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Sing a Song of Europe -- Anonymous

Guest poem sent in by Priscilla Jebaraj
(Poem #1917) Sing a Song of Europe
 Sing a song of Europe, highly civilized,
 Four and twenty nations wholly hypnotised,
 When the battle opens, the bullets start to sing -
 Isn't it a silly way to act for any King?

 The Kings are in the background, issuing commands,
 The Queens are in the parlours, per etiquette's demand;
 The bankers in the country house are busy multiplying
 The common people at the front are doing all the dying.
-- Anonymous
In the comments on the last poem, Vivian had said, "Like many folk songs,
this is a kind of oral poetry that gives license to its 'users' to invent
verses and variations of their own." I immediately remembered a variation on
Sing a Song of Sixpence that a former classmate and current Minstrels member
Amulya Gopalakrishnan used to quote. As far as I remember, it was about the
confusion of the European Union. Or was it the Common Market?

I couldn't find it on the net (Amu, if you're reading this, do send the
lyrics you used to sing), but I did find this earlier parody, apparently
Australian in origin. It was published in a 1928 edition of The Iron Worker,
a newspaper of the NSW, a branch of Federated Ironworkers Association. It
refers, I would guess, to World War I. But since the War to End All Wars
didn't quite succeed in that, don't you think the meaning is applicable to
any modern war as well?


Away With Rum -- Theodore Bikel

Guest poem sent in by Vivian
(Poem #1916) Away With Rum
 We're coming we're coming. Our brave little band
 On the right side of temperance we now take our stand.
 We don't use tobacco because we do think
 That the people who do so are likely to drink.

  Away, away, with rum, by gum,
  With rum, by gum, with rum, by gum,
  Away, away, with rum, by gum,
  The song of the Salvation Army.

 We never eat cookies because they have yeast
 And one little bite makes a man like a beast.
 Oh, can you imagine a sadder disgrace,
 Than a man in the gutter with crumbs in his face?


 We never eat fruitcake because it has rum,
 And one little slice puts a man on the bum.
 Oh, can you imagine a sorrier sight,
 Than a man eating fruitcake until he gets tight?

-- Theodore Bikel
Franklin P. Adams' "Prohibition" inevitably brought this to mind. Here, the
song tweaks the temperance movement (there are versions with "Temperance
Union" rather than "Salvation Army") for going to intemperate extremes, but
the underlying message is that anything that seems like a pretty good idea
in the first place (in the specific case, immoderate consumption of alcohol
can lead to disastrous results) when taken to its logical extremes can be
absurd and even violent.

When I first learned this song, I understood the words to the chorus as
"Away, away with rum, buy gum" (rather than "by gum"), possible because we
sang the final chorus as:

  Away, away with gum, buy rum
  With gum, buy rum, with gum, buy rum,
  Away, away with gum, buy rum,
  The salvation song of the army."

Which brings me to the next point: Like many folk songs, this is a kind of
oral poetry that gives license to its "users" to invent verses and
variations of their own. A collection of these - some of them quite funny -
can be seen at



The guitar chords are here:

  Austrian-born character actor, folk singer and musician (1924-)

Bikel's website:

Tobacco is a Dirty Weed -- Graham Lee Hemminger

Thans to readers Bob Williams and Tim Reynolds for pointing out that Adams was
riffing off the following Graham Lee Hemminger poem:
(Poem #1915) Tobacco is a Dirty Weed
 Tobacco is a dirty weed,
 I like it.
 It satisfies no normal need,
 I like it.
 It makes you thin, it makes you lean,
 It takes the hair right off your bean.
 It's the worst darn stuff I've ever seen.
 I like it.
-- Graham Lee Hemminger
Hemminger in turn seems to have been poking fun at the far more solemn (and, as
far as I can find out, anonymous) verse:

 Tobacco is a filthy weed
 That from the devil doth proceed,
 That drains your purse,
 That burns your clothes,
 That makes a chimney of your nose.

However I still feel that while Hemminger's poem was merely an amusing parody,
Adams's had some undefinable element to it that lent it a touch of steel, and
which makes it far more trenchant than it appears at first glance.


Prohibition -- Franklin P Adams

(Poem #1914) Prohibition
 Prohibition is an awful flop.
 We like it.
 It can't stop what it's meant to stop.
 We like it.
 It's left a trail of graft and slime,
 It don't prohibit worth a dime,
 It's filled our land with vice and crime.
 Nevertheless, we're for it.
-- Franklin P Adams

Note: Prohibition: The period (1920-1933) during which the 18th Amendment
  forbidding the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages was in force in
  the United States.

You'd think a 1931 poem about a long-since repealed law in a single country
would be badly dated by now. You'd be wrong. You'd think that a poem which
on the surface veers between nursery rhyme and doggerel would be at best a
passing, topical protest with little of enduring value. You'd be wrong
again. Despite Adams's reputation as a purveyor of light verse, I think
today's poem is actually a deeper and more significant poem than it first

"Prohibition" speaks out against every law, every regulation, and, indeed,
every custom that was instituted because it "seemed like a good idea at the
time", and retained with limpet-like tenacity because, despite evidence that
it wasn't helping, dropping it would invalidate someone's cherished theory
about the way things *should* work. And, almost needless to say, things are
little different today than they were back in Adams's 1930s - the specifics
vary but the principle is depressingly constant.

The nursery-rhyme form actually adds to the poem's impact - the repeated "we
like it" response is (without any explicit commentary) held up as both
simplistic and foolish. Again, the poem's quotability and memorability are
both greatly enhanced by its simple, singsong structure. Of course, the use
of doggerel and nursery rhymes for political protest has a long and
honourable tradition - the implication being that this is not a poet's poem,
but a people's poem - and "Prohibition" takes its place comfortably within
that tradition.



Biography: American journalist and radio personality (1881-1960)

A Style of Loving -- Vikram Seth

Guest poem sent in by Radhika Gowaikar
(Poem #1913) A Style of Loving
 Light now restricts itself
 To the top half of trees;
 The angled sun
 Slants honey-coloured rays
 That lessen to the ground
 As we bike through
 The corridor of Palm Drive.
 We two

 Have reached a safety the years
 Can claim to have created:
 Unconsummated, therefore
 Unjaded, unsated.
 Picnic, movie, ice-cream;
 Talk; to clear my head
 Hot buttered rum -- coffee for you;
 And so not to bed.

 And so we have set the question
 Aside, gently.
 Were we to become lovers
 Where would our best friends be?
 You do not wish, nor I
 To risk again
 This savoured light for noon's
 High joy or pain.
-- Vikram Seth
I was browsing in a bookstore, many years ago, when I first read this.  Some
fragment of it must have stayed with me; I bought The Collected Poems last
year simply to reclaim this poem. It is not as if I recommend this
particular style of loving -- indeed, all those years ago, when I was
young(er) and brash(er) I would perhaps have advised against it -- but then,
as now, I find the piece poignant. The subtlety of the sentiment is
remarkable, and Seth's verse does it justice. The poem also speaks to me of
the many different personal choices that are available to us if only we are
not oblivious to them.

This first appeared in the collection All You Who Sleep Tonight.


The Rainy Day -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Guest poem sent in by Fabian Panthaki
(Poem #1912) The Rainy Day
 The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
 It rains, and the wind is never weary;
 The vine still clings to the moldering wall,
 But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
 And the day is dark and dreary.

 My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
 It rains, and the wind is never weary;
 My thoughts still cling to the moldering Past,
 But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast
 And the days are dark and dreary.

 Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
 Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
 Thy fate is the common fate of all,
 Into each life some rain must fall,
 Some days must be dark and dreary.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
One of Longfellow's shorter poems, this one tends to get overlooked in a
selection of his 'best works'. Perhaps it's the slighlty mawkish tone, or
the perception that he's trying just a bit too hard to evoke pathos. And
certainly, the opening line of the last stanza could have done without that
trademark exclamation.

Yet, for all that, it remains one of my favourite, and oft-quoted, poems.
It always evokes the classic 'poet' image - angst-ridden, weary, yearning
for perfection. I imagine Longfellow sitting in a high-backed chair in a
dank and gloomy study, a single candle burning low, looking out onto one of
those miserable October evenings. An image reinforced - or perhaps,
perpetuated - by the use at key intervals of the words 'dark' and 'dreary'.

The poem itself is perhaps a touch simplistic, yet that is its charm.  It's
the sort of poem all aspiring poets would think they could write, yet it is
Longfellow's mastery of the trite phrase that shows us how it is meant to
be. It is one of the best examples of the 'oh-this-world-is-too-much-for-me'
genre, that most poets attempt at some point, due to jilting lovers or lack
of hot chocolate.

The rhythm is not unalike classic Frost - read aloud it trips off one's
tongue in a very minstrels-around-a-Welsh-campfire way. I love the way he
evokes such imagery in such a short piece and divides it so perfectly - the
setting, the thought, the moral. The poem says what we all know, but
Longfellow turns common knowledge into a slogan (Into each life some rain
must fall). In a sense, its the reverse of the cloud and silver lining

Not deeply profound, not earth-shattering, almost certain to get you pitying
looks by 'serious' poetry lovers...but yet, elegantly beautiful.


On Death, without Exaggeration -- Wislawa Szymborska

Guest poem sent in by Lakshmi Jagad
(Poem #1911) On Death, without Exaggeration
 It can't take a joke,
 find a star, make a bridge.
 It knows nothing about weaving, mining, farming,
 building ships, or baking cakes.

 In our planning for tomorrow,
 it has the final word,
 which is always beside the point.

 It can't even get the things done
 that are part of its trade:
 dig a grave,
 make a coffin,
 clean up after itself.

 Preoccupied with killing,
 it does the job awkwardly,
 without system or skill.
 As though each of us were its first kill.

 Oh, it has its triumphs,
 but look at its countless defeats,
 missed blows,
 and repeat attempts!

 Sometimes it isn't strong enough
 to swat a fly from the air.
 Many are the caterpillars
 that have outcrawled it.

 All those bulbs, pods,
 tentacles, fins, tracheae,
 nuptial plumage, and winter fur
 show that it has fallen behind
 with its halfhearted work.

 Ill will won't help
 and even our lending a hand with wars and coups d'etat
 is so far not enough.

 Hearts beat inside eggs.
 Babies' skeletons grow.
 Seeds, hard at work, sprout their first tiny pair of leaves
 and sometimes even tall trees fall away.

 Whoever claims that it's omnipotent
 is himself living proof
 that it's not.

 There's no life
 that couldn't be immortal
 if only for a moment.

 always arrives by that very moment too late.

 In vain it tugs at the knob
 of the invisible door.
 As far as you've come
 can't be undone.
-- Wislawa Szymborska
One of my blog friends lost one of her grandparents and posted this poem on
her blog. This is a lovely poem indeed with none of the morbidity usually
associated with death. There are some cute images (I can imagine a
caterpillar furiously crawling away as a huge thud narrowly misses stomping
it to death!), some comic instances (Imagine Dark Death desperately trying
to swat a fly!) and there are awe-inspiring lines as well, about how Death
defies all logic by felling giant trees and leaving babies untouched. Yes,
this is one more of those mysteries we learn to live with...

My favourite lines are 'There's no life that couldn't be immortal if only
for a moment'.  Makes me feel as if we are immortal every moment and if we
could learn to treat each moment as a lifetime, how different our lives
would be!

To borrow from a line of a song in one of the popular Hindi films,
'Aane waala pal jaane waala hain,
Ho sake to is mein zindagi bitaa do,
Pal jo yeh jaane waala hain..
(The moment that is to arrive will soon depart,
If you can, lead your entire life in that moment,
this moment will soon depart as well)



Wislawa Szymborska (1923-), Polish poet, essayist and translator. Nobel
laureate (Literature, 1996)

Question -- Rabindranath Tagore

Guest poem sent in by Gavin Duley
(Poem #1910) Question
 God, again and again through the ages you have sent messengers
   To this pitiless world
 They have said, 'Forgive everyone', they have said, 'Love one another --
   Rid your hearts of evil.'
 They are revered and remembered, yet still in these dark days
 We turn them away with hollow greetings, from outside the doors of our houses.

 And meanwhile I see secretive hatred murdering the helpless
   Under cover of night;
 And Justice weeping silently and furtively at power misused,
   No hope of redress.
 I see young men working themselves into a frenzy,
 In agony dashing their heads against stone to no avail.

 My voice is choked today; I have no music in my flute:
   Black moonless night
 Has imprisoned my world, plunged it into nightmare. And this is why,
   With tears in my eyes, I ask:
 Those who have poisoned your air, those who have extinguished your light,
 Can it be that you have forgiven them? Can it be that you love them?
-- Rabindranath Tagore
I'm quite new to Tagore's work, but bought a book[1] of his poetry recently,
mainly because I found this one whilst flicking through it at the book shop.
The poem was written just after Gandhi's arrest following the break down of
the Second Round Table Conference in London, but is not really about any one
particular event or time. It seems very relevant at the moment, with Iraq,
Lebanon, and the terrorist attacks on London (successful and unsuccessful).

The notes[1] comment that the 'vulnerable, bewildered human being in Tagore
was increasingly to be the subject of his later poetry; but he never lapsed
into self-pity. The precision and vigour of the rhythm and phrasing of this
poem belie its content. A famous reading of it by Tagore himself on record
conveys strength not weakness, despair not courage. There is even a note of
wryness in his voice'.

As an extra note, the notes say that the phase 'dashing their heads against
stone' is a Bengali metaphor for fruitless activity, much like the English
'beating one's head against a brick wall'.


[1] Tagore R (1985) 'Selected Poems', translated, edited and with
notes by  W Radice, Penguin, London.


  Bengali poet, philosopher, visual artist, playwright, composer, and
  novelist, 1861-1941

I'm Going To Say It Now -- Phil Ochs

As promised, a more serious take on student affairs, by one of my favourite
(Poem #1909) I'm Going To Say It Now
 Oh I am just a student, sir, and only want to learn
 But it's hard to read through the risin' smoke from the books
 that you like to burn
 So I'd like to make a promise and I'd like to make a vow
 That when I've got something to say, sir, I'm gonna say it now

 Oh you've given me a number and you've taken off my name
 To get around this campus why you almost need a plane
 And you're supporting Chang Kai-Shek, while I'm supporting Mao
 So when I've got something to say, sir, I'm gonna say it now

 I wish that you'd make up your mind, I wish that you'd decide
 That I should live as freely as those who live outside
 Cause we also are entitled to the rights to be endowed
 And when I've got something to say, sir, I'm gonna say it now

 Oh, you'd like to be my father you'd like to be my Dad
 And give me kisses when I'm good and spank me when I'm bad
 But since I've left my parents I've forgotten how to bow
 So when I've got something to say, sir, I'm gonna say it now

 And things they might be different if I was here alone
 But I've got a friend or two who no longer live at home
 And we'll respect our elders just as long as they allow
 That when I've got something to say, sir, I'm gonna say it now

 I've read of other countries where the students take a stand
 Maybe even help to overthrow the leaders of the land
 Now I wouldn't go so far to say we're also learnin' how
 But when I've got something to say, sir, I'm gonna say it now

 So keep right on a-talkin' and tell us what to do
 If nobody listens my apologies to you
 And I know that you were younger once 'cause you sure are older now
 And when I've got something to say, sir, I'm gonna say it now

 Oh I am just a student sir, and only want to learn
 But it's hard to read through the risin' smoke from the books
 that you like to burn
 So I'd like to make a promise and I'd like to make a vow
 That when I've got something to say, sir, I'm gonna say it now
-- Phil Ochs
Student activism has a long and complex history; in the United States of the
'60s it was a two-pronged affair, mainly concerning itself with the
educational system, but gaining increasing political focus and prominence.
Ochs addresses both these concerns in his typically edgy, sardonic style,
setting the tone immediately with the hard-hitting

 But it's hard to read through the risin' smoke from the books
 that you like to burn

and then throwing down the gauntlet with

 So I'd like to make a promise and I'd like to make a vow
 That when I've got something to say, sir, I'm gonna say it now

An interesting thing to note about today's song is the way that Ochs's
lyrics combine deceptively simple word choices with complex metrical
patterns and strong rhymes - a combination that suits both his music and the
nature and purpose of the folk song almost ideally. Like most of the poems
in the current "Bright College Days" theme, it has achieved a certain
measure of timelessness; the song became one of the anthems of the 1960s
free speech movement, but the problems it addresses are faced by students
today no less than those of fifty years ago.



A brief clip of Ochs singing the fourth verse:

Wikipedia on student activism:

An interesting discussion of the song:

Myfanwy at Oxford -- John Betjeman

Guest poem sent in by Steve Forsythe
(Poem #1908) Myfanwy at Oxford
 Pink may, double may, dead laburnum
 Shedding an Anglo-Jackson shade,
 Shall we ever, my staunch Myfanwy,
 Bicycle down to North Parade?
 Kant on the handle-bars, Marx in the saddlebag,
 Light my touch on your shoulder-blade.

 Sancta Hilda, Myfanwyatia
 Evansensis --- I hold your heart,
 Willowy banks of a willowy Cherwell a
 Willowy figure with lips apart,
 Strong and willowy, strong to pillow me,
 Gold Myfanwy, kisses and art.

 Tubular bells of tall St. Barnabas,
 Single clatter above St. Paul,
 Chasuble, acolyte, incense-offering,
 Spectacled faces held in thrall.
 There in the nimbus and Comper tracery
 Gold Myfanwy blesses us all.

 Gleam of gas upon Oxford station,
 Gleam of gas on her straight gold hair,
 Hair flung back with an ostentation,
 Waiting alone for a girl friend there.
 Second in Mods and a Third in Theology
 Come to breathe again Oxford air.

 Her Myfanwy as in Cadena days,
 Her Myfanwy, a schoolgirl voice,
 Tentative brush of a cheek in a cocoa crush,
 Coffee and Ulysses, Tennyson, Joyce,
 Alpha-minded and other dimensional,
 Freud or Calvary? Take your choice.

 Her Myfanwy? My Myfanwy.
 Bicycle bells in a Boar's Hill Pine,
 Stedman Triple from All Saints' steeple,
 Tom and his hundred and one at nine,
 Bells of Butterfield, caught in Keble,
 Sally and backstroke answer "Mine!"
-- John Betjeman
Here's a poem by Sir John Betjeman that's about both young love and the
experience of a middle class Brit in an upper class college environment.
Light-years away from my own college experience, but it still paints a
vivid picture of that time and place. His "Myfanwy" is Myfanwy Evans, later


[Martin adds]

There are very few poets whose individual style shines so clearly through
their works as does Betjeman's. Here, after just one line it is nigh
unmistakable. (The flip side is that a lot of his poems end up sounding very
similar, but that is just a surface thing and doesn't detract from either
their merit or their appeal.)


The Vulture and the Husbandman -- Arthur Clement Hilton

Guest poem sent in by Tamsin Bacchus
(Poem #1907) The Vulture and the Husbandman
  By Louisa Caroline

  N.B. -- A Vulture is a rapacious and obscene bird, which destroys its prey
  by plucking it limb from limb with its powerful beak and talons.

  A Husbandman is a man in a low position of life, who supports himself by
  the use of the plough. -- (Johnson's Dictionary).

 The rain was raining cheerfully,
     As if it had been May;
 The Senate-House appeared inside
     Unusually gay;
 And this was strange, because it was
     A Viva-voce day.

 The men were sitting sulkily,
     Their paper work was done;
 They wanted much to go away
     To ride or row or run;
 "It's very rude," they said, "to keep
     Us here, and spoil our fun."

 The papers they had finished lay
     In piles of blue and white.
 They answered every thing they could,
     And wrote with all their might,
 But, though they wrote it all by rote,
     They did not write it right.

 The Vulture and the Husbandman
     Beside these piles did stand,
 They wept like anything to see
     The work they had in hand.
 "If this were only finished up,"
     Said they, "it would be grand!"

 "If seven D's or seven C's
     We give to all the crowd,
 Do you suppose," the Vulture said,
     "That we could get them ploughed?"
 "I think so," said the Husbandman,
     "But pray don't talk so loud."

 "O undergraduates, come up,"
     The Vulture did beseech,
 "And let us see if you can learn
     As well as we can teach;
 We cannot do with more than two
     To have a word with each."

 Two Undergraduates came up,
     And slowly took a seat,
 They knit their brows, and bit their thumbs,
     As if they found them sweet,
 And this was odd, because you know
     Thumbs are not good to eat.

 "The time has come," the Vulture said,
     "To talk of many things,
 Of Accidence and Adjectives,
     And names of Jewish kings,
 How many notes a sackbut has,
     And whether shawms have strings."

 "Please, Sir," the Undergraduates said,
     Turning a little blue,
 "We did not know that was the sort
     Of thing we had to do."
 "We thank you much," the Vulture said,
     "Send up another two."

 Two more came up, and then two more,
     And more, and more and more;
 And some looked upwards at the roof,
     Some down upon the floor,
 But none were any wiser than
     The pair that went before.

 "I weep for you," the Vulture said,
     "I deeply sympathise!"
 With sobs and tears he gave them all
     D's of the largest size,
 While at the Husbandman he winked
     One of his streaming eyes.

 "I think," observed the Husbandman,
     "We're getting on too quick.
 Are we not putting down the D's
     A little bit too thick?"
 The Vulture said with much disgust
     "Their answers make me sick."

 "Now, Undergraduates," he cried,
     Our fun is nearly done,
 "Will anybody else come up?"
     But answer came there none;
 And this was scarcely odd, because
     They'd ploughed them every one!
-- Arthur Clement Hilton
  ploughed: university slang for "get failed, give a less-than-passing
  grade to a candidate in an examination."

From another era - before the Second World War if not the First - when as
well as the written exams the candidates were examined in pairs viva voce.
Three verses of this poem were reproduced in "Poets at Play", a wonderful
but rather irritating (it has no index of first lines or titles) anthology,
put together by the then Dean of Durham, Cyril Allington.  He comments on
the title saying it "deals, as will be guesssed, with the kindred arts of
plucking and ploughing".

Allington has a weakness for puns.  The Dedication of his book concludes

  (By which, of course, I mean my Chapter)."

While looking at it, the Dedication has a verse on what could be called
college days - from the other side of the podium...

  "Schoolmasters sometimes write TO THOSE
  But ah! experience often shows
    They're even fewer than we thought them;"


[Martin adds]

When I ran Hilton's "Octopus", I noted that his parodies may be enjoyed as
humorous verse in their own right, but are much funnier if you first read
the original. Ironically, the parodist I chose to compare him to in this
respect was none other than Carroll. Today's poem is definitely better if
you've read The Walrus and the Carpenter - there are places where Hilton has
sacrificed pure humour for parodic fidelity (a common pitfall when writing
parody), and some of his choices only make full sense if you know what he's


An annotated version of the poem:

The Walrus and the Carpenter:

  [broken link]

Bright College Days -- Tom Lehrer

And then there's the *other* set of college stereotypes...
(Poem #1906) Bright College Days
 Bright college days, oh, carefree days that fly,
 To thee we sing with our glasses raised on high.  [holds up eyeglasses]
 Let's drink a toast as each of us recalls
 Ivy-covered professors in ivy-covered halls.

 Turn on the spigot,
 Pour the beer and swig it,
 And gaudeamus igit-itur.

 Here's to parties we tossed,
 To the games that we lost
 (We shall claim that we won them someday).
 To the girls, young and sweet,
 To the spacious back seat
 Of our roommate's beat up Chevrolet.
 To the beer and Benzedrine,
 To the way that the dean
 Tried so hard to be pals with us all.
 To excuses we fibbed,
 To the papers we cribbed
 From the genius who lived down the hall.

 To the tables down at Mory's
 (Wherever that may be),
 Let us drink a toast to all we love the best.
 We will sleep through all the lectures,
 And cheat on the exams,
 And we'll pass, and be forgotten with the rest.

 Oh, soon we'll be out amid the cold world's strife.
 Soon we'll be sliding down the razor blade of life.  (Oooh!)
 (laughter) ... Ready? ...
 But as we go our sordid separate ways,
 We shall ne'er forget thee, thou golden college days.

 Hearts full of youth,
 Hearts full of truth,
 Six parts gin to one part vermouth.
-- Tom Lehrer
Note: The song makes parodic reference to several other songs; see the links
  for an annotated version

A typically fun song from Tom Lehrer, sailing high-spiritedly through the
standard list of "party school" cliches, and cocking a snook at several
other songs on the way. The short, bouncy lines with their skilfully varied
rhymes (not to mention a very catchy tune - listen to it if you get a
chance!) at one send up the perky enthusiasm of more traditional college
songs, and make this one of those songs that sticks in your head.

Other random thoughts - "we'll pass and be forgotten with the rest" is an
enviably good pun; I dearly wish I'd thought of it myself. And the dean who
"tried so hard to be pals with us all" reminds me, appropriately enough, of
another passage from Kipling's "Stalky and Co.":

  Again, a man who has sincerely devoted himself to gaining the esteem of
  his charges does not like to hear himself described, even at a distance,
  as "Popularity Prout" by a dark and scowling Celt with a fluent tongue.


    Oh, Prout he is a nobleman, a nobleman, a nobleman!
    Our Heffy is a nobleman¿
    He does an awful lot,
    Because his popularity
    Oh, pop-u-pop-u-larity¿
    His giddy popularity
    Would suffer did he not!

  The study door stood ajar; and the song, borne by twenty clear voices,
  came faint from a form-room. The fags rather liked the tune; the words
  were Beetle's.



I'll wind up the theme tomorrow (unless someone wants to send in a
last-minute contribution, of course) with a somewhat more serious song -
feel free to guess which one.


The annotated version of the song, including Lehrer's introductory patter:

See also

A School Song -- Rudyard Kipling

Guest poem sent in by Priscilla Jebaraj
(Poem #1905) A School Song
 "Let us now praise famous men"--
  Men of little showing--
 For their work continueth,
 And their work continueth,
  Greater than their knowing.

 Western wind and open surge
  Tore us from our mothers;
 Flung us on a naked shore
 (Twelve bleak houses by the shore!
 Seven summers by the shore!)
  'Mid two hundred brothers.

 There we met with famous men
  Set in office o'er us.
 And they beat on us with rods--
 Faithfully with many rods--
 Daily beat us on with rods--
  For the love they bore us!

 Out of Egypt unto Troy--
  Over Himalaya--
 Far and sure our bands have gone--
 Hy-Brasil or Babylon,
 Islands of the Southern Run,
  And cities of Cathaia!

 And we all praise famous men--
  Ancients of the College;
 For they taught us common sense---
 Tried to teach us common sense--
 Truth and God's Own Common Sense
  Which is more than knowledge!

 Each degree of Latitude
  Strung about Creation
 Seeth one (or more) of us,
 (Of one muster all of us--
 Of one master all of us--)
  Keen in his vocation.

 This we learned from famous men
  Knowing not its uses
 When they showed in daily work
 Man must finish off his work--
 Right or wrong, his daily work-
  And without excuses.

 Servants of the staff and chain,
  Mine and fuse and grapnel--
 Some before the face of Kings,
 Stand before the face of Kings;
 Bearing gifts to divers Kings--
  Gifts of Case and Shrapnel.

 This we learned from famous men
  Teaching in our borders.
 Who declare'd it was best,
 Safest, easiest and best--
 Expeditious, wise and best--
  To obey your orders.

 Some beneath the further stars
  Bear the greater burden.
 Set to serve the lands they rule,
 (Save he serve no man may rule)
 Serve and love the lands they rule;
  Seeking praise nor guerdon.

 This we learned from famous men
  Knowing not we learned it.
 Only, as the years went by--
 Lonely, as the years went by--
 Far from help as years went by
  Plainer we discerned it.

 Wherefore praise we famous men
  Prom whose bays we borrow--
 They that put aside Today--
 All the joys of their Today--
 And with toil of their Today
  Bought for us Tomorrow!

 Bless and praise we famous men
  Men of little showing!
 For their work continueth
 And their work continueth
 Broad and deep continueth
  Great beyond their knowing!
-- Rudyard Kipling
I'm not sure this qualifies for the theme --  it's the introductory poem to
Kipling's school story "Stalky and Co", but the school IS called the
College :)  (If you don't want to use it for this theme, why not save it up
for Teacher's Day on September 5?) [Works for me - it fits the theme in
spirit, at least - martin]

I must admit I'm submitting the poem largely because I loved the book.  I
remember discovering it during my own college days...fed up of exams and
literary criticism essays, I was rummaging through WCC's dusty and
unorganised fiction library looking for something light and entertaining
when I found "Stalky and Co". I laughed my way through the antics of Stalky,
Beetle and M'Turk, sparing hardly a thought for their poor teachers.

Interesting, then, that the opening lines of the book are a paean to those
same teachers. To me, they seem idealistic in a way the book is not. But
I've realised the truth of some of it now...while I feel none of the sheer
affection for my college professors that I did for elementary school
teachers for example, it's certainly true that I did learn so many things
from them without even realising it:

  This we learned from famous men
  Knowing not we learned it.

And certainly my favourite teachers were those who...

 ...taught us common sense---
 Tried to teach us common sense--
 Truth and God's Own Common Sense
 Which is more than knowledge!

I like the rhythm of the poem without being able to explain why (obviously,
I remember little of the lectures which attempted to teach me such basics of
poetry appreciation!)

Stalky and Co is rather different from the typical school story, both the
schoolboy tales of its own time or the more modern schoolgirl exploits I
devoured in middle school. Here's an essay that explores both the negative
and positive aspects of those differences and provides quite a good
background to the book:

I'm just quoting an excerpt from it here:

  Stalky & Co. is the only school story which shows school as a direct
  preparation for life. Most others actually make the world outside
  school seem irrelevant, an anticlimax, an unimaginable void. Kipling,
  for all his intense feeling for the school atmosphere and the moods of
  adolescence, shows school as the first stage of a much larger game, a
  pattern-maker for the experiences of life. This is mainly what makes
  it unlike the others, with their narrow, school-centred preoccupations
  and their belief, often implied and sometimes even stated, in the
  overwhelming importance of this preliminary stage of life, which was
  actually presumed to outdo the rest in importance. In Kipling, not
  only is a later life envisaged very clearly at school, but the
  divisions between school and the world outside are less clearly
  defined than they are in most other school stories; not just in the
  sense that the boys make free with the surrounding countryside and
  hobnob happily with the locals, bilingual in standard English and
  broad Devon, but in a metaphorical sense: school teaches lessons
  (obviously), but, less obviously, the lessons are much more than those
  of the classroom. It teaches the boys how to live..."

And while this link between school/college and life is made clear in the
last chapter (a kind of epilogue that traces the later imperialistic careers
of its main characters), it's foreshadowed in this introductory poem as


Before an Examination (Campus Sonnets: 1) -- Stephen Vincent Benet

Carrying on with the theme...
(Poem #1904) Before an Examination (Campus Sonnets: 1)
 The little letters dance across the page,
 Flaunt and retire, and trick the tired eyes;
 Sick of the strain, the glaring light, I rise
 Yawning and stretching, full of empty rage
 At the dull maunderings of a long dead sage,
 Fling up the windows, fling aside his lies;
 Choosing to breathe, not stifle and be wise,
 And let the air pour in upon my cage.

 The breeze blows cool and there are stars and stars
 Beyond the dark, soft masses of the elms
 That whisper things in windy tones and light.
 They seem to wheel for dim, celestial wars;
 And I -- I hear the clash of silver helms
 Ring icy-clear from the far deeps of night.
-- Stephen Vincent Benet
Another evocative trip down memory lane. "Before an Examination" has much
the same theme and tone as Whitman's "When I Heard the Learned Astronomer",
however, perhaps because I have indeed known the tedium of staying up all
night doggedly studying for an exam, I am far more inclined to sympathise
with Benet than I was with Whitman.

Benet's campus sonnets [see links for all four] form an oddly mismatched
set - the tone, the subject matter and the quality of the verse are all
surprisingly variable. They do have a certain indefinable something,
though - an occasional glimpse of the Benet who penned such masterpieces as
"Winged Man" and "The General Public" - that makes them worth a read.
Today's is arguably the best and definitely the smoothest of the lot; at
any rate it was the one I found the most enjoyable, though I felt "Talk"
had the potential to be a far better poem. I'd recommend going and reading
all four as a sequence - they are, as I noted, not really coherent, but they
complement each other nevertheless.



All four Campus Sonnets:


Baccalaureate -- Archibald MacLeish

This week's theme: Bright college days
(Poem #1903) Baccalaureate
 A year or two, and grey Euripides,
 And Horace and a Lydia or so,
 And Euclid and the brush of Angelo,
 Darwin on man, Vergilius on bees,
 The nose and Dialogues of Socrates,
 Don Quixote, Hudibras and Trinculo,
 How worlds are spawned and where the dead gods go,--
 All shall be shard of broken memories.

 And there shall linger other, magic things,--
 The fog that creeps in wanly from the sea,
 The rotten harbor smell, the mystery
 Of moonlit elms, the flash of pigeon wings,
 The sunny Green, the old-world peace that clings
 About the college yard, where endlessly
 The dead go up and down. These things shall be
 Enchantment of our heart's rememberings.

 And these are more than memories of youth
 Which earth's four winds of pain shall blow away;
 These are earth's symbols of eternal truth,
 Symbols of dream and imagery and flame,
 Symbols of those same verities that play
 Bright through the crumbling gold of a great name.
-- Archibald MacLeish
One of the universals of the "college experience" - and pretty much everyone
I know who has attended college agrees with me - is that the actual
classroom education is the least part of it. Of course, that's not precisely
true; it's just that lectures are seldom the stuff of which memories are
made, and therefore loom progressively less significant in nostalgic
reveries. Nonetheless, college remains one of life's defining experiences,
and it is interesting to see what poets have made of the memories that *do*
linger and tint the time thereafter.

Today's poem tackles the theme head-on, with MacLeish's characteristically
beautiful phrases flowing like a wash of colour over the contrasting aspects
of college life. The sequence of images is exquisite; I'm tempted to say
that this is a poem that is more about atmosphere than message, but the
atmosphere is definitely part of the message here, and the list format works
very well indeed. And not just the imagery either - there is a slight
weightiness to the language that helps enhance the academic feel, perhaps
most evident in the phrase "symboks of those same verities", but present

The other noteworthy thing is the painstaking attention MacLeish pays to the
sound of his poetry. With some poets, this is easy to see - the music of the
words takes over, and leaps out at the reader. MacLeish's verse is usually
more quietly euphonious, but none the less beautiful, and none the less
perfect for not being showy.


p.s. Yes, the theme is named after the Tom Lehrer song. Yes, it will make an



Academy of American Poets:

The King -- Rudyard Kipling

Guest poem sent in by Tamsin Bacchus

Today's poem [Dobson's "On The Hurry Of This Time"] made me think of this by
(Poem #1902) The King
 "Farewell, Romance!" the Cave-men said;
   "With bone well carved He went away,
 Flint arms the ignoble arrowhead,
   And jasper tips the spear to-day.
 Changed are the Gods of Hunt and Dance,
 And He with these.  Farewell, Romance!"

 "Farewell, Romance!" the Lake-folk sighed;
   "We lift the weight of flatling years;
 The caverns of the mountain-side
   Hold him who scorns our hutted piers.
 Lost hills whereby we dare not dwell,
 Guard ye His rest.  Romance, farewell!"

 "Farewell, Romance!" the Soldier spoke;
   "By sleight of sword we may not win,
 But scuffle 'mid uncleanly smoke
   Of arquebus and culverin.
 Honour is lost, and none may tell
 Who paid good blows.  Romance, farewell!"

 "Farewell, Romance!" the Traders cried;
   "Our keels have lain with every sea;
 The dull-returning wind and tide
   Heave up the wharf where we would be;
 The known and noted breezes swell
 Our trudging sails. Romance, farewell!"

 "Good-bye, Romance!" the Skipper said;
   "He vanished with the coal we burn.
 Our dial marks full-steam ahead,
   Our speed is timed to half a turn.
 Sure as the ferried barge we ply
 'Twixt port and port.  Romance, good-bye!"

 "Romance!" the season-tickets mourn,
   "He never ran to catch His train,
 But passed with coach and guard and horn --
   And left the local -- late again!"
 Confound Romance!"...  And all unseen
 Romance brought up the nine-fifteen.

 His hand was on the lever laid,
   His oil-can soothed the worrying cranks,
 His whistle waked the snowbound grade,
   His fog-horn cut the reeking Banks;
 By dock and deep and mine and mill
 The Boy-god reckless laboured still!

 Robed, crowned and throned, He wove His spell,
   Where heart-blood beat or hearth-smoke curled,
 With unconsidered miracle,
   Hedged in a backward-gazing world:
 Then taught His chosen bard to say:
 "Our King was with us -- yesterday!"
-- Rudyard Kipling
Written in 1894 this is so perceptive - the "olden days" were always better
and now indeed we regard steam trains as romantic. All over Great Britain
there are preserved lines that spend the summer running steam specials for
visitors and day trippers who come out just for that whiff of coal dust and
romance.  (Alas fewer and fewer steam specials on the main lines, health and
safety regulations and the generation of engine drivers who qualified to
drive steam engines on the public network by the 1960s and so hold the
relevant certificates are dying out.)

Interesting in this poem is the use of "season ticket" as a term for someone
regularly travelling to work by train - there's a specific word for this
figure of speech which I've forgotten for the moment. ["metonymy" - ed.]
This one did not last, though, and was overtaken by "commuter".

(Similarly, in Kipling's novel "The Light that Failed" I came across the use
of "to Kodak" as a verb meaning to photograph - another English usage that
had a very brief life.)

Tamsin Bacchus

Against Sundials -- Plautus

Guest poem submitted by William Grey, in response to
yesterday's offering:
(Poem #1901) Against Sundials
 The gods confound the man who first found out
 How to distinguish hours! Confound him, too,
 Who in this place set up a sundial,
 To cut and hack my days so wretchedly
 Into small portions! When I was a boy,
 My belly was my sundial -- one surer,
 Truer, and more exact than any of them.
 This dial told me when 'twas proper time
 To go to dinner, when I had aught to eat;
 But nowadays, why even when I have,
 I can't fall to unless the sun gives leave.
 The town's so full of these confounded dials
 The greatest part of the inhabitants,
 Shrunk up with hunger, crawl along the street.
-- Plautus
        (c.254-184 BC)

This fragment from Plautus is offered in juxtaposition to Henry Austin
Dobson's "On The Hurry of This Time" (Poem #1905). As Martin justly
observes, 'Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.' The verse fragment
(with my suggested title) is from "The Boeotian Woman", (3rd century
BC), preserved by Aulus Gellius (2nd century AD), and discussed in his
Attic Nights, [1], p. 247.

William Grey

[1] Aulus Gellius, The Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius. Vol 1 Loeb Library
Edition (trans John C. Rolfe). London: Heinemann, 1927.

On The Hurry Of This Time -- Henry Austin Dobson

(Poem #1900) On The Hurry Of This Time
 With slower pen men used to write,
 Of old, when "letters" were "polite";
 In Anna's or in George's days,
 They could afford to turn a phrase,
 Or trim a struggling theme aright.

 They knew not steam; electric light
 Not yet had dazed their calmer sight; -
 They meted out both blame and praise
 With slower pen.

 Too swiftly now the Hours take flight!
 What's read at morn is dead at night:
 Scant space have we for Art's delays,
 Whose breathless thought so briefly stays,
 We may not work - ah! would we might! -
 With slower pen.
-- Henry Austin Dobson
I remember, back in the nineties when email was just beginning to be
widespread, the flood of articles lamenting the inevitable demise of the
handwritten letter, and the creeping soullessness of the casually dashed-off
email that was replacing it. Come the next decade, and that has been
succeeded by laments for the inevitable demise of the printed book, and its
replacement by soulless e-books, expedient audiobooks and mindless
television. It's rather amusing, then, to read today's poem, and realise
that the hastier time Dobson was writing about was 1882.  Plus ça change,
plus c'est la même chose.


  English poet, 1840-1921

The World But Seems To Be -- Fakhruddin 'Iraqi

Guest poem sent in by Nandini Krishnamoorthy
(Poem #1899) The World But Seems To Be
 The world but seems to be
 yet is nothing more
 than a line drawn
 between light and shadow.
 Decipher the message
 of this dream-script
 and learn to distinguish time
 from Eternity.
-- Fakhruddin 'Iraqi
   (Fakhr al-din Ibrahim)

English translation by William Chittick and Peter Lamborn Wilson

I stumbled upon this piece of poetry thanks to a post by Mac[1]. One of
those poems that can leave you feeling humbled and at the same time lift
your spirits. Cannot think of a better poem that you will want to carry with
you forever.



  Fakhr al-din Ibrahim (Persian philosopher, 1213 - 1289)'Iraqi


The Pub with No Beer -- Gordon Parsons

Guest poem sent in by Mallika Chellappa
(Poem #1898) The Pub with No Beer
 It's lonesome away from your kindred and all
 By the camp fire at night where the wild dingoes call,
 But there's nothing so lonesome so morbid or drear
 Than to stand in the bar of a pub with no beer.

 Now the publican's anxious for the quota to come
 There's a far away look on the face of the bum
 The maid's gone all cranky and the cook's acting queer
 What a terrible place is a pub with no beer.

 Then the stock-man rides up with his dry dusty throat
 He breasts up to the bar, pulls a wad from his coat,
 But the smile on his face quickly turns to a sneer,
 When the bar man said sadly "The pub's got no beer".

 There's a dog on the 'randah for his master he waits
 But the boss is inside drinking wine with his mates
 He hurries for cover and cringes in fear
 It's no place for a dog round a pub with no beer.

 Old Billy the blacksmith first time in his life
 Has gone home cold sober to his darling wife,
 He walks in the kitchen, she says "You're early, me dear",
 But then he breaks down and he tells her "The pub's got no beer".
-- Gordon Parsons
Note: Based on Dan Sheahan's poem "A Pub Without Beer", and sung to the tune
of "Beautiful Dreamer"

Following up on the outback poem, and not summer per se.  I wonder how many
people remember this song - from the 60s - !?

It was a top hit on the Binaca Hit Parade (Obviously it was also a #1 hit in
Australia and the UK!) - how many people remember this English countdown by
the late Hamid (Hameed?) Sayani - older brother of Ameen Sayani, who
compered the Hindi countdown Binaca Geet Mala on Radio Ceylon?

Hamid also anchored the Cadbury Amateur Hour, where budding singers could
exercise their vocal chords.

Hamid Sayani was killed in the Air India plane crash in Bombay in - was it
the New Year's day crash of 1978? Can't seem to find it on the web. This
great and lovable personality seems to have left almost no footprint on the

Delhi AIR's own response to Radio Ceylon was "A Date with You" on Friday
evenings, and Hamid also compered this show. On Madras AIR, I can't remember
the name of the show, but the compere was Gayathri Krishnaswamy nee Grace

India had other radio greats like Laurence "Bobby" Clark (?), Melville
D'Mello, Roshan Menon, Lotika Ratnam, .. to name just a few. And there is
almost nothing to be learned about them on the web.



On the history of the song:
  [broken link]

Sheahan's original poem:

Gordon Parsons biography:
  [broken link]

Borderland -- Henry Lawson

Winding up the "summer heat" theme...
(Poem #1897) Borderland
 I am back from up the country -- very sorry that I went --
 Seeking for the Southern poets' land whereon to pitch my tent;
 I have lost a lot of idols, which were broken on the track --
 Burnt a lot of fancy verses, and I'm glad that I am back.
 Further out may be the pleasant scenes of which our poets boast,
 But I think the country's rather more inviting round the coast --
 Anyway, I'll stay at present at a boarding-house in town
 Drinking beer and lemon-squashes, taking baths and cooling down.

 Sunny plains! Great Scot! -- those burning wastes of barren soil and sand
 With their everlasting fences stretching out across the land!
 Desolation where the crow is! Desert! where the eagle flies,
 Paddocks where the luny bullock starts and stares with reddened eyes;
 Where, in clouds of dust enveloped, roasted bullock-drivers creep
 Slowly past the sun-dried shepherd dragged behind his crawling sheep.
 Stunted "peak" of granite gleaming, glaring! like a molten mass
 Turned, from some infernal furnace, on a plain devoid of grass.

 Miles and miles of thirsty gutters -- strings of muddy waterholes
 In the place of "shining rivers" (walled by cliffs and forest boles).
 "Range!" of ridgs, gullies, ridges, barren! where the madden'd flies --
 Fiercer than the plagues of Egypt -- swarm about your blighted eyes!
 Bush! where there is no horizon! where the buried bushman sees
 Nothing. Nothing! but the maddening sameness of the stunted trees!
 Lonely hut where drought's eternal -- suffocating atmosphere --
 Where the God forgotten hatter dreams of city-life and beer.

 Treacherous tracks that trap the stranger, endless roads that gleam and glare,
 Dark and evil-looking gullies -- hiding secrets here and there!
 Dull, dumb flats and stony "rises," where the bullocks sweat and bake,
 And the sinister "gohanna," and the lizard, and the snake.
 Land of day and night -- no morning freshness, and no afternoon,
 For the great, white sun in rising brings with him the heat of noon.
 Dismal country for the exile, when the shades begin to fall
 From the sad, heart-breaking sunset, to the new-chum, worst of all.

 Dreary land in rainy weather, with the endless clouds that drift
 O'er the bushman like a blanket that the Lord will never lift --
 Dismal land when it is raining -- growl of floods and oh! the "woosh"
 Of the rain and wind together on the dark bed of the bush --
 Ghastly fires in lonely humpies where the granite rocks are pil'd
 On the rain-swept wildernesses that are wildest of the wild.

 Land where gaunt and haggard women live alone and work like men,
 Till their husbands, gone a-droving, will return to them again --
 Homes of men! if homes had ever such a God-forgotten place,
 Where the wild selector's children fly before a stranger's face.
 Home of tragedy applauded by the dingoes' dismal yell,
 Heaven of the shanty-keeper -- fitting fiend for such a hell --
 And the wallaroos and wombats, and, of course, the "curlew's call" --
 And the lone sundowner tramping ever onward thro' it all!

 I am back from up the country -- up the country where I went
 Seeking for the Southern poets' land whereon to pitch my tent;
 I have left a lot of broken idols out along the track,
 Burnt a lot of fancy verses -- and I'm glad that I am back --
 I believe the Southern poet's dream will not be realised
 Till the plains are irrigated and the land is humanised.
 I intend to stay at present -- as I said before -- in town
 Drinking beer and lemon-squashes -- taking baths and cooling down.
-- Henry Lawson
When I embarked upon this theme, I knew that Lawson would have to be one of
the included poets - the searing Australian heat features prominently in
several of his poems, and he conveys its hellish nature more vividly and
consistently than most.

Today's poem leavens the diatribe with a touch of humour, but the underlying
impression is nonetheless one of a stark, overwhelming and inhospitable
climate. Lawson's vivid imagery and his graphic, almost hyperbolic language
are well suited to the subject - suffering beneath a blazing sun is an
experience most readers will be at least passingly familiar with, and the
verses are instantly evocative.

On another note, it's always nice to read a poem in "fifteener" rhythm -
especially combined with rhyming couplets, it gives the poem an easy,
hypnotic flow that carries the reader along, and lets the imagery "pile up"
and reinforce itself, unhindered by metrical speed bumps.  Attention to
formal detail is something that, if done right, can blend unobtrusively into
the poem-as-a-whole, often leading people to conclude that it is a
relatively unimportant part of "real" poetry (the good old form versus
content argument); however, a good ear for rhyme and metre can immeasurably
enhance a poem, and a bad one can ruin it. Here, Lawson gets it absolutely
right - neither jarringly irregular nor monotonously sing-song, making the
poem a pleasure to read aloud.


Wikipedia on Lawson:

An extensive collection of Lawson's poetry:

Mad Dogs and Englishmen -- Noel Coward

Guest poem suggested by Stefan Bartels, and submitted with commentary by Rupindar Millington , as part of our continuing theme on the heat of summer:
(Poem #1896) Mad Dogs and Englishmen
 In tropical climes there are certain times of day
 When all the citizens retire to tear their clothes off and perspire.
 It's one of the rules that the greatest fools obey,
 Because the sun is much too sultry
 And one must avoid its ultry-violet ray.
 The natives grieve when the white men leave their huts,
 Because they're obviously, definitely nuts!

 Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun,
 The Japanese don´t care to, the Chinese wouldn´t dare to,
 Hindus and Argentines sleep firmly from twelve to one
 But Englishmen detest-a siesta.
 In the Philippines they have lovely screens to protect you from the glare.
 In the Malay States, there are hats like plates which the Britishers won't wear.
 At twelve noon the natives swoon and no further work is done,
 But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

 It's such a surprise for the Eastern eyes to see,
 That though the English are effete, they're quite impervious to heat,
 When the white man rides every native hides in glee,
 Because the simple creatures hope he will impale his solar topee on a tree.
 It seems such a shame when the English claim the earth,
 They give rise to such hilarity and mirth.
 Ha ha ha ha hoo hoo hoo hoo hee hee hee hee ......

 Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
 The toughest Burmese bandit can never understand it.
 In Rangoon the heat of noon is just what the natives shun,
 They put their Scotch or Rye down, and lie down.
 In a jungle town where the sun beats down to the rage of man and beast
 The English garb of the English sahib merely gets a bit more creased.
 In Bangkok at twelve o'clock they foam at the mouth and run,
 But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

 Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
 The smallest Malay rabbit deplores this foolish habit.
 In Hong Kong they strike a gong and fire off a noonday gun,
 To reprimand each inmate who's in late.
 In the mangrove swamps where the python romps
 There is peace from twelve till two.
 Even caribous lie around and snooze, for there's nothing else to do.
 In Bengal to move at all is seldom ever done,
 But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
-- Noel Coward
This week's theme of Summer Heat made me recall this classic song.... very topical in my household.  I'm a BBI (British born Indian) or some might say a BBCD (British born confused Desi) married to an Englishman.  There has been a heatwave in the UK and I've been telling my son that "only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun" in a bid to stop him emulating the football world cup antics.  He thought it was an Indian saying so I retrieved the CD and played it to him :-).

I particularly like the lines...

    It's such a surprise for the Eastern eyes to see,
    That though the English are effete, they're quite impervious to heat, untrue having witnessed my husband suffering from sunstroke many times!!

The song gives a quick snapshot of what the Bristish colonial masters were like.  It's a  tongue-n-cheek ditty of the British colonial mentality, written in 1932 by perhaps Britain's finest wit, composer Noel Coward.  You've got to hear the song to fully appreciate the era in which it was written.  I think Noel Coward spent some time in Malaysia; I suggest you find out more by visiting:


Rupindar Millington.

Rain in Summer -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Carrying on with the theme, here's a guest poem sent in by Mallika
(Poem #1895) Rain in Summer
 How beautiful is the rain!
 After the dust and heat,
 In the broad and fiery street,
 In the narrow lane,
 How beautiful is the rain!

 How it clatters along the roofs,
 Like the tramp of hoofs
 How it gushes and struggles out
 From the throat of the overflowing spout!

 Across the window-pane
 It pours and pours;
 And swift and wide,
 With a muddy tide,
 Like a river down the gutter roars
 The rain, the welcome rain!

 The sick man from his chamber looks
 At the twisted brooks;
 He can feel the cool
 Breath of each little pool;
 His fevered brain
 Grows calm again,
 And he breathes a blessing on the rain.

 From the neighboring school
 Come the boys,
 With more than their wonted noise
 And commotion;
 And down the wet streets
 Sail their mimic fleets,
 Till the treacherous pool
 Ingulfs them in its whirling
 And turbulent ocean.

 In the country, on every side,
 Where far and wide,
 Like a leopard's tawny and spotted hide,
 Stretches the plain,
 To the dry grass and the drier grain
 How welcome is the rain!

 In the furrowed land
 The toilsome and patient oxen stand;
 Lifting the yoke encumbered head,
 With their dilated nostrils spread,
 They silently inhale
 The clover-scented gale,
 And the vapors that arise
 From the well-watered and smoking soil.
 For this rest in the furrow after toil
 Their large and lustrous eyes
 Seem to thank the Lord,
 More than man's spoken word.

 Near at hand,
 From under the sheltering trees,
 The farmer sees
 His pastures, and his fields of grain,
 As they bend their tops
 To the numberless beating drops
 Of the incessant rain.
 He counts it as no sin
 That he sees therein
 Only his own thrift and gain.

 These, and far more than these,
 The Poet sees!
 He can behold
 Aquarius old
 Walking the fenceless fields of air;
 And from each ample fold
 Of the clouds about him rolled
 Scattering everywhere
 The showery rain,
 As the farmer scatters his grain.

 He can behold
 Things manifold
 That have not yet been wholly told,--
 Have not been wholly sung nor said.
 For his thought, that never stops,
 Follows the water-drops
 Down to the graves of the dead,
 Down through chasms and gulfs profound,
 To the dreary fountain-head
 Of lakes and rivers under ground;
 And sees them, when the rain is done,
 On the bridge of colors seven
 Climbing up once more to heaven,
 Opposite the setting sun.

 Thus the Seer,
 With vision clear,
 Sees forms appear and disappear,
 In the perpetual round of strange,
 Mysterious change
 From birth to death, from death to birth,
 From earth to heaven, from heaven to earth;
 Till glimpses more sublime
 Of things, unseen before,
 Unto his wondering eyes reveal
 The Universe, as an immeasurable wheel
 Turning forevermore
 In the rapid and rushing river of Time.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I recommend "Rain in Summer" by HW Longfellow. This was in my English
Reader in Primary school and I could identify with it perfectly - I never
even realized it was set in an American milieu.

I don't think I am a Luddite - I make my living at a hi-tech occupation -
but I ache for a return to a simpler life governed by the milestones of
Nature, the seasons, and the many samdhyas/solstices/equinoxes.