at the last line and hear the
audience's happy laughter.

Dale Rosenberg.