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Bird -- Pablo Neruda

Guest poem sent in by Rajeev
(Poem #164) Bird
It was passed from one bird to another,
the whole gift of the day.
The day went from flute to flute,
went dressed in vegetation,
in flights which opened a tunnel
through the wind would pass
to where birds were breaking open
the dense blue air -
and there, night came in.

When I returned from so many journeys,
I stayed suspended and green
between sun and geography -
I saw how wings worked,
how perfumes are transmitted
by feathery telegraph,
and from above I saw the path,
the springs and the roof tiles,
the fishermen at their trades,
the trousers of the foam;
I saw it all from my green sky.
I had no more alphabet
than the swallows in their courses,
the tiny, shining water
of the small bird on fire
which dances out of the pollen.
-- Pablo Neruda
My first exposure to Neruda was around 12 years ago. Among the poems in the
course for CBSE (Class IX or X) was a strange one called "Ode to the
Clothes". The title was decidedly off-track, but the poem itself was more
so. It broke whatever norms or rules I perceived poetry as having, and its
theme - of the thoughts of a man as he wears a shirt - was unconventional,
to say the least. Yet the poem itself struck me as passionate, indeed
somewhat erotic! The poet was Pablo Neruda. Since then, I've had an
on-and-off experience with the works of Neruda. There are works such as
"Bird" that move me immensely, especially the last 5 lines of the first
stanza and the last 2 lines of the poem (to my mind, among the most visually
striking and memorable lines - some of us would say "Evocative" - that I've
read). But at times, I've struggled to understand some of his other works,
because it was near impossible to pin down the emotion underlying. In any
case, "Bird" qualifies as one of my all-time favourites. I hope you like it



Neruda was born Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto on July 12, 1904, in Parral,
Chile. His mother died soon after. He completed his secondary schooling in
1920, the year he began using the name Pablo Neruda. In 1921 he went to
Santiago to continue his education but soon became so devoted to writing
poetry that his schooling was abandoned. Neruda's first book,
`Crepusculario', was published in Spanish in 1923. The next year he
published `Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair'.

Early in life he took an interest in politics. He was for a time an
anarchist but later became a Communist. His government service began in 1927
and ended only shortly before his death on Sept. 23, 1973, in Santiago. From
1927 to 1933 Neruda represented Chile in South Asia--in Burma (now Myanmar),
Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Java (now part of Indonesia), and Singapore. In
1933-34 he was Chilean consul in Buenos Aires, and while there he met the
great Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. From Argentina he went to Spain,
where he served through the early part of the Spanish Civil War. His `Spain
in the Heart' was published in 1937 during the war.

Over the next decades Neruda traveled widely and continued writing poetry.
Among his other books were `Residence on Earth' (1933), written while he was
in South Asia; `General Song' (1950), one of the greatest epic poems written
in the Americas; and `One Hundred Love Sonnets' (1959). During the Marxist
regime of Salvador Allende, Neruda was Chile's ambassador to France

He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 for, in the words of
the awarding committee, "for a poetry that with the action of an elemental
force brings alive a continent's destiny and dreams".

He died in Santiago on Sept. 23, l973.

                                 - Compton's Living Encyclopedia

"Neruda's body of poetry is so rich and varied that it defies classification
or easy summary. It developed along four main directions, however. His love
poetry, such as the youthful Twenty Love Poems and the mature Los versos del
CapitE1n (1952; The Captain's Verses), is tender, melancholy, sensuous, and
passionate. In "material" poetry, such as Residencia en la tierra,
loneliness and depression immerse the author in a subterranean world of
dark, demonic forces. His epic poetry is best represented by Canto general,
which is a Whitmanesque attempt at reinterpreting the past and present of
Latin America and the struggle of its oppressed and downtrodden masses
toward freedom. And finally there is Neruda's poetry of common, everyday
objects, animals, and plants, as in Odas elementales.

These four trends correspond to four aspects of Neruda's personality: his
passionate love life; the nightmares and depression he experienced while
serving as a consul in Asia; his commitment to a political cause; and his
ever-present attention to details of daily life, his love of things made or
grown by human hands. Many of his other books, such as Libro de las
preguntas (1974; "Book of Questions"), reflect philosophical and whimsical
questions about the present and future of humanity. Neruda was one of the
most original and prolific poets to write in Spanish in the 20th century,
but despite the variety of his output as a whole, each of his books has
unity of style and purpose."

 - Encyclopedia Britannica

Check out this outstanding website (the effects are amazing and the site
very well planned out) for some more of his works

Dust -- Carl Sandburg

(Poem #163) Dust
 Here is dust remembers it was a rose
 one time and lay in a woman's hair.
 Here is dust remembers it was a woman
 one time and in her hair lay a rose.
 Oh things one time dust, what else now is it
 you dream and remember of old days?
-- Carl Sandburg
A quietly understated poem, very different from Sandburg's more famous
'Chicago'. It needs very little by way of explanation, but notice how the
second 'couplet', with a slight change of word order, suddenly establishes a
progression, throwing the whole into perspective against the larger scheme of
things (tm).

Finally, and in passing, the last two lines have a vaguely foreign feel to
them - nothing I can quite pin down, but they remind me of some translated
Asian or maybe African poetry, as though Sandburg were being deliberately
imitative of the 'profoundly simple' effect many such poems possess.



 Sandburg, Carl

 b. Jan. 6, 1878, Galesburg, Ill., U.S.
 d. July 22, 1967, Flat Rock, N.C. American poet, historian, novelist,
 and folklorist.

   From the age of 11, Sandburg worked in various occupations--as a
   barbershop porter, a milk truck driver, a brickyard hand, and a
   harvester in the Kansas wheat fields. When the Spanish-American War
   broke out in 1898, he enlisted in the 6th Illinois Infantry. These
   early years he later described in his autobiography Always the Young
   Strangers (1953).

   From 1910 to 1912 he acted as an organizer for the Social Democratic
   Party and secretary to the mayor of Milwaukee. Moving to Chicago in
   1913, he became an editor of System, a business magazine, and later
   joined the staff of the Chicago Daily News.

   In 1914 a group of his Chicago Poems appeared in Poetry magazine
   (issued in book form in 1916). In his most famous poem, "Chicago," he
   depicted the city as the laughing, lusty, heedless "Hog Butcher, Tool
   Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to
   the Nation." Sandburg's poetry made an instant and favourable
   impression. In Whitmanesque free verse, he eulogized workers:
   "Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Gary, they make their steel with men" (Smoke
   and Steel, 1920).

   In Good Morning, America (1928) Sandburg seemed to have lost some of
   his faith in democracy, but from the depths of the Great Depression he
   wrote a poetic testament to the power of the people to go forward, The
   People, Yes (1936). The folk songs he sang before delighted audiences
   were issued in two collections, The American Songbag (1927) and New
   American Songbag (1950). He wrote the popular biography Abraham
   Lincoln: The Prairie Years, 2 vol. (1926), and Abraham Lincoln: The
   War Years, 4 vol. (1939; Pulitzer Prize in history, 1940).

   Another biography, Steichen the Photographer, the life of his famous
   brother-in-law, Edward Steichen, appeared in 1929. In 1948 Sandburg
   published a long novel, Remembrance Rock, which recapitulates the
   American experience from Plymouth Rock to World War II. Complete Poems
   appeared in 1950. He wrote four books for children--Rootabaga Stories
   (1922); Rootabaga Pigeons (1923); Rootabaga Country (1929); and Potato
   Face (1930).
                -- EB

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam -- Omar Khayyam

 excerpts from
(Poem #162) The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
 Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
 Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
     And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
 The Sultan's Turret in a Noose of Light.

 Dreaming when Dawn's Left Hand was in the Sky
 I heard a Voice within the Tavern cry,
     "Awake, my Little ones, and fill the Cup
 "Before Life's Liquor in its Cup be dry."

 And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
 The Tavern shouted --- "Open then the Door!
     "You know how little while we have to stay,
 "And, once departed, may return no more."

 Now the New Year reviving old Desires,
 The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
     Where the White Hand of Moses on the Bough
 Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires.

 Iram indeed is gone with all its Rose,
 And Jamshyd's Sev'n-ring'd Cup where no one knows;
     But still the Vine her ancient Ruby yields,
 And still a Garden by the Water blows.

 And David's Lips are lock't; but in divine
 High piping Pehlevi, with "Wine! Wine! Wine!
     "Red Wine!" --- the Nightingale cries to the Rose
 That yellow Cheek of hers t'incarnadine.

 Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
 The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
     The Bird of Time has but a little way
 To fly --- and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.
-- Omar Khayyam
Translated by Edward FitzGerald.
First Version (1859).

Martin and I have been planning to run excerpts from the Rubaiyat for a
long time now, only we never got around to selecting the choicest
verses... so we decided to take the easy way out and run just the first
few (but have no fear, we'll definitely come back to this marvellous
poem in the future).

There are some poems which seem to resonate in the mind; poems which
have a magic about them that seems to transcend their bare words. The
Eagle, Chapman's Homer, Kubla Khan... the list isn't very long (alas!),
but the few poems that make it are truly glorious. FitzGerald's Rubaiyat
is one of them.

It's not a complex poem in terms of structure or language, nor are there
any of the usual devices beloved of 19th century poets. And yet...
FitzGerald captures the atmosphere of the original [1] brilliantly - the
whole poem seems suffused with an air of  - (heck, I don't know what to
call it: 'Rubaiyatness' is the word that seems to fit best, but that
would be rather circular, wouldn't it? Just goes to show how much this
poem has insinuated itself into the collective unconscious) -  well, a
magical air of some sort. The verse is beautiful; somehow it always
seems to feel 'just right'. Indeed, there are whole passages of the
Rubaiyat which I cannot conceive of being improved upon... flawless,
gemlike perfection, is what it is.


[1] or at any rate, he captures what I think the atmosphere of the
original would have been like... My Persian is about as good as my
Japanese, which is to say, it's non-existent :-)

I asked Martin to add his own comments...


Thanks to Thomas for giving me the chance to add my 2c...

Fitzgerald's brilliant translations of Khayyam's rubaiyat rank among my
favourite pieces of poetry, both as wonderful examples of verse, and for
the way they seem to capture the feel of the original. (And while it's
hard for a small selection to fully demonstrate the brilliance of the
whole, the first and seventh verses, IMO, are among the best of the

Actually, to call it a 'translation' would be to do Fitzgerald an
injustice - he has, rather, freely adapted the originals, preserving
their spirit, but letting himself be guided more by the aesthetics of
English verse than by a compulsive desire for accuracy[1].


[1] There has been a recent attempt at an accurate translation of the
rubaiyat[2]; the excerpts I read were good, but they had the feel of
'translated' poetry, and lacked the appeal of Fitzgerald's work.

[2] yes, I know it's generic, but assume the 'of Omar Khayyam'


Omar Khayyam lived in the area of Naishapur, Persia (modern Iran) in the
12th century. He was primarily a mathematician and astronomer, and some
of his works in those areas are still extant. He also wrote rhymed
epigrammatic quatrains called in Persian ruba'i. Later Persian scholars
collected these verses in manuscripts called Rubaiyat.

In 1857, Edward FitzGerald, an English "literary man" who was a friend
of Tennyson and Carlyle, discovered a manuscript of Omar's Rubaiyat in
the British Museum and translated some of the verses. The translation
did not attract much attention when it was first published, but when it
was praised by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1861 it became an immediate
popular success.

FitzGerald's Rubaiyat was not a translation as such. The Rubaiyat
manuscripts contained over 400 quatrains. FitzGerald translated some
literally, some loosely, combined others, and added some of his own
composition though in the spirit of the Persian original. In addition,
FitzGerald arranged the verses so that they seem to have a certain
cohesion, though the original quatrains were independent and related
only in tone. A more literal translation was undertaken by Robert Graves
in the 1970s.

   -- Bob Blair, [broken link]

[More Background and Links]

FitzGerald's translation went through five major revisions over 30
years. The excerpts I've chosen to run are from the first (and most
famous) edition. To get an idea of how _different_ the other versions
are, check out . In my
opinion, though, none of the later editions come close to capturing the
magic of the first.

You can read FitzGerald's own (slightly longish, but extremely
interesting) introduction to the second edition of the Rubaiyat at
[broken link]

For an interesting parallel, do read Harivansh Rai Bachchan's
'Madhushala (The Tavern)', (as brilliantly translated by Sameer
Siruguri), Minstrels Poem #72, with the accompanying commentary.


These are from FitzGerald's own notes to the second edition.

 - False morning (Dawn's Left Hand): The 'False Dawn' (Subhi
K&aacutezib), a transient light on the Horizon about an hour before the
Subhi Sadik, or True Dawn; a well-known Phenomenon in theEast.
 - White Hand of Moses: Exodus iv. 6; where Moses draws forth his Hand
--- not, according to the Persians, 'leprous as Snow', but white, as our
May-blossom in Spring perhaps.
 - Moses...Jesus from the Ground: This passage refers to plants named
after the two prophets.
 - Iram: [A garden] planted by King Shaddad, and now sunk somewhere in
the Sands of Arabia.
 - Jamshyd: Jamshyd's Seven-ring'd Cup was typical of the 7 Heavens, 7
Planets, 7 Seas, &c. and was a Divining Cup.
 - Pehlevi: The old Heroic Sanskrit of Persia. Hafiz also speaks of the
Nightingale's Pehlevi, which did not change with the People's.
 - The yellow Cheek...incarnadine: I am not sure if the fourth line
refers to the Red Rose looking sickly, or to the Yellow Rose that ought
to be Red; Red, White, and Yellow Roses all common in Persia. I think
that Southey, in his Common-Place Book, quotes from some Spanish author
about the Rose being White till 10 o'clock; 'Rosa Perfecta' at 2; and
'perfecta incarnada' at 5.


Some thoughts on the philosophy of the Rubaiyat, filched from the Web.

"There are two major schools of thought in trying to classify Omar
Khayyam's Rubaiyat. One claims that he was highly influenced by Islamic
mysticism, and particularly sufism, and his references to wine and
lovers are allegorical representations of the mystical wine and divine

A second school of thought refutes the first completely, claiming that
Khayyam understood his mortality and inability to look beyond, and his
references to wine and lovers are very literal and sensual.

[Khayyam was] clearly not a mystical fatalist claiming "what will be,
will be!" To the contrary, he saw the folly of being mesmerized by such
techniques, which may bring amazing visions of reality, but so long as
they remain visions, they are not and cannot be the truth, the reality
itself. [At the same time, he] saw that just as mystical infatuations
were merely visions of reality and not the truth, sensual pleasures were
also representations of a deeper joy and not the truth either.

Khayyam understood that it was our fate, our destiny, something beyond
our control to be born into this world. He also understood that death
was an inevitable fate for anyone who was ever born ... He understood
the fantasy of concerning ourselves with the future, as well as the
neurosis of staying in our past. He saw that all we have is this ever
slipping moment, this now, which itself has a timeless quality.

And he understood that in life what is important is that deeper joy and
love for which we have infinite yearning, as well as capacity to both
receive and emanate. His Rubaiyat force us to ask those ultimate
existential questions, and lead us down a path that, unless we are lost
along the way or are destabilized by the abyss  which we must traverse,
must inevitably reach the same answer. Those ultimate truths that in
life all that matters is love and joy. All else is fantasy and fallacy.

    --  Shahriar Shahriari,
[broken link]


PS. [Glossary]

suspire (v): To sigh; rare in lit. sense; chiefly fig. to sigh or long
for, yearn after. (OED)
incarnadine (v): to make incarnadine (M-W)
incarnadine (adj): 1: having the pinkish color of flesh 2: red, esp.
blood red (M-W)

The Yarn of the "Nancy Bell" -- W S Gilbert

Not for the weak of stomach... <g>
(Poem #161) The Yarn of the "Nancy Bell"
'TWAS on the shores that round our coast
From Deal to Ramsgate span,
That I found alone on a piece of stone
An elderly naval man.

His hair was weedy, his beard was long,
And weedy and long was he,
And I heard this wight on the shore recite,
In a singular minor key:

"Oh, I am a cook and a captain bold,
And the mate of the NANCY brig,
And a bo'sun tight, and a midshipmite,
And the crew of the captain's gig."

And he shook his fists and he tore his hair,
Till I really felt afraid,
For I couldn't help thinking the man had been drinking,
And so I simply said:

"Oh, elderly man, it's little I know
Of the duties of men of the sea,
And I'll eat my hand if I understand
However you can be

"At once a cook, and a captain bold,
And the mate of the NANCY brig,
And a bo'sun tight, and a midshipmite,
And the crew of the captain's gig."

Then he gave a hitch to his trousers, which
Is a trick all seamen larn,
And having got rid of a thumping quid,
He spun this painful yarn:

"'Twas in the good ship NANCY BELL
That we sailed to the Indian Sea,
And there on a reef we come to grief,
Which has often occurred to me.

"And pretty nigh all the crew was drowned
(There was seventy-seven o' soul),
And only ten of the NANCY'S men
Said 'Here!' to the muster-roll.

"There was me and the cook and the captain bold,
And the mate of the NANCY brig,
And the bo'sun tight, and a midshipmite,
And the crew of the captain's gig.

"For a month we'd neither wittles nor drink,
Till a-hungry we did feel,
So we drawed a lot, and, accordin' shot
The captain for our meal.

"The next lot fell to the NANCY'S mate,
And a delicate dish he made;
Then our appetite with the midshipmite
We seven survivors stayed.

"And then we murdered the bo'sun tight,
And he much resembled pig;
Then we wittled free, did the cook and me,
On the crew of the captain's gig.

"Then only the cook and me was left,
And the delicate question, 'Which
Of us two goes to the kettle?' arose,
And we argued it out as sich.

"For I loved that cook as a brother, I did,
And the cook he worshipped me;
But we'd both be blowed if we'd either be stowed
In the other chap's hold, you see.

"'I'll be eat if you dines off me,' says TOM;
'Yes, that,' says I, 'you'll be, -
'I'm boiled if I die, my friend,' quoth I;
And 'Exactly so,' quoth he.

"Says he, 'Dear JAMES, to murder me
Were a foolish thing to do,
For don't you see that you can't cook ME,
While I can - and will - cook YOU!'

"So he boils the water, and takes the salt
And the pepper in portions true
(Which he never forgot), and some chopped shalot.
And some sage and parsley too.

"'Come here,' says he, with a proper pride,
Which his smiling features tell,
''T will soothing be if I let you see
How extremely nice you'll smell.'

"And he stirred it round and round and round,
And he sniffed at the foaming froth;
When I ups with his heels, and smothers his squeals
In the scum of the boiling broth.

"And I eat that cook in a week or less,
And - as I eating be
The last of his chops, why, I almost drops,
For a wessel in sight I see!

* * * *

"And I never larf, and I never smile,
And I never lark nor play,
But sit and croak, and a single joke
I have - which is to say:

"Oh, I am a cook and a captain bold,
And the mate of the NANCY brig,
And a bo'sun tight, and a midshipmite,
And the crew of the captain's gig!'"
-- W S Gilbert
While Gilbert is best known for his long and fruitful collaboration with
composer Arthur Sullivan, he has also written a number of early pieces,
submitted to Punch under the pseudonym Bab, that are both funny and
rewarding. Perhaps the best known is the Yarn of the Nancy Bell, rejected by
Punch as being 'too cannibalistic'.

While the Gilbert of the G&S operas had clearly matured as a poet, the above
poem still shows all of the characteristics he is famous for - flawless,
pattering verse, some painfully twisted rhymes and an often skewed sense of

Note, in passing, the similarity between Gilbert's 'elderly naval man' and
Coleridge's Ancient Mariner.



  THE "BAB BALLADS" appeared originally in the columns of "FUN," when that
  periodical was under the editorship of the late TOM HOOD. They were
  subsequently republished in two volumes, one called "THE BAB BALLADS," the
  other "MORE BAB BALLADS."  The period during which they were written
  extended over some three or four years; many, however, were composed
  hastily, and under the discomforting necessity of having to turn out a
  quantity of lively verse by a certain day in every week.  As it seemed to
  me (and to others) that the volumes were disfigured by the presence of
  these hastily written impostors, I thought it better to withdraw from both
  volumes such Ballads as seemed to show evidence of carelessness or undue
  haste, and to publish the remainder in the compact form under which they
  are now presented to the reader.

  It may interest some to know that the first of the series, "The Yarn of
  the NANCY BELL," was originally offered to "PUNCH," - to which I was, at
  that time, an occasional contributor.  It was, however, declined by the
  then Editor, on the ground that it was "too cannibalistic for his readers'

        -- W. S. Gilbert, Preface to 'Fifty "Bab" Ballads - Much Sound and
        Little Sense'

For more about Gilbert, see poem #87

The Realists -- William Butler Yeats

(Poem #160) The Realists
Hope that you may understand!
What can books of men that wive
In a dragon-guarded land,
Paintings of the dolphin-drawn
Sea-nymphs in their pearly wagons
Do, but awake a hope to live
That had gone
With the dragons?
-- William Butler Yeats
A simple enough poem about the Meaning of Life and the Purpose of Art
(yes, Yeats was never one to shy away from Big Things :-)).

This is about as close to free verse as Yeats ever got - which is not
saying much. Indeed, even when he eschews the use of a formal 'metre',
there's still a definite rhythm to his words (read lines two through
four out loud to see what I mean), and a rhyme scheme (abacdbcd) ( not
much of a scheme, I must admit :-)).

Apart from that... well, I suppose the main reason I've chosen to run it
is as an exercise in how a relatively small number of words
(dragon-guarded, dolphin-drawn, sea-nymphs) can be used to create an
atmospheric effect without the aid of any other devices. It's not
earth-shatteringly good, but it is worth a second look.


You can read more about Yeats at poem #21
There are several other Yeats poems in the Minstrels archive (I happen
to like his work :-)); you can read them (and all our other offerings)

The Latest Decalogue -- Arthur Hugh Clough

(Poem #159) The Latest Decalogue
Thou shalt have one God only; who
Would be at the expense of two?
No graven images may be
Worshipp'd, except the currency:
Swear not at all; for, for thy curse
Thine enemy is none the worse:
At church on Sunday to attend
Will serve to keep the world thy friend:
Honour thy parents; that is, all
From whom advancement may befall:
Thou shalt not kill; but need'st not strive
Officiously to keep alive:
Do not adultery commit;
Advantage rarely comes of it:
Thou shalt not steal; an empty feat,
When it's so lucrative to cheat:
Bear not false witness; let the lie
Have time on its own wings to fly:
Thou shalt not covert; but tradition
Approves all forms of competition.
-- Arthur Hugh Clough
  One of the two extant manuscripts has four additional lines, not printed
  in any early edition of Clough, summarizing his decalogue in an ironic
  restatement of the two great commandments of the law (Matthew 22: 37-39):

   The sum of all is, thou shalt love,
   If any body, God above:
   At any rate shall never labour
   More than thyself to love thy neighbour."

Time has not rendered this poem archaic[1], quaint or outdated - on the
contrary, it seems just as trenchantly relevant today as it doubtless did
back in 1862.

Compare Decalogue to the previous poem, 'There is no God..' (Poem #69)
- Decalogue lacks the subtle irony, opting instead for a more forthright
style, reminiscent of Bierce. This contributes greatly to its timelessness;
Clough's verse is, indeed, more 20th Century than Victorian in flavour.

[1] well, the phrase 'the currency' in line 4 seems a trifle old-fashioned,
but only if you want to nitpick

Biography etc: See poem #69


To His Coy Mistress -- Andrew Marvell

Guest poem sent in by Vikram Doctor -

Semiperiodic reminder - do keep submitting guest poems, people. And thanks
to Vikram for the number of excellent pieces he has sent in.
(Poem #158) To His Coy Mistress
Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love's day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shoulds't rubies find: I by the tide
Oh Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest.
No age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
    But at my back I always hear
Time's wing'ed chariot hurrying near
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy duty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity.
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
    Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life
Thus though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
-- Andrew Marvell
Marvell's poem is charming and funny, but the reason I'm sending this is not
so much for the poem itself, as for how a friend of mine used it to get some
rather unlikely people to appreciate poetry. These were a group of college
jocks whom my friend was tutoring to prepare them for foreign study exams.
Marvell's poem was part of the syllabus and as might be expected, my friend
was not making much headway. He explained the meter, and the rhyme, and
Marvell's background, but all he was getting was waves of boredom. Finally,
he said, "listen guys, you know what this poem is about? Its about not
getting laid. The writer is complaining that his girlfriend is not giving
him enough"... After that tuition programme was over one of the jocks'
mother told him, "I'm really impressed by your teaching. I don't know how
you've done it, but my son is really into literature and poetry now."

Vikram Doctor

O Captain! My Captain! -- Walt Whitman

And rounding out the 'old favourites' theme...
(Poem #157) O Captain! My Captain!
 O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
 The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
 The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
 While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
     But O heart! heart! heart!
       O the bleeding drops of red,
         Where on the deck my Captain lies,
           Fallen cold and dead.

 O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
 Rise up--for you the flag is flung--for you the bugle trills;
 For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths--for you the shores a-crowding;
 For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
     Here Captain! dear father!
       This arm beneath your head;
         It is some dream that on the deck,
           You've fallen cold and dead.

 My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
 My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
 The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
 From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
     Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
       But I, with mournful tread,
         Walk the deck my Captain lies,
           Fallen cold and dead.
-- Walt Whitman
This is one of the poems that I read and enjoyed as a child, but which lost
its appeal somewhat with age and familiarity. However, I recently came
across the following piece of background info, of which I was entirely
unaware - quoting from a note on the poem:

  Abraham Lincoln's assassination at Ford's Theater is too familiar a story
  for me to rehash here. In a nation numbed by death in the just-ended War,
  this death was the more deeply felt. Whitman felt a deep personal grief,
  and he shows it in another well-known poem 'When lilacs last at the
  dooryard bloomed'[1]. In [O Captain, my Captain], though, he captures the
  mass mood.  -- Bob Blair

  [1] <[broken link]>

Which epiphany should be sufficient commentary on the poem - for
Whitman-related stuff, see Poem #54


Angelica the Doorkeeper -- Anonymous

(Poem #156) Angelica the Doorkeeper
The falcon soars
The town's gates are even higher

Angelica's their doorkeeper
She's wound the sun round her head
She's tied the moon round her waist

She's hung herself with stars.
-- Anonymous
Translated by Anne Pennington.

For some reason, these six lines seem to have stuck permanently in my
memory. Again, I'm not quite sure just why this should be so... perhaps
it has something to do with the way the individual images, though fairly
ordinary (albeit nice) in themselves, seem disconnected, even, at times,
hallucinatory, in combination. The overall effect is mysteriously
beautiful (or do I mean beautifully mysterious?)


Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening -- Robert Frost

Another old favourite...
(Poem #155) Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
 Whose woods these are I think I know,
 His house is in the village though.
 He will not see me stopping here,
 To watch his woods fill up with snow.

 My little horse must think it queer,
 To stop without a farmhouse near,
 Between the woods and frozen lake,
 The darkest evening of the year.

 He gives his harness bells a shake,
 To ask if there is some mistake.
 The only other sound's the sweep,
 Of easy wind and downy flake.

 The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
 But I have promises to keep,
 And miles to go before I sleep,
 And miles to go before I sleep.
-- Robert Frost
Like most of Frost's poems, 'Stopping By Woods' can be read on several
levels[1]. And, again like most of his poems, you can ignore them all, and
still enjoy the surface meaning, which is beautifully evocative. Just below
the surface there is the sleep/death metaphor, and the undercurrent of
gentle longing for death tinges the surface with a melancholy that
reinforces and plays off the night and winter images.

Formwise, note the predominance of soft, sibilant sounds, evoking the 'sweep
of easy wind and downy flake'. Note also the lovely rhyme scheme[2], aaba
bbcb, and the repetition of the final line, which provides closure at
several different levels.

[1] some of them incredibly contrived and/or ingenious - load up
<[broken link]> and
search for Matthew Brown, e.g.

[2] yes, yes, he rhymed 'sleep' with 'sleep'. get over it :)

For more than you ever wanted to know about Frost's life and works, see the
previous poem, poem #51


Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock -- Wallace Stevens

(Poem #154) Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock
The houses are haunted
By white night-gowns.
None are green,
Or purple with green rings,
Or green with yellow rings,
Or yellow with blue rings.
None of them are strange,
With socks of lace
And beaded ceintures.
People are not going
To dream of baboons and periwinkles.
Only, here and there, an old sailor,
Drunk and asleep in his boots,
Catches tigers
In red weather.
-- Wallace Stevens
A carefully constructed, tightly orchestrated poem - its final five
words, though, are no less revelatory for having been skilfully led up
to [1]. The tone is surprisingly matter-of-fact when you consider the
theme of the poem - the lack of Romance (with a capital R) in our lives.
But this isn't completely unexpected; rather, it's in keeping with
Stevens' theory that the poet should transcribe "not ideas about the
thing but the thing itself" [2]. Thus the words, though poignant in
their implications, are not in themselves sad, nor (even worse!) pitying
- they just _are_.

A note on construction: the repetition of form in lines four through six
serves to build up a dreamy, almost hypnotic effect, while the colours
themselves are evocative of the mood Stevens wishes to create. The
deliberately archaic word 'ceintures' adds to the romance-of-the-ages
thingy, while the sudden multisyllables - 'baboons and periwinkles' -
make for an increased complexity of sound and meaning. The final clause
- 'catches tigers in red weather' - suddenly brings the dream vividly to
life; the unexpected adjective simply emphasizes the energy of the


[1] There! Not just one, but two prepositions to end the sentence with.
Been proud of me, Yoda would have :-).
[2] The title of another of Stevens' poems


Pronunciation: san(n)-'tyur, -'tur, 'san-cher
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English seynture, from Middle French ceinture, from
Latin cinctura
Date: 15th century
: a belt or sash for the waist

related to
Pronunciation: 'si[ng](k)-cher
Function: noun
Etymology: Latin cinctura, girdle, from cinctus, past participle of
cingere, to gird; probably akin to Sanskrit kaanchi, girdle
Date: 1600
1 : the act of encircling
2a : an encircling area
2b : a girdle or belt, especially a cord or sash of cloth worn around an
ecclesiastical vestment

    -- from Merriam-Webster Online,

[Biography, filched from the Web]

Wallace Stevens was born in Reading, Pennsylvania on October 2, 1879,
and died in Hartford, Connecticut, on August 2, 1955, Stevens attended
Harvard University for three years, then studied law at the New York Law
School, receiving his degree in 1903. In 1904 he was admitted to the New
York Bar and began to practise in New York City. From 1916 to his death
he was associated with the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, of
which he became vice president in 1934.

Although Stevens contributed to the Harvard Advocate while in college,
he did not gain recognition until four of his poems appearing in a
special 1914 wartime issue of Poetry, won a prize. Stevens would go on
to publish a one act play, Three Travelers Watch a Sunrise, for which he
would receive another prize, and eight volumes of poetry and essays,
with a ninth seeing publication posthumously.

Despite his death and subsequent decomposition, Stevens is still the
only lawyer I would welcome in my home...

    -- Roderick Scott Greene (whoever he is)

[Just a quote]

"...imagination is the power that enables us to perceive the normal in
the abnormal, the opposite of chaos in chaos. It does this every day in
arts and letters."

    -- Wallace Stevens

Abou Ben Adhem -- James Leigh Hunt

(Poem #153) Abou Ben Adhem
 Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
 Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
 And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
 Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
 An Angel writing in a book of gold:

 Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
 And to the Presence in the room he said,
 "What writest thou?" The Vision raised its head,
 And with a look made of all sweet accord
 Answered, "The names of those who love the Lord."

 "And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
 Replied the Angel. Abou spoke more low,
 But cheerily still; and said, "I pray thee, then,
 Write me as one who loves his fellow men."

 The Angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
 It came again with a great wakening light,
 And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
 And, lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest!
-- James Leigh Hunt
There's really nothing this poem needs said about it. It is - and I mean
this is a strictly positive sense - a simple poem; Hunt takes a
straightforward story and renders it in enjoyable verse, uncomplicated by
hidden meanings or stylistic tricks. It's also an extremely well known poem
- the latter due at least in part to its being inflicted upon countless
generations of schoolchildren[1].

Wodehouse devotees will doubtless recognise the poem as being well-loved by

[1] The young Isaac Asimov once got himself into trouble for, when asked why
Ben Adhem's name led all the rest, waving his hand wildly and answering
'alphabetical order', a spirited but unappreciated stand against the
belabouring of the obvious.

Biography etc:

See poem #103

The Ancients of the World -- R S Thomas

(Poem #152) The Ancients of the World
The salmon lying in the depths of Llyn Llifon
    Secretly as a thought in a dark mind,
Is not so old as the owl of Cwm Cowlyd
    Who tells her sorrow nightly on the wind.

The ousel singing in the woods of Cilgwri,
    Tirelessly as a stream over the mossed stones,
Is not so old as the toad of Cors Fochno
    Who feels the cold skin sagging round his bones.

The toad and the ousel and the stag of Rhedynfre,
    That has cropped each leaf from the tree of life,
Are not so old as the owl of Cwm Cowlyd,
    That the proud eagle would have to wife.
-- R S Thomas
from George Macbeth]

... R[onald] S[tuart] Thomas was born in Wales in 1913, a year before
his more famous namesake Dylan Thomas. He has lived his life as a
clergyman, often in the remote country parishes whose landscape and
people he has celebrated in his poems...


Actually, this is an extremely atypical piece for Thomas, so I'll defer
the critical assessment of his career and all the other usual et ceteras
to a later date.

Anyway, back to the poem at hand.

It's hard to define just _what_ it is I like about 'The Ancients of the
World'. It's not as if a great deal happens in the poem; indeed, there
are just the three descriptive stanzas, and that's it. And yet...

There's a magic there somewhere, which I can't quite explain. Certainly
the imagery is remarkably effective in its simplicity; certainly there's
a glorious 'Welshness' to the verse itself [1], in the strong rhythms
and the clean syllables; certainly there's a mythic resonance to the
names, redolent as they are with Arthurian and Celtic legend [2].

Most certain of all, perhaps, is the fact that for this poem, the whole
_is_ greater than the sum of the parts.

Call it genius.


[1] As an aside: just what is it about the Welsh, that their poetry is
so damn good? Sheer music, some of it is.
[2] The names, of course, are from the Mabinogion, the repository of a
wealth of Celtic folklore and mythology, and a truly amazing work of
literature. SF&F fans amongst you may also have spotted the reference in
Susan Cooper's "The Grey King", another lovely book.

Recessional -- Rudyard Kipling

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor -
(Poem #151) Recessional
God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine -
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet.
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law -
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And, guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word -
The Mercy on Thy People, Lord!
-- Rudyard Kipling
A poetic reminder from the news-stands. A recent issue of India Today
has a cover story about the martyrs of Kargil with the headline
emblazoned, "Lest We Forget". And in general, there has been a rash of
articles in the media which use the line. It's so much a part of our
collective memory that we often forget its source in Kipling's
"Recessional'. Which, particularly in this case, is a pity because the
source makes the quote all too appropriate - perhaps a bit more so than
the media, with its jingoistic views on the war, might wish.

I'm not much of a fan of Kipling's poetry. I love his prose - 'Kim' is
one of the greatest novels about India - and the imperialistic
sentiments in both his poetry and prose don't bother me. And I admire
the technical skill of his poetry, particularly his way with colour and
cadences. It just doesn't connect with me very much. But 'Recessional'
is an exception, though I'm not even sure I like the poem very much. The
religiosity for one leaves me a bit cold, though I do admit the power of
his plea to be humble before God is undeniable.

But the impact of the poem really comes from the context it was written
in. A context which seems to me to matter when soldiers are dying on the
heights of Kargil. No, this is not another reminder saying Zara Yaad
Karo Qurbani - to use The Times Of India's suspiciously slick slogan.
Quite the opposite, although I mean absolutely no disrespect for the
soldiers who died. As a patriotic Indian I acknowledge out debt for
their sacrifice. But... well, I admit to having some rather mixed

For one, I have mixed feelings about why we are fighting this war and
who's to blame. But what I have VERY mixed feelings is about the sort of
attitudes the war is bringing out. I hate the jingoism thats been
stirred up, and the flag waving, and the lets-think-of-our-poor-soldiers
and all the Zara Yaad Karo Qurbani feelings. On the one hand, yes, being
patriotic I guess we should show out support for the country. But on the
other hand, exactly what is emoting away in our armchairs about the need
to support our soldiers going to achieve?"

Any kind of charity is to be encouraged, I guess, but I am rather
dubious about people who don't mind getting worked up about something as
long as its far away and doesn't really cost them much; don't we all
have more direct ways we can make a contribution to society? I'm dubious
at the way everyone is getting worked up about Kargil simply because
this is our first real media war - what about all those soldiers who
have been regularly dying on Siachen or in anti-insurgency operations in
Kashmir and Assam all these years? And I have nothing but distaste for
the way some marketers have jumped on to the Kargil band wagon to use it
as a way to promote their products.

So as I said, I have mixed feelings about this whole Kargil thing and
that's why this poem is so appropriate. Because "Recessional" is really
all about mixed feelings. Kipling wrote it at the most triumphal peak of
the British Empire - Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1887 when the Empire
truly was the greatest power on the globe. The Jubilee was the obvious
occasion for celebrating this achievement, yet Kipling chose not to do
so. Instead he wrote this poem which warns vividly about the perils of
hubris and the transience of power. Watch out, Kipling warns the
revelers, none of this is lasting, nor does it matter.

And of course, he was right. The British Empire has vanished so
completely that today we can even lay claim to its icons - like cricket
which everyone now says belongs to the former possessions rather than
the home country. (Ironically, the one place where you could say the
influence lingers is in the borders and margins the Empire left, like
that between Pakistan and India). So when we see "Lest We Forget" being
blindly used as a call to patriotism and nationalism, its worth
remembering that Kipling really meant something much deeper.


PS: Something else has just occurred to me. The area where the war is
happening is one which is actually full of echoes of the Raj. The whole
'Roof Of The World' from Afghanistan to Tibet was the setting for the
long conflict between the British and the Russians and the indigenous
tribes that was known as the Great Game - which is partly what 'Kim' is
about. But it was also the setting for the First Afghan War in 1838 from
which only one British soldier returned. In Bombay's cantonment area,
which is full of activity for Kargil today, there's the silent shuttered
presence of Afghan Church which was built to commemorate this disaster.
I can't help thinking Kipling had stories like this in mind when he
looked at all the hype about the Jubilee and wrote his "Recessional".
And we should remember it as well, as another futile war is played out
in the same area.

Resume -- Dorothy Parker

(Poem #150) Resume
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
-- Dorothy Parker
Another poem that needs very little by way of commentary (which part
*don't* you understand? <g>). 'Resume' is certainly Parker's best-known
poem, though not necessarily her best, and in a way it captures her
style perfectly - at once humorous and despairing; flippant on the
surface, yet concealing an undercurrent of pain[1], and above all
perfectly polished. Parker's poetry has been criticised for its
brittleness; it admittedly comes nowhere near the sheer brilliance of
her short stories, or the rapier wit of her reviews, but it's still
entertaining, often incisive and at times even moving.


[1] Not immediately obvious when reading the poem in isolation, but
suggested when taken in the context of her life and work.


There's a nice essay at [broken link]


Parker, Dorothy

b. Aug. 22, 1893, West End, N.J., U.S.
d. June 7, 1967, New York, N.Y.

nee ROTHSCHILD, American short-story writer and poet, known for her
witty remarks.

Parker grew up in affluence in New York City, attending Miss Dana's
School in Morristown, N.J., and a Roman Catholic convent school in New
York City. She then became drama critic for the magazine Vanity Fair.
She and two other writers for the magazine--Robert Benchley, the
humorist, and Robert Sherwood, then a drama critic and later a
playwright--formed the nucleus of the Algonquin Round Table, an informal
luncheon club held at New York's Algonquin Hotel. She married Edwin Pond
Parker II in 1917 (divorced 1928).

Discharged from Vanity Fair in 1920 for the acerbity of her drama
reviews, she became a freelance writer. She initiated a personal kind of
book reviewing in The New Yorker magazine as "Constant Reader." Some of
these reviews, which started in 1927 and appeared intermittently until
1933, were collected in A Month of Saturdays (1971). Her first volume of
verse, Enough Rope, was a best-seller when it appeared in 1926. Two
other books of verse, Sunset Gun (1928) and Death and Taxes (1931), were
collected with it in Collected Poems: Not So Deep as a Well (1936).

In 1929 she won the O. Henry Award for the best short story of the year
with "Big Blonde," a compassionate account of an aging party girl.
Laments for the Living (1930) and After Such Pleasures (1933) were
collections of her short stories, combined and augmented in 1939 as Here
Lies. Characteristic of both the stories and verses is a view of the
human situation as simultaneously tragic and funny.

In 1933, newly married, she and her second husband, Alan Campbell, went
to Hollywood to collaborate as film writers, receiving screen credits
for more than 15 films, including A Star Is Born (1937), nominated for
an Academy Award. She became active in left-wing politics, disdained her
former role as a smart woman about town, reported from the Spanish Civil
War, and discovered that her beliefs counted against her employment by
the studios in the fervour of anticommunism that seized Hollywood after
World War II. She wrote book reviews for Esquire magazine and
collaborated on two plays: The Coast of Illyria (first performance
1949), about the English essayist Charles Lamb, performed briefly in
Dallas, Texas, and London; and The Ladies of the Corridor (1953), about
lonely widows in side-street New York hotels, which had a short run on
Broadway. An earlier play, Close Harmony, written with Elmer Rice, also
had a short New York run in 1924.

Parker's witty remarks are legendary. When told of the death of the
taciturn U.S. president Calvin Coolidge, she is said to have asked, "How
can they tell?" Of Katharine Hepburn's performance in a 1934 play,
Parker said she "ran the gamut of emotions from A to B." She also is
responsible for the couplet "Men seldom make passes / at girls who wear

        -- EB

Bethsabe's Song -- George Peele

(Poem #149) Bethsabe's Song
Hot sun, cool fire, tempered with sweet air,
Black shade, fair nurse, shadow my white hair;
Shine sun; burn, fire; breathe, air, and ease me;
Black shade, fair nurse, shroud me and please me:
Shadow, my sweet nurse, keep me from burning,
Make not my glad cause cause of mourning.
        Let not my beauty's fire
        Inflame unstaid desire,
        Nor pierce any bright eye
        That wandereth lightly.
-- George Peele
This is a surprisingly modern-sounding poem, when you consider that
George Peele lived in the 16th century... there's something about the
structure - specifically, about the repetition of words and constructs -
that seems quite un-Elizabethan to me. Can't quite put my finger on it,
though... I'd welcome some feedback on this one.

Considerations of structure apart, this is actually a very beautiful
vignette, given added poignancy by our knowledge of what the future
holds in store [1]. Bathsheba's beauty is both delicate (it needs to be
'shrouded' from the hot sun) and dangerous ('cause of mourning'); this
irony [2] gives the poem its power.

And of course, the verse (in and of itself) is of the highest quality...


[1] In the Biblical story of David and Bathsheba, David catches a
glimpse of Bathsheba at her bath [3], and is smitten; he sends her
husband Uriah the Hittite off to the front 'where the fighting is most
furious'; when Uriah is killed, David promptly marries his widow. It's
actually a good deal more complex than my capsule re-telling makes it
seem :-)
[2] The love of paradox and irony, at least, is very Elizabethan, even
if the rest of the poem is not.
[3] There's a famous painting of this by Rembrandt, which you can see at
[broken link]


Peele, George

 b. , c. July 25, 1556, London, Eng.
 d. , c. Nov. 9, 1596

Elizabethan dramatist who experimented in many forms of theatrical art:
pastoral, history, melodrama, tragedy, folk play, and pageant. Peele
began his varied literary career while at Oxford by translating into
English a play of Euripides. In 1581 he moved to London but returned to
Oxford in 1583 as a technical director for Christ Church's presentation
of two plays by the noted Latin dramatist William Gager (1555-1622).

About this time Peele had joined a group of Oxonians living just outside
the London city wall and had begun to experiment with poetry in various
metres. From his association with these so-called university wits came
two mythological pastoral plays: The Arraignment of Paris (1584) and the
masque The Hunting of Cupid (1591). He then produced a series of annual
pageants for the city.

After the production of The Arraignment of Paris, which he had written
for the Children of the Chapel, Peele devoted the rest of his life to
writing for the popular stage (though he was also compelled to turn out
commemorative poems to supplement his meagre income). Of the many
playhouse dramas he must have contributed to, only four can be certainly
ascribed to him: a tragedy, The Battle of Alcazar (1594); a comedy, The
Old Wives' Tale (1595); a chronicle play, Edward I (1593); and a
biblical tragedy in verse, The Love of King David and Fair Bethsabe

    -- EB

[The University Wits]

The first generation of professional playwrights in England was known
collectively as the "university wits." Their nickname identifies their
social pretensions, but their drama was primarily middle class,
patriotic, and romantic. Their preferred subjects were historical or
pseudo-historical, mixed with clowning, music, and love interest. At
times plot virtually evaporated; George Peele's Old Wives' Tale (c.
1595) and Nashe's Summer's Last Will and Testament (1600) are simply
popular shows, charming medleys of comic turns, spectacle, and song.
Peele was a civic poet, and his serious plays are bold and pageant-like;
The Arraignment of Paris (1584) is a pastoral entertainment, designed to
compliment Elizabeth.


I didn't realise that the poem was taken from a play. Oh well, you live
and learn :-)

With a Book -- Ambrose Bierce

(Poem #148) With a Book
 Words shouting, singing, smiling, frowning---
        Sense lacking.
 Ah, nothing, more obscure than Browning,
        Save blacking.
-- Ambrose Bierce
Think of it as a last-gasp followon to the poems about poets theme <g>.

Bierce has written better poems, but I really couldn't resist this one
for the sheer unexpected beauty (or do I mean beautiful unexpectedness?)
of the pun at the end.

Of course, I strongly disagree with his assertion that Browning is
obscure or lacking in sense :)

Bierce, incidentally, was not primarily a poet, but a wit, satirist and
marvellous short story writer. His best known works include The Devil's
Dictionary, and the haunting short, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"
both highly recommended.

Blacking, incidentally, was the precursor of shoe polish.



Bierce, Ambrose

in full Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce

 b. June 24, 1842, Meigs county, Ohio, U.S.
 d. 1914, Mexico?

American newspaperman, wit, satirist, and author of sardonic short
stories based on themes of death and horror. His life ended in an
unsolved mystery.

Reared in Kosciusko county, Ind., Bierce became a printer's devil
(apprentice) on a Warsaw, Ind., paper after about a year in high school.
In 1861 he enlisted in the 9th Indiana Volunteers and fought in a number
of American Civil War battles, including Shiloh and Chickamauga. After
being seriously wounded in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in 1864, he
served until January 1865, and he received a merit promotion to major in

Resettling in San Francisco, which was experiencing an artistic
renaissance, he began contributing to periodicals, particularly the News
Letter, of which he became editor in 1868. Bierce was soon the literary
arbiter of the West Coast.


In 1877 he became associate editor of the San Francisco Argonaut but
left it in 1879-80 for an unsuccessful try at placer mining in
Rockerville in the Dakota Territory. Thereafter he was editor of the San
Francisco Wasp for five years. In 1887 he joined the staff of William
Randolph Hearst's San Francisco Examiner, for which he wrote the
"Prattler" column. In 1896 Bierce moved to Washington, D.C., where he
continued newspaper and magazine writing. In 1913, tired of American
life, he went to Mexico, then in the middle of a revolution led by
Pancho Villa. His end is a mystery, but a reasonable conjecture is that
he was killed in the siege of Ojinaga in January 1914.

Bierce separated from his wife, lost his two sons, and broke many
friendships. As a newspaper columnist, he specialized in critical
attacks on amateur poets, clergymen, bores, dishonest politicians, money
grabbers, pretenders, and frauds of all sorts. His principal books are
In the Midst of Life (1892), which included some of his finest stories,
such as "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," "A Horseman in the Sky,"
"The Eyes of the Panther," and "The Boarded Window"; and Can Such Things
Be? (1893), which included "The Damned Thing" and "Moxon's Master."
Bierce's The Devil' Dictionary (originally published in 1906 as The
Cynic's Word Book) is a volume of ironic, even bitter, definitions that
has often been reprinted. His Collected Works was published in 12
volumes, 1909-12. The Enlarged Devil's Dictionary, edited by E.J.
Hopkins, appeared in 1967.

        -- EB

The Unspoken -- Edwin Morgan

(Poem #147) The Unspoken
When the troopship was pitching round the Cape
in '41, and there was a lull in the night uproar of
    seas and winds, and a sudden full moon
swung huge out of the darkness like the world it is,
and we all crowded into the wet deck, leaning on
    the rail, our arms on each other's shoulders,
    gazing at the savage outcrop of great Africa.
and Tommy Cosh started singing 'Mandalay' and
    we joined in with our raucous chorus of the
    unforgettable song,
and the dawn came up like thunder like that
    moon drawing the water of our yearning
though we were going to war, and left us exalted,
that was happiness,
but it is not like that.

When the television newscaster said
the second sputnik was up, not empty,
but with a small dog on board,
a half-ton treasury of life orbiting a thousand
    miles above the thin television masts and mists
    of November,
in clear space, heard, observed,
the faint far heartbeat sending back its message
steady and delicate,
and I was stirred by a deep confusion of feelings,
got up, stood with my back to the wall and my
    palms pressed hard against it, my arms held
as if I could spring from the earth ---
not loath myself to go out that very day where
    Laika had shown man, felt
my cheeks burning with old Promethean warmth
rekindled --- ready ---
covered my face with my hands, seeing only an
strapped in a doomed capsule, but the future
    was still there, cool and whole like the moon,
waiting to be taken, smiling even
as the dog's bones and the elaborate casket of
glow white and fuse in the arc of re-entry
and I knew what I felt was history,
its thrilling brilliance came down,
came down,
comes down on us all, bringing pride and pity,
but it is not like that.

But Glasgow days and grey weathers, when the
beat on the bus shelter and you leaned slightly
    against me, and the back of your hand touched
    my hand in the shadows, and nothing was
when your hair grazed mine accidentally as we
    talked in a cafe, yet not quite accidentally,
when I stole a glance at your face as we stood in a
    doorway and found I was afraid
of what might happen if I should never see it again,
when we met, and met, in spite of such differences
    in our lives,
and did the common things that in our feeling
became extraordinary, so that our first kiss
was like the winter morning moon, and as you
    shifted in my arms
it was the sea changing the shingle that changes
as if for ever (but we are bound by nothing, but
    like smoke
to mist or light in water we move, and mix) ---
O then it was a story as old as war or man
and although we have not said it we know it,
and although we have not claimed it we do it,
and although we have not vowed it we keep it,
without a name to the end
-- Edwin Morgan

Most poems are about experiences; this one is about Experience.

Not many poets have attempted such an ambitious topic; it is to Morgan's
credit that he does not bite off more than he can chew. There is no
abstract sophistry, no flights of philosophical fancy; the language is
simple and everyday; the incidents, commonplace. And yet... and yet,
through his retelling of three ordinary stories, he touches the essence
of what it means to be human - joy and exhilaration and pride and pity
and ambition and fear and love and longing... It's not something that
can be expressed in mere language. But it's there.

"There are some truths which are deeper than words".



Edwin Morgan
19 Whittingehame Court
Glasgow G12 0BG

Edwin Morgan was born in Glasgow in 1920. He served in the Royal Army
Medical Corps in the Middle East from 1940 to 1946. He took an M.A. at
the University of Glasgow (1st Class Honours in Englush Language and
Literature) in 1947. He made his living from university teaching and
retired as Titular Professor in 1980. He has various honorary degrees
and an O.B.E.

He is a poet (Collected Poems, 1990), translator (Collected
Translations, 1996), and critic (Crossing the Border, 1990). He has
writted poetry for radio (A Voyage, commisioned by BBC for two voices,
broadcast on Radio 4, 1996). He has written poems for jazz setting
(Beasts of Scotland, commisioned by Glasgow International Jazz festival,
music by Tommy Smith, performed 1996, accompanied by compact disc from
Linn Records, Glasgow). He is at present (March 1997) collaborating
again with Tommy Smith in a new sequence of poems, Planet Wave, to be
performed at the Cheltenham Festival this year, the performance to be
recorded live by BBC.

He has written several librettos for opera and music-theatre:

The Charcoal-Burner, music by Thomas Wilson.
Valentine, music by George Newson.
Spell (later retitled Coll for the Hazel Tree), music by Martin Dalby.
Columba, music by Kenneth Leighton.

He has also adapted/translated various plays:

The Apple-Tree (translated from anonymous Dutch play of the 15th
century, Esbatement van den Appelboom).
Master Peter Pathelin, (translated from anonymous 15th-centure French
farce, Maistre Pierre Pathelin).
The Shepherds' Play (a modern version in English and Scot of the
15th-century mystery play).
Cyrano de Bergerac (translation into Scots of Rostand's play).

Trees -- Joyce Kilmer

(Poem #146) Trees
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
-- Joyce Kilmer
This is not, if you think about it, a particularly good poem. The
imagery is trite, the phrasing adds nothing to it, and the verse is very
hard to read without degenerating into a singsong effect. Yet there's
*something* about it - some compelling quality that has made it famous,
recited and memorized by generations of schoolchildren, instantly
recognizable, and with opening and closing couplets quoted by people who
have never even heard of the rest of the poem. I just wish I knew what
it was :)



Kilmer, (Alfred) Joyce

 b. Dec. 6, 1886, New Brunswick, N.J., U.S.
 d. July 30, 1918, near Seringes, Fr.

American poet known chiefly for his 12-line verse entitled "Trees."

He was educated at Rutgers and Columbia universities. His first volume
of verse, Summer of Love (1911), showed the influence of William Butler
Yeats and the Irish poets. After his conversion to Catholicism, Kilmer
attempted to model his poetry upon that of Coventry Patmore and the
17th-century Metaphysical poets. His most famous poem, "Trees," appeared
in Poetry magazine in 1913. Its immediate and continued popularity has
been attributed to its combination of sentiment and simple philosophy.
His books include Trees and Other Poems (1914); The Circus and Other
Essays (1916); Main Street and Other Poems (1917); and Literature in the
Making (1917), a series of interviews with writers. Kilmer joined the
staff of The New York Times in 1913. In 1917 he edited Dreams and
Images, an anthology of modern Catholic poetry. Kilmer was killed in
action during World War I and was posthumously awarded the Croix de

        -- EB

Ice -- Anonymous

(Poem #145) Ice
The wave, over the wave, a weird thing I saw,
through-wrought, and wonderfully ornate:
a wonder on the wave --- water become bone.
-- Anonymous
translated by Michael Alexander.

Old English alliterative verse - I just love it.


On the Eve of His Execution -- Chidiock Tichborne

Guest Poem sent in by Siddhartha Joshi
(Poem #144) On the Eve of His Execution
My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,
My crop of corn is but a field of tares,
And all my good is but vain hope of gain;
The day is past, and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

My tale was heard and yet it was not told,
My fruit is fallen, yet my leaves are green,
My youth is spent and yet I am not old,
I saw the world and yet I was not seen;
My thread is cut and yet it is not spun,
And now I live and now my life is done.

I sought my death and found it in my womb,
I looked for life and found it was a shade,
I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I was but made;
My glass is full, and now my glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done.
-- Chidiock Tichborne
Chidiock Tichborne is a name as obscure as it is odd. The antiquarian
syllables, remembered only by a few, are difficult to place and harder
to locate. Tichborne does not appear in either The Golden Treasury or
the Oxford Book of English Verse or the Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Yet he
wrote one of the most moving poems of his century.

Tichborne was not pre-eminently a poet but a conspirator. History is not
sure of the part he played in the attempt to do away with Queen
Elizabeth.  Conjecture has it that he was born about 1558 somewhere in
Southampton, and it is said that his father, Peter Tichburne, traced his
descent from Roger de Tichburne, a knight in the reign of Henry II. His
family was ardently Catholic and both Chidiock and his father were
zealous champions of the Church of Rome; they did not scruple to abet
the king of Spain in "holy" attacks on the English government. In 1583,
Chidiock and his father were questioned concerning the possession and
use of certain "popish relics"; somewhat later they were further
implicated as to their "sacrilegious and subversive practices". In April
1586, Chidiock joined a group of conspirators. In June, at a meeting
held in St.Giles-in-the-Fields he agreed to be one of the six who were
pledged to murder the Queen and restore the kingdom to Rome. The
conspiracy was discovered in time; most of the conspirators fled. But
Tichborne, who had remained in London because of an injured leg, was
captured on August 14th and taken to the Tower. On September 14th, he
was tried and pled guilty. He was executed on September 20th. In a grim
finale, history relates, he was "disembowelled before life was extinct"
and the news of the barbarity "reached the ears of Elizabeth, who
forbade the recurrence."

On September 19, 1586, the night before he was executed, Chidiock wrote
to his wife Agnes. The letter enclosed three stanzas beginning:"My prime
of youth is but a frost of cares."

This elegy is so restrained yet so eloquent, so spontaneous, and so
skillfully made that it must be ranked among the little masterpieces of
literature. The grave but not yet depressing music of the lines is
emphasized by the repetition of the rhymed refrain, as though the poet
were anticipating the slow tolling of the bell announcing his death.

He was twenty-eight years old.

[Louis Untermeyer]

Harp Song of the Dane Women -- Rudyard Kipling

(Poem #143) Harp Song of the Dane Women
What is a woman that you forsake her,
And the hearth-fire and the home-acre,
To go with the old grey Widow-maker?

She has no house to lay a guest in---
But one chill bed for all to rest in,
That the pale suns and the stray bergs nest in.

She has no strong white arms to fold you,
But the ten-times-fingering weed to hold you---
Out on the rocks where the tide has rolled you.

Yet, when the signs of summer thicken,
And the ice breaks, and the birch-buds quicken,
Yearly you turn from our side, and sicken---

Sicken again for the shouts and the slaughters.
You steal away to the lapping waters,
And look at your ship in her winter-quarters.

You forget our mirth, and talk at the tables,
The kine in the shed and the horse in the stables---
To pitch her sides and go over her cables.

Then you drive out where the storm-clouds swallow,
And the sound of your oar-blades, falling hollow,
Is all we have left through the months to follow.

Ah, what is Woman that you forsake her,
And the hearth-fire and the home-acre,
To go with the old grey Widow-maker ?
-- Rudyard Kipling
This poem pretty much speaks for itself - I could rhapsodize about the
compelling rhythms, the unusual rhyme-scheme, the evocative imagery; but
I won't. I will say, however, that 'the pale suns and the stray bergs
nest in' is an utterly beautiful image.


Kipling: See Poem #17, Poem #29 and Poem #43

PS. Lovely, lovely poem - t.

He chanted a song of wizardry -- J R R Tolkien

(Poem #142) He chanted a song of wizardry
He chanted a song of wizardry,
Of piercing, opening, of treachery,
Revealing, uncovering, betraying.
Then sudden Felagund there swaying
Sang in answer a song of staying,
Resisting, battling against power,
Of secrets kept, strength like a tower,
And trust unbroken, freedom, escape;
Of changing and of shifting shape
Of snares eluded, broken traps,
The prison opening, the chain that snaps.
    Backwards and forwards swayed their song.
Reeling and foundering, as ever more strong
The chanting swelled, Felagund fought,
And all the magic and might he brought
Of Elvenesse into his words.
Softly in the gloom they heard the birds
Singing afar in Nargothrond,
The sighing of the Sea beyond,
Beyond the western world, on sand,
On sand of pearls in Elvenland.
    Then the gloom gathered; darkness growing
In Valinor, the red blood flowing
Beside the Sea, where the Noldor slew
The Foamriders, and stealing drew
Their white ships with their white sails
From lamplit havens. The wind wails,
The wolf howls. The ravens flee.
The ice mutters in the mouths of the Sea.
The captives sad in Angband mourn.
Thunder rumbles, the fires burn ---
    And Finrod fell before the throne.
-- J R R Tolkien
Context: This is an extract from the 'Lay of Leithian', an epic poem of
several thousand lines which was among the earliest of Tolkien's
explorations of the mythology of Middle Earth. The details of the plot
need not bother us; suffice to say that today's poem describes a duel
between Finrod Felagund (the good guy) and Sauron (the bad guy). Finrod

While the motif of duelling Wizards is as old as mythology itself,
Tolkien adds a new twist to the theme by making the duel a contest of
songs. Sauron (the unnamed adversary) and Finrod fill their songs with
words describing what they stand for, what they believe in [1].  Thus
Finrod speaks of the beauty and mystery of Valinor, music and meaning
and the 'magic and might ... of Elvenesse', while Sauron's words are of
betrayal and treachery, of darkness and doom and 'the red blood
flowing'. The final victory goes to Sauron because of a crime in
Finrod's past (the Kinslaying, referred to in lines 22 through 27) which
he must now 'atone' for...

The language is, as ever, exquisite; Tolkien conjures up wonderfully
evocative images with sublime skill. Notice especially the way the mood
changes between the second and third 'stanzas' [2] - in the former,
everything is smooth and graceful: the repetition of words like 'sand'
and 'beyond' helps ease the transition from one line to the next,
contibuting to the gentle, even flow of the syllables. Conversely, in
the latter, the rhythm is broken into harsh, choppy fragments ('The wind
wails / The wolf howls. The ravens flee.'), remorselessly grim and
bleak. Form and content, my friends, form and content.

There's a nice element of self-reference (one of my favourite themes, in
case you haven't noticed) running through it all; indeed, there are
times when it's impossible to distinguish between the precise words
spoken by the two sorcerers and the worlds these words conjure up. Words
have a power of their own; the concept of using them to do battle, of
course, is particularly Tolkienesque (and particularly nice, might I add



[1] This harks back to the old mythological conceit (since used by any
number of sf&f writers) that one who knows your true name has power over
[2] It's worth remembering that this is not meant to be a stand-alone
poem; rather, it is (as I mentioned above) just a tiny excerpt from a
much larger work. Hence any division into 'stanzas', or any attempt to
demarcate a beginning or an ending - indeed, any sort of deep-structure
analysis - is meaningless.


A (far too detailed) glossary of terms for the
Tolkienitically-challenged followeth:

Finrod - (Sindarin, from Quenya 'Findarato': 'son of Fin(we)-mighty')
this Elf dude who really rocks, y'know :-)
Felagund - (Dwarvish: 'Hewer of caves') - epithet applied to Finrod,
because of his construction of the cavern stronghold of Nargothrond.
Nargothrond - (Sindarin: 'Halls of the river Narog') Finrod's cavern
stronghold :-)
Elvenesse - the lands of the Elves (duh!)
Valinor - (Sindarin: 'the land of the Valar') - Well, if you really must
know, this is the land to the west of Belegaer (the Great Ocean) whence
the Noldor (q.v.) came to Middle Earth (against the wishes of their
angelic guardians, the aforementioned Valar) to pursue a course of
revenge upon Morgoth (see 'Angband'.) because he, Morgoth, had stolen
the fabulous jewels known as the Silmarils from them, the Noldor. Don't
say I didn't warn you.
Noldor - (Quenya: 'those with knowledge') - the race of Elves to which
Finrod belonged.
Angband - (Sindarin: 'the Hells of Iron') - the underground fortress and
stronghold (I like that word) of Morgoth, the Great Enemy and Sauron's
Leithian - (Sindarin?: 'Release from bondage')


There are (literally) thousands of Tolkien sites out there. My favourite
is probably the Encyclopaedia of Arda - -
though I have to admit there are many more which I haven't seen.

As per a reader request, from now on our poetry mails will contain a
link to our home page - .
Recent subscribers, do pay it a visit and check out all our previous

The City in the Sea -- Edgar Allan Poe

Forwarding Martin's poems while he's away...
(Poem #141) The City in the Sea
 Lo! Death has reared himself a throne
 In a strange city lying alone
 Far down within the dim West,
 Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
 Have gone to their eternal rest.
 There shrines and palaces and towers
 (Time-eaten towers that tremble not!)
 Resemble nothing that is ours.
 Around, by lifting winds forgot,
 Resignedly beneath the sky
 The melancholy waters lie.

 No rays from the holy heaven come down
 On the long night-time of that town;
 But light from out the lurid sea
 Streams up the turrets silently-
 Gleams up the pinnacles far and free-
 Up domes- up spires- up kingly halls-
 Up fanes- up Babylon-like walls-
 Up shadowy long-forgotten bowers
 Of sculptured ivy and stone flowers-
 Up many and many a marvellous shrine
 Whose wreathed friezes intertwine
 The viol, the violet, and the vine.
 Resignedly beneath the sky
 The melancholy waters lie.
 So blend the turrets and shadows there
 That all seem pendulous in air,
 While from a proud tower in the town
 Death looks gigantically down.

 There open fanes and gaping graves
 Yawn level with the luminous waves;
 But not the riches there that lie
 In each idol's diamond eye-
 Not the gaily-jewelled dead
 Tempt the waters from their bed;
 For no ripples curl, alas!
 Along that wilderness of glass-
 No swellings tell that winds may be
 Upon some far-off happier sea-
 No heavings hint that winds have been
 On seas less hideously serene.

 But lo, a stir is in the air!
 The wave- there is a movement there!
 As if the towers had thrust aside,
 In slightly sinking, the dull tide-
 As if their tops had feebly given
 A void within the filmy Heaven.
 The waves have now a redder glow-
 The hours are breathing faint and low-
 And when, amid no earthly moans,
 Down, down that town shall settle hence,
 Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,
 Shall do it reverence.
-- Edgar Allan Poe
This is one of Poe's typical, 'atmospheric' poems, gloomy, and with the
mystical, almost eldritch atmosphere that hints at, but never quite
reveals, the supernatural horrors lurking beneath the surface. This is
the true darker side of the sea; not the violent and death-dealing
aspect, but the 'hideously serene' waters that entomb a city ruled by
Death. Compare the descriptions of the sea in Coleridge's 'Rime of the
Ancient Mariner', and note that for a sailor, a still sea often could
mean death - the world of difference between 'calm' and 'becalmed' - and
'hideously serene' becomes less of an oxymoron.

Formwise, the verse seems to be a bit less regular than usual, with
several breaks in the metre, most notably omitted unstressed syllables.
Examining some of the latter, phrases like 'dim west' and 'dull tide'
suggest that Poe's aim was to create a heavy, deadening effect. I won't
go over the formal analysis in detail, except to note that the long line
in the first verse ('where the good and the bad...) might be influenced
by Coleridge's "the sky and the sea and the sea and the sky" (and then,
again, it might not, but it's an interesting point.)


fane: A temple

Poe-related stuff: See Poem #85