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Walt Whitman -- Edwin Arlington Robinson

I wish I had found this one last week...
(Poem #250) Walt Whitman
The master-songs are ended, and the man
That sang them is a name. And so is God
A name; and so is love, and life, and death,
And everything. But we, who are too blind
To read what we have written, or what faith
Has written for us, do not understand:
We only blink, and wonder.

Last night it was the song that was the man,
But now it is the man that is the song.
We do not hear him very much to-day:
His piercing and eternal cadence rings
Too pure for us --- too powerfully pure,
Too lovingly triumphant, and too large;
But there are some that hear him, and they know
That he shall sing to-morrow for all men,
And that all time shall listen.

The master-songs are ended? Rather say
No songs are ended that are ever sung,
And that no names are dead names. When we write
Men's letters on proud marble or on sand,
We write them there forever.
-- Edwin Arlington Robinson
A beautifully elegiac poem. The sentiments expressed aren't particularly
original, and the hyperbole is perhaps slightly overdone; nevertheless, the
overall effect is both sombre and dignified.


[Poetic Career}

Edwin Arlington Robinson's most memorable poems portray people trapped in
painful lives and unable to return to the security of the past. Like his poetic
characters, Robinson suffered hardships throughout his life. His father's
business failed in the Great Panic of 1893, one brother became a drug addict,
another brother became an alcoholic, and Robinson himself struggled for years
trying to earn money as a poet. After his first two volumes of poetry received
favorable notice, he moved from his home in Gardiner, Maine, to New York City.
His financial and critical status improved with his first Pulitzer Prize in
1922, and he went on to win two more Pulitzers in the following five years.
Robinson's works include Children of the Night (1897), The Man against the Sky
(1916), Avon's Harvest (1922), Collected Poems (1922), and Tristram (1927).


We've done one poem by Edwin Robinson before this, Miniver Cheevy. You can read
it (and the EB biography) at poem #234

An essay on Robinson's importance as a poet can be found at
[broken link]
This essay also has a bit about the themes that inform much of his work.

There's a rather more general piece on Robinson's poetry at
[broken link]

My favourite elegy is Auden's wonderful poem in memory of Yeats, at poem #50

And of course, you can browse through all our previous poems at

Delay -- Elizabeth Jennings

Guest poem sent in by Vikram Doctor
(Poem #249) Delay
 The radiance of the star that leans on me
 Was shining years ago. The light that now
 Glitters up there my eyes may never see,
 And so the time lag teases me with how

 Love that loves now may not reach me until
 Its first desire is spent. The star's impulse
 Must wait for eyes to claim it beautiful
 And love arrived may find us somewhere else.
-- Elizabeth Jennings
Nothing much to add to the simplicity of this poem except to say, sadly,
that I have found it to be true.

Its from the Poems On The Underground anthology, which is a really nice one.
The Poems On The Underground scheme aims to put short poems in public
places. It has worked brilliantly in London, and got very positive
responses. Maybe one day they'll get around to doing something like this in
the Bombay suburban trains...

I don't have any biographical details on Elizabeth Jennings, except that she
was born in 1926 and has lived most of her life in Oxford. Writes nice
literate balanced poetry.

[Check out <[broken link]> for
a brief biography and assessment - m.]

Sweeney Among the Nightingales -- T S Eliot

(Poem #248) Sweeney Among the Nightingales
    'omoi peplegmai kairian plegen eso'

Apeneck Sweeney spreads his knees
Letting his arms hang down to laugh,
The zebra stripes along his jaw
Swelling to maculate giraffe.

The circles of the stormy moon
Slide westward toward the River Plate,
Death and the Raven drift above
And Sweeney guards the horned gate.

Gloomy Orion and the Dog
Are veiled; and hushed the shrunken seas;
The person in the Spanish cape
Tries to sit on Sweeney's knees

Slips and pulls the table cloth
Overturns a coffee-cup,
Reorganised upon the floor
She yawns and draws a stocking up;

The silent man in mocha brown
Sprawls at the window-sill and gapes;
The waiter brings in oranges
Bananas figs and hothouse grapes;

The silent vertebrate in brown
Contracts and concentrates, withdraws;
Rachel nee Rabinovitch
Tears at the grapes with murderous paws;

She and the lady in the cape
Are suspect, thought to be in league;
Therefore the man with heavy eyes
Declines the gambit, shows fatigue,

Leaves the room and reappears
Outside the window, leaning in,
Branches of wistaria
Circumscribe a golden grin;

The host with someone indistinct
Converses at the door apart,
The nightingales are singing near
The Convent of the Sacred Heart,

And sang within the bloody wood
When Agamemnon cried aloud,
And let their liquid siftings fall
To stain the stiff dishonoured shroud.
-- T S Eliot

The place to start is Eliot's essay "Ulysses, Order, and Myth" (1923), in which
he floats the idea of a "mythical method" in modern literature whereby the
author sets up a parallel between mythical and modern events which adds a
dimension of meaning (often ironic) to the latter. In [today's poem], the basic
parallel is suggested by the epigraph: Sweeney is juxtaposed with Agamemnon, or
rather the moment of history represented by Agamemnon's murder (leading, in the
plays of Aeschylus, to the replacement of a "savage" conception of blood justice
with a civilized, divinely-ordained court system when Orestes is acquitted of
the murder of his mother and her lover, who had murdered his father, Agamemnon)
with that represented by the meaningless intrigues against Sweeney in the cafe
(in which civilization's tawdry representatives are the bestial and violent --
if you look at the other poems and the play in which he appears -- Sweeney and
his low-life companions).

    -- Greg Foster, TSE mailing list owner.


This being Eliot, there's a wealth of classical and not-so-classical allusions.
Rather than go into minute detail (that would take forever) (but do follow the
link below if you're interested in that sort of stuff), I'll just cover a few of
the more central ones:
 - The epigraph is taken from Agamemnon's dying words as his wife Clytemnestra
kills him: "Alas, I am struck deeply with a deadly blow." (from Aeschylus'
eponymous tragedy)
 - The 'horned gate': dreams in classical mythology are sometimes said to emerge
from the underworld through this gate.
 - The 'bloody wood' could be the grove of the classical Furies, in Sophocles'
Oedipus at Colonus, a place where there are singing nightingales and where
bloody tragedies such as Agamemnon's death would have been spawned. It could
also be the wood where Tereus raped and mutilated Philomela, who was later
turned into a nightingale (a story Ovid tells in his Metamorphoses).


The T. S. Eliot mailing list is a forum for a _lot_ of discussion and
commentary, much of it very well-informed. The archives are available at
[broken link] ; there's also a neat concordance and search

A most comprehensive introductory essay on today's poem can be found at
[broken link]

Previous Eliot poems to have featured on the Minstrels include La
Figlia Che Piange at poem #9, the first of the Preludes at poem #107,
and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock at poem #193 .

And of course, you can read all our previous poems at


maculate: marked, literally, as the giraffe is spotted. But this rare word also
carried overtones of 'foul' or 'polluted'; its antonym immaculate, means virgin,
sexually innocent.

To Sit In Solemn Silence... -- W S Gilbert

(Poem #247) To Sit In Solemn Silence...
  To sit in solemn silence in a dull, dark dock,
  In a pestilential prison, with a life-long lock,
  Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock,
  From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block!
-- W S Gilbert
         (from The Mikado)

Note: This fragment appears at the end of a longer song[1], in which various
  people explain why they will not trade places with a condemned man; after
  various different lead-ins ("I must decline..." "I don't much care..." "So
  I object...") they sing the above piece in chorus.

Paralleling the enormous popularity of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, a
number of the songs have achieved an almost independent prominence; notable
examples being the Captain's song from HMS Pinafore and the Major General's
song from The Pirates of Penzance.

Slightly less famous, but no less noteworthy are some of the smaller, less
standalone fragments embedded like gems within larger pieces. Although they
require a bit of context to fully appreciate, they often show Gilbert at his
very best; not a word out of place, not a break in the rhythm, and lyrics
that stick in one's memory (though it's admittedly hard to see how this
distinguishes them from anything else he wrote).

The above piece is one of my two favourite fragments (the other being the
'Now is not this ridiculous' chorus from Patience); it also has a special
place in my affection as being the first piece of G&S I ever read. I came
across it unattributed, and long before I knew who either Gilbert or
Sullivan were anyway, but fell in love with it; it remains the finest piece
of alliterative patter verse I have yet encountered[2]. (It was also a
pleasant experience discovering who had written it, and being able to put a
tune to the words).

And of course no Mikado commentary would be complete without my urging you
to listen, if at all possible, to what is undoubtedly the best work Gilbert
and Sullivan have produced - the lyrics are great, but the music adds a
whole new dimension.

[1] Whole text at <[broken link]>
[2] possibly excepting Swinburne's 'Nephelidia', poem #99, though 'To Sit
In Solemn Silence' has the advantage of being shorter and therefore better
able to maintain consistency.

For random Gilbert and Sullivan info, including a biography and links, see
the previous pieces in the archive
<[broken link]>.

- m.

I Hear America Singing -- Walt Whitman

No prizes for guessing the poet...
(Poem #246) I Hear America Singing
 I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
 Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it would be blithe and strong,
 The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
 The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
 The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on
the steamboat deck,
 The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,

 The woodcutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning, or at noon
intermission or at sundown,
 The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the
girl sewing or washing,
 Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
 The day what belongs to the day --- at night the party of young fellows,
robust, friendly,
 Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
-- Walt Whitman

For modern readers who've grown up on a steady diet of free verse, it's
difficult to appreciate just how revolutionary Whitman's poetry was for its
time. But think about it - by the mid-1800s, the bright young flames of the
Romantic Revolution had become tired old embers [1]; emotion was obscured by
sentiment; originality by imitation and flattery; righteousness by moralising.
Indeed, a return to the worst excesses of the Augustan poets seemed on the
cards, as writers rehashed the past with no inkling of the way the future was
being shaped around them [2].

Walt Whitman changed all that. His work came like a breath of fresh air to a
reading public stifled by conventional form and diction. His words were simple
and heartfelt, his rhythms natural and unaffected, his ideas sincere and
straightforward. Leaves of Grass is one of the great national epics, a testimony
to the freedom of spirit and endeavour that coloured Whitman's vision of his
country --  he gave a voice to the New World, and in his songs we hear America


PS. This is only a small part of what I have to say about Walt Whitman; I've
saved the rest (both good and bad) for later. Watch this space!


[1] Browning's wonderful The Lost Leader chronicles just this phenomenon - the
'betrayal' by Wordsworth of the revolutionary cause, to become a Pillar of the
Establishment (tm). You can read it at poem #130

[2] Funnily enough, it was in the United States that this effect was most
pronounced. My own theory is that  the breaking of political and sanguinary ties
with the Olde Worlde prompted American poets to reaffirm their cultural roots to
a degree far greater than they otherwise would have done.

[Previous Poems]

When I Heard The Learn'd Astronomer is a poem I strongly dislike because of its
central thesis; nevertheless, it's worth reading for the artistry of its verse
alone.  You can find it at poem #54
In addition to the poem itself, there's a brief biography of Whitman, and a
longish essay on his importance as a poet (this essay expands on what I've said
today, and has a lot more interesting material besides).

Oh Captain! My Captain! is one of Whitman's most popular poems, and justly so.
It's archived at poem #157

And of course, you can read all of our previous poems at

Whitman -- Alfred Kreymborg

Prompted by Thomas's mention of Whitman...
(Poem #245) Whitman
  After we've had
  our age of gold
  and sung our song of brass,
  fingers will brush
  the age aside,
  fingers and leaves
  of grass.
-- Alfred Kreymborg
A wonderfully understated poem - like all the good Imagists, Kreymborg seems
to have mastered the art of saying a lot in a few words, letting the
reader's imagination and experience supply the rest. To explain such a poem
would be both inadequate and superfluous; I'm not even going to try.

A few footnotes - the 'leaves of grass' is a reference to Whitman's most
famous work; you can find an online copy at
<>. And for completeness sake, here
are some reviews of Leaves of Grass:

And science fiction fans can doubtless think of several stories that echo
both the tone and content of the poem - Clarke and Bradbury especially come
to mind.


  Kreymborg, Alfred

  Pronunciation: [krAm´bôrg]

   1883-1966, American poet and anthologist, b. New York City. Originally one
   of the imagists, he wrote poems collected in Mushrooms (1916), Manhattan
   Men (1929), Selected Poems (1945), and Man and Shadow (1946). He
   chronicled American poetry in such works as the critical history Our
   Singing Strength (1929, 1934) and the anthology Lyric America (1930). His
   puppet plays were also popular.
         -- <>

From a review of his autobiography:

  Below is a book review, written by the poet and critic Mark Van Doren
  about a memoir by modernist poet and editor Alfred Kreymborg. Kreymborg's
  book is called Troubadour (1925). Kreymborg, as everyone associated with
  poetry knew then, was for many years right at the center of the New York
  poetic avant garde--if not necessarily as a poet in his own right, then as
  a promoter of modernist sensibility and as an editor and anthology. He was
  co-editor of the modernist magazine, Others, to which William Carlos
  Williams, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore et alia contributed.


  Mr. Kreymborg met so many people because he always, apparently, was at the
  center of things. When Greenwich Village was a center he was there, so
  that his life throughout one period becomes its history. As director in
  one capacity of another of the periodicals Musical Advance, The Glebe,
  Others, and Broom he touched hands with dozens of musicians, painter, and
  poets-- particularly poets. As playwright and producer with The
  Provincetown Players and The Other Players he entered still another circle
  filled with names that now are magical; he caught more reputations on the
  rise. And whenever circumstances failed to throw in his way a writer whom
  he admired he went on purpose to see him, gathering material before he
  returned for the row of portraits which he now paints with so knowing a
  hand. If "Troubadour" survives as nothing else it must survive for its
  sketches--not lacking in humor--of Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson,
  Carl Sandburg, Lola Ridge, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, E.A.
  Robinson, Harriet Monroe, Wallace Stevens, Maxwell Bodenheim, Marianne
  Moore, and William Carlos Williams. Of such--and indeed merely of
  such--have some of the richest of autobiographies been composed.

        -- <>

Information on two of the groups he was involved in, the Others group and
the Glebe magazine, may be found at the following sites:

  [broken link]

  [broken link]


A Supermarket in California -- Allen Ginsberg

(Poem #244) A Supermarket in California
    What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the
streets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.

    In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit
supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
    What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles
full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes! --- and you,
Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?
    I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the
meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
    I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price
bananas? Are you my Angel?
    I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you, and
followed in my imagination by the store detective.
    We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting
artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier.
    Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does
your beard point tonight?
    (I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel
    Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to
shade, lights out in the houses, we'll both be lonely.
    Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in
driveways, home to our silent cottage?
    Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you
have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and
stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?
-- Allen Ginsberg
A brilliantly hallucinatory poem - the images are almost Blakean in their
combination of dazzling brightness and strange mysticism... I keep thinking of
this marvellous photograph I once saw of Brian Wilson [1] in pinstriped pyjamas,
looking sublimely peaceful, in the aisle of a California health food store...

Allen Ginsberg has always shown remarkable facility in capturing the rhythms of
speech and action in sprawling and baroque (but never flabby) acres of words.
This quality is especially pronounced in today's poem: in paying homage to his
spiritual forebear Walt Whitman, Ginsberg comes closer to Whitman's grand oral
tradition than any other 20th century American poet (with the possible exception
of Carl Sandburg). You have only to compare the ebb and flow of his masterpiece
'Howl' [2] with the works of other practitioners of the art to realise how
effortlessly natural and graceful Ginsberg's words are. Beautifully and
powerfully done.


[1] He of Beach Boys fame.
[2] Which, unfortunately, is far too long to use on the Minstrels... maybe I'll
run an extract from it some time...

[Critical Assessment]

Starting from William Carlos Williams' idea of a new American idiom and measure,
then reaching back to Whitman, Ginsberg arrived at what he calls his 'romantic
inspiration -- Hebraic-Melvillian bardic breath'. What this means ... is the
freedom to be exuberant and incantatory, to catalogue at will, and to employ
free association of ideas in the context of sweeping religious utterance.
Ultimately, Ginsberg is the natural heir to Whitman, in his further exploration
of Whitman's long line [as in today's poem - t.], and in his preoccupation with
transcending the ego by containing, or partaking of, all experience, in a kind
of osmosis of the imagination.

... [Ginsberg] wanted to create a poetry that would not be literary, but would
make full use of everything in our daily lives. "When you approach the Muse,
talk as frankly as you would with yourself or your friends".

    -- 20th Century Poetry and Poetics, ed. Gary Geddes


Allen Ginsberg was born in 1926, in Paterson, New Jersey, to Naomi Ginsberg, a
Russian immigrant, and Louis Ginsberg, a lyric poet and schoolteacher. His life
from age seventeen until the publication of 'Howl and Other Poems' in 1956
included Columbia University, the merchant service, dishwashing, market
research, book reviewing, drugs, and travel to Texas, Denver, Mexico City and
the Yucatan. Between 'Howl' and 'Kaddish and Other Poems' (1961), Ginsberg
travelled to the Arctic by sea, to Venice, Tangiers, Amsterdam, Paris and
London, and read his poems at Oxford, Columbia and Chicago. After 'Kaddish', a
long poem written about the death of his mother, he recorded his poems in San
Francisco and departed for the Orient.


This is actually the first Ginsberg poem I'm running (I know, very remiss of
me). But you can check out some of his roots and influences by navigating
through the links below:
Carl Sandburg's Chicago is the canonical example of Whitmanesque free verse in
the 20th century; you can read it at poem #5
William Blake's influence on modern poetry is incalculable; my favourite Blake
poem is Jerusalem, which you can read at poem #26
Although we haven't covered any of Walt Whitman's truly epic poems, an old
favourite is Oh Captain, My Captain, at poem #157

When that I was and a little tiny boy -- William Shakespeare

Guest poem sent in by Vikram Doctor
(Poem #243) When that I was and a little tiny boy
  When that I was and a little tiny boy
  With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
  A foolish thing was but a toy,
  For the rain it raineth every day.

  But when I came to man's estate,
  With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
  'Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,
  For the rain it raineth every day.

  But when I came, alas, to wive,
  With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
  By swaggering could I never thrive,
  For the rain it raineth every day.

  But when I came unto my beds,
  With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
  With toss-pots still 'had drunken heads,
  For the rain it raineth every day.

  A great while ago the world began,
  With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
  But that's all one, our play is done,
  And we'll strive to please you every day.
-- William Shakespeare
           (from Twelfth Night)

The genius of Twelfth Night is Feste, the most charming of all Shakespeare's
fools, and the only sane character in a wild play. Olivia has inherited this
court jester from her father, and we sense throughout that Feste, an
accomplished professional, has grown weary of his role. He carries his
exhaustion with verve and wit, and always with an air of knowing all there
is to know, not in any superior way but with a sweet melancholy. His truancy
is forgiven by Olivia, and in recompense he attempts to charm her out of her
prolonged mourning for her brother. Feste is benign throughout the play, and
does not participate in the gulling of Malvolio until he enters the dark
house as Sir Topas. Even there, he is instrumental in bringing about the
steward's release. A superb singer (his part was written for Robert Armin,
who had an excellent voice), Feste keeps to a minor key: "Present mirth hath
present laughter:/What's to come is still unsure." Though of Olivia's
household, he is welcome at the music-loving Orsino's court, and gets Orsino
right at one stroke:

Now the melancholy god protect thee, and the tailor make thy doublet of
changeable taffeta, for they mind is a very opal. I would have men of such
constancy put to sea, that their business might be everything and their
intent everywhere, for that's it that always makes a good voyage of nothing,
Farewell. (II.iv.73-78)

The fool's most revealing scene begins in Act III, and is shared with the
equally charming Viola, who gently provokes him to meditate upon his craft:
"A sentence is but a chev'ril glove to a good wit - how quickly the wrong
side may be turned outward!" That may be Shakespeare's playful admonition to
himself, since the amiable Feste is one of his rare surrogates, and Feste is
warning us to seek no moral coherence in Twelfth Night. Orsino, baffled by
the sight of Viola and Sebastian together, utters a famous bewilderment:

One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons!
A natural perspective, that is, and is not! (V.1.214-15)

In a useful gloss, Anne Barton calls this an optical illusion naturally
produced, rather than resented by a disturbing perspective glass. The play's
central toy is Feste's, when he sums up Malvolio's ordeal: "And this the
whirligig of time brings in his revenges." Dr.Johnson said of "a natural
perspective" that nature so puts on "a show, where shadows seem realities,
where that which 'is not' appears like that which 'is'." That would seem
contradictory in itself, unless time and nature merge into a Shakespearean
identity, so that time's whirligig then would become the same toy as the
distorting glass. Imagine a distorting mirror whirling in circles like a
top, and you could have the compound toy that Shakespeare created in Twelfth
Night. All of the play's characters, except the victimized Malvolio and
Feste, are representations in that rotating glass.

At play's end, Malvolio runs off stage shouting: "I'll be reveng'd on the
whole pack of you!" Everyone else exits to get married, except for Feste,
who remains alone to sing Shakespeare's most wistful song...

...Whether or not Shakespeare was revising a folk song, this is clearly
Feste's lyric farewell, and an epilogue to a wild performance, returning us
to the wind and rain of every day. We hear Feste's life story (and
Shakespeare's?) told in erotic and household terms. "A foolish thing"
probably is the male member, ironically still "but a toy" in the man's
estate of knavery, marriage, ineffectual swaggering, drunken decline, and
old age. "But that's all one" is Feste's beautiful sadness of acceptance,
and the next afternoon's performance will go on.

from Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, by Harold Bloom

NOTE: This is one case where I'm sending it in both for the song, which is
one of Shakespeare's most charming, and for the criticism as well. Harold
Bloom has nicely been described as the 'current vestal virgin at the shrine
of Shakespeare.' Its certainly hard to think of anyone who has a greater
reverence and exultation in Shalespeare. This is what hits you in his
hufgely enjoyable new book Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. Its
idiosyncratic, enthusiastic, almost bonkers - but SO readable. Read it!

The Pied Piper of Hamelin -- Robert Browning

(Poem #242) The Pied Piper of Hamelin
    A Child's Story
    (Written for, and inscribed to, W.M. the Younger)


 Hamelin Town's in Brunswick,
 By famous Hanover city;
 The river Weser, deep and wide,
 Washes its wall on the southern side;
 A pleasanter spot you never spied;
 But, when begins my ditty,
 Almost five hundred years ago,
 To see the townsfolk suffer so
 From vermin, was a pity.


 They fought the dogs and killed the cats,
 And bit the babies in the cradles,
 And ate the cheeses out of the vats,
 And licked the soup from the cooks' own ladle's,
 Split open the kegs of salted sprats,
 Made nests inside men's Sunday hats,
 And even spoiled the women's chats
 By drowning their speaking
 With shrieking and squeaking
 ln fifty different sharps and flats.


 At last the people in a body
 To the town hall came flocking:
 "Tis clear," cried they, 'our Mayor's a noddy;
 And as for our Corporation--shocking
 To think we buy gowns lined with ermine
 For dolts that can't or won't determine
 What's best to rid us of our vermin!
 You hope, because you're old and obese,
 To find in the furry civic robe ease?
 Rouse up, sirs! Give your brains a racking
 To find the remedy we're lacking,
 Or, sure as fate, we'll send you packing!"
 At this the Mayor and Corporation
 Quaked with a mighty consternation.


 An hour they sat in council,
 At length the Mayor broke silence:
 "For a guilder I'd my ermine gown sell,
 I wish I were a mile hence!
 It's easy to bid one rack one's brain--
 I'm sure my poor head aches again,
 I've scratched it so, and all in vain
 Oh for a trap, a trap, a trap!"
 Just as he said this, what should hap
 At the chamber door but a gentle tap?
 "Bless us,' cried the Mayor, "what's that?"
 (With the Corporation as he sat,
 Looking little though wondrous fat;
 Nor brighter was his eye, nor moister
 Than a too-long-opened oyster,
 Save when at noon his paunch grew mutinous
 For a plate of turtle green and glutinous)
 "Only a scraping of shoes on the mat?
 Anything like the sound of a rat
 Makes my heart go pit-a-pat!"


 "Come in!"--the Mayor cried, looking bigger:
 And in did come the strangest figure!
 His queer long coat from heel to head
 Was half of yellow and half of red
 And he himself was tall and thin,
 With sharp blue eyes, each like a pin,
 And light loose hair, yet swarthy skin,
 No tuft on cheek nor beard on chin,
 But lips where smiles went out and in;
 There was no guessing his kith and kin:
 And nobody could enough admire
 The tall man and his quaint attire.
 Quoth one:"It's as my great-grandsire,
 Starting up at the trump of doom's tone,
 Had walked this way from his painted tombstone!"


 He advanced to the council-table:
 And, "Please your honors," said he, "I'm able,
 By means of a secret charm, to draw
 All creatures living beneath the sun,
 That creep or swim or fly or run,
 After me so as you never saw
 And I chiefly use my charm
 On creatures that do people harm,
 The mole and toad and newt and viper;
 And People call me the Pied Piper."
 (And here they noticed round his neck
 A scarf of red and yellow stripe,
 To match with his coat of the self-same check;
 And at the scarf's end hung a pipe;
 And his fingers, they noticed, were ever straying
 As if impatient to be playing
 Upon this pipe, as low it dangled
 Over his vesture so old-fangled.)
 "Yet," said he, "poor piper as I am,
 In Tartary I freed the Cham,
 Last June, from his huge swarm of gnats;
 I eased in Asia the Nizam
 Of a monstrous brood of vampyre-bats:
 And as for what your brain bewilders--
 If I can rid your town of rats
 Will you give me a thousand guilders?"
 "One? Fifty thousand!" was the exclamation
 Of the astonished Mayor and Corporation.


 Into the street the Piper stept,
 Smiling first a little smile,
 As if he knew what magic slept
 In his quiet pipe the while;
 Then, like a musical adept,
 To blow the pipe his lips he wrinkled,
 And green and blue his sharp eyes twinkled,
 Like a candle-flame where salt is sprinkled;
 And ere three shrill notes the pipe uttered,
 You heard as if an army muttered;
 And the muttering grew to a grumbling;
 And the grumbling grew to a mighty rumbling;
 And out of the houses the rats came tumbling.
 Great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats,
 Brown rats, black rats, gray rats, tawny rats,
 Grave old plodders, gay young friskers,
 Fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins,
 Cocking tails and pricking whiskers,
 Families by tens and dozens,
 Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives--
 Followed the Piper for their lives.
 From street to street he piped advancing,
 And step for step they followed dancing,
 Until they came to the river Weser
 Wherein all plunged and perished!
 Save one who, stout as Julius Caesar,
 Swam across and lived to carry
 (As the manuscript he cherished)
 To Rat-land home his commentary:
 Which was, "At the first shrill notes of the pipe,
 I heard a sound as of scraping tripe,
 And putting apples, wondrous ripe,
 Into a cider-press's gripe:
 And a moving away of pickle-tub-boards,
 And a leaving ajar of conserve-cupboards,
 And a drawing the corks of train-oil-flasks,
 And a breaking the hoops of butter-casks:
 And it seemed as if a voice
 (Sweeter far than by harp or by psaltery
 Is breathed) called out, 'Oh rats, rejoice!
 The world is grown to one vast dry-saltery!
 So munch on, crunch on, take your nuncheon,
 Breakfast, supper, dinner, luncheon!'
 And just as a bulky sugar-puncheon,
 All ready staved, like a great sun shone
 Glorious scarce an inch before me,
 Just as methought it said 'Come bore me!'
 --I found the Weser rolling o'er me."


 You should have heard the Hamelin people
 Ringing the bells till they rocked the steeple.
 Go," cried the Mayor, "and get long poles!
 Poke out the nests and block up the holes!
 Consult with carpenters and builders
 And leave in our town not even a trace
 Of the rats!"-- when suddenly, up the face
 Of the Piper perked in the market-place,
 With a, "First, if you please, my thousand guilders!"


 A thousand guilders! The Mayor looked blue;
 So did the Corporation too.
 For council dinners made rare havoc
 With Claret, Moselle, Vin-de-Grave, Hock;
 And half the money would replenish
 Their cellar's biggest butt with Rhenish.
 To pay this sum to a wandering fellow
 With a gipsy coat of red and yellow!
 "Beside," quoth the Mayor with a knowing wink,
 "Our business was done at the river's brink;
 We saw with our eyes the vermin sink,
 And what's dead can't come to life, I think.
 So, friend, we're not the folks to shrink
 From the duty of giving you something for drink,
 And a matter of money to put in your poke;
 But as for the guilders, what we spoke
 Of them, as you very well know, was in joke.
 Beside, our losses have made us thrifty.
 A thousand guilders! Come, take fifty!


 The Piper's face fell, and he cried
 No trifling! I can't wait beside!
 I've promised to visit by dinnertime
 Bagdat, and accept the prime
 Of the Head-Cooks pottage, all he's rich in,
 For having left, in the Caliph's kitchen,
 Of a nest of scorpions no survivor:
 With him I proved no bargain-driver,
 With you, don't think I'll bate a stiver!
 And folks who put me in a passion
 May find me pipe after another fashion,


 "How?" cried the Mayor, "d'ye think I brook
 Being worse treated than a Cook?
 Insulted by a lazy ribald
 With idle pipe and vesture piebald?
 You threaten us, fellow? Do your worst,
 Blow your pipe there till you burst!


 Once more he stept into the street
 And to his lips again
 Laid his long pipe of smooth straight cane;
 And ere he blew three notes (such sweet
 Soft notes as yet musician's cunning
 Never gave the enraptured air)
 There was a rustling that seemed like a bustling
 Of merry crowds justling at pitching and hustling,
 Small feet were pattering, wooden shoes clattering,
 Little hands clapping and little tongues chattering,
 And, like fowls in a farm-yard when barley is scattering,
 Out came the children running.
 All the little boys and girls,
 With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls,
 And sparkling eyes and teeth like pearls,
 Tripping and skipping, ran merrily after
 The wonderful music with shouting and laughter.


 The Mayor was dumb, and the Council stood
 As if they were changed into blocks of wood,
 Unable to move a step or cry,
 To the children merrily skipping by,
 --Could only follow with the eye
 That joyous crowd at the Piper's back.
 But how the Mayor was on the rack
 And the wretched Council's bosoms beat,
 As the Piper turned from the High Street
 To where the Weser rolled its water's
 Right in the way of their sons and daughters!
 However he turned from South to West
 And to Koppelberg Hill his steps addressed,
 And after him the children pressed--
 Great was the joy in every breast.
 "He never can cross that mighty top!
 He's forced to let the piping drop
 And we shall see our children stop!
 When, lo, as they reached the mountain-side,
 A wondrous portal opened wide,
 As if a cavern was suddenly hollowed;
 And the Piper advanced and the children followed,
 And when all were in to the very last,
 The door in the mountain-side shut fast.
 Did I say all? No! One was lame,
 And could not dance the whole of the way;
 And in after years, if you would blame
 His sadness, he was used to say,--
 "It¹s dull in our town since my playmates left!
 I can¹t forget that I'm bereft
 Of all all the pleasant sights they see,
 Which the Piper also promised me.
 For he led us, he said, to a joyous land,
 Joining the town and just at hand,
 Where waters gushed and fruit-trees grew
 And flowers put forth a fairer hue,
 And everything was strange and new
 The sparrows were brighter than peacocks here,
 And their dogs outran our fallow deer,
 And honey-bees had lost their stings,
 And horses were born with eagles' wings:
 And just as I became assured
 My lame foot would be speedily cured,
 The music stopped and I stood still,
 And found myself outside the hill,
 Left alone against my will,
 To go now limping as before,
 And never hear of that country more!"


 Alas, alas for Hamelin!
 There came into many a burgher's pate
 A text which says that heaven¹s gate
 Opes to the rich at as easy rate
 As the needle's eye takes a camel in!
 The mayor sent East, West, North and South,
 To offer the Piper, by word of mouth
 Wherever it was men's lot to find him
 Silver and gold to his heart¹s content
 If he'd only return the way he went,
 And bring the children behind him.
 But when they saw 'twas a lost endeavor,
 and Piper and dancers were gone forever,
 They made a decree that lawyers never
 Should think their records dated duly
 If, after the day of the month and year,
 These words did not as well appear,
 And so long after what happened here
 On the Twenty-second of July,
 Thirteen hundred and seventy-six:
 And the better in memory to fix
 The place of the children's last retreat,
 They called it, the Pied Piper's Street--
 Where any one playing on pipe or tabor
 Was sure for the future to lose his labor.
 Nor suffered they hostelry or tavern
 To shock with mirth a street so solemn,
 But opposite the place of the cavern
 They wrote the story on a column,
 And on the great church-window painted
 The same, to make the world acquainted
 How their children were stolen away,
 And there it stands to this very day.
 And I must not omit to say
 That, in Transylvania there's a tribe
 Of alien people who ascribe
 The outlandish ways and dress
 On which their neighbors lay such stress,
 To their fathers and mothers having risen
 Out of some subterraneous prison
 Into which they were trepanned
 Long time ago in a mighty band
 Out of Hamelin town in Brunswick land,
 But how or why they don't understand.


 So, Willy, let you and me be wipers
 Of scores out with all men -- especially pipers!
 And, whether pipe us free from rats or from mice,
 If we've promised them ought, let us keep our promise.
-- Robert Browning
This was the first Browning poem I ever read, and it has never ceased to
delight me. The versification is, as always, nothing short of superb, with a
pattering metre well in keeping with the spirit of the fairy tale, and
playfully clever rhymes.

Indeed, I think 'The Pied Piper' comes close to the ideal of what a
childrens' poem should be. It tells a gripping story, and tells it well; the
verse is a pleasure both to memorise and to recite, and perhaps most
importantly, Browning does not write down to his audience. Notice that at no
point has he shied away from the difficult word, the complex construction -
indeed, the poem was responsible for adding several words to my

I wish, though, that Browning had resisted the temptation to add a moral to
the tale. (And it seems anthologists agree - most places I've seen the poem,
the last verse is omitted).

[1] and, more recently, I was reading the poem when I was suddenly struck by
the real meaning of 'outlandish'. Think about it.


See the previous Browning poems in the Minstrels archive,

The Green Hills of Earth -- Robert A Heinlein

Inspired by Martin's science fiction reference...
(Poem #241) The Green Hills of Earth
Let the sweet fresh breezes heal me
As they rove around the girth
Of our lovely mother planet
Of the cool, green hills of Earth.

We rot in the moulds of Venus,
We retch at her tainted breath.
Foul are her flooded jungles,
Crawling with unclean death.

[ --- the harsh bright soil of Luna ---
 --- Saturn's rainbow rings ---
 --- the frozen night of Titan --- ]

We've tried each spinning space mote
And reckoned its true worth:
Take us back again to the homes of men
On the cool, green hills of Earth.

The arching sky is calling
Spacemen back to their trade.
And the lights below us fade.

Out ride the sons of Terra,
Far drives the thundering jet,
Up leaps a race of Earthmen,
Out, far, and onward yet ---

We pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave us birth;
Let us rest our eyes on the friendly skies
And the cool, green hills of Earth.
-- Robert A Heinlein
[Taken from Heinlein's brilliant short story of the same name]

In the short story (which, btw, is one of the true classics of sf - read it!),
today's poem is the work of Rhysling, the 'Blind Singer of the Spaceways'. I
won't spoil the story for you by revealing the plot; suffice to say that the
SFWA's annual poetry award is now called the Rhysling Award. Honour enough,
wouldn't you say?

As for the poem itself, I think it's quite strong enough to stand on its own.
Apart from inspiring countless filks (indeed, the very concept of filk [1] can
perhaps be traced back to Rhysling), it has a simplicity which sets it apart
from the majority of poems with similar themes.

I especially like the last stanza - every word seems perfect; any change would
be for the worse.


[1]  "music that readers of science fiction enjoy playing and writing, usually
with acid social commentary and humor, and sometimes sheer beauty that makes you
cry and shiver." - definition courtesy Martin, who likes the stuff (I don't.).
Flame him, not me.

PS. The gap in the middle is not because I don't remember the words, but because
Heinlein himself never expanded on these stanzas beyond the phrases featured in

Two Worlds -- Edgar Fawcett

(Poem #240) Two Worlds
 A fiery young world, in far voids of sky,
      Called to an old world growing dark and chill:
 "Now that you hear the hour you must die,
      Tell me what mighty memories haunt you still!"

 Then from the old sad world this answer fell:
      "Vast peoples rose and vanished where I swing....
 But all my poor tired soul remembers well
      Are the great songs my poets used to sing!"
-- Edgar Fawcett
Ah, the infinite vanity of the poet. Other poets have expressed similar
sentiments, though none, I think, so extreme; still, Fawcett merely tapped
into the popular sentiment that poets are a higher form of life. Strange
that the notion finds greatest favour among poets <g>.

As for the poem itself, it's certainly not one of the 'great songs'. The
scansion is weak, and the exclamation marks annoying, to name just two of
its flaws. And yet, having outlined what I don't like about it, I'll go on
to say that I do like the poem as a whole. Despite the flaws in the
versification, the central image is a compelling one[1]; indeed, I feel that
the poem is too short to do it justice, and that it'd have benefited from a
fuller exploration of the theme. Whatever Fawcett lacked, it was not scope
of vision.

[1] and certainly one that appeals to the sf fan in me


Not a scrap of biographical information could I find - 'American poet' says
the Poet's Corner, and that's about it.


- For a far better poem on the same theme, see Arthur O'Shaugnessy's 'Ode',
  poem #6

- And because this poem reminds me irresistibly of Leslie Fish's song 'Hope
  Eyrie', here's a link to the lyrics:
    <[broken link]>
  and for completeness sake, one to the mp3:


Witchery -- Frank Dempster Sherman

(Poem #239) Witchery
  Out of the purple drifts,
      From the shadow sea of night,
  On tides of musk a moth uplifts
      Its weary wings of white.
  Is it a dream or ghost
      Of a dream that comes to me,
  Here in the twilight on the coast,
      Blue cinctured by the sea?
  Fashioned of foam and froth --
      And the dream is ended soon,
  And lo, whence came the moon-white moth
      Comes now the moth-white moon!
-- Frank Dempster Sherman
cinctured: girdled, encircled

A slightly weak poem, but nonetheless pleasant. The 'foam and froth' imagery
that permeates the poem is well done, and the bit of wordplay at the end is
nicely unexpected, but on the whole it's one of those poems that are more
enjoyable than 'good'. Doesn't really need anything more said about it.


While I couldn't find a proper biography of Sherman, snippets abound.

  Frank Dempster Sherman (1860 - 1916): American Architect

says the Poet's Corner; as good an opening line as any.

  "He did more work on the genealogy of the Sherman Family from England than
  any other person."

says the genealogy page at <[broken link]>
(there's a picture of him there too). So if you want to know about his
ancestors, you can go take a look.

   An account of one's descent from an ancestor who did not particularly
   care to trace his own. -- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

He collaborated on an American Verse project with one Clinton Scollard; see
it at <[broken link]>

And finally, the Bibliomania site has this to say:

  Some of the poets, identified with this generation both by date of birth
  and the spirit of their verse, continue well into the twentieth century.
  Samuel Minturn Peck (born 1854) and Frank Lebby Stanton (born 1857) are
  poets of the South; the first a native of Alabama, the second, of South

  Peck's first volume, Cap and Bells, appeared in 1886. Stanton, on the
  staff of the Atlanta Constitution, published Songs of the Soil in 1894.
  Frank Dempster Sherman (1860-1916) published a first volume, Madrigals and
  Catches, in 1887. A Southern Flight (1906) was published in association
  with Clinton Scollard (1860-1932), whose earliest volume, Pictures in
  Song, had appeared in 1884. Both poets were natives of New York. Scollard
  was professor of English literature at Hamilton College (1889-1896) and
  Sherman was in the Faculty of Columbia University (1904-1916).

    -- <>


Romance -- W J Turner

The title says it all...
(Poem #238) Romance
When I was but thirteen or so
I went into a golden land,
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
Took me by the hand.

My father died, my brother too,
They passed like fleeting dreams,
I stood where Popocatapetl
In the sunlight gleams.

I dimly heard the master's voice
And boys far-off at play, ---
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
Had stolen me away.

I walked in a great golden dream
To and fro from school ---
Shining Popocatapetl
The dusty streets did rule.

I walked home with a gold dark boy
And never a word I'd say,
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
Had taken my speech away.

I gazed entranced upon his face
Fairer than any flower ---
O shining Popocatapetl
It was thy magic hour:

The houses, people, traffic seemed
Thin fading dreams by day;
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi,
They had stolen my soul away!
-- W J Turner
An unabashedly romantic poem (don't say you weren't warned!), and not a very
good one - the imagery is uninspired, the prosody unremarkable, the theme
ordinary. And yet... for some reason (no doubt measureless to man) it's one of
those poems which stick in the memory. I remember reading it when I was very
young; I rediscovered it last year, and the magic still remains.

The key ingredient of the spell is, of course, the evocativeness [1] of the
place names. The poem is carried by the effect of the simple yet beautiful
refrain - 'Chimborazo, Cotopaxi'. (and the equally nice counterpoint
'Popocatapetl'). And indeed, place names in general do tend to conjure up
wonderful images - think of Samarkand and Byzantium, Troy and Carthage, Timbuktu
and Tokyo, the Khyber Pass and the Oregon Trail, the Silk Road and the Sahara...
Turner was merely the first poet to make explicit use of this particular form of
magic in such a direct fashion.


[1] There it is, that word again. If I had a penny for every time I've used it
on the Minstrels...


A similar poem is Joyce Kilmer's 'Trees' - nothing remarkable, but it sticks in
your mind. You can read it at poem #146

The Ballad of Father Gilligan -- William Butler Yeats

Guest poem sent in by Vikram Doctor
(Poem #237) The Ballad of Father Gilligan
  The old priest Peter Gilligan
  Was weary night and day
  For half his flock were in their beds
  Or under green sods lay.

  Once, while he nodded in a chair
  At the moth-hour of the eve
  Another poor man sent for him,
  And he began to grieve.

  'I have no rest, nor joy, nor peace,
  For people die and die;
  And after cried he, 'God forgive!
  My body spake not I!'

  He knelt, and leaning on the chair
  He prayed and fell asleep;
  And the moth-hour went from the fields,
  And stars began to peep.

  They slowly into millions grew,
  And leaves shook in the wind
  And God covered the world with shade
  And whispered to mankind.

  Upon the time of sparrow chirp
  When the moths came once more,
  The old priest Peter Gilligan
  Stood upright on the floor.

  'Mavrone, mavrone! The man has died
  While I slept in the chair.'
  He roused his horse out of its sleep
  And rode with little care.

  He rode now as he never rode,
  By rocky lane and fen;
  The sick man's wife opened the door,
  'Father! you come again!'

  'And is the poor man dead?' he cried
  'He died an hour ago.'
  The old priest Peter Gilligan
  In grief swayed to and fro.

  'When you were gone, he turned and died,
  As merry as a bird.'
  The old priest Peter Gilligan
  He knelt him at that word.

  'He Who hath made the night of stars
  For souls who tire and bleed,
  Sent one of this great angels down,
  To help me in my need.

  'He Who is wrapped in purple robes,
  With planets in His care
  Had pity on the least of things
  Asleep upon a chair.'
-- William Butler Yeats
I'm sending this poem as a tribute to my father - and to the ability of
poetry to touch the most unexpected people. My father is a hard headed
Gujrati businessman, understands money, stocks and share, are rarely reads
anything other than The Economic Times. He's not really much interested in
art and literature, and would never think of reading poetry normally. And
yet in school, years and years ago, he learned some poems which he has never
forgotten and which he recalls to this day - not just because they've been
imprinted in his memory, but because in some indefinable way they have
really touched him. The Ballad Of Father Gilligan is one of them, which he
had recited to me ever since I was a child, and with real pleasure in the
words and images. I can remember him saying the lines about the nightfall:
'They slowly into millions grew/And leaves shook in the wind/And God covered
the world with shade/And whispered to mankind.' and saying, "isn't that
wonderful, how he describes stars coming out." (Though he was always vaguely
troubled that in the same stanza, 'wind' doesn't rhyme exactly with
'mankind.') Or from the last stanza, saying, 'He Who is wrapped in purple
robes/With planets in His care,' and repeating the line with reverence:
"With planets in His care" as if  he could almost see this cosmic image.
Whenever anyone tells me that poetry is an elitist taste only, I think of my
father reciting The Ballad Of Father Gilligan.

PS: What I find particularly interesting, is that it was a Gujrati medium
school. It was a really exceptional one, New Era in Bombay, which was
founded and run on very idealistic Gandhian lines at that time. Today of
course, one would be surprised to find the average _English_ medium school
bothering to teach poetry properly, let alone a vernacular medium school.
And the commercial demands of today have made New Era put most of its ideals
aside, and I think its largely English medium today.


Mavrone: (Mo'vrone): Irish Mo bhr•n; my sorrow, alas

I don't think I need say anything major about Yeats since the main details
about him are reasonably well known - romantic, Celtic revival, mysticism,
etc, etc. And I've never felt much attracted to all of it, the mysticism in
particular putting me off. If I thought of Yeats at all, it was more for
Auden's wonderful poem in memoriam. But when I picked up a volume of his
collected verse, I was surprised to find how much of it I seemed to have
absorbed anyway. From the dreamy romanticism of He Spreads Out The Cloths Of
Heaven and When You Are Old And Grey, to the pastoral paradise of Innisfree,
to the contemplativeness of A Prayer For My Daughter, to the calm fatalism
of An Irish Airman Foresees His Death, to the glittering mysticism of
Sailing To Byzantium, a lot of his poetry seemed to have stuck in my mind.
Which makes me wonder whether its worth going back to Yeats to discover
what's there.

One more rather pedantic note: have you ever had the experience of reading
something you have only ever heard before and surprised to find that it
differs a bit? That happened to me when I read this - there are some small
differences in what my father recites and this poem. Perhaps there's another
version he learned, perhaps the differences have crept in over the years. It
doesn't really matter, except one of these changes is interesting because it
shows how even something as small as a space can change meanings. The last
'Asleep upon a chair.' I always heard as 'A sleep upon a chair.' Maybe my
father inserted the pause while reciting it, maybe I did while hearing it,
but it changes the meaning: I always thought 'the least of things' was the
Father's sleep on the chair, which sounds fair enough. But he means
something much more humble - that he was 'the least of things'. Childishly
maybe, I think _my_ father's version is better!


Memory -- Thomas Bailey Aldrich

(Poem #236) Memory
 My mind lets go a thousand things,
 Like dates of wars and deaths of kings,
 And yet recalls the very hour--
 'Twas noon by yonder village tower,
 And on the last blue noon in May--
 The wind came briskly up this way,
 Crisping the brook beside the road;
 Then, pausing here, set down its load
 Of pine-scents, and shook listlessly
 Two petals from that wild-rose tree.
-- Thomas Bailey Aldrich
A nice little vignette - not by any means a 'great' poem, but nonetheless
pleasant and evocative. The sense of vividness is sharp - blue skies, brisk
winds, pine scents - as is the contrast between the 'brisk' and the
'listless' moments, and the whole has a nice pastoral, spring feeling that
is particularly attractive this cold October morning :).



  Aldrich, Thomas Bailey

   b. Nov. 11, 1836, Portsmouth, N.H., U.S.
   d. March 19, 1907, Boston poet, short-story writer, and editor whose
   use of the surprise ending influenced the development of the short
   story. He drew upon his childhood experiences in New Hampshire in his
   popular classic The Story of a Bad Boy (1870).

   Aldrich left school at 13 to work as a merchant's clerk in New York
   City and soon began to contribute to various newspapers and magazines.
   After publication of his first book of verse, The Bells (1855), he
   became junior literary critic on the New York Evening Mirror and later
   subeditor of the Home Journal. From 1881 to 1890 he was editor of The
   Atlantic Monthly.

   His poems, which reflect the cultural atmosphere of New England and
   his frequent European tours, were published in such volumes as Cloth
   of Gold (1874), Flower and Thorn (1877), Mercedes and Later Lyrics
   (1884), and Windham Towers (1890).

   His best known prose is Marjorie Daw and Other People (1873), a
   collection of short stories.

                -- EB

Pennsylvania -- Carl Sandburg

(Poem #235) Pennsylvania
I have been in Pennsylvania,
In the Monongahela and Hocking Valleys.

In the blue Susquehanna
On a Saturday morning
I saw a mounted constabulary go by,
I saw boys playing marbles.
Spring and the hills laughed.

And in places
Along the Appalachian chain,
I saw steel arms handling coal and iron,
And I saw the white-cauliflower faces
Of miner's wives waiting for the men to come home from the day's work.

I made color studies in crimson and violet
Over the dust and domes of culm at sunset.
-- Carl Sandburg
'Pennsylvania' strikes a balance between the energy and exuberance of 'Chicago',
and the delicately evocative imagery of 'Crucible'. The danger in this approach,
of course, is the conflict between form and content [1] - Sandburg's subject is
(as usual) the working class, in all its rough glory. But whereas normally he
eulogizes it in Whitmanesque free verse (which works perfectly well, as the
Chicago poems testify), in 'Pennsylvania' his style is closer to the understated
elegance of the Imagists. The subtle tension thus generated is very reminiscent
of Edna St. Vincent Millay in essence, if not in detail [2].

As an aside, note how Sandburg uses the lovely rolling syllables of Native
American place names [3] to wonderful poetic effect, both in sound and in
meaning. The transition from suggestion to description is also quite striking; I
especially like the overtly Imagist use of colour in the last few lines.


[1] Who'd have thunk it?

[2] Though I have to admit I'm not a great fan of Millay - somehow, her air of
quiet desperation just doesn't work for me.

[3] Monongahela, Susquehanna, Appalachia... and there are so many more:
Tallahassee and Rappahannock, Saskatchewan and Massachusetts, Shenandoah and
Mississippi... the only other place names which come close (in my opinion) are
Russian ones - Vladivostok, Novosibirsk and so on. More on this in my next post.


Sandburg's most famous poem, 'Chicago', was also one of the very first poems to
be run on the Minstrels. You can read it at poem #5

The EB biography of Sandburg can be had at poem #163

My favourite Sandburg poem is 'Crucible' - just 3 sentences long, but absolutely
magical. You can read it at poem #205

And of course, all our other poems are archived at

[Fascinating Facts]

The Susquehanna flows from central New York State through Pennsylvania and into
the Chesapeake Bay in north Maryland. The Monongahela flows north through
Virginia and Pennsylvania to unite with the Allegheny at Pittsburgh, there
forming the Ohio. The Appalachian range extends from Quebec (in a roughly
southwest direction) all the way to Alabama. So now you know.


 - culm
Pronunciation: 'k&lm
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English
Date: 14th century
: refuse coal screenings : (syn.) SLAG
        -- from Merriam-Webster online,

[End Note]

The same people and places are celebrated by Bruce Springsteen in 'Youngstown',
a sympathetic and insightful portrayal of the decline of Pennsylvania's coal and
steel towns in the 70s and 80s. Beautifully done, and well worth a listen. (It
can be found on his vastly underrated 1995 album 'The Ghost Of Tom Joad').

Miniver Cheevy -- Edwin Arlington Robinson

(Poem #234) Miniver Cheevy
 Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
    Grew lean while he assailed the seasons
 He wept that he was ever born,
    And he had reasons.

 Miniver loved the days of old
    When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
 The vision of a warrior bold
    Would send him dancing.

 Miniver sighed for what was not,
    And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
 He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
    And Priam's neighbors.

 Miniver mourned the ripe renown
    That made so many a name so fragrant;
 He mourned Romance, now on the town,
    And Art, a vagrant.

 Miniver loved the Medici,
    Albeit he had never seen one;
 He would have sinned incessantly
    Could he have been one.

 Miniver cursed the commonplace
    And eyed a khaki suit with loathing:
 He missed the medieval grace
    Of iron clothing.

 Miniver scorned the gold he sought,
    But sore annoyed was he without it;
 Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
    And thought about it.

 Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
    Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
 Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
    And kept on drinking.
-- Edwin Arlington Robinson
  "During these years Robinson perfected the poetic form for which he became
  so well known: a structure based firmly on stanzas, skillful rhyming
  patterns, and a precise and natural diction, combined with a dramatic
  examination of the human condition." -- EB

That pretty much sums up the reasons I enjoy his work, and today's poem is
an excellent example; a skilful portrait of a man born after his time, or at
least, a man who thinks so. It is also, on a larger level, a criticism of
an increasingly widespread syndrome - the tendency to idealise and
romanticise the past, not for its own merits but simply from a desire to
escape the present. Miniver Cheevy does not sound like the kind of person
who'd have lasted long in any of his beloved days of old.


Biography and Assessment:

  Robinson, Edwin Arlington

  b. Dec. 22, 1869, Head Tide, Maine, U.S.
  d. April 6, 1935, New York, N.Y. American poet who is best known for
  his short dramatic poems concerning the people in a small New England
  village, Tilbury Town, very much like the Gardiner, Maine, in which he
  grew up.

  After his family suffered financial reverses, Robinson cut short his
  attendance at Harvard University (1891-93) and returned to Gardiner to
  stay with his family, whose fortunes were disintegrating. The lives of
  both his brothers ended in failure and early death, and Robinson's
  poetry is much concerned with personal defeat and the tragic
  complexities of life. Robinson himself endured years of poverty and
  obscurity before his poetry began to attract notice.

  His first book, The Torrent and the Night Before, was privately
  printed at his own expense. His subsequent collections, The Children
  of the Night (1897) and The Town Down the River (1910), fared little
  better, but the publication of The Man Against the Sky (1916) brought
  him critical acclaim. In these early works his best poetic form was
  the dramatic lyric, as exemplified in the title poem of The Man
  Against the Sky, which affirms life's meaning despite its profoundly
  dark side. During these years Robinson perfected the poetic form for
  which he became so well known: a structure based firmly on stanzas,
  skillful rhyming patterns, and a precise and natural diction, combined
  with a dramatic examination of the human condition. Among the best
  poems of this period are "Richard Cory," "Miniver Cheevy," "For a Dead
  Lady," "Flammonde," and "Eros Turannos." Robinson broke with the
  tradition of late Romanticism and introduced the preoccupations and
  plain style of naturalism into American poetry. His work attracted the
  attention of President Theodore Roosevelt, who gave him a sinecure at
  the U.S. Customs House in New York (held from 1905 to 1909).

  In the second phase of his career, Robinson wrote longer narrative poems
  that share the concern of his dramatic lyrics with psychological
  portraiture. Merlin (1917), the first of three long blank-verse narrative
  poems based on the King Arthur legends, was followed by Lancelot (1920)
  and Tristram (1927). Robinson's Collected Poems appeared in 1921. The Man
  Who Died Twice (1924) and Amaranth (1934) are perhaps the most often
  acclaimed of his later narrative poems, though in general these works
  suffer in comparison to the early dramatic lyrics. Robinson's later short
  poems include "Mr. Flood's Party," "Many Are Called," and "The Sheaves."

                -- EB

Let It Go -- William Empson

(Poem #233) Let It Go
It is this deep blankness is the real thing strange.
    The more things happen to you the more you can't
        Tell or remember even what they were.

The contradictions cover such a range.
    The talk would talk and go so far aslant.
        You don't want madhouse and the whole thing there.
-- William Empson
After a dazzling start [1], Empson's poetic career seemed to slow down in his
later years, as he concentrated on literary analysis [2]. Let It Go should
perhaps be interpreted in this light, as a sort of apology for not writing more
poetry. Beyond that, it's fairly self-explanatory (in marked contrast to much of
Empson's work), so I won't spend any more time boring you :-)


[1] He was celebrated for his writing while still an undergraduate at Cambridge
(where he read Mathematics).
[2] In which field he earned a reputation as perhaps the most important critic
of the twentieth century; his only real challenger to the title is the young T.
S. Eliot. Empson's book Seven Types Of Ambiguity is probably the single most
influential work of criticism since, oh, I don't know, Bradley's Shakespearean
Tragedy (at the very least).


Empson's villanelle Missing Dates can be read at poem #202
The commentary at this site includes an analysis of Empson's poetic style,
his philosophy and influence on other poets. Worth a dekko.

Insensibility -- Wilfred Owen

(Poem #232) Insensibility

Happy are men who yet before they are killed
Can let their veins run cold.
Whom no compassion fleers
Or makes their feet
Sore on the alleys cobbled with their brothers.
The front line withers,
But they are troops who fade, not flowers
For poets' tearful fooling:
Men, gaps for filling
Losses who might have fought
Longer; but no one bothers.


And some cease feeling
Even themselves or for themselves.
Dullness best solves
The tease and doubt of shelling,
And Chance's strange arithmetic
Comes simpler than the reckoning of their shilling.
They keep no check on Armies' decimation.


Happy are these who lose imagination:
They have enough to carry with ammunition.
Their spirit drags no pack.
Their old wounds save with cold can not more ache.
Having seen all things red,
Their eyes are rid
Of the hurt of the colour of blood for ever.
And terror's first constriction over,
Their hearts remain small drawn.
Their senses in some scorching cautery of battle
Now long since ironed,
Can laugh among the dying, unconcerned.


Happy the soldier home, with not a notion
How somewhere, every dawn, some men attack,
And many sighs are drained.
Happy the lad whose mind was never trained:
His days are worth forgetting more than not.
He sings along the march
Which we march taciturn, because of dusk,
The long, forlorn, relentless trend
From larger day to huger night.


We wise, who with a thought besmirch
Blood over all our soul,
How should we see our task
But through his blunt and lashless eyes?
Alive, he is not vital overmuch;
Dying, not mortal overmuch;
Nor sad, nor proud,
Nor curious at all.
He cannot tell
Old men's placidity from his.


But cursed are dullards whom no cannon stuns,
That they should be as stones.
Wretched are they, and mean
With paucity that never was simplicity.
By choice they made themselves immune
To pity and whatever mourns in man
Before the last sea and the hapless stars;
Whatever mourns when many leave these shores;
Whatever shares
The eternal reciprocity of tears.
-- Wilfred Owen

The Longman Book of Poetry, 1900-1975, has this to say about today's poem:

"This is Owen's greatest poem and one of the great poems of the cntury. The
argument is complex and ambivalent. It seems to distinguish between the
necessary insensitivity of men who have to survive in conditions so appalling
that they might go mad, and the unawakened insensibility of people who have
never been confronted with the hard facts of what war is really like. Owen
recognises and gives full value to the toughness and self-control of the soldier
who has lived through the horror and found some means of withstanding its full
impact on the senses. At the same time he sees the pity of this. Nevertheless,
he knows that he as a naturally over-sensitive man can only do his job properly
in the war if he too can get a grip on himself. To be able to feel compassion,
and yet not be overcome by it, seemed to Owen the great virtue in the war and by
implication the great virtue in human affairs. Like Keats, who wanted to be a
surgeon, Owen honoured and admired the infantry officer who had the insight to
feel and at the same time the will-power to control his feelings in the interest
of his men...

... part of the poem's power comes from its amazing simplicity and abstraction.
We seem to be reading not about the problems of English soldiers on the Western
Front in 1917 but about the problems of the damned in hell."

    -- George MacBeth


Siegfried Sassoon's introduction to Owen's Poems can be found at

There's a brief bio and some analysis of Owen's poetry as a whole at poem #132

Requiem (excerpt) -- Anna Akhmatova

Guest poem sent in by Vikram Doctor
(Poem #231) Requiem (excerpt)
In the fearful years of the Yezhov terror I spent seventeen months in prison
queues in Leningrad. One day somebody 'identified' me. Beside me, in the
queue, there was a woman with blue lips. She had, of course, never heard of
me; but she suddenly came out of that trance so common to us all and
whispered in my ear (everybody spoke in whispers there): "Can you describe
this?" And I said: "Yes, I can." And then something like the shadow of a
smile crossed what had once been her face.

1 April, 1957, Leningrad



  Again the hands of the clock are nearing
  The unforgettable hour. I see, hear, touch

  All of you: the cripple they had to support
  Painfully to the end of the line; the moribund;

  And the girl who would shake her beautiful head and
  Say: "I come here as if it were home."

  I should like to call you all by name,
  But they have lost the lists....

  I have woven for them a great shroud
  Out of the poor words I overheard them speak.

  I remember them always and everywhere,
  And if they shut my tormented mouth,

  Through which a hundred million of my people cry,
  Let them remember me also....

  And if in this country they should want
  To build me a monument

  I consent to that honour,
  But only on condition that they

  Erect it not on the sea-shore where I was born:
  My last links there were broken long ago,

  Nor by the stump in the Royal Gardens,
  Where an inconsolable young shade is seeking me,

  But here, where I stood for three hundred hours
  And where they never, never opened the doors for me

  Lest in blessed death I should forget
  The grinding scream of the Black Marias,

  The hideous clanging gate, the old
  Woman wailing like a wounded beast.

  And may the melting snow drop like tears
  From my motionless bronze eyelids,

  And the prison pigeons coo above me
  And the ships sail slowly down the Neva
-- Anna Akhmatova
This is an unbearably moving moving poem. It comes at the end of Akhmatova's
great Requiem sequence, which she wrote during the oppression of rhe Stalin
years. During those years she was harassed a great deal, and her son was
taken away by the police. It was for him that she stood in the lines outside
the prison gates. But any comments are irrelevant with such a poem.

Don't have exact biographical details about Akhmatova with me at the moment.
Is there anything on the Net?

[Yes - from [broken link]

  Anna Akhmatova

  Anna Akhmatova, who changed her name from Anna Gorenko at the
  age of seventeen, was born into a noble family in Odessa, Ukraine, in
  1889. She attended law school in Kiev and married Nikolai Gumilev, a
  poet and critic, in 1910. Her second book, Rosary, published in 1914,
  was acclaimed and established her reputation. With her husband, she
  became a leader of Acmeism, a movement which praised the virtues of
  lucid, carefully-crafted verse and reacted against the vagueness of
  the symbolist style which dominated the Russian literary scene of the

  Nikolai Gumilev was executed in 1921 by the Bolsheviks, and, though
  Akhmatova and he were divorced, she was still associated with him. As a
  result, after her book Anno Domini was published in 1922, she had great
  difficulty in finding publishers for her work, and at one point went
  seventeen years without a publisher. Changes in the political climate
  finally allowed her acceptance into the Writer's Union, but following the
  Second World War, she was thrown out of the Union and her son was
  arrested. She began writing and publishing again in 1958, and eventually
  her membership to the Union was reinstated.

  Though Akhmatova was frequently confronted with official goverment
  opposition to her work during her lifetime, she was deeply loved and
  lauded by the Russian people, in part because she did not abandon her
  country during difficult political times. Her most accomplished works,
  Requiem (which was not published in its entirety in Russia until 1987) and
  Poem Without a Hero, are reactions to the horror of the Stalinist Terror,
  during which time she endured artistic repression as well as tremendous
  personal loss. She was awarded an honorary degree from Oxford University
  in 1965 and died in Leningrad, where she had spent most of life, in 1966.

The site also has a picture of her. -- m.]

pity the poor spiders -- Don Marquis

We've not had one of these in a while...
(Poem #230) pity the poor spiders
  i have just been reading
  an advertisement of a certain
  roach exterminator
  the human race little knows
  all the sadness it
  causes in the insect world
  i remember some weeks ago
  meeting a middle aged spider
  she was weeping
  what is the trouble i asked
  her it is these cursed
  fly swatters she replied
  they kill of all the flies
  and my family and i are starving
  to death it struck me as
  so pathetic that i made
  a little song about it
  as follows to wit

  twas an elderly mother spider
  grown gaunt and fierce and gray
  with her little ones crouched beside her
  who wept as she sang this lay

  curses on these here swatters
  what kills off all the flies
  for me and my little daughters
  unless we eats we dies

  swattin and swattin and swattin
  tis little else you hear
  and we ll soon be dead and forgotten
  with the cost of living so dear

  my husband he up and left me
  lured off by a centipede
  and he says as he bereft me
  tis wrong but i ll get a feed

  and me a working and working
  scouring the streets for food
  faithful and never shirking
  doing the best i could

  curses on these here swatters
  what kills off all the flies
  me and my poor little daughters
  unless we eats we dies

  only a withered spider
  feeble and worn and old
  and this is what
  you do when you swat
  you swatters cruel and cold

  i will admit that some
  of the insects do not lead
  noble lives but is every
  man s hand to be against them
  yours for less justice
  and more charity

-- Don Marquis
  with a charming accompanying illustration at
  [broken link]

Marquis is a poet of whom I never tire - his Archy and Mehitabel poems, in
particular, are some of the most delightful pieces of poetry I have
encountered. As usual, I recommend going through the previous Archy poems in
the archive first, or at least the first one, for context.

Today's poem adds an extra twist - Archy is moved to break into song, with
results that are nothing short of hilarious. I laughed out loud several
times at the sheer audacity of the verse, and the deadly accuracy with which
he pinpoints the tone of voice.

The other striking thing about the poem is how smoothly and naturally
Marquis has introduced a second 'voice' for Archy; we, the readers, have no
problem believing that the (fictional) author of the song and the monologues
are one and the same, and that it is Archy writing in the voice of the
spider rather than Marquis doing so. And Marquis not only carries it off, he
does so with consummate ease.



Go the the archive at <[broken link];s> and sort on
Poet name; there have been several of Marquis' poems run in the past.

In particular, see poem #36 for background info and context.

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow -- William Shakespeare

(Poem #229) To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
-- William Shakespeare
From Macbeth, Act V, Scene v.

Passages like this have led many critics to conclude that Shakespeare was a
profound pessimist. I tend to disagree; why is it that these critics never cite
his more lyrical passages as evidence of a gay and cheerful optimism? Nay; I
think that the truth of the matter is this: Shakespeare's genius was such that
he could plumb the depths and soar the heights of human character with equal
ease; his plays are the most exquisite craftsmanship imaginable.

(Needless to say,  I do not subscribe to the view that Shakespeare's works
necessarily mirrored events in his own life, no matter what the perpetrators of
a recent Oscar-winning movie would have you believe :-)).

Notice the many phrases from the above short speech which have passed into
common speech - 'all our yesterdays', 'the way to dusty death', the 'brief
candle' of life, a 'tale told by an idiot', 'full of sound and fury'... as I've
mentioned many times before, Shakespeare was the greatest of them all when it
came to enriching the language (for more on this theme, read my comments to
Faust's great speech 'Was this the face that launched a thousand ships',
Minstrels poem #75, at poem #75 )


These words are spoken by Macbeth on hearing of the death of Lady Macbeth. For
all her flaws, he loved her deeply, and his immediate response is one of abject
despair - once the most honoured of Duncan's generals, he is now a man despised
and reviled, under siege in a rotting castle, his servants craven and fearful,
his once-proud wife driven to madness and death by her own guilt. No wonder
Macbeth sounds so sick of it all; he says a few lines later:
    "I [be]gin to be aweary of the sun
    And wish the estate o' the world were now undone."
It's a measure of the man's courage, though, that he doesn't stop there; he
    "Ring the alarum-bell! Blow, wind! come, wrack!
    At least we'll die with harness on our back."
Defiant till the end, and proud in defeat.

[Previous Poems]

It's no surprise that we've run quite a bit of Shakespeare in the past; it's
only to be expected of the greatest poet the English language has ever known
[1]. We've covered bits of The Tempest (Poem #16 and Poem #126), Julius Caesar
(Poem #48), King Lear (Poem #200) and of course several sonnets (Poem #44,
Poem #71 and Poem #219). You can read all these (and much more) at the
Minstrels website:


[1] Yes, I _like_ Shakespeare. However did you guess? :-)