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Leviathan -- Anonymous

One final monster, from the biblical Book of Job:
(Poem #903) Leviathan
 Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook, or press down his tongue with a
 Can you put a rope in his nose, or pierce his jaw with a hook?
 Will he make many supplications to you? Will he speak to you soft words?
 Will he make a covenant with you to take him for your servant for ever?
 Will you play with him as with a bird, or will you put him on leash for
your maidens?
 Will traders bargain over him? Will they divide him up among the merchants?
 Can you fill his skin with harpoons, or his head with fishing spears?
 Lay hands on him; think of the battle; you will not do it again!
 Behold, the hope of a man is disappointed; he is laid low even at the sight
of him.
 No one is so fierce that he dares to stir him up...
 ... Who can strip off his outer garment? Who can penetrate his double coat
of mail?
 Who can open the doors of his face? Round about his teeth is terror.
 His back is made of rows of shields, shut up closely as with a seal.
 One is so near to another that no air can come between them.
 They are joined one to another; they clasp each other and cannot be
 His sneezings flash forth light, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the
 Out of his mouth go flaming torches; sparks of fire leap forth.
 Out of his nostrils comes forth smoke, as from a boiling pot and burning
 His breath kindles coals, and a flame comes forth from his mouth.
 In his neck abides strength, and terror dances before him.
 The folds of his flesh cleave together, firmly cast upon him and immovable.
 His heart is hard as a stone, hard as the nether millstone.
 When he raises himself up the mighty are afraid; at the crashing they are
beside themselves.
 Though the sword reaches him, it does not avail; nor the spear, the dart,
or the javelin.
 He counts iron as straw, and bronze as rotten wood.
 The arrow cannot make him flee; for him slingstones are turned to stubble.
 Clubs are counted as stubble; he laughs at the rattle of javelins.
 His underparts are like sharp potsherds; he spreads himself like a
threshing sledge on the mire.
 He makes the deep boil like a pot; he makes the sea like a pot of ointment.
 Behind him he leaves a shining wake; one would think the deep to be hoary.
 Upon earth there is not his like, a creature without fear.
 He beholds everything that is high; he is king over all the sons of pride.
-- Anonymous
 From the Bible, The Book of Job, chapter 41.

 Leviathan is, of course, the canonical monster, the "dragon in the sea"
that haunted the imagination of the Hebrew poets and seers who wrote the Old
Testament, and the clerics who translated it into Greek, Latin and English.
The descriptions of his strength and size are vastly, immensely hyperbolic,
yet that is precisely the intention of their compositors: Leviathan himself
is beyond imagining.

[The OED on Leviathan]

leviathan (lI"vaI@T@n). Forms: 4-6 levyathan, (4 -ethan), 5 lyvyatan, -on,
5- leviathan. [a. L. (Vulg.) leviathan, a. Heb. livyathan.
   Some scholars refer the word to a root lavah = Arab. laway to twist (cf.
livyah, conjecturally rendered 'wreath'); others think it adopted from some
foreign lang.]
   1. The name of some aquatic animal (real or imaginary) of enormous size,
frequently mentioned in Hebrew poetry.
   1382 Wyclif Job xl[i.] 20 [21] Whether maist thou drawen out leuyethan
with an hoc? 1535 Coverdale Ps. ciii[i.] 26 There is that Leuiathan, whom
thou hast made, to take his pastyme therin. 1555 Eden Decades To Rdr. (Arb.)
51 The greate serpente of the sea Leuiathan, to haue suche dominion in the
Ocean. 1591 Spenser Vis. World's Van. 62 The huge Leuiathan, dame Natures
wonder. 1667 Milton P.L. vii. 412 Leviathan, Hugest of living Creatures, on
the Deep Stretcht like a Promontorie. 1713 Young Last Day i. 35 Leviathans
but heave their cumb'rous mail, It makes a tide. 1725 Pope Odyss. xii. 119
She [Scylla] makes the huge leviathan her prey.
   2. (After Isa. xxvii. 1.)  The great enemy of God, Satan. Obs.
   [1382 Wyclif Isa. xxvii. 1 In that dai viseten shal the Lord in his harde
swerd,..vp on leuyathan,..a crookid wounde serpent.] c1400 Destr. Troy 4423
This fende was the first that felle for his pride..that lyuyaton is cald.
1412-20 Lydg. Chron. Troy ii. xvii, The vile serpent the Leuiathan. 1447 O.
Bokenham Seyntys (Roxb.) 150 By the envye deceyvyd of hys enmy Clepyd
serpent behemot or levyathan. 1595 B. Barnes Spir. Sonn. li, Breake thou the
jawes of olde Levyathan, Victorious Conqueror!
   3. Used by Hobbes for: The organism of political society, the
commonwealth.  (See quot. 1651.)
   1651 Hobbes Leviath. (1839) 158 The multitude so united in one person, is
called a Commonwealth... This is the generation of that great Leviathan, or
rather, to speak more reverently, of that mortal god, to which we owe under
the immortal God, our peace and defence. 1657 R. Ligon Barbadoes 20 What it
is that makes up..harmony in that Leviathan, a well governed Commonwealth.
1690 Locke Hum. Und. i. iii. (1695) 17 An Hobbist..will answer; Because..the
Leviathan will punish you, if you do not. 1714 Mandeville Fab. Bees (1725)
I. 195 The gods'd that millions of you, when well joyn'd
together, should compose the strong Leviathan.
   4. attrib. passing into adj. when sense: Huge, monstrous.
   1624 Middleton Game at Chess ii. ii, This leviathan-scandal that lies
rolling Upon the crystal waters of devotion. 1751 H. Walpole Lett. (1846)
II. 398, I had suspected that this leviathan hall must have devoured half
the other chambers. 1861 A. Smith Med. Stud. 12 He has duly chronicled every his leviathan note-book. 1892 W. Beatty-Kingston Intemper. v. 32
The leviathan liquor interests
   Hence leviathanic a., huge as a leviathan.
   1848 Tait's Mag. XV. 789 The leviathanic railway that stretches out its
fins amongst its contemporaries like Captain McQuhae's sea-serpent.

        -- Oxford English Dictionary

[Other biblical references]

"Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the
 Thou didst divide the sea by thy might; thou didst break the heads of the
dragons on the waters.
 Thou didst crush the heads of Leviathan, thou didst give him as food for
the creatures of the wilderness."
        -- Psalm 74

 "O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all; the
earth is full of thy creatures.
 Yonder is the sea, great and wide, which teems with things innumerable,
living things both small and great.
 There go the ships, and Leviathan which thou didst form to sport in it."
        -- Psalm 104

 "In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword will punish
Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will
slay the dragon that is in the sea."
        -- Isaiah 27

(all biblical quotations are from the revised standard version, which is
available online at (for instance)


As mentioned in the OED entry above, "Leviathan" is also the title of a
famous political treatise by Thomas Hobbes. In it, Hobbes argues that
mankind's natural state (not to be confused with that of Rousseau's "noble
savage") is one of conflict; life is "nasty, brutish and short". In order to
rise out of the morass, it becomes necessary to sacrifice individual
liberties for the sake of "the common wealth". This monster he calls
"Leviathan" - a being that is greater than any one man. Hobbes than goes on
to argue that Leviathan's power is properly concentrated in the person of
the sovereign, who has a "divine right" to rule.

An excellent set of excerpts at serves to
summarize Hobbes' arguments, which I have only glanced upon above.

John Locke refined Hobbes' arguments a generation later in his "Two
Treatises on Government"; however, his liberal and humanistic view rejects
the "divine right of kings" on the grounds that there is no appealing the
sovereign's decisions; the common wealth is a contract that one cannot opt
out of, and is hence unsatisfactory. The following websites compare and
contrast the two systems:
 [broken link]
 [broken link]
 [broken link]
Recommended, if you're at all interested in this sort of thing.

[Minstrels Links]

A previous extract from the Book of Job:
poem #40

Poem #52, Jabberwocky  -- Lewis Carroll
Poem #215, The Loch Ness Monster's Song  -- Edwin Morgan
Poem #370, Troll sat alone on his seat of stone  -- J. R. R. Tolkien
Poem #775, The Maldive Shark -- Herman Melville
Poem #895, August 1968 -- W. H. Auden
Poem #896, The Kraken -- Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Poem #897, Grendel -- Anon. (Old English, pre-10th century)
Poem #899, The Diatonic Dittymunch -- Jack Prelutsky

The Book of Pilgrimage, II, 22 -- Rainer Maria Rilke

Guest poem submitted by Swarna Sharma:
(Poem #902) The Book of Pilgrimage, II, 22
 You are the future,
 the red sky before sunrise
 over the fields of time.

 You are the cock's crow when night is done,
 You are the dew and the bells of matins,
 maiden, stranger, mother, death.

 You create yourself in ever-changing shapes
 that rise from the stuff of our days --
 unsung, unmourned, undescribed,
 like a forest we never knew.

 You are the deep innerness of all things,
 the last word that can never be spoken.
 To each of us you reveal yourself differently:
 to the ship as coastline, to the shore as a ship.
-- Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated from the German by Anita Barrows.

This poem is from 'The Book of Pilgrimage', the middle section of the Book
of Hours, the first being 'The Book of a Monastic Life' and the third being
'The Book of Poverty and Death'. The resonance and lucid imagery of the
German original has not been lost in this English translation by Anita
Barrows. The subtitle to the Book of Hours is : Love poems to God. This
particular poem also reflects the intimate conversation that Rilke has with
the universal consciousness and the longing he has for an unmediated
conversation with the heart of the Universe. The images of God are drawn
from nature but the questing spirit of Rilke rests in the recognition of the
immanence of divine effusion, that includes all polarities and dualities and
at the same time transcends them. One can readily witness the concept of
inter-being, the sacred interrelatedness of all creation that is so central
to Buddhism. When Rilke uses images to describe the imageless, he writes as
a mystic who celebrates "the deep innerness of all things". In this Rilke
belongs in the same league as Whitman and Hopkins.


[Minstrels Links]

Rainer Maria Rilke:
Poem #136, The Panther
Poem #861, Spanish Dancer

Walt Whitman:
Poem #54, When I heard the Learn'd Astronomer
Poem #157, O Captain! My Captain!
Poem #246, I Hear America Singing
Poem #268, The Dalliance of the Eagles
Poem #445, A Noiseless Patient Spider
Poem #498, The World Below the Brine
Poem #508, I saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing
Poem #887, Beat! Beat! Drums!

Gerard Manley Hopkins:
Poem #3, Inversnaid
Poem #35, The Windhover
Poem #59, To a Young Child
Poem #134, Pied Beauty
Poem #260, Moonrise
Poem #606, God's Grandeur
Poem #870, No worst, there is none

oh yes -- Charles Bukowski

Guest poem submitted by Aravind Inumpudi:
(Poem #901) oh yes
 there are worse things than
 being alone
 but it often takes decades
 to realize this
 and most often
 when you do
 it's too late
 and there's nothing worse
 too late.
-- Charles Bukowski
For me, Bukowski's poetry came from the "other side of TV" - daring to
explore in mundane terms, events and lives which are otherwise conveniently
overlooked or sugar-coated with enough abstraction. This poem with its
delicious recursive aspect seems to emulate to perfection this very aspect
of Bukowski's work.



Charles Bukowski was born in Andernach, Germany on August 16, 1920 and came
with his family to the United States when he was three years old. He grew up
in poverty in Los Angeles, drifted extensively, and for much of his life
made his home in San Pedro. Bukowski had been a writer since childhood,
published his first story at age twenty four, and began publishing poetry
when he was thirty-five.

Bukowski is generally considered to be an honorary "beat writer", although
he was never actually associated with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and the
other bona fide beats. His style, which exhibits a strong sense of immediacy
and a refusal to embrace standard formal structure, has earned him a place
in the hearts of beat generation readers, and the contributers to the
alt.books.beatgeneration newsgroup. He was a prolific (it isn't known how
much he had written; much of it was sent off to publishers long-hand and
never seen again), free-formed, humorous, and painfully honest writer. His
topics included hang-overs, the shit stains on his underwear, classical
music, horse-racing and whores. He was at home with the people of the
streets, the skid row bums, the hustlers, the transient life style. His
language is the poetry of the streets viewed from the honesty of a

Most of Bukowski's work is based on his own experience. In 'Ham On Rye' we
follow his autobiographical character, Henry Chinaski through his childhood
and early years. In 'Factotum' we again find Henry Chinaski, now in his most
vinous days, wandering from city to city, from job to job, from woman to
woman. Bukowski became widely known after the release of the movie 'Barfly'
(produced by Francis Ford Coppola), based on his life around the time
Factotum takes place. Bukowski wrote the screenplay and was somewhat
involved in the production of this film which featured Mickey O'Rourke in
the role of Chinaski/Bukowski.

Prior to the release of Barfly, Bukowski was best known by the public at
large for his novel Post Office. Although Barfly brought Hank to the masses
in a big way, Bukowski is primarily known in literary circles for his
poetry. He has stated that he does not consider himself a poet, but simply a
writer. "To say I'm a poet puts me in the company of versifiers,
neontasters, fools, clods, and scoundrels masquerading as wise men." He has
also made clear that he does not like "form" in poetry, referring to it as
"a paycheck for learning to turn the same screw that has held things

Charles Bukowski died on March 9, 1994 in his adopted hometown of San Pedro,

        -- Michael McCullough,

Ballad: The Sorcerer's Song -- W S Gilbert

Sending this on Martin's behalf:
(Poem #900) Ballad: The Sorcerer's Song
 Oh! My name is John Wellington Wells -
 I'm a dealer in magic and spells,
 In blessings and curses,
 And ever-filled purses,
 In prophecies, witches, and knells!
 If you want a proud foe to make tracks -
 If you'd melt a rich uncle in wax -
 You've but to look in
 On our resident Djinn,
 Number seventy, Simmery Axe!

 We've a first-class assortment of magic;
 And for raising a posthumous shade
 With effects that are comic or tragic,
 There's no cheaper house in the trade.
 Love-philtre - we've quantities of it;
 And for knowledge if any one burns,
 We keep an extremely small prophet, a prophet
 Who brings us unbounded returns:

    For he can prophesy
    With a wink of his eye,
    Peep with security
    Into futurity,
    Sum up your history,
    Clear up a mystery,
    Humour proclivity
    For a nativity.
    With mirrors so magical,
    Tetrapods tragical,
    Bogies spectacular,
    Answers oracular,
    Facts astronomical,
    Solemn or comical,
    And, if you want it, he
    Makes a reduction on taking a quantity!

 Oh! If anyone anything lacks,
 He'll find it all ready in stacks,
 If he'll only look in
 On the resident Djinn,
 Number seventy, Simmery Axe!

    He can raise you hosts,
    Of ghosts,
    And that without reflectors;
    And creepy things
    With wings,
    And gaunt and grisly spectres!
    He can fill you crowds
    Of shrouds,
    And horrify you vastly;
    He can rack your brains
    With chains,
    And gibberings grim and ghastly.
    Then, if you plan it, he
    Changes organity
    With an urbanity,
    Full of Satanity,
    Vexes humanity
    With an inanity
    Fatal to vanity -
    Driving your foes to the verge of insanity.
    Barring tautology,
    In demonology,
    'Lectro biology,
    Mystic nosology,
    Spirit philology,
    High class astrology,
    Such is his knowledge, he
    Isn't the man to require an apology

 Oh! My name is John Wellington Wells -
 I'm a dealer in magic and spells,
 In blessings and curses,
 And ever-filled purses -
 In prophecies, witches, and knells.
 If any one anything lacks,
 He'll find it all ready in stacks,
 If he'll only look in
 On the resident Djinn,
 Number seventy, Simmery Axe!
-- W S Gilbert
Appears in the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta "The Sorcerer", which had its
premiere at the Opera Comique, London, November 17th, 1877. This was the
first of G&S's operas to be produced by the Richard D'Oyly Carte company.

'John Wellington Wells' is of Gilbert's more famous pieces, and rightly so -
words like 'helter-skelter' and 'breathless' approach, but don't quite do
justice to, the dizzying cascade of twisted rhymes and tossed metre that
flows seemingly effortlessly through Wellington Wells' catalogue of marvels.

Structurewise, the song is rather unusual in that it divides into two nested
sections - the outer "My Name is John Wellington Wells", and the inner
description of the "very small prophet", with a very different tune and
metre for each. It works well, though, the two parts segueing in and out
without jarring, and intertwined neatly through the use of the refrain.

As is typical for Gilbert, the song has an undercurrent of silliness - or,
perhaps more accurately, ridiculousness - running through it. Any tendencies
towards a serious atmosphere are neatly subverted by side comments like 'and
that without reflectors', the use of adjectives like 'creepy', and rhymes
like 'And, if you want it, he / Makes a reduction on taking a quantity!'.

I'm actually not sure how well the song works within the play (which is not
one of my favourites anyway), but as a standalone it is delightful,
showcasing Gilbert's ability to carry extended sequences of rhymes with
never a faltering syllable.



Sir William Schwenck Gilbert on the Minstrels:
Poem #88, The Major General's Song
Poem #135, I've Got a Little List
Poem #161, The Yarn of the Nancy Bell
Poem #247, To Sit In Solemn Silence...
Poem #505, The Story of Prince Agib

And elsewhere: is as good a place to start as any.

Beautiful Soup -- Lewis Carroll

(Poem #898) Beautiful Soup
 Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,
 Waiting in a hot tureen!
 Who for such dainties would not stoop?
 Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
 Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!

 Beau--ootiful Soo-oop! Beau--ootiful Soo-oop! Soo--oop of the e--e--evening,
     Beautiful, beautiful Soup!

 Beautiful Soup! Who cares for fish,
 Game, or any other dish?
 Who would not give all else for two
 Pennyworth only of Beautiful Soup?
 Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?

 Beau--ootiful Soo-oop! Beau--ootiful Soo-oop! Soo--oop of the e--e--evening,
     Beautiful, beauti--FUL SOUP!
-- Lewis Carroll
Note: A parody of 'Star of the Evening', James M. Sayles

Unlike most of Carroll's delightful little parodies, this one is not a
particularly funny poem in its own right. Read alongside 'Star of the
Evening', however, it is hilarious - from the sheer bathos of replacing
'star' by 'soup', to the way in which Carroll follows the rather sappy
rhythms and intonations of the original, this poem is a lovely example of
the parodist's art.

Carroll is also, I feel, far more explicitly poking fun at the original than
he was in some of his other parodies. Note the exaggerated lengthening and
stressing of the syllables, the better to indicate that the poem is to be
sung in as affected a manner as possible, and the playful rhyming of 'two
p...' with 'soup'. All in all, a wicked parody that would have been even
funnier to Carroll's original audience than it is to us.



Carroll's poem alongside the original:
  [broken link]

Some intriguing notes and speculations:
  [broken link]

Googling for today's poem brought up a discussion on translating Carroll:
  [broken link]

Biography of Carroll:
  Poem #265

And if anyone can find an mp3 of 'Star of the Evening', do send in a link.

The Diatonic Dittymunch -- Jack Prelutsky

Guest poem submitted by M. E. Lasseter:
(Poem #899) The Diatonic Dittymunch
 The Diatonic Dittymunch plucked music from the air,
 He swallowed scores of symphonies and still had space to spare.
 Sonatas and cantatas slithered sweetly down his throat;
 He made ballads into salads and consumed them note by note.

 He ate marches and mazurkas, he ate rhapsodies and reels,
 Minuets and tarantellas were the staples of his meals.
 But the Diatonic Dittymunch outdid himself one day:
 He ate a three-act opera --
        And LOUDLY passed away.
-- Jack Prelutsky
I rather like the "monsters" theme that has evolved over the past few days,
so I thought I'd contribute one of my favorite monster poems. While perhaps
not as terrifying as the Kraken or Grendel (or even the Jabberwock), to a
composer or a musician, the Diatonic Dittymunch would certainly be awful to

It's thought-inspiring to see Prelutsky's alliteration, and the way he
manipulates music-form titles into a comfortable rhythm is comparable to Tom
Lehrer's sorting the names of the chemical elements to the tune of the
"Modern Major-General" song from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of

from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:

Function: adjective
Etymology: Late Latin diatonicus, from Greek diatonikos, from diatonos,
stretching, from diateinein to stretch out, from dia- + teinein to stretch
-- more at THIN
Date : 1694
: of or relating to a major or minor musical scale comprising intervals of
five whole steps and two half steps


Jack Prelutsky was born in Brooklyn, New York. He attended New York City
Public Schools and studied voice at the High School of Music and Art. He
enrolled in Hunter College in Manhattan but left soon after "to become a

Jack has been a cab driver, a busboy, a photographer, a furniture mover, a
potter, and a folk singer.

He enjoys bicycling, playing racquetball, woodworking and cooking. He lives
in Washington State with his wife Carolynn and a vast collection of poetry
books and frogs in every shape, size, and form -- except living!

There was a time when Jack couldn't stand poetry. In grade school he had a
teacher who left him with the impression that poetry was the literary
equivalent of liver. He rediscovered poetry in his twenties, and he decided
that he would write about things that kids really cared about, and that he
would strive to make poetry delightful.

Monsters theme:

Poem #895, W.H. Auden, "August 1968"
Poem #896, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "The Kraken"
Poem #897, Anon., "Grendel"

Minstrels links:

Poem #490, Tom Lehrer, "The Elements"
Poem #52, Lewis Carroll, "Jabberwocky"

M. E. L.

Grendel -- Anonymous

Guest poem submitted by Vivian Eden:

Herewith, something from near the roots of the family tree of Auden's Ogre
and Tennyson's Kraken:
(Poem #897) Grendel
 Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark,
 nursed a hard grievance. It harrowed him
 to hear the din of the loud banquet
 every day in the hall, the harp being struck
 and the clear songs of a skilled poet
 telling the mastery of man's beginnings,
 How the Almighty had made the earth
 a gleaming plain girdled with waters;
 in his splendour He set the sun and the moon
 to be earth's lamplight, lanterns for men,
 and filled the broad lap of the world
 with branches and leaves; and quickened life
 in every other thing that moved.

 So times were pleasant for the people there
 until finally one, a fiend out of hell,
 began to work his evil in the world.
 Grendel was the name of the grim demon
 haunting the marches, marauding around the heath
 and the desolate fens; he had dwelt for a time
 among the banished monsters,
 Cain's clan, whom the Creator had outlawed
 and condemned as outcasts. For the killing of Abel
 the Eternal Lord had exacted a price:
 Cain got no good for committing that murder
 because the Almighty made him anathema
 and out of the curse of his exile there sprang
 ogres and elves and evil phantoms
 and the giants too who strove with God
 time and again until He gave then their reward.

 So, after nightfall, Grendel set out
 for the lofty house, to see how the Ring-Danes
 were settling into it after their drink,
 and there he came upon them, a company of the best
 asleep from their feasting, insensible to pain
 and human sorrow. Suddenly then
 the God-cursed brute was creating havoc:
 greedy and grim.
-- Anonymous
 From Seamus Heaney's translation of "Beowulf," Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
New York, 2000.

 The entirety of Heaney's "Beowulf: A New Verse Translation" is compelling
both narratively and poetically, but of course too long for this forum.  The
poet-translator's introduction to the volume is a masterpiece in its own
right. This extract (lines 86-120) come after the description of a towering
"hall of halls" built by Hrothgar, leader of the Ring-Danes, a center of
power, wealth and culture. Composed something over a thousand years ago,
these lines from the Old English saga  are fascinating for their synergy of
the monotheistic history of the world and more ancient embodiments of evil,
with the sensuous hints of a "Mother Earth" in the "gleaming plain girdled
with waters" and "the broad lap of the world [filled] with branches and
leaves." Grendel himself, incidentally, has a truly horrible mother, whose
lair is much like the Kraken's. As we used to say at the end of our book
reports in fourth grade, if you want to find out what happens - read the


[Minstrels Links]

Old English poems:
Poem #145, Ice  -- Anon. (Old English, 10th century)
Poem #326, The Seafarer  -- Anon. (Old English, pre-10th century

Poems by Seamus Heaney:
Poem #883, Personal Helicon -- Seamus Heaney
Poem #61, Song -- Seamus Heaney

Minstrels subscriber Matt Chanoff commented on "The Road Goes Ever On"
(Poem #4 on the Minstrels) that Tolkien alchemized many elements of the
Beowulf saga in the tale of Bilbo Baggins. Other Tolkien poems on the
Minstrels include:
Poem #46, Lament for Boromir  -- J. R. R. Tolkien
Poem #93, EƤrendil was a mariner  -- J. R. R. Tolkien
Poem #142, He chanted a song of wizardry  -- J. R. R. Tolkien
Poem #220, Lament for Eorl the Young  -- J. R. R. Tolkien
Poem #257, Three Rings for the Elven Kings  -- J. R. R. Tolkien
Poem #318, Tall ships and tall kings  -- J. R. R. Tolkien
Poem #370, Troll sat alone on his seat of stone  -- J. R. R. Tolkien
Poem #440, Bregalad's Lament  -- J. R. R. Tolkien
Poem #643, The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon -- J. R. R. Tolkien
Poem #736, The world was young, the mountains green -- J. R. R. Tolkien

Matt also submitted his own (different) set of excerpts from "Beowulf" for
inclusion on the list; we'll run them some day soon.


Yes, we goofed. Badly. There was a misplaced apostrophe in Friday's poem - a
very noticeable one, too:
   "Among it's desperate and slain,
   The Ogre stalks with hands on hips"
Ugh. As one of our readers said, Mr Auden would not have been amused.

Thanks to all the Alert Readers who wrote in to point out the error. We'll
proofread our posts more carefully in the future.

The Kraken -- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

(Poem #896) The Kraken
 Below the thunders of the upper deep;
 Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
 His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
 The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
 About his shadowy sides; above him swell
 Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
 And far away into the sickly light,
 From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
 Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
 Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
 There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
 Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
 Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
 Then once by man and angels to be seen,
 In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
-- Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Written in 1830.

Tennyson was only 21 years old when he wrote "The Kraken", but he already
possessed the mastery of image and phrase that was to become his trademark.
The fact that the poem remains known and loved to this day (unlike many of
Tennyson's later and, dare I say it, more reactionary pieces) belies its
usual classification under 'juvenilia'; indeed, I can think of few poets
(bar the incomparable Keats) who have achieved similar results at such a
tender age.

The poem itself is a wonderfully ominous one: Tennyson uses dense,
intertwined phrases to create an impression of ponderous weight and immense
size. You can almost feel the barnacles encrusting the middle third of the
poem: "sponges of millennial growth ... sickly light... unnumber'd and
enormous polypi". The finale, too, is most fitting: nothing less than the
last trumpet and judgement day will suffice to wake the monster from its
"ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep"... <shudder>.


[More on the Kraken]

kraken ("krA:k@n, "kreIk@n). Also 8 craken, cracken, kraaken. [Norw. kraken,
krakjen (the -n being the suffixed definite article), also called sykraken,
sjokrakjen sea-kraken. The name was first brought into general notice by
Pontoppidan in his Forste Forsog paa Norges naturlige Historie (1752).]
   A mythical sea-monster of enormous size, said to have been seen at times
off the coast of Norway.
   1755 tr. Pontoppidan's Hist. Norway ii. vii. 11. 211 Amongst the many
great things which are in the ocean, the Kraken.  This creature is the
largest and most surprizing of all the animal creation. 1770 Douglas in
Phil. Trans. LX. 41 to the existence of the aquatic animals,
called Kraakens. 1830 Tennyson Kraken 4 Far, far beneath the abysmal
sea,..The Kraken sleepeth. 1848 Lowell Ode to France 30 Ye are mad, ye have
taken A slumbering Kraken For firm land of the Past. 1862 Longfellow The
Cumberland vi, Like a kraken huge and black, She crushed our ribs in her
iron grasp!
        -- OED

[Minstrels Links]

"The Kraken" is very similar in theme and execution to Herman Melville's
"The Maldive Shark", Poem #775 on the Minstrels: both poems use wonderfully
dense, murky phrases to convey the sheer horror of the creatures they

Other poems by Tennyson:
Poem #15, The Eagle (a fragment)
Poem #31, Break, break, break
Poem #80, The Brook (excerpt)
Poem #121, Ulysses
Poem #355, Charge of the Light Brigade
Poem #653, Ring Out, Wild Bells
Poem #825, Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal, Now the White
Poem #852, Mariana in the Moated Grange

August 1968 -- W H Auden

Guest poem sent in by Zenobia Driver
(Poem #895) August 1968
 The Ogre does what ogres can,
 Deeds quite impossible for Man,
 But one prize is beyond his reach:
 The Ogre cannot master speech.

 About a subjugated plain,
 Among it's desperate and slain,
 The Ogre stalks with hands on hips,
 While drivel gushes from his lips.
-- W H Auden
This poem by Auden is one of the nicest put-downs I have read. I'd love to
say this to a few people, except that they wouldn't even understand what I
was saying.


Martin adds:

The poem's title refers to the Communist invasion of Czechoslovakia in
August 1968, to quash Dubcek's nascent series of reforms. See for more
background on the invasion. Auden's Ogre was a (fairly transparent) symbol
of Stalin and his forces, but, as Zenobia observes, the type is common even

Watch Your Step - I'm Drenched -- Adrian Mitchell

(Poem #894) Watch Your Step - I'm Drenched
 In Manchester there are a thousand puddles.
 Bus-queue puddles poised on slanting paving stones,
 Railway puddles slouching outside stations,
 Cinema puddles in ambush at the exits,
 Zebra-crossing puddles in dips of the dark stripes --
 They lurk in the murk
 Of the north-western evening
 For the sake of their notorious joke,
 Their only joke -- to soak
 The tights or trousers of the citizens.
 Each splash and consequent curse is echoed by
 One thousand dark Mancunian puddle chuckles.

 In Manchester there lives the King of Puddles,
 Master of Miniature Muck Lakes,
 The Shah of Slosh, Splendifero of Splash,
 Prince, Pasha and Pope of Puddledom.
 Where? Somewhere. The rain-headed ruler
 Lies doggo, incognito,
 Disguised as an average, accidental mini-pool.
 He is as scared as any other emperor,
 For one night, all his soiled and soggy victims
 Might storm his streets, assassination in their minds,
 A thousand rolls of blotting paper in their hands,
 And drink his shadowed, one-joke life away.
-- Adrian Mitchell
Yes, it rained today in Tokyo, and I conveniently left my umbrella at home,
hence the choice of today's poem. Or poems, perhaps: for some reason, "Watch
Your Step - I'm Drenched" always strikes me as being two different poems,
lumped together under one title for convenience (and not a very good title
at that). The stanzas have parallel opening lines, but there the similarity

The first stanza is descriptive, evocative, and murky; it explores (in
loving detail) the conceit that puddles everywhere are united in a nefarious
plot to rob us poor humans of our dignity (it's a conspiracy, I tell you!).
The imagery is brilliant: Mitchell writes of "Railway puddles slouching
outside stations / Cinema puddles in ambush at the exits" and you know
immediately what he means, down to the noises and smells and colours, the
soiled overcoats and the soggy socks. Add immortal phrases such as "One
thousand dark Mancunian puddle chuckles" and you have a winner.

The second stanza is completely different - yet equally successful. The
focus here is on a single anthropomorphic entity, the Sultan of Splatter,
the King of All Puddledom. A barrage of alliteration is followed by a
telling phrase - "as scared as any other emperor" - which segues flawlessly
into a suitably absurd (yet strangely convincing) image, that of a thousand
assassins with revenge in their hearts and blotting-paper in their hands.
Wonderfully, wonderfully done - Mitchell at his always-entertaining best.


[Minstrels Links]

Adrian Mitchell:
Poem #28, To Whom It May Concern
Poem #95, Nostalgia - Now Threepence Off
Poem #211, The Oxford Hysteria of English Poetry
Poem #337, Jimmy Giuffre Plays 'The Easy Way'
Poem #397, Ancestors
Poem #623, Ten Ways to Avoid Lending Your Wheelbarrow to Anybody
Poem #810, Beatrix is Three

Wash of Cold River -- H D

(Poem #893) Wash of Cold River
 Wash of cold river
 in a glacial land,
 Ionian water,
 chill, snow-ribbed sand,
 drift of rare flowers,
 clear, with delicate shell-
 like leaf enclosing
 frozen lily-leaf,
 camellia texture,
 older than a rose;

 that keeps the breath
 of the north-wind --
 these and none other;

 intimate thoughts and kind
 reach out to share
 the treasure of my mind,
 intimate hands and dear
 drawn garden-ward and sea-ward
 all the sheer rapture
 that I would take
 to mould a clear
 and frigid statue;

 rare, of pure texture,
 beautiful space and line,
 marble to grace
 your inaccessible shrine.
-- H D

Ionian: the Ionian Sea, an extension of the Mediterranean between Italy and
camellia: ornamental shrub with shiny leaves and bright flowers.

Today's poem is, even for HD, an unusually beautiful one. The delicate,
crystalline images create an impression that is *clean* in every sense of
the word - pure, elegant, uncluttered, and, as the poet suggests,
fundamentally cold and lifeless - 'marble to grace your inaccessible shrine'.

The choice of imagery is interesting - the pellucid tones of wind and water
play against the living tints of camellia and rose, but the overall
impression is one of colourlessness. Looking closer, this is deliberate -
'camellia texture' draws attention away from its visual properties; 'older
than a rose' evokes images of pale, faded petals, so that, ultimately, the
impression is of colour being not merely absent but actually drained from a
scene in which it might otherwise have been expected.

Again, there is an overwhelming impression of *silence* - sound, like
colour, is an attribute of life, and one that has likewise been drained from
the scene, though more subtly. What is left is a vision of rare but frigid
beauty, almost dreamlike in its ethereal remoteness, and capturing perfectly
the twin attributes of attractiveness and inaccessibility.


Stupid Pencil Maker -- Shel Silverstein

Guest poem submitted by Zarine Ninan:
(Poem #892) Stupid Pencil Maker
 Some dummy built this pencil wrong,
 The eraser's down here where the point belongs,
 And the point's at the top - so it's no good to me,
 It's amazing how stupid some people can be.
-- Shel Silverstein
It was really nice to see Silverstein getting his share of glory on the
Minstrels list a couple of days back [1], so here is another absurd one... I
for one simply love his work because it is so ridiculously silly. It just
makes me wonder if he is actually fatuous or a true genius!!! I'd sure like
to believe thet the latter is true.

Those who have had the pleasure of seeing the illustrations that go with his
poems, would agree that they just go hand in hand with his work.

I do regret that I never had a chance to read his work when I was growing
up, but that only gives me an incentive to go back to my childhood, where
even the simplest & most boring facts of life required over-the-top,
seemingly impossible explanations... And of course, these are exactly what
Silverstein offers.


[1] Make that a couple of months, actually; see Minstrels Poem #845, Recipe
for a Hippopotamus Sandwich, by Shel Silverstein.

A Doubt If It Be Us -- Emily Dickinson

Guest poem sent in by Connie Rockman

There is an Emily Dickinson poem that has been important to me for years,
not one of her better known poems, I think, but startlingly appropriate in
the wake of the tragedy . . .
(Poem #891) A Doubt If It Be Us
 A doubt if it be Us
 Assists the staggering Mind
 In an extremer Anguish
 Until it footing find.

 An Unreality is lent,
 A merciful Mirage
 That makes the living possible
 While it suspends the lives.
-- Emily Dickinson
Written about 1864, perhaps in response to the horrors of the Civil War
. . . perhaps to reflect on some personal trauma . . . in her inimitable
way, Dickinson speaks from the deepest recesses of the human soul,
giving words to feelings that many of us find impossible to express.

Connie Rockman,
Stratford, CT

All Along The Watch-Tower -- Bob Dylan

Guest poem sent in by Mohit
(Poem #890) All Along The Watch-Tower
 "There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief,
 "There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief.
 Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
 None of them along the line know what any of it is worth."

 "No reason to get excited," the thief, he kindly spoke,
 "There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
 But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate,
 So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."

 All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
 While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.

 Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl,
 Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.
-- Bob Dylan
             from "John Wesley Harding", 1967

I must admit that when i first heard the song back in college, the only line
that made any sense at all was -
  "There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke"
but in the aftermath of the events of the past week, it seems that the joke's on
 us! sadly no one is laughing.

Dylan's lyrics bear a stamp of timelessness. he briefly turns fortune-teller
through these words, but it's paradoxical that the setting spells gloom.
The last few words are eerie .when i heard Hendrix's version of the same song
earlier today, i was quite certain i heard the wind make noises.
  "Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl."



We've run a few of Dylan's lyrics on Minstrels:
poem #112
poem #227
poem #832

September 1, 1939 -- W H Auden

Guest poem sent in by John Burke
(Poem #889) September 1, 1939
 I sit in one of the dives
 On Fifty-second street
 Uncertain and afraid
 As the clever hopes expire
 Of a low dishonest decade:
 Waves of anger and fear
 Circulate over the bright
 and darkened lands of the earth,
 Obsessing our private lives;
 The unmentionable odour of death
 Offends the September night.

 Accurate scholarship can
 unearth the whole offence
 From Luther until now
 That has driven a culture mad,
 Find what occurred at Linz,
 What huge imago made
 A psychopathic god:
 I and the public know
 What all schoolchildren learn,
 Those to whom evil is done
 Do evil in return.

 Exiled Thucydides knew
 All that a speech can say
 About Democracy,
 And what dictators do,
 The elderly rubbish they talk
 To an apathetic grave;
 Analysed all in his book,
 The enlightenment driven away,
 The habit-forming pain,
 Mismanagement and grief:
 We must suffer them all again.

 Into this neutral air
 Where blind skyscrapers use
 Their full height to proclaim
 The strength of Collective Man,
 Each language pours its vain
 Competitive excuse:
 But who can live for long
 In an euphoric dream;
 Out of the mirror they stare,
 Imperialism¹s face
 And the international wrong.

 Faces along the bar
 Cling to their average day:
 The lights must never go out,
 The music must always play,
 All the conventions conspire
 To make this fort assume
 The furniture of home;
 Lest we should see where we are,
 Lost in a haunted wood,
 Children afraid of the night
 who have never been happy or good.

 The windiest militant trash
 Important Persons shout
 Is not so crude as our wish:
 What mad Nijinsky wrote
 About Diaghilev
 Is true of the normal heart;
 For the error bred in the bone
 Of each woman and each man
 Craves what it cannot have,
 Not universal love
 But to be loved alone.

 From the conservative dark
 Into the ethical life
 The dense commuters come,
 Repeating their morning vow,
 "I will be true to the wife.
 I'll concentrate more on my work,"
 And helpless governors wake
 To resume their compulsory game:
 Who can release them now,
 Who can reach the deaf,
 Who can speak for the dumb?

 All I have is a voice
 To undo the folded lie,
 The romantic lie in the brain
 Of the sensual man-in-the-street
 And the lie of Authority
 Whose buildings grope the sky:
 There is no such thing as the State
 And no one exists alone;
 Hunger allows no choice
 To the citizen or the police;
 We must love one another or die.

 Defenceless under the night
 Our world in stupor lies;
 Yet, dotted everywhere,
 Ironic points of light
 Flash out wherever the Just
 Exchange their messages;
 May I, composed like them
 Of Eros and of dust,
 Beleaguered by the same
 Negation and despair,
 Show an affirming flame.
-- W H Auden
The poem (which has long been my favorite in English) speaks for itself. I
might just note that in fact, as Auden himself pointed out some years later,
we must love one another *and* die; it's a little light-minded to suppose
that somehow love conquers mortality. It doesn't, though it can make the
knowledge of mortality bearable.

-- jvb

[Martin adds: "We must love one another and die" has gone straight onto my
list of favourite quotations.]

A Psalm of Life -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Guest poem sent in by Sally
(Poem #888) A Psalm of Life
What the heart of the young man said to the psalmist

 Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
     Life is but an empty dream! --
 For the soul is dead that slumbers,
     And things are not what they seem.

 Life is real!  Life is earnest!
     And the grave is not its goal;
 Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
     Was not spoken of the soul.

 Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
     Is our destined end or way;
 But to act, that each to-morrow
     Find us farther than to-day.

 Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
     And our hearts, though stout and brave,
 Still, like muffled drums, are beating
     Funeral marches to the grave.

 In the world's broad field of battle,
     In the bivouac of Life,
 Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
     Be a hero in the strife!

 Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
     Let the dead Past bury its dead!
 Act, -- act in the living Present!
     Heart within, and God o'erhead!

 Lives of great men all remind us
     We can make our lives sublime,
 And, departing, leave behind us
     Footprints on the sands of time;

 Footprints, that perhaps another,
     Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
 A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
     Seeing, shall take heart again.

 Let us, then, be up and doing,
     With a heart for any fate;
 Still achieving, still pursuing,
     Learn to labor and to wait.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
    Thank you for choosing a poem with the terrorist attacks in mind.  I live
in Washington, DC, and have been getting first hand reports from a niece who
lives in downtown NY in an apartment that had a view of the World Trade
Center.  However, I think almost all Americans have felt personally affected
by this tragedy.

     I'm sure I'm not the only one of your subscribers who has been looking
for poetry that speaks to us at this time.  I hope others will send you their
suggestions.  Regarding "Beat! Beat! Drums!" I agree with your comments that
the poem describes how an idea -- a Cause -- can grip a people.  It does
occur to me that the Cause in the case of Whitman's war was ending slavery, a
Cause worth fighting a war if there ever was one.  There is real irony in the
fact that his poem just as effectively portrays less worthy Causes.

    As I looked through my various poetry books, I found myself coming back
to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's A Psalm of Life.  Here in America, one has to
be struck by the way Americans have risen to the occasion: fire and rescue
workers giving their lives trying to save others; people carrying others down
70 flights of stairs; thousands of people lining up to donate blood.  I think
the Longfellow poem speaks to that sort of spirit.

A note in my book says that, "significantly, [Longfellow] referred to it
variously as both a psalm of life and a psalm of death."


Beat! Beat! Drums! -- Walt Whitman

(Poem #887) Beat! Beat! Drums!
 Beat! beat! drums! -- blow! bugles! blow!
 Through the windows -- through doors -- burst like a ruthless force,
 Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
 Into the school where the scholar is studying;
 Leave not the bridegroom quiet -- no happiness must he have now with his bride,
 Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering his grain,
 So fierce you whirr and pound you drums -- so shrill you bugles blow.

 Beat! beat! drums! -- blow! bugles! blow!
 Over the traffic of cities -- over the rumble of wheels in the streets;
 Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses?
                                       no sleepers must sleep in those beds,
 No bargainers bargains by day -- no brokers or speculators --
                                                       would they continue?
 Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt to sing?
 Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before the judge?
 Then rattle quicker, heavier drums -- you bugles wilder blow.

 Beat! beat! drums! -- blow! bugles! blow!
 Make no parley -- stop for no expostulation,
 Mind not the timid -- mind not the weeper or prayer,
 Mind not the old man beseeching the young man,
 Let not the child's voice be heard, nor the mother's entreaties,
 Make even the trestles to shake the dead where they lie awaiting the hearses,
 So strong you thump O terrible drums -- so loud you bugles blow.
-- Walt Whitman
Today's poem is not so much about war, as about the *idea* of war, and the
terrible urgency with which it can sweep through a nation's consciousness,
consuming or overpowering everything in its path.

The structure and rhythms of the poem reflect that urgency - not the
measured cadence of a marching drum, but the rising, almost hysterical rush
of sound as action seeks to displace thought, as the drums 'rattle quicker,
heavier' and the bugles 'wilder blow'.

It is tempting to view this as purely an antiwar poem - tempting, but overly
simplistic. More accurately, the poem is more descriptive than judgemental,
capturing rather precisely the raised emotions and demanded sacrifices of a
brewing war, and the frightening, jealous power with which an idea, a Cause
can grip a people.


Yes, today's poem was prompted by the terrorist attack on the World Trade
Center, and its nascent aftermath. A poem that better resonates with my
feelings, though, is MacNeice's "The Sunlight on the Garden", already run on
Minstrels: poem #757


Maiden Name -- Philip Larkin

Guest poem submitted by Priscilla Jebaraj:
(Poem #886) Maiden Name
 Marrying left your maiden name disused.
 Its five light sounds no longer mean your face,
 Your voice, and all your variants of grace;
 For since you were so thankfully confused
 By law with someone else, you cannot be
 Semantically the same as that young beauty:
 It was of her that these two words were used.

 Now it's a phrase applicable to no one,
 Lying just where you left it, scattered through
 Old lists, old programmes, a school prize or two
 Packets of letters tied with tartan ribbon -
 Then is it scentless, weightless, strengthless, wholly
 Untruthful? Try whispering it slowly.
 No, it means you. Or, since you're past and gone,

 It means what we feel now about you then:
 How beautiful you were, and near, and young,
 So vivid, you might still be there among
 Those first few days, unfingermarked again.
 So your old name shelters our faithfulness,
 Instead of losing shape and meaning less
 With your depreciating luggage laden.
-- Philip Larkin
I like everyday poems too, and I thought of this one when I read Night
Vision. I guess it's not really an everyday poem -- giving up your maiden
name doesn't happen everyday! -- but the images used are everyday. This
isn't a profound reflection on the loss of identity. Or maybe it is; except
that big words aren't used. Instead, there are simple, everyday pictures of
school prizes and tartan ribbon. This doesn't seem a poem with a forceful
message to propagate. But maybe it does just that, in its everyday way.


[Minstrels Links]

Philip Larkin:
Poem #73, I Remember, I Remember
Poem #100, Days
Poem #178, Water
Poem #254, The North Ship
Poem #502, MCMXIV
Poem #544, Toads
Poem #756, An Arundel Tomb
Poem #793, No Road

Night Vision -- Suzanne Vega

(Poem #885) Night Vision
 By day give thanks, by night beware
 Half the world in sweetness, the other in fear

 When the darkness takes you, with her hand across your face
 Don't give in too quickly, find the things she's erased

   Find the line, find the shape through the grain
   Find the outline and things will tell you their name

 The table, the guitar, the empty glass
 All will blend together when the daylight has passed

   Find the line, find the shape through the grain
   Find the outline and things will tell you their name

 Now I watch you falling into sleep
 Watch your fist uncurl against the sheet
 Watch your lips fall open and your eyes dim
 In blind faith

 I would shelter you
 And keep you in light
 But I can only teach you
 Night vision
 Night vision
 Night vision
-- Suzanne Vega
I like everyday poems. Of course, I also like love poems, and war poems,
metaphysicals and the Movement, irreverent flights of whimsy and dense
conglomerations of weighty syllables. But there's a special place in my
affections for poems that celebrate the simple, the ordinary, the casual -
and which do so in such a manner as to offer a new way of seeing them.

Today's poem is one such. Who hasn't reflected on the way things look after
the lights have been turned out? The strange shapes furniture and fabric
take, the patterns of moonlight and shadow rippling across walls and floor,
the reflected images in mirrors, the silhouettes of lamps and bookshelves
and chairs and vases... at night, reality itself seems to 'suffer a
sea-change / into something rich and strange' [1].

And Vega captures this. "Night vision" is a song [2] that combines the magic
of darkness with the tenderness and poetry of love, and it's wonderfully,
wonderfully done.


[1] Shakespeare, "The Tempest". See poem #16
[2] It's on her utterly brilliant (and surprisingly little known) second
album, "Solitude Standing", released in 1987.

The Day is Done -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

(Poem #884) The Day is Done
 The day is done, and the darkness
 Falls from the wings of Night,
 As a feather is wafted downward
 From an eagle in his flight.

 I see the lights of the village
 Gleam through the rain and the mist,
 And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me
 That my soul cannot resist:

 A feeling of sadness and longing,
 That is not akin to pain,
 And resembles sorrow only
 As the mist resembles the rain.

 Come, read to me some poem,
 Some simple and heartfelt lay,
 That shall soothe this restless feeling,
 And banish the thoughts of day.

 Not from the grand old masters,
 Not from the bards sublime,
 Whose distant footsteps echo
 Through the corridors of Time,

 For, like strains of martial music,
 Their mighty thoughts suggest
 Life's endless toil and endeavor;
 And tonight I long for rest.

 Read from some humbler poet,
 Whose songs gushed from his heart,
 As showers from the clouds of summer,
 Or tears from the eyelids start;

 Who, through long days of labor,
 And nights devoid of ease,
 Still heard in his soul the music
 Of wonderful melodies.

 Such songs have a power to quiet
 The restless pulse of care,
 And comes like the benediction
 That follows after prayer.

 Then read from the treasured volume
 The poem of thy choice,
 And lend to the rhyme of the poet
 The beauty of thy voice.

 And the night shall be filled with music,
 And the cares, that infest the day,
 Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
 And as silently steal away.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Longfellow's another poet I have found myself reading increasingly of late -
there is something both soothing and satisfyingly right about his choice of
words and images. The soothing aspect stems, I think, mainly from his easy
acceptance of timeworn themes, his refusal to be startling for the mere sake
of being startling. This is not, however, to suggest that his poetry is
cliched - like all the great poets, Longfellow can take an old idea, shape
and polish it until it glows softly and then fit it seamlessly into the
larger pattern of a poem.

Today's poem is an excellent illustration. The first verse is about as
timeworn an image as one can ask for, but handled with a quiet assurance
that saves it from triteness. The rest of the poem develops as quietly,
laying down its images of rest and peace, interspersed with some beautiful
images like

          A feeling of sadness and longing,
          That is not akin to pain,
          And resembles sorrow only
          As the mist resembles the rain.

and the whole, despite the occasional faltering step, *works* - the verses
build up in a hypnotic rhythm that does indeed 'have a power to quiet the
restless pulse of care'.

I will admit, though, that poems like this one require a certain suspension
of criticism on the part of the reader. Longfellow's use of both language
and imagery is deliberate rather than subtle, and to balk at the obviousness
and refuse to be led is to lose the point of the poem. Rather, the reader
has to be willing to immerse himself in the poem, and ignore the occasional
hiccup for the sake of the overall effect.

Afterthought: The last verse of the poem qualifies it for the Bertie Wooster
theme we ran a while back - see poem #720 for the theme summary.


Personal Helicon -- Seamus Heaney

Our apologies for the irregular service over the last few days; both Martin
and myself have been rather busy with the Real World.
(Poem #883) Personal Helicon
 As a child, they could not keep me from wells
 And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
 I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
 Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

 One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
 I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
 Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
 So deep you saw no reflection in it.

 A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
 Fructified like any aquarium.
 When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
 A white face hovered over the bottom.

 Others had echoes, gave back your own call
 With a clean new music in it. And one
 Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
 Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.

 Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
 To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
 Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
 To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.
-- Seamus Heaney

"Personal Helicon" first appeared in "Eleven Poems", published in 1965.
The poem is dedicated to Michael Longley, a contemporary of Heaney's at
Philip Hobsbaum's poetry workshop in Belfast.
Mt. Helicon in Greece is said to be the home of the Muses, nine sister
goddesses in Greek mythology presiding over song and poetry and the arts and


Seamus Heaney has always been fascinated with the earth, with the quality of
earthiness. His poems are invariably dense and muddy, clumps of murky
adjectives and plodding nouns pulling the reader into a world full of 'the
smells / Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss'. Even his titles reflect this
preoccupation, from "Bogland" (the very first poem in his very first
collection), to his justly celebrated (if somewhat unsettling) masterpiece,
"Death of a Naturalist".

Unfortunately, this predilection is not a very fashionable one - indeed, I
can't help but shudder at some of the imagery in "Naturalist" - which is
perhaps why Heaney chose to expand on it in today's poem. As the title makes
clear, this is a poem about poetic inspiration: Heaney's Muse is a gritty,
plodding, deliberate creature, more Caliban than Ariel. A perfectly
legitimate choice (if it can be called a choice at all), and one which sets
his poetry apart, and gives it distinction.


[broken link] is a biography which
delves quite deeply into Heaney's themes and poetic development; here's an
extract which talks about today's poem:

"Heaney is here presenting his own source of inspiration, the 'dark drop'
into personal and cultural memory, made present by the depths of the wells
of his childhood. Now, as a man, he is too mature to scramble about on hands
and knees, looking into the deep places of the earth, but he has his poetry.
This serves as his glimpse into places where 'there is no reflection', but
only the sound of a rhyme, like a bucket, setting 'the darkness echoing'. "
        -- [broken link]

Surprisingly for a poet of his stature, Heaney has featured only once on the
Minstrels. The lovely "Song" can be read at poem #61, along with the EB
bio, critical assessment, and some external links.


Wind -- Ted Hughes

(Poem #882) Wind
 This house has been far out at sea all night,
 The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,
 Winds stampeding the fields under the window
 Floundering black astride and blinding wet

 Till day rose; then under an orange sky
 The hills had new places, and wind wielded
 Blade-light, luminous black and emerald,
 Flexing like the lens of a mad eye.

 At noon I scaled along the house-side as far as
 The coal-house door. Once I looked up --
 Through the brunt wind that dented the balls of my eyes
 The tent of the hills drummed and strained its guyrope,

 The fields quivering, the skyline a grimace,
 At any second to bang and vanish with a flap;
 The wind flung a magpie away and a black-
 Back gull bent like an iron bar slowly. The house

 Rang like some fine green goblet in the note
 That any second would shatter it. Now deep
 In chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip
 Our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought,

 Or each other. We watch the fire blazing,
 And feel the roots of the house move, but sit on,
 Seeing the window tremble to come in,
 Hearing the stones cry out under the horizons.
-- Ted Hughes
 From the arresting opening image of a farmhouse being tossed about like a
ship in a storm, right through to the tense, not-quite-resolved ending, this
is a breathtakingly vivid poem. Hughes captures the power of the wind in
phrases that ring with an elemental fury of their own, a wild and
unquenchable energy. This effect is enhanced by his choice of words: 'brunt'
is only the most obvious example of his eschewing pretty Latinate constructs
for gritty Germanic equivalents. Indeed, the ancestry of this poem is very
clear: "Wind" belongs to the tradition of Icelandic sagas and Norse
mythology, poems which celebrate, with a mixture of awe and dread, the
unimaginable power of Nature and the insignificance of Man.


[Minstrels Links]

Ted Hughes:
Poem #42, Hawk Roosting
Poem #98, The Thought Fox
Poem #417, Thistles
Poem #671, Lineage
Poem #723, Full Moon and Little Frieda
Poem #768, Theology

Sylvia Plath:
Poem #53, Winter landscape, with rocks
Poem #129, Ariel
Poem #366, Child
Poem #404, Daddy
Poem #612, Love Letter
Poem #678, Mirror
Poem #881, The Moon and the Yew-tree

Poem #109, The Viking Terror  -- Anon. (Irish, 9th century)
Poem #145, Ice  -- Anon. (Old English, 10th century)
Poem #326, The Seafarer  -- Anon. (Old English, pre-10th century

The Moon and the Yew tree -- Sylvia Plath

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #881) The Moon and the Yew tree
 "This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary.
 The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.
 The grasses unload their griefs at my feet as if I were God,
 Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility.
 Fumy spiritious mists inhabit this place
 Separated from my house by a row of headstones.
 I simply cannot see where there is to get to.

 The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right,
 White as a knuckle and terribly upset.
 It drags the sea after it like a dark crime; it is quiet
 With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here.
 Twice on Sunday, the bells startle the sky -
 Eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection.
 At the end, they soberly bong out their names.

 The yew tree points up. It has a Gothic shape.
 The eyes lift after it and find the moon.
 The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
 Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.
 How I would like to believe in tenderness -
 The face of the effigy, gentled by candles,
 Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.

 I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering
 Blue and mystical over the face of the stars.
 Inside the church, the saints will be all blue,
 Floating on their delicate feet over cold pews,
 Their hands and faces stiff with holiness.
 The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.
 And the message of the yew tree is blackness - blackness and silence."
-- Sylvia Plath
Rilke wrote that "beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror" and I can't
think of any poet who exemplifies that more consistently than Plath. This
poem is a particular favourite of mine, combing a chilling evocation of
place, a plethora of unforgettable phrases ("the moon is no door") and that
dangerous balance between observation and introspection that Plath does
better than anyone else. If ever there was an imagery for despair, this is


[Minstrels Links]

Sylvia Plath:
Poem #53, Winter landscape, with rocks
Poem #129, Ariel
Poem #366, Child
Poem #404, Daddy
Poem #612, Love Letter
Poem #678, Mirror

Rainer Maria Rilke:
Poem #136, The Panther
Poem #861, Spanish Dancer

The Sergeant's Weddin' -- Rudyard Kipling

(Poem #880) The Sergeant's Weddin'
 'E was warned agin' 'er --
  That's what made 'im look;
 She was warned agin' 'im --
  That is why she took.
 'Wouldn't 'ear no reason,
  'Went an' done it blind;
 We know all about 'em,
  They've got all to find!

     Cheer for the Sergeant's weddin' --
     Give 'em one cheer more!
     Grey gun-'orses in the lando,
     An' a rogue is married to, etc.

 What's the use o' tellin'
  'Arf the lot she's been?
 'E's a bloomin' robber,
  An' 'e keeps canteen.
 'Ow did 'e get 'is buggy?
  Gawd, you needn't ask!
 'Made 'is forty gallon
  Out of every cask!

 Watch 'im, with 'is 'air cut,
  Count us filin' by --
 Won't the Colonel praise 'is
  Pop -- u -- lar -- i -- ty!
 We 'ave scores to settle --
  Scores for more than beer;
 She's the girl to pay 'em --
  That is why we're 'ere!

 See the chaplain thinkin'?
  See the women smile?
 Twig the married winkin'
  As they take the aisle?
 Keep your side-arms quiet,
  Dressin' by the Band.
 Ho! You 'oly beggars,
  Cough be'ind your 'and!

 Now it's done an' over,
  'Ear the organ squeak,
 "'Voice that breathed o'er Eden" --
  Ain't she got the cheek!
 White an' laylock ribbons,
  Think yourself so fine!
 I'd pray Gawd to take yer
  'Fore I made yer mine!

 Escort to the kerridge,
  Wish 'im luck, the brute!
 Chuck the slippers after --
  [Pity 'tain't a boot!]
 Bowin' like a lady,
  Blushin' like a lad --
 'Oo would say to see 'em
  Both is rotten bad?

     Cheer for the Sergeant's weddin' --
      Give 'em one cheer more!
     Grey gun-'orses in the lando,
      An' a rogue is married to, etc.
-- Rudyard Kipling
Note: The "etc." in the chorus is pretty clearly "an 'ore"; I have no idea
why the bowdlerisation, which seems fairly uncharacteristic of Kipling.

Kipling has written the occasional dialect poem; like most such poems, there
is a certain tension between the fact that the dialect is an integral part
of the mood the poet wishes to convey, and the fact that it often gets in
the way of the poem, hindering rather than helping the reader. Of course,
like most Kipling, he's done a remarkably good job of it; the poem flows
smoothly, the dialect and the metre blending seamlessly.

It helps, of course, that the dialect is fairly easy to read; mostly the
dropped 'h's and the occasional altered spelling - really more an accent
than a dialect. And it *does* work here; the impression of a bunch of
jeering soldiers comes across far more clearly than it would have in cleaned
up, formal English.


  Leslie Fish's musical setting changes 'rogue' to 'bastard' in the refrain;
given that it already requires one level of unbowdlerisation, this seems
rather appropriate.


  Kipling biography: poem #17

  "The Voice that Breathed O'er Eden":
    [broken link]

  And, of course, all the Kipling poems we've run previously,
    [broken link]