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Chapter Heading -- Ernest Hemingway

Happy new year!
(Poem #976) Chapter Heading
 For we have thought the longer thoughts
     And gone the shorter way.
 And we have danced to devil's tunes
     Shivering home to pray;
 To serve one master in the night,
     Another in the day.
-- Ernest Hemingway
Note: The allusion is to Longfellow's "My Lost Youth":

   A boy's will is the wind's will,
   And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.

Today's poem exemplifies admirably Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's statement that
"Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but rather
when there is nothing more to take away." 'Chapter Heading' is a startlingly
powerful look at the eternal conflict between the spirit and the flesh, and
man's complex relationship with God.

Part of the poem's power lies, I think, in its very sparseness - a line like
"shivering home to pray" says more in four words than many a more extended
passage might have done, and does so with far greater an impact.
Furthermore, the imagery is visceral rather than 'rational', using words like
"danced" and "shivering" to emphasise sensation over thought, evoking the
ancient fear of darkness with its reference to night and day - and,
thereby, limning the tangled framework of primitive emotions that underlies
and motivates the most rational of religions.


  A biography of Hemingway:

  The Hemingway Foundation:


Those Winter Sundays -- Robert Hayden

Guest poem sent in by Aamir Ansari
(Poem #975) Those Winter Sundays
 Sundays too my father got up early
 And put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
 then with cracked hands that ached
 from labor in the weekday weather made
 banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

 I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
 When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
 and slowly I would rise and dress,
 fearing the chronic angers of that house,

 Speaking indifferently to him,
 who had driven out the cold
 and polished my good shoes as well.
 What did I know, what did I know
 of love's austere and lonely offices?
-- Robert Hayden
I came across this poem in an anthology I'd bought at a flea market. I was
touched by its heartfelt admission of the deep regret that follows youth as
insight develops with the passage of time. The insistent reproach ("What did
I know, what did I know/ of love's austere and lonely offices) makes it
particularly heart-breaking. A haunting poem, not easily forgotten.



  Biography of Hayden: [broken link]

Donal Og -- Anonymous

Guest poem send in by David
(Poem #974) Donal Og
 It is late last night the dog was speaking of you;
 the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh.
 It is you are the lonely bird through the woods;
 and that you may be without a mate until you find me.

 You promised me, and you said a lie to me,
 that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;
 I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,
 and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.

 You promised me a thing that was hard for you,
 a ship of gold under a silver mast;
 twelve towns with a market in all of them,
 and a fine white court by the side of the sea.

 You promised me a thing that is not possible,
 that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;
 that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird;
 and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.

 When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness,
 I sit down and I go through my trouble;
 when I see the world and do not see my boy,
 he that has an amber shade in his hair.

 It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you;
 the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday.
 And myself on my knees reading the Passion;
 and my two eyes giving love to you for ever.

 My mother said to me not to be talking with you today,
 or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;
 it was a bad time she took for telling me that;
 it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

 My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,
 or as the black coal that is on the smith's forge;
 or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;
 it was you that put that darkness over my life.

 You have taken the east from me; you have taken the west from me;
 you have taken what is before me and what is behind me;
 you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me;
 and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!
-- Anonymous
  Anonymous; 8th Century Irish ballad; translated by Lady Augusta Gregory;
  published in The School Bag, edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes, 1997.

  Donal Og: 'Young Daniel'

This poem combines a keening tone with some wonderful images and the result
builds in anxiety, moving from the physical to the metaphysical.

The poem, originally a ballad, begins with a report from the animal world:
late last night the dog was speaking of you, the snipe (a wading marsh bird)
was speaking of you; nature, both domesticated and wild, knows and tells of
the absent seducer, who is transformed into a lonely bird.  The stanza ends
with an imprecation, a spell: may you be without a mate until you find me.

This is followed by series of three stanzas, all of which start with a
statement followed by three lines of elaboration, eg, to paraphrase the
second stanza: you promised, and you lied, and here's what happened; third
stanza: you promised me something very hard for you to do, and here's an
elaboration of the different promises; stanza four: you promised me a thing
not possible, and here's an elaboration of the impossible things. It would
be an easy format for a balladeer to remember: opening promise/subsequent
elaboration. In the third and fourth stanzas the 'thing' in the first line
of each stanza is singular; the things promised are multiple, and
increasingly surreal, suggesting multiple encounters, each with increasingly
outlandish promises.  That animals speak, that gloves could be made of the
skin of a fish, shoes of the skin of a bird, a ship of gold -- all
effectively testify to the credulousness of the young girl betrayed.

In the following three stanzas the girl tells of her life: at the 'Well of
Loneliness' she sees the world, but not her boy (whom we know to actually
exist, from the 'has' in the following line.) I like to think of this boy as
pre-figured by the 'bleating lamb' of the second stanza.  The next stanza
places the seduction as occurring on Palm Sunday, 'the last before Easter
Sunday'.  The introduction of Easter complicates the poem somewhat,
introducing not just the notion of resurrection, but in the third line,
forcing us to ask what the 'myself' opens up: is she to be like Christ, on
his knees suffering; that would affect how we understand the 'you' of the
fourth line: no longer just the absent lover, but now God?

And of course, good advice comes to late, as mother's words (in stanza 7)
are like 'shutting the door after the house was robbed.'  Stanza 8
interrupts the previous three narrative stanzas for an emotional description
focussing on the blackness in her heart (and in a homophonic playing on
'sole'/soul, keeping the move to the metaphysical alive).

The poem concludes with four wonderfully balanced lines: you have taken all,
is the sense, now on a stage that is timeless and universal. Here the move
from the particular -- the many 'me/I/myself's' and 'you's' of the poem --
to something more eternal is completed.  The last line echoes the last of
the first stanza,  each beginning with 'and', each ending with the similar
'find me'/'from me', and most importantly, each conveying the dialectic of
presence and absence (of the lover, of the boy, of God) that equals fear of


Reveille -- A E Housman

(Poem #973) Reveille
 Wake: the silver dusk returning
     Up the beach of darkness brims,
 And the ship of sunrise burning
     Strands upon the eastern rims.

 Wake: the vaulted shadow shatters,
     Trampled to the floor it spanned,
 And the tent of night in tatters
     Straws the sky-pavilioned land.

 Up, lad, up, 'tis late for lying:
     Hear the drums of morning play;
 Hark, the empty highways crying
     "Who'll beyond the hills away?"

 Towns and countries woo together,
     Forelands beacon, belfries call;
 Never lad that trod on leather
     Lived to feast his heart with all.

 Up, lad: thews that lie and cumber
     Sunlit pallets never thrive;
 Morns abed and daylight slumber
     Were not meant for man alive.

 Clay lies still, but blood's a rover;
     Breath's a ware that will not keep.
 Up, lad: when the journey's over
     There'll be time enough to sleep.
-- A E Housman
Note: Reveille: A morning signal given to soldiers, usually by beat of drum
      or by bugle, to waken them and notify that it is time to rise.

 The usual military pronunciation is; in the U.S. service reveli --OED

Today's poem is one of those wonderful blendings of sound and sense that,
above all else, exemplify the sheer pleasure of poetry. Like the reveille
itself, the lines are stirring, thrilling through the listener's[1] veins
with their call to action and their images of the "empty highways crying".

[1] not 'reader', for this is surely a poem to be read aloud

Which brings me to the other thing I like about the poem - its wonderful
"open road" imagery.

   Towns and countries woo together,
   Forelands beacon, belfries call;
   Never lad that trod on leather
   Lived to feast his heart with all.

captures the spirit of wanderlust as well as anything Masefield or Stevenson
wrote. Again, although there is no explicit military imagery in the poem,
the title (and the odd phrase) give it a definite martial undertone, so that
even in isolation it seems to bespeak the thrill and excitement of
soldiering. And, of course, viewed in the larger context of "A Shropshire
Lad" the impression crystallises and is made explicit, but it is nice to see
how well the subtext comes through unaided.

Another nice touch is the deliberately 'poetic' imagery in the first two
verses giving way to the more 'prosaic' - or, at any rate, less
metaphorical - language of the later verses. The first verse, in particular,
is very reminiscent of Fitzgerald's

  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.

a resemblance that is very likely intended.


  To fully appreciate "A Shropshire Lad", it really needs to be read in
  its entirety: [broken link]

  Housman poems on Minstrels:
    Poem #33, "White in the Moon the Long Road Lies" [ASL XXXVI]
    Poem #86, "When I Was One-and-Twenty" [ASL XIII]
    Poem #377, "Loveliest of trees, the cherry now" [ASL II]
    Poem #439, "Look not in my eyes, for fear" [ASL XV]
    Poem #588, "Terence, this is stupid stuff" [ASL LXII]
    Poem #539, "Yonder see the morning blink" [Last Poems XI]
    Poem #703, "On Wenlock Edge The Wood's In Trouble" [ASL XXXI]

    Poem #33

  A nice Housman page:


The Beginning -- Rupert Brooke

(Poem #972) The Beginning
 Some day I shall rise and leave my friends
 And seek you again through the world's far ends,
 You whom I found so fair
 (Touch of your hands and smell of your hair!),
 My only god in the days that were.
 My eager feet shall find you again,
 Though the sullen years and the mark of pain
 Have changed you wholly; for I shall know
 (How could I forget having loved you so?),
 In the sad half-light of evening,
 The face that was all my sunrising.
 So then at the ends of the earth I'll stand
 And hold you fiercely by either hand,
 And seeing your age and ashen hair
 I'll curse the thing that once you were,
 Because it is changed and pale and old
 (Lips that were scarlet, hair that was gold!),
 And I loved you before you were old and wise,
 When the flame of youth was strong in your eyes,
 - And my heart is sick with memories.
-- Rupert Brooke
Like Shakespeare, Brooke dwelt in endless detail on love, time and their
interrelationships, though his stance was often diametrically opposed to the
former's -

    And seeing your age and ashen hair
    I'll curse the thing that once you were,
    Because it is changed and pale and old

is a far cry from "Suns of the world may stain when heaven's sun staineth".

However, to dismiss today's poem as a disappointed turning-away from an old
and no-longer-attractive love[1] is to oversimplify it. "The Beginning" is
far more complex than that, capturing the conflict of the poet's emotions as
life clashes against memory to the latter's detriment. There is also the
distinct impression that the poet wishes he didn't feel the way he did, as
opposed to merely wishing that his beloved were young and fair forever,
which makes me appreciate the poem a lot more than I do some of Brooke's

[1] which is not an entirely unfair judgement - several of Brooke's poems
*do* reduce to that sentiment

Today's poem is also interesting in its use of tenses, ranging through both
past and future, from "you whom I found so fair" to "I'll curse the thing
that once you were". This adds to its richness - the poet is not simply
lamenting the vanished "flame of youth", he is *anticipating* lamenting it,
knowing both that he is doomed to search for his lost love, and that his
search shall end in pain. And finally, he drops into present tense to wrap
the poem up - but his heartsickness is caused by an imagined future, not a
remembered past.

The verse fits the contents well - just flowing enough to carry along the
sense of reverie, just broken enough to reveal the pain and passion with
which that reverie is fraught. The parenthetical lines and the short third
line are used to good effect to punctuate and structure the poem's shifting
tenses, as are the explicit temporal references with which the poem is
laced. This is not, perhaps, as pleasing or as powerful a poem as some of
Brooke's, but it has a definite beauty to it.




Brooke poems on Minstrels:
  Poem #514 "The Chilterns"
  Poem #280 "The Soldier"
  Poem #589 "Sonnet Reversed"
  Poem #847 "On the Death of Smet-Smet, the Hippopotamus-Goddess"

And the referenced Shakespeare poem:
  Poem #219 "Full many a glorious morning have I seen"

Raglan Road -- Patrick Kavanagh

Guest poem sent in by aravind
(Poem #971) Raglan Road
On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue;
I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way,
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.

On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge
Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion's pledge,
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay -
O I loved too much and by such and such is happiness thrown away.

I gave her gifts of the mind I gave her the secret sign that's known
To the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone
And word and tint. I did not stint for I gave her poems to say.
With her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May

On a quiet street where old ghosts meet I see her walking now
Away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow
That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay -
When the angel woos the clay he'd lose his wings at the dawn of day.
-- Patrick Kavanagh
I first came across this poem while I was looking up the lyrics for some Mark
Knopfler songs... yeah, he has put this poem to music, and it is one of my
favorites. I have just one word to describe it... haunting... anyways, I was
surprised to find that it wasn't an original Knopfler song, but a poem by
some guy called Kavanagh... I loved the lyrics, so I decided to dig deeper
into his works... I'm not much of a critic, so I'm not going to try to be
one... I just love the poem, and I love the song even more... and I was
surprised to find that Kavanagh didn't have a single entry in the minstrels
list, so I decided to send this poem to the group. I'm also including some
links for more information on the poet.

About the poet:

  Patrick Kavanagh was born at Mucker, Inniskeen, Co. Monaghan in 1904,
  where his father was a small farmer and cobbler.

  He left school at thirteen to plough 'The Stoney Grey Soil of
  Monaghan' and also sit alongside his father at the cobbler's bench.
  Thought a fool by the villagers for his belief that he would become a
  great poet, and scorned by the local farming community as a bad
  farmer, Kavanagh left to pursue his poetical leanings in Dublin.
  Befriended by A. E. (George Russell), he soon began to establish a
  reputation for himself around Dublin's literary pubs, not only for
  his writing abilities, but also for his conceit, his rudeness, his
  colourful language, his caustic tongue and his drinking habits.
  The breakthrough he had hoped for came in 1936 with the publication
  in London of the autobiographical 'Tarry Flynn'.

  Patrick Kavanagh died in Dublin on 30th November 1967, bringing to a
  close the life of one of Ireland's most controversial and colourful
  literary figures. It is somehow ironic that while his lifestyle and poetry
  are virtually the alter image of Yeats, both men are today widely regarded
  at the most influential of Ireland's twentieth century poets.

  [broken link]

~Aravind V

The Kerry Christmas Carol -- Sigerson Clifford

Christmas Day guest poem sent in by "Frank O'Shea"
(Poem #970) The Kerry Christmas Carol
 Brush the floor and clean the hearth,
 And set the fire to keep,
 For they might visit us tonight
 When all the world's asleep.

 Don't blow the tall white candle out
 But leave it burning bright,
 So that they'll know they're welcome here
 This holy Christmas night.

 Leave out the bread and meat for them,
 And sweet milk for the Child,
 And they will bless the fire, that baked
 And, too, the hands that toiled.

 For Joseph will be travel-tired,
 And Mary pale and wan,
 And they can sleep a little while
 Before they journey on.

 They will be weary of the roads,
 And rest will comfort them,
 For it must be many a lonely mile
 From here to Bethlehem.

 O long the road they have to go,
 The bad mile with the good,
 Till the journey ends on Calvary
 Beneath a cross of wood.

 Leave the door upon the latch,
 And set the fire to keep,
 And pray they'll rest with us tonight
 When all the world's asleep.
-- Sigerson Clifford
Sigerson Clifford (1913 - 1984)

Grew up in Cahirciveen on the Ring of Kerry and attended the Christian
Brothers school in that town. Worked most of his life in Dublin, the first
generation of Irish civil servants after independence.

He wrote a number of plays, some of which were produced in the Abbey
Theatre and was also prominent in the early days of Irish radio.

His verse is a mixture of the wistful and the gay, recreating a time of
childhood innocence and celebrating his native Kerry. He writes often about
the tinkers, the travelling people who in his young days were an accepted
and usually welcomed feature of rural life. Now it has become politically
correct to call them travellers and people fight to keep them out of their
neighbourhood. His book of verse Ballads of a Bogman from which today's
poem is taken, was first released in 1955 and has been in print since.

The poem is an evocation of an old Irish custom in which each household
would leave a lighted candle in their window on Christmas night. There was
a pious belief that Joseph and Mary and the Child still wandered the roads
of the world, looking for a place to rest from the persecution of Herod.
That they should show a preference for the roads of rural Ireland was
accepted as a given.

Frank O'Shea

Long Distance II -- Tony Harrison

Guest poem sent in by Salima Virani
(Poem #969) Long Distance II
 Though my mother was already two years dead
 Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
 put hot water bottles her side of the bed
 and still went to renew her transport pass.

 You couldn't just drop in.  You had to phone.
 He'd put you off an hour to give him time
 to clear away her things and look alone
 as though his still raw love were such a crime.

 He couldn't risk my blight of disbelief
 though sure that very soon he'd hear her key
 scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
 He knew she'd just popped out to get the tea.

 I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
 You haven't both gone shopping; just the same,
 in my new black leather phone book there's your name
 and the disconnected number I still call.
-- Tony Harrison
This one is a heart wrencher.  I love the way the poem starts off by
letting the reader think it is about the father..a man who has lost his
love, his wife, but still cannot come to terms with it.  Your heart goes
out to this man who, at first instance, seems to be in a state of
denial..and yet its not quite so..cause 'he clears away her things to
look alone' . So its not about him not being aware that she is dead and
gone..but it is about his resolve to still keep her alive and doing all
the little mundane things for her that he must have been doing for the
many years that were married.  You can almost see not just their living
room and the fire but the pattern of their entire married life from this
one little snapshot.  She's gone ..and yet he harbours this hope..even
conviction that 'very soon he'd hear her key scrape in the rusted lock'.

Just when you think you know what the writer is trying to tell you, just
when you think you can empathise with him, his love for his father..and
his torment at watching his father every day as he goes about his
life..doing everyday things for a wife that is long gone..just then..
the poem jolts you.  The last verse tells you ..the poem was never about
the father at all.  The father is dead and gone too..  It's about the
writer and his own struggle to accept the finality of his parents' death
and his own refusal to see them as disconnected from his life.



Tony Harrison was born in Leeds, England, in 1937. He is the author of
more than fifteen books of poetry, including most recently Permanently
Bard: Selected Poetry (Bloodaxe Books, 1996) and V. and Other Poems
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990). He is also a noted translator,
dramatist, and librettist whose works have been performed by Britain's
National Theatre and the New York Metropolitan Opera. His honors include
a Unesco fellowship, the Faber Memorial Award, a U.S. Bicentennial
fellowship, and the European Poetry Translation Prize. He was made a
fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1984. He lives in
Newcastle-upon-Tyne and New York.

Grackles, Goodbye -- Robert Penn Warren

Guest poem submitted by Matt Chanoff:
(Poem #968) Grackles, Goodbye
 Black of grackles glints purple as, wheeling in sun-glare,
 The flock splays away to pepper the blueness of distance.
 Soon they are lost in the tracklessness of air.
 I watch them go. I stand in my trance.

 Another year gone. In trance of realization,
 I remember once seeing a first fall leaf, flame-red, release
 Bough-grip, and seek, through gold light of the season's sun,
 Black gloss of a mountain pool, and there drift in peace.

 Another year gone. And once my mother's hand
 Held mine while I kicked the piled yellow leaves on the lawn
 And laughed, not knowing some yellow-leaf season I'd stand
 And see the hole filled. How they spread their obscene fake lawn.

 Who needs the undertaker's sick lie
 Flung thus in the teeth of Time, and the earth's spin and tilt?
 What kind of fool would promote that kind of lie?
 Even sunrise and sunset convict the half-wit of guilt.

 Grackles, goodbye! The sky will be vacant and lonely
 Till again I hear your horde's rusty creak high above,
 Confirming the year's turn and the fact that only, only,
 In the name of Death do we learn the true name of Love.
-- Robert Penn Warren
Here's [another] piece about crows [1]. It's considerably more verbose, but
achieves a kind of Haiku-ish compression and regard for nature in the first
two stanzas. Warren looses it in stanza four, as far as I'm concerned, but
regains coherence by the end.


[1] The first one was a haiku by Basho, Poem #802 on the Minstrels.


Robert Penn Warren was born in Guthrie, Todd County, Kentucky, on April 24,
1905. He was the oldest of three children; others being Mary, the middle
child,  and Thomas, the youngest. His parents were Robert Franklin Warren, a
proprietor and banker, and Anna Ruth Penn Warren, a schoolteacher. In the
fall of 1911 he entered the Guthrie School from which he graduated at age
15. He did not then enter college as his mother felt he was too young and
went instead, in September, 1920, to Clarksville High School, Clarksville,
Montgomery County, Tennessee, graduating after the full school year. In the
spring of 1921 he suffered an injury to his left eye from a rock throwing
incident perpetrated by his younger brother. The injury eventually led to
removal of the eye. During the summer of 1921, he spent six weeks in
Citizens Military Training Corp, Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he published his
first poem, "Prophecy", in The Messkit. He earlier had obtained an
appointment to the United States Naval Academy but because of the eye the
appointment was can he entered Vanderbilt
University at age 16.

While at Vanderbilt he came under the tutelage of some of the foremost
teachers in literature such as Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom, and Andrew
Lytle.  Also he became involved with two groups; the Fugitives and the
Agrarians. In the summer of 1925 he graduated from Vanderbilt summa cum
laude, Phi Beta Kappa, and Founder's Medalist. Then, in August, he entered
the University of California as a graduate student and teaching assistant.
Here he met his first wife, Emma "Cinina" Brescia. In 1927 he received his
M.A. from University of California and, in the fall, entered Yale University
on fellowship. In October, 1928 he entered New College at Oxford as a Rhodes
Scholar receiving his B.Litt. in the spring of 1930.

He secretly married Emma Brescia in the summer of 1929, a marriage that was
to end on June 28, 1951.On December 7, 1952, he married Eleanor Clark. This
marriage produced two children, Rosanna Phelps Warren and Gabriel Penn

Warren was a poet, critic, novelist, and teacher. He taught at Vanderbilt
University, Nashville, Tennessee, Southwestern College, Memphis, Tennessee,
University of Minnesota, Yale University, and Louisiana State University.
While at LSU he founded and edited, along with Cleanth Brooks and Charles W.
Pipkin, the literary quarterly, The Southern Review. As a poet, he was
appointed the nation's first Poet Laureate, February 26, 1986. He published
sixteen volumes of poetry and two---Promises: Poems, 1954-1956 and Now and
Then: Poems, 1976-1978---won Pulitzer Prizes. Warren published ten novels.
One novel, All the King's Men, won a Pulitzer Prize. Two novels, All the
King's Men and Band of Angels were made into movies. In addition he
published a book of short stories, two selections of critical essays, a
biography, three historical essays, a study of  Melville, a critical book on
Dreiser, a study of Whittier, and two studies of race relations in America.
As of this writing, he is the only author to have won the Pulitzer for both
fiction and poetry. Other honors include the Bolingen Prize, National Medal
for Literature, and Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Warren's first published novel was Night Rider, Houghton, (1939) and was
about the tobacco war (1905-1908) between independent tobacco growers in
Kentucky and large tobacco companies. His last published novel was A Place
to Come To, Random House, (1977) which is, to a certain extent,
autobiographical. Along with Cleanth Brooks he collaborated in writing the
text books, Understanding Poetry, Holt, (1938), 4th edition, (1976) and
Understanding Fiction, Crofts, (1943), 2nd Edition, Appleton-Century-Crofts,
(1959). He was one of the leading representatives of the New Criticism and
these works helped revolutionize the teaching of literature by bringing the
New Criticism into general practice in America's college classrooms.

From the 1950's until his death September 15, 1989, from cancer, Warren
lived in Connecticut and at his summer home in Vermont. He is buried at
Stratton, Vermont, and, at his request, a memorial marker is situated in the
Warren family gravesite in Guthrie, Kentucky.


[Minstrels Links]

Sort of similar poems:
Poem #677, Villanelle  -- W. H. Auden
Poem #58, The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower  -- Dylan
Poem #138, Fern Hill  -- Dylan Thomas
Poem #225, Poem In October  -- Dylan Thomas
Poem #219, Full many a glorious morning (Sonnets XXXIII)  -- William
Poem #377, Loveliest of trees, the cherry now  -- A. E. Housman
Poem #545, The Moving Finger Writes; and, Having Writ -- Omar Khayyam
Poem #254, The North Ship  -- Philip Larkin
Poem #392, Good  -- R. S. Thomas

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod -- Eugene Field

(Poem #967) Wynken, Blynken, and Nod
       A Dutch Lullaby

 Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
         Sailed off in a wooden shoe,--

 Sailed on a river of crystal light
         Into a sea of dew.

 "Where are you going, and what do you wish?"
         The old moon asked the three.

 "We have come to fish for the herring fish
         That live in this beautiful sea;
         Nets of silver and gold have we!"
                Said Wynken,
                and Nod.

 The old moon laughed and sang a song,
         As they rocked in the wooden shoe;

 And the wind that sped them all night long
         Ruffled the waves of dew.

 The little stars were the herring fish
         That lived in the beautiful sea--

 "Now cast your nets wherever you wish,--
         Never afeared are we!"
         So cried the stars to the fishermen three,
                And Nod.

 All night long their nets they threw
         To the stars in the twinkling foam,--

 Then down from the skies came the wooden shoe,
         Bringing the fishermen home:

 'Twas all so pretty a sail, it seemed
         As if it could not be;

 And some folk thought 'twas a dream they'd dreamed
         Of sailing that beautiful sea;
         But I shall name you the fishermen three:
                And Nod.

 Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,
         And Nod is a little head,

 And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies
         Is a wee one's trundle-bed;

 So shut your eyes while Mother sings
         Of wonderful sights that be,

 And you shall see the beautiful things
         As you rock in the misty sea
         Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three:--
                And Nod.
-- Eugene Field
I was introduced to "The Children's Poet", Eugene Field at a Very Young Age,
when I got a book with beautifully illustrated copies of 'The Duel' and
'Wynken, Blynken and Nod'. Even more than the illustrations, though, it was
the words that fired my imagination - I would lie awake at night picturing a
world inhabited with Gingham Dogs, Calico Cats, and, of course, three little
fishermen sailing the skies in a trundle bed, alongside other favourites
like Stevenson's "Land of Counterpane" and boys and girls Coming Out to

Rereading the poem with an older and more critical eye, I'm happy to say
that it's lost little of its magic. The images are beautiful as ever, and if
they no longer catch my imagination with quite the immersiveness and realism
that they did in my childhood, I am better able to appreciate them for the
sheer beauty of phrases like "sailed on a river of crystal light/ into a sea
of dew" and the delightful aptness of "the little stars were the herring
fish that sailed in the twinkling sea". I can see the difference between
"Wynken, Blynken and Nod" and, as the poem had it,

     And Nod

And above all, I can appreciate Field's mastery of the (far more difficult
than it looks) art of children's poetry, and see just why he has taken his
place among the immortals of that genre.


There's an extensive collection of Field's work at

An excellent biography: [broken link]

"Boys and Girls Come Out to Play":

The Land of Counterpane:

- martin

Sit -- Vikram Seth

Guest poem submitted by Salima Virani :
(Poem #966) Sit
 Sit, drink your coffee here; your work can wait awhile.
 You're twenty-six, and still have some of life ahead.
 No need for wit; just talk vacuities, and I'll
 Reciprocate in kind, or laugh at you instead.

 The world is too opaque, distressing and profound.
 This twenty minutes' rendezvous will make my day:
 To sit here in the sun, with grackles all around,
 Staring with beady eyes, and you two feet away.
-- Vikram Seth
I love this poem by Seth.  It hit me hard when I first read it.  I realised
that so much of my communication is done electronically these days and it
has gotten so cryptic and purpose-driven over time that I'd almost forgotten
what it was like to spend an afternoon 'talking vacuities'.  I like it also
because it reminds me of my friends from college and university ... with
whom I spent many such twenty minute rendezvous ... and the nostalgia of
being back in Bombay just sweeps me away (sigh).

Some day I'll make it happen again.  A trip to Prithvi Theatre maybe, two
cups of coffee, two friends and a twenty minute rendezvous :).


[Minstrels Links]

Vikram Seth:
Poem #650, All You Who Sleep Tonight
Poem #754, Protocols
Poem #460, Round and Round

Chain Lightning -- Steely Dan

Guest poem submitted by Gerry Rowe:
(Poem #965) Chain Lightning
 Some turnout, a hundred grand
 Get with it we'll shake his hand
 Don't bother to understand
 Don't question the little man
 Be part of the brotherhood
 Yes it's chain lightning
 It feels so good

 Hush brother, we cross the square
 Act natural like you don't care
 Turn slowly and comb your hair
 Don't trouble the midnight air
 We're standing just where he stood
 It was chain lightning
 It feels so good
-- Steely Dan
A lot of Steely Dan (Donald Fagen and Walter Becker) songs are very
successful recastings of standard forms. Chain Lightning is one such. It has
a standard key note-dominant-seventh kind of chord sequence. However the
chords chosen are not the usual ones but a set of more recherche, and very
effective, other ones. This is why the tune sounds both familiar and unusual
at first listening (and ultimately very pleasing).

The same kind of care and skill goes into Steely Dan lyrics, which have been
called wry, ironic and super-clever - but never trivial. Chain Lightning
deals with territory probably never explored elsewhere in music - the
subjective feelings of participants in a political rally addressed by a
powerful orator (whether of left or right is not stated). These verses
convey the paradox that the words and ideas of demagogues (and this comment
may apply to any politician) may not stand up to close inspection but may
still make listeners feel very good.

For those that like it the music of Steely Dan creates a very agreeable, and
enduring, sensation of being expertly and assiduously entertained. It makes
you feel good (and is worth more than any amount of political oratory!). In
my case my attention only turns later to the lyrics which always turn out to
be full of added value, to say the least. So it is with Chain Lightning. If
you can, listen to it, on 'Katy Lied', to get the full experience.

It's an interesting question as to who exactly the narrator is. The
author/auteur directing his characters through a short film-scene? An
initiate mentally rehearsing advice to a neophyte?  A Travis Bickle talking
to himself in quiet ecstasy? This open vagueness goes well with the the
theme of a dubious political excitement that is the more chilling for being
savoured rather than outwardly acclaimed.


How Doth the Little Crocodile -- Lewis Carroll

Guest poem sent in by Rajarshi Bandyopadhyay
(Poem #964) How Doth the Little Crocodile
 How doth the little crocodile
     Improve his shining tail,
 And pour the waters of the Nile
     On every golden scale!
 How cheerfully he seems to grin,
     How neatly spreads his claws,
 And welcomes little fishes in,
     With gently smiling jaws!
-- Lewis Carroll
Yesterday's 8-line Kipling poem ["The Idiot Boy" -m.] somehow reminded me
(maybe coz of the similar rhythm) of another famous 8-liner, also a parody
of something I don't quite remember. But then, when a parody is more
familiar than the original...says something about the parodist, doesn't it?

"How Doth the Little Crocodile" had the same effect on me as the Kipling does not make me roll over in laughter...but just smile happily
for a long time appreciating the impact of the imagery.


[Martin adds]

Carroll was parodying Isaac Watts' "Against Idleness and Mischief", a rather
tedious and moralistic poem (and a prime example of what I call "Good Advice
for the Younger Generation") that well deserved it. As Raj said, when a
parody is more famous than the original it certainly does say something
about the parodist; in this case we can safely conclude that it says
something about the original too.


  [broken link] has a
  side-by-side printing of Carroll's parody and Watts' original

  Kipling's "Idiot Boy": Poem #962

  Some links on Carroll as parodist : Poem #935

Concerto for Double Bass -- John Fuller

(Poem #963) Concerto for Double Bass
 He is a drunk leaning companionably
 Around a lamp post or doing up
 With intermittent concentration
 Another drunk's coat.

 He is a polite but devoted Valentino,
 Cheek to cheek, forgetting the next step.
 He is feeling the pulse of the fat lady
 Or cutting her in half.

 But close your eyes and it is sunset
 At the edge of the world. It is the language
 Of dolphins, the growth of tree-roots,
 The heart-beat slowing down.
-- John Fuller
Pity the poor music critic - his is a hard lot indeed. The inimitable Frank
Zappa put it best: "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture";
the task, though not insuperable, requires a sure hand and a delicate touch.
And a good ear, not just for the music being described, but also for the
language used to describe it. Too much detail [1], and the audience miss the
symphony for the staves; too little [2], and they're left groping for solidity
in a mist of vague verbiage.

Which is why I'm not a fan of the excessively literal approach to music
criticism; I find it tedious and uninspiring at best, actively off-putting
at worst. In seeking to reduce music to its descriptive essence, this
approach lessens its emotional impact.

What's called for is something altogether more subtle and elusive. An
approach which eschews direct expression for suggestion and hint; an
approach which replaces acres of detail with a few carefully chosen phrases.
An approach which seeks to reproduce the experience, not just depict it. The
approach, in short, of poetry.

John Fuller uses precisely this approach in today's poem. The first two
stanzas are spent on the physical aspect of the performance. But instead of
painstaking (and boring) detail, the poet uses metaphor: the double bass is
a dancer, and the musician is a suitor whispering into her ear. Or the
double bass is a fat lady [3], and the musician, running his bow athwart its
strings, is a magician cutting her in half. Or the musician and the
instrument are two drunks, the former's wandering fingers buttoning up the
latter's long coat.

The third stanza is where the poet really comes into his own. The music
itself is not described, either structurally [1] or interpretatively [2].
Instead, Fuller dives straight into the heart of the musical _experience_,
with words that evoke the same reaction as the notes themselves:
  "But close your eyes and it is sunset
   At the edge of the world. It is the language
   Of dolphins, the growth of tree-roots,
   The heart-beat slowing down."
This is where the poetic approach scores over the descriptive one, and this
is the high point of the poem. You can almost hear the throb of the bass,
the deep resonances, the long silences, the power and the stillness.


[1] "Delicate glissandi on the strings make way for a single, clear high F
on the piccolo, a note which heralds the entry of the woodwinds in a complex
fugal setting. These in turn are swept away by a strong, almost chromatic
brass line which is augmented by the occasional incursions of tympani and

[2] "A hushed prelude sets the stage for a driving, swirling mid-section,
leading into a climax which is all emotion, a maelstrom of triumphant

[3] "It ain't over till the fat lady sings" - hence the comparison, I


Born in Ashford, Kent, the son of the poet Roy Fuller and Kathleen Fuller.
He was educated at St Paul's School and New College, Oxford. He lectured in
New York and at Manchester and became a fellow of Magdalen College Oxford in
1966. His first publication Fairground Music demonstrates an early mastery
of the different forms of conventional verse and an ability to write
descriptively with wit and sophistication. His subjects are wide-ranging.
His skill is also apparent in the next volume, The Tree that Walked. One of
his best known poems is The Most Difficult Position, a wonderful pastiche
that describes a famous battle of chess between two 19th century masters.
All his poems are technically sophisticated.
        -- [broken link]

The Idiot Boy -- Rudyard Kipling

(Poem #962) The Idiot Boy
 He wandered down the moutain grade
   Beyond the speed assigned--
 A youth whom Justice often stayed
   And generally fined.

 He went alone, that none might know
   If he could drive or steer.
 Now he is in the ditch, and Oh!
   The differential gear!
-- Rudyard Kipling
   (from 'The Muse Among the Motors')

Note: A parody of Wordsworth's "She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways"

Kipling was, as I have mentioned before, an endlessly versatile poet - a
fact that today's playful parody amply reveals. Like many humorous poems,
"The Idiot Boy" coasts along with an easy facility for most of its length,
saving its impact for the punchline at the end - a technique that when it
works, works well. And work well it certainly did here - the first time I
read the poem I laughed out loud at the unexpected wordplay in the last
line, and it still amuses me every time I think of it. Definitely one of
those lines I wish I'd thought of myself.



  Kipling Biography: See Poem #17

  "She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways": Poem #376

  "Kipling as Motorist": [broken link]

The Wolf's Postcript to 'Little Red Riding Hood' -- Agha Shahid Ali

Another guest poem submitted by Matt Chanoff:
(Poem #961) The Wolf's Postcript to 'Little Red Riding Hood'
 First, grant me my sense of history:
 I did it for posterity,
 for kindergarten teachers
 and a clear moral:
 Little girls shouldn't wander off
 in search of strange flowers,
 and they mustn't speak to strangers.

 And then grant me my generous sense of plot:
 Couldn't I have gobbled her up
 right there in the jungle?
 Why did I ask her where her grandma lived?
 As if I, a forest-dweller,
 didn't know of the cottage
 under the three oak trees
 and the old woman lived there
 all alone?
 As if I couldn't have swallowed her years before?

 And you may call me the Big Bad Wolf,
 now my only reputation.
 But I was no child-molester
 though you'll agree she was pretty.

 And the huntsman:
 Was I sleeping while he snipped
 my thick black fur
 and filled me with garbage and stones?
 I ran with that weight and fell down,
 simply so children could laugh
 at the noise of the stones
 cutting through my belly,
 at the garbage spilling out
 with a perfect sense of timing,
 just when the tale
 should have come to an end.
-- Agha Shahid Ali
Ali died this week, at age 52. He was a Kashmiri exile, living most recently
in New York. He's apparently famous for introducing the Ghazal into modern
American poetry, where it's now common. The poem seems to me appropriate
this week, not only as a memorial for Ali, but for the comment it makes on
the vilified. The thing about Osama bin Laden and his ilk is that the evil
they do swamps any legitimacy. If there's something to think about how
Western (and Hindu) culture and politics constrict the possibilities for
Islam, or about how poverty and loss of culture lead young men to violence,
or about the the responsibilities that the world's only superpower may have
toward weaker nations, then these things are drowned out by the casual
murderers who act in their name.

Ali could have made this a trivial poem by being just contrarian and taking
the side of the wolf. Instead, he makes a stronger point by making the big
bad wolf human.

You can read about him at
[broken link]

You can read about the Ghazal form at

In the Minstrels, Poem #748 by Faiz Ahmed Faiz was translated by Ali.


The Prologue to 'Sweeney Todd' -- Stephen Sondheim

Guest poem submitted by Matt Chanoff:
(Poem #960) The Prologue to 'Sweeney Todd'
 [A Man:]
 Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd
 His skin was pale and his eye was odd
 He shaved the faces of gentlemen
 Who never thereafter were heard of again.

   He trod a path that few have trod.
   Did Sweeney Todd.
   The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

 [Another Man:]
 He kept a shop in London town
 Of fancy clients and good renown.
 And what if none of their souls was saved?
 They went to their maker impeccably shaved

   By Sweeney,
   By Sweeney Todd.
   The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

 [Company, variously:]
   Swing your razor wide, Sweeney!
   Hold it to the skies!
   Freely flows the blood of those
   Who moralize!

 His needs were few, his room was bare.
 A lavabo and a fancy chair.
 A mug of suds and a leather strop,
 An apron a towel a pail and a mop.

   For neatness he deserved a nod,
   Did Sweeney Todd,
   The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

 Inconspicuous Sweeney was,
 Quick and quiet and clean 'e was.
 Back of his smile, under his word,
 Sweeney heard music that nobody heard.

 Sweeney pondered and Sweeney planned
 Like a perfect machine 'e planned.
 Sweeney was smooth, Sweeney was subtle,
 Sweeney would blink and rats would scuttle.

 Sweeney was smooth, Sweeney was subtle,
 Sweeney would blink and rats would scuttle.
 Inconspicuous Sweeney was,
 Quick and quiet and clean 'e was.

   Like a perfect machine 'e was,
   Was Sweeney!

 [Todd appears from the grave]
 [Todd and Company:]
 Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd.
 He served a dark and a vengeful god.

 What happened then - well that's the play,
 And he wouldn't want us to give it away,
 Not Sweeney.

 Not Sweeney Todd
 The Demon Barber of Fleet Street!
-- Stephen Sondheim
I first heard this only a month ago, at the San Francisco concert production
of the play. I then went out and bought the CD and have been listening
often. The first song in a musical has to do a lot of work. It's got to tell
you who the story's about, what's happening, and hint at why it's happening.
In Sweeney, it's got to make the faintly ridiculous character of a barber
seem menacing, and it's got to leave you wanting more. Most expository songs
are lousy - too dense with stuff you've got to remember to be any fun. In
contrast, this one is a masterpiece.

Sondheim starts with a crowd and a series of rumors. You get the sense of a
half-legendary figure, a bogeyman.  The legend grows and grows, to the point
that you cringe when, near the end, Sweeney steps out of the grave to give
you his take and introduce his story. You don't know exactly why he's
killing people, but the fact that he shaves gentlemen, that their souls
aren't saved, that the clients are fancy, all lead you to believe that it's
a class thing - he's killing rich people, bad rich people. Then come the
  "Freely flows the blood of those
   Who moralize!"
He's after rich hypocrites.

Another terrific thing about these lyrics is the way the story imbues
ordinary things with menace.  Look at the inventory of his shop:
  "His needs were few, his room was bare.
   A lavabo and a fancy chair.
   A mug of suds and a leather strop,
   An apron a towel a pail and a mop."
What's more prosaic than a pail and a mop? Except that here, just 30 seconds
into the play, you know he needs them to clean up the gore. "Lavabo," by the
way, is the perfect word. When I first heard it, I thought they said "barber
pole," which would have scanned and fit the sense perfectly. Why throw in an
archaic word instead?  According to the dictionary, a lavabo is (1) the
ceremonial washing of the hands and recitation from the Psalms by the
celebrant before the Eucharist in the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches,
and (2) a washbowl that is attached to a wall and filled from a water tank
fastened above. Sweeney's clients think it's there for washing up, but the
religious meaning is both implied and mocked.

Like Hannibal Lecter, Sweeney is preternaturally skilled and cunning. My
favorite couplet is:
  "Sweeney was smooth, Sweeney was subtle,
   Sweeney would blink and rats would scuttle.
Here's a rhyme that manages to be ingenious and subtle simultaneously, and
give you sense of pure evil.

For the true story of Sweeney, check out
[broken link]

For details on the musical, check out
[broken link]


[thomas adds]

Homicidal barbers? Say no more! See

The Ballad of Sally in our Alley -- Henry Carey

(Poem #959) The Ballad of Sally in our Alley
   Of all the Girls that are so smart
       There's none like pretty SALLY,
   She is the Darling of my Heart,
       And she lives in our Alley.
   There is no Lady in the Land
       Is half so sweet as SALLY,
   She is the Darling of my Heart,
       And she lives in our Alley.

   Her Father he makes Cabbage-nets,
       And through the Streets does cry 'em;
   Her Mother she sells Laces long,
       To such as please to buy 'em:
   But sure such Folks could ne'er beget
       So sweet a Girl as SALLY!
   She is the Darling of my Heart,
       And she lives in our Alley.

   When she is by I leave my Work,
       (I love her so sincerely)
   My Master comes like any Turk,
       And bangs me most severely;
   But, let him bang his Belly full,
       I'll bear it all for SALLY;
   She is the Darling of my Heart,
       And she lives in our Alley.

   Of all the Days that's in the Week,
       I dearly love but one Day,
   And that's the Day that comes betwixt
       A Saturday and Monday;
   For then I'm drest, all in my best,
       To walk abroad with SALLY;
   She is the Darling of my Heart,
       And she lives in our Alley.

   My Master carries me to Church,
       And often am I blamed,
   Because I leave him in the lurch,
       As soon as Text is named:
   I leave the Church in Sermon time,
       And slink away to SALLY;
   She is the Darling of my Heart,
       And she lives in our Alley.

   When Christmas comes about again,
       O then I shall have Money;
   I'll hoard it up, and Box and all
       I'll give it to my Honey:
   And, would it were ten thousand Pounds;
       I'd give it all to SALLY;
   She is the Darling of my Heart,
       And she lives in our Alley.

   My Master and the Neighbours all,
       Make game of me and SALLY;
   And (but for her) I'd better be
       A Slave and row a Galley:
   But when my seven long Years are out,
       O then I'll marry SALLY!
   O then we'll wed and then we'll bed,
       But not in our Alley.
-- Henry Carey
Notes: First published, 1715
       cabbage-nets: nets to boil cabbages in.
       There's an extensive set of notes on the UToronto site, see the links

At first glance, this poem is mere doggerel - indistinguishable from a
thousand others that with their rather myopic use of ballad metre and their
'perfect' but contrived rhymes have "amateur" stamped firmly across their
every verse. However, "Sally in our Alley" has a charm that shines through the
rough versification, raising it several notches above the common herd and
ensuring its immortality.

It is this indefinable charm that transforms the effusions of the narrator
into something we smile with rather than laugh at, that makes him endearingly
rather than annoyingly naive, and that makes the chorus,

         She is the Darling of my Heart,
         And she lives in our Alley.

work, when it could so easily have ruined the poem instead.

Why 'indefinable'? Well, because this is truly one of those poems that has to
be enjoyed rather than analysed - it would not, I think, stand up well to
being picked apart, but it is a lovely poem for all of that, and enjoy it I
certainly did. Go you and do likewise.

Links: has a lengthy
  note on the identity of Sally.

  There's also a biography of Carey on the site:


The Bookworm -- Anonymous

(Poem #958) The Bookworm
 A moth, I thought, munching a word.
 How marvellously weird! a worm
 Digesting a man's sayings --
 A sneakthief nibbling in the shadows
 At the shape of a poet's thunderous phrases --
 How unutterably strange!
 And the pilfering parasite none the wiser
 For the words he has swallowed.
-- Anonymous
 From the Exeter Book, riddle No. 47.
 Translated by Gerard Benson.

[About the Exeter Book]

 Probably transcribed c960-970, and later owned by [Leofric,] the first
Bishop of Exeter. The riddles vary greatly in subject and style. Many are
about the animal kingdom, others are about artefacts and yet others about
the forces of nature -- and there is a sprinkling of teasing double
entendre, of a type still popular, which leads the reader to imagine two
parallel solutions, one obscene, the other innocent.

        -- "Poems on the Underground"


 The physicality of language fascinates me. Not just the sounds of words,
nor even the feel of syllables rolling in my mouth; I'm equally entranced by
weight and texture, the heft of a good book in my hands, the beauty of its
pages. No surprise, then, that I love the curlicues and incidentals of of
medieval illuminated manuscripts such as the Winchester Bible and the Book
of Kells. And, of course, the Exeter Book, the oldest and most venerable of
them all.

 Today's poem is typical of the hundred or so riddles that make up the bulk
of the book (along with four major poems - The Seafarer, The Wanderer,
Widsith, and Eadwacer). It describes an object (in this case, the bookworm)
cleverly and well, yet every phrase can be interpreted differently, and
rather less charitably: the disparaging comments the author makes about the
bookworm could very easily apply to a certain type of scholar. After a
thousand years, the criticism remains ingenious and perfectly apt.


[Links and stuff]

Minstrels Poem #676, "Eating Poetry", by Mark Strand, is similar to today's
poem, but also very different.

We've done quite a few pieces by that most prolific of authors, the
reclusive Anon.:
Poem #167, Pangur Ban  -- Anon. (Irish, 8th century)
Poem #109, The Viking Terror  -- Anon. (Irish, 9th century)
Poem #372, Icham of Irlaunde  -- Anon. (Irish, 14th century)
Poem #145, Ice  -- Anon. (Old English, 10th century)
Poem #326, The Seafarer  -- Anon. (Old English, pre-10th century
Poem #897, Grendel -- Anon. (Old English, pre-10th century)
Poem #333, Gnomic Stanzas  -- Anon. (Welsh, 12th century)
Poem #175, I am Taliesin. I sing perfect metre  -- Anon. (Welsh, 13th

Here's a a short description of the Exeter Book, along with an image of a
page from the book - specifically, the page containing the opening lines of
"The Wanderer":

Here are three riddles from the book which appear obscene on first reading,
but turn out to have perfectly innocent answers:
[broken link]

Here is another page from the book, featuring the starting lines of
[broken link]


There's a lot more I could say about the questions that today's riddle poses
on the relationship between form and content, idea and realization, meaning
and representation, reading and understanding. An additional frisson arises
from the fact that the riddle occurs in the Exeter Book, a truly lovely work
of art whose appeal lies as much in its form (the "physicality" alluded to
above) as in its content; furthermore, said content is always at a layer of
remove due to the artifice of translation, another subject I'm endlessly
interested in...

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind -- Thomas Wyatt

Guest poem submitted by David Florkow:
(Poem #957) Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind
 Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
 But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
 The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
 I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
 Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
 Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
 Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
 Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
 Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
 As well as I may spend his time in vain.
 And graven with diamonds in letters plain
 There is written, her fair neck round about:
 Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
 And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.
-- Thomas Wyatt
Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503 - 1542) is known, if at all nowadays, for introducing
the Italian sonnet form (as used by Petrarch particularly) into English
usage.  Many of his best poems (such as "Whoso list to hunt") are imitations
of Petrarch (in this case, most likely Petrarch's 190th sonnet).  He was a
diplomat in the service of Henry VIII, traveling to Italy, France and Spain.
Wyatt was imprisioned for his affair with Anne Boleyn; and imprisioned a
second time for treason after the fall of Cromwell.

I like this poem for the way Wyatt expresses personal disappointment and
weariness in the great chase, while still admiring a quarry that has both
eluded him and is now possessed by a greater man (Caesar). All in sonnet

The poet tells of his weariness in hunting a female deer (hind).  He asserts
that he is not giving up, just falling further behind; his wearied mind is
still game. But as she continues to flee, he finally leaves off, recognizing
his hunt to be as fruitless as seeking to catch the wind in a net.  And he
counsels others similarly inclined that they would be spending their time in
vain. Of course, there is more than hunting deer going on here, and the
imagery and the vocabulary take a turn for the more personal in the last
four lines.  For this fleeing female wears around her fair neck a necklace
with diamonds spelling out the last couplet of the poem: a phrase from the
Vulgate: 'touch me not', for I belong to Caesar (or Henry VIII, as the case
may be).  The wonderful final line captures both the passion and the yoked
submission suggested by the diamond necklace, both of great interest to the
speaker, who can appreciate both but enjoy neither.


Ashes of Life -- Edna St Vincent Millay

Back after a period of net deprivation - thanks to Thomas for holding the
(Poem #956) Ashes of Life
 Love has gone and left me and the days are all alike;
     Eat I must, and sleep I will, -- and would that night were here!
 But ah! -- to lie awake and hear the slow hours strike!
     Would that it were day again! -- with twilight near!

 Love has gone and left me and I don't know what to do;
     This or that or what you will is all the same to me;
 But all the things that I begin I leave before I'm through, --
     There's little use in anything as far as I can see.

 Love has gone and left me, -- and the neighbors knock and borrow,
     And life goes on forever like the gnawing of a mouse, --
 And to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow
     There's this little street and this little house.
-- Edna St Vincent Millay
A beautiful poem, Millay giving me, as usual, that wonderful thrill of
seeing a poet get it wonderfully, satisfyingly *right*. And today's poem is
not just beautiful, but impressive - the concentration of imagery in each
line, the way the lines blend into a seamless whole, and the sheer music of
the words are breathtaking.

The way the poem's construction reinforces its content is worth a closer
look. "Love has gone and left me, and the days are all alike", starts the
poem, encouraging the reader to flow with, rather than seek to vary, the
rather metronomic rhythm. The invariance is reinforced by repetition - the
repetition of "love has gone and left me' at the start of each verse, the
parallel constructions like "eat I must and sleep I will', and the climactic
"And to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow" all underscore the
poem's basic theme.

The most notable variation in the rhythm is the series of stresses in "slow
hours strike", where the words lose their rhythmic flow and gain an emphasis
that evokes the dull, weighty striking of the clock as it ticks the weary
hours off. This is followed immediately by the brilliant "Would that it
were day again! -- with twilight near!" - as perfect a phrasing of the
sentiment as any I've seen.

And finally, the poem appears to end uncharacteristically weakly - this is,
however, perfectly consistent - like the speaker's days and nights, the poem
has no satisfying conclusion, just a weary trailing off that promises no
change and no surcease.


Millay poems on Minstrels:
  Poem #34, First Fig [with biography and criticism]
  Poem #49, The Unexplorer
  Poem #108, The Penitent
  Poem #317, Inland
  Poem #590, Sonnet XLIII
  Poem #604, Euclid Alone Has Looked On Beauty Bare
  Poem #817, Grown-up
  Poem #860, Sonnet: Love Is Not All
  Poem #905, Sonnet: I will put Chaos into Fourteen Lines
  Poem #926, Dirge Without Music


Gus: The Theatre Cat -- T S Eliot

(Poem #955) Gus: The Theatre Cat
 Gus is the Cat at the Theatre Door.
 His name, as I ought to have told you before,
 Is really Asparagus. That's such a fuss
 To pronounce, that we usually call him just Gus.
 His coat's very shabby, he's thin as a rake,
 And he suffers from palsy that makes his paw shake.
 Yet he was, in his youth, quite the smartest of Cats -
 But no longer a terror to mice and to rats.
 For he isn't the Cat that he was in his prime;
 Though his name was quite famous, he says, in its time.
 And whenever he joins his friends at their club
 (Which takes place at the back of the neighbouring pub)
 He loves to regale them, if someone else pays,
 With anecdotes drawn from his palmiest days.
 For he once was a Star of the highest degree -
 He has acted with Irving, he's acted with Tree.
 And he likes to relate his success on the Halls,
 Where the Gallery once gave him seven cat-calls.
 But his grandest creation, as he loves to tell,
 Was Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell.

 `I have played', so he says, `every possible part,
 And I used to know seventy speeches by heart.
 I'd extemporize back-chat, I knew how to gag,
 And I know how to let the cat out of the bag.
 I knew how to act with my back and my tail;
 With an hour of rehearsal, I never could fail.
 I'd a voice that would soften the hardest of hearts,
 Whether I took the lead, or in character parts.
 I have sat by the bedside of poor Little Nell;
 When the Curfew was rung, then I swung on the bell.
 In the Pantomime season I never fell flat
 And I once understudied Dick Whittington's Cat.
 But my grandest creation, as history will tell,
 Was Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell.'

 Then, if someone will give him a toothful of gin,
 He will tell how he once played a part in East Lynne.
 At a Shakespeare performance he once walked on pat,
 When some actor suggested the need for a cat.
 He once played a Tiger - could do it again -
 Which an Indian Colonel pursued down a drain.
 And he thinks that he still can, much better than most,
 Produce blood-curdling noises to bring on the Ghost.
 And he once crossed the stage on a telegraph wire,
 To rescue a child when a house was on fire.
 And he says: `Now, these kittens, they do not get trained
 As we did in the days when Victoria reigned.
 They never get drilled in a regular troupe,
 And they think they are smart, just to jump through a hoop.'
 And he'll say, as he scratches himself with his claws,
 `Well, the Theatre's certainly not what it was.
 These modern productions are all very well,
 But there's nothing to equal, from what I hear tell,
       That moment of mystery
       When I made history
 As Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell.'
-- T S Eliot
One of the charms of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats is the
effortlessness with which Eliot merges the feline and human worlds. Such is
the felicity of his rhymes that we do not think twice of the incongruity of
Bustopher Jones sauntering down Pall Mall in spats, nor of Skimbleshanks
directing operations on the Highland Express, nor yet of Macavity tormenting
Scotland Yard with his criminal exploits (from stealing naval plans to
absconding with the milk). Gus, the Theatre Cat, is one more player in this
wonderful parade; his roles may be four-footed (Dick Whittington's cat,
sundry tigers and ghosts, and of course, "Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the
Fell"), but his nostalgia is entirely (and convincingly) human.



Little Nell is a character who dies (in a scene of great pathos) (some would
say maudlin sentimentality) in Dickens' "The Old Curiosity Shop".

"East Lynne, or, The Earl's Daughter", was one of the most popular plays of
the 19th century. A full text of the book on which it is based (written by
one Mrs Henry Wood) can be found here:

The tiger "which an Indian Colonel pursued down a drain" is almost certainly
a reference to the infamous Colonel Sebastian Moran, the "second most
dangerous man in London", who once "crawled down a drain after a wounded
man-eating tiger" [Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Empty House]. Many more
Sherlock Holmes references can be found in "Macavity: the Mystery Cat" (see
link below).

[Minstrels Links]

Thomas Stearns Eliot:
Poem #9, La Figlia Che Piange (The Weeping Girl)
Poem #107, Preludes
Poem #193, The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock
Poem #248, Sweeney Among the Nightingales
Poem #258, Macavity: The Mystery Cat
Poem #291, The Journey of the Magi
Poem #354, The Waste Land (Part IV)
Poem #466, Rhapsody on a Windy Night
Poem #532, Little Gidding
Poem #574, Growltiger's Last Stand
Poem #630, To Walter de la Mare
Poem #846, The Hippopotamus
Poem #858, The Waste Land (Part V)

Cats, practical and otherwise:
Poem #165, The Owl and the Pussy-Cat  -- Edward Lear
Poem #167, Pangur Ban  -- Anon. (Irish, 8th century)
Poem #258, Macavity: The Mystery Cat -- T. S. Eliot
Poem #273, How a Cat Was Annoyed and a Poet Was Booted  -- Guy Wetmore
Poem #282, Fog  -- Carl Sandburg
Poem #401, To a Cat  -- Jorge Luis Borges
Poem #572, Mort aux Chats -- Peter Porter
Poem #574, Growltiger's Last Stand -- T. S. Eliot
Poem #575, To Mrs Reynolds' Cat -- John Keats
Poem #577, The Cat and the Moon -- William Butler Yeats
Poem #659, Poem -- William Carlos Williams
Poem #660, On a Night of Snow -- Elizabeth Coatsworth
Poem #661, Jubilate Agno -- Christopher Smart
Poem #662, Cat -- Jibanananda Das
Poem #663, A Child's Nightmare -- Robert Graves
Poem #674, Aunt Jennifer's Tigers -- Adrienne Rich
Poem #727, Milk for the Cat -- Harold Monro

Within You Without You -- George Harrison

Guest poem submitted by Arun Simha:
(Poem #954) Within You Without You
 We were talking - about the space between us all
 And the people - who hide themselves behind a
   wall of illusion
 Never glimpse the truth - then it's far too late -
   when they pass away.

 We were talking - about the love we all could
   share - when we find it
 To try our best to hold it there - with our love
 With our love - we could save the world - if
   they only knew.

 Try to realise it's all within yourself no-one else
   can make you change
 And to see you're really only very small,
   and life flows on within you and without you.

 We were talking - about the love that's gone so
   cold and the people,
 Who gain the world and lose their soul -
   they don't know - they can't see - are you one
   of them?

 When you've seen beyond yourself - then you
   may find, peace of mind is waiting there -
 And the time will come when you see
   we're all one, and life flows on within you and
   without you.
-- George Harrison

Rec.: 15th/22nd March, 3rd/4th April 1967
Rel. UK: 1st June 1967 (LP Sergent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)
Rel. US: 2nd June 1967 (LP Sergent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)
Track No.: 8
Composer: Harrison
Vocals: George Harrison
Year: 1967

Instruments & additional info.:
Recording commenced in studio two at Abbey Road on March 22 1967.
Album version mixed from take two. Writer: George. Lead vocal:
George. Producer: George Martin. Recording engineer: Geoff Emerick.
Second engineer: Richard Lush.

Harrison: vocal, sitar, acoustic guitar, tambura
Uncredited Indian musicians: dilrubas, svarmandal, tabla, tambura
Erich Gruenberg, Alan Loveday, Julien Gaillard, Paul Scherman,
Ralph Elman, David Wolfsthal, Jack Rothstein, Jack Greene: violins
Reginald Kilbey, Allen Ford, Peter Beavan: cellos
Neil Aspinall: tambura


George Harrison  R.I.P

Tragic, isn't it?

I'm sure most people remember his music and its associated Indian influence

Those were the days when musicians looked eastwards for spiritual
inspiration. John McLaughlin (Mahavishnu) and Carlos Santana (Devadip)
became followers of Sri Chinmoy, Jimmy Page & Robert Plant spent a few
months in India and collected a great deal from Indian music for their
incredible Led Zeppelin  albums, and George...

 ...  who can forget 'Norwegian Wood', 'Something', 'Here Comes the Sun',
'Within You Without You' and many other immortal songs that will remain
forever etched in our minds and hearts?

He was the originator of the movement to connect music with humanitarian
aid. In 1971, Ravi Shankar informed him about the great poverty in
Bangladesh, which moved him to hold a concert which raised quite a lot of


[Minstrels Links]

Poem #631, Mean Mr Mustard / Polythene Pam -- John Lennon
Poem #112, Mr.Tambourine Man  -- Bob Dylan
Poem #227, Desolation Row  -- Bob Dylan
Poem #832, Love Minus Zero / No Limit -- Bob Dylan
Poem #890, All Along the Watchtower -- Bob Dylan
Poem #933, Mother's Little Helper -- Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

Parable of the Madman -- Friedrich Nietzsche

Guest poem submitted by David Wright:
(Poem #953) Parable of the Madman
 Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning
 ran to the market place, and cried incessantly:
 "I seek God! I seek God!"
 As many of those who did not believe in God
 were standing around just then,
 he provoked much laughter.
 Has he got lost? asked one.
 Did he lose his way like a child? asked another.
 Or is he hiding?
 Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?
 Thus they yelled and laughed.

 The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes.
 "Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you.
 We have killed him---you and I.
 All of us are his murderers.
 But how did we do this?
 How could we drink up the sea?
 Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon?
 What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun?
 Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving?
 Away from all suns?
 Are we not plunging continually?
 Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions?
 Is there still any up or down?
 Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing?
 Do we not feel the breath of empty space?
 Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us?
 Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning?
 Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers
 who are burying God?
 Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition?
 Gods, too, decompose.
 God is dead.
 God remains dead.
 And we have killed him.

 "How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?
 What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled
to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us?
 What water is there for us to clean ourselves?
 What festivals of atonement, what sacred gamesshall we have to invent?
 Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us?
 Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?
 There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us -
 For the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all
history hitherto."

 Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners;
 and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment.
 At last he threw his lantern on the ground,
 and it broke into pieces and went out.
 "I have come too early," he said then; "my time is not yet.
 This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering;
 it has not yet reached the ears of men.
 Lightning and thunder require time;
 the light of the stars requires time;
 deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard.
 This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars -
 and yet they have done it themselves.

 It has been related further that on the same day
 the madman forced his way into several churches
 and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo.
 Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing
 "What after all are these churches now
 if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?"
-- Friedrich Nietzsche
Source: Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887) para. 125; Walter
Kaufmann ed. (New York: Vintage, 1974), pp.181-82.]

     Not long ago, a poetry group I participate in was looking at Yeats's
The Second Coming (Minstrels Poem #289) - an exploration that was deeply
tinted with recent tragedies and ongoing world events.  I was thinking of
that poem as a reflection on man without God, man after God.  This led to
thoughts of Nietzsche's most notorious statement: God is Dead, which
everybody knows, although few people know the full parable that it is taken

     Nietzsche has been much maligned in the popular mind as an atheist, a
nihilist, and a proto-fascist.  I think the passage is appropriate for the
Minstrels because Nietzsche was a true oet philosopher (Plato being the only
other example I can call to mind.)  I don't read German, but I understand
that he is one of the greatest of German stylists, and his background in
philology gave him a poet's feel for language.  And writing in the form of a
parable, he demands interpretation in the same way a lot of poets do.

     I find it a moving, frightening, telling mythos for our time - it just
about defines what is meant by 'postmodernism.'  Perhaps it is for all time,
or for certain times throughout history when mankind has felt the darkness
closing in, the meaning evaporating.  But even Ragnarok, the Norse doom of
the Gods in which the world was to be plunged into darkness and ice and
humankind was to be destroyed while the Gods killed each other, even that
dark vision was to be followed by a new Golden Age in which the triumphant
Gods returned.  For Nietzsche, the death of God is attended merely by decay
and worms.  And freedom, that dreaded freedom that Sartre addresses in his


[Minstrels Links]

The aforementioned Yeats poem:
Poem #289, The Second Coming  -- William Butler Yeats

For something completely different, see:
Poem #615, The Philosopher's Drinking Song -- Monty Python