Subscribe: by Email | in Reader

Stately as a Galleon -- Joyce Grenfell

Guest poem sent in by Frank O'Shea

You are gone all serious, lately.

Here is something to lighten the mood.
(Poem #1241) Stately as a Galleon
 My neighbour, Mrs Fanshaw, is portly-plump and gay,
 She must be over sixty-seven, if she is a day.
 You might have thought her life was dull,
 It's one long whirl instead.
 I asked her all about it, and this is what she said:

 I've joined an Olde Thyme Dance Club, the trouble is that there
 Are too many ladies over, and no gentlemen to spare.
 It seems a shame, it's not the same,
 But still it has to be,
 Some ladies have to dance together,
 One of them is me.

 Stately as a galleon, I sail across the floor,
 Doing the Military Two-step, as in the days of yore.
 I dance with Mrs Tiverton; she's light on her feet, in spite
 Of turning the scale at fourteen stone, and being of medium height.
 So gay the band,
 So giddy the sight,
 Full evening dress is a must,
 But the zest goes out of a beautiful waltz
 When you dance it bust to bust.

 So, stately as two galleons, we sail across the floor,
 Doing the Valse Valeta as in the days of yore.
 The gent is Mrs Tiverton, I am her lady fair,
 She bows to me ever so nicely and I curtsey to her with care.
 So gay the band,
 So giddy the sight,
 But it's not the same in the end
 For a lady is never a gentleman, though
 She may be your bosom friend.

 So, stately as a galleon, I sail across the floor,
 Doing the dear old Lancers, as in the days of yore.
 I'm led by Mrs Tiverton, she swings me round and round
 And though she manoeuvres me wonderfully well
 I never get off the ground.
 So gay the band,
 So giddy the sight,
 I try not to get depressed.
 And it's done me a power of good to explode,
 And get this lot off my chest.
-- Joyce Grenfell

Born in London; her mother was sister of Nancy Astor. After school, she was
"finished" at a private school in Paris. She met her husband when she was
17; they were married two years later and lived in a cottage on the Astor's
Cliveden estate.

Her first job was writing reviews of radio programs for The Observer. She
got her first break in writing and performing on radio from Stephen Potter.

She wrote monologues, poems and sketches for radio and later starred in
films with people like Alastair Sims, George Cole and Frankie Howerd. Best
known for the St. Trinians films.

Also appeared in revues with people like Noel Coward, Edith Evans, Peter

In the 70s she was a popular member of the panel of the BBC television
program Face the Music and contributed to Thought for the Day

It's sad that you probably couldn't do this kind of poem today without
offending someone - old people, large people, fans of Olde Tyme dancing etc.

You can find more information on Joyce Grenfell at

Frank O'Shea

The Night has a Thousand Eyes -- Francis William Bourdillon

Guest poem sent in by Mallika Chellappa
(Poem #1240) The Night has a Thousand Eyes
 The night has a thousand eyes,
      And the day but one;
 Yet the light of the bright world dies
      With the dying sun.

 The mind has a thousand eyes,
      And the heart but one:
 Yet the light of a whole life dies
       When love is done.
-- Francis William Bourdillon
This poem beautifully expresses the
psyche of someone who could go into a
decline and die of unrequited love.

Although I am not one of those, it
is only thanks to exposure to such poems
that I have developed a measure of
tolerance for people with more sensibility
(a la Jane Austen) than I.


[If anyone has a biography, please do send it in. -- martin]

Hospital Haiku -- Dr K D Beernink

Guest poem sent in by Allen Finley
(Poem #1239) Hospital Haiku
 The new interns
       Stiff in starched white suits.
 The July heat!

 Grinning into
       The newborn nursery
 A man holding daisies.

 Screaming objections
       In the hospital lobby--
 A small naked boy.

 All night below zero.
       Today in the clinic
 New complaints of chest pain.

 Resting on the stairs
       An old man with a large chest
 And a cigarette.

 Holding daffodils
       Near the hospital florist--
 An old woman, weeping.

 Only one room is lit
       In the hospital tonight--
 And the August moon!

 Beside this death bed
       Two old men
-- Dr K D Beernink
From Ward Rounds, Washington Square East Publishers, Wallingford, PA, 1970.

Kenneth Dale Beernink graduated from Stanford University Medical
School, started internship at Yale, and was married, all in 1965. In
1966, he was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, returned to
Stanford as a research fellow. During three years at Stanford he
continued to play jazz (and other genres), built a harpsichord, and
fathered a child. He died in 1969.

I discovered this small book of poems when I was in medical school in
the late 1970s, and found them very moving. Most of the poems in the
book are quite long, and generate wonderful images of individual
patients (or patient types). I thought I would start, however, by
submitting these haiku, which portray gem-like moments in time that
would be recognized by any nurse or physician who has trained in a
general hospital. Although some of the descriptions and medical
outcomes seem dated now (interns haven't worn starched white for many
years), the images are timeless. If people are interested, I will
submit some of Beernink's other works.

Allen Finley, MD FRCPC
Professor of Anesthesia and Psychology
Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada

This Will Not Win Him -- Jalaluddin Rumi

Guest poem sent in by Seema Pai
(Poem #1238) This Will Not Win Him
 Reason says,
 I will win him with my eloquence.

 Love says,
 I will win him with my silence.

 Soul says,
 How can I ever win him
 When all I have is already his?

 He does not want, he does not worry,
 He does not seek a sublime state of euphoria -
 How then can I win him
 With sweet wine or gold? . . .

 He is not bound by the senses -
 How then can I win him
 With all the riches of China?

 He is an angel,
 Though he appears in the form of a man.
 Even angels cannot fly in his presence -
 How then can I win him
 By assuming a heavenly form?

 He flies on the wings of God,
 His food is pure light -
 How then can I win him
 With a loaf of baked bread?

 He is neither a merchant, nor a tradesman -
 How then can I win him
 With a plan of great profit?

 He is not blind, nor easily fooled -
 How then can I win him
 By lying in bed as if gravely ill?

 I will go mad, pull out my hair,
 Grind my face in the dirt -
 How will this win him?

 He sees everything -
 how can I ever fool him?

 He is not a seeker of fame,
 A prince addicted to the praise of poets -
 How then can I win him
 With flowing rhymes and poetic verses?

 The glory of his unseen form
 Fills the whole universe
 How then can I win him
 With a mere promise of paradise?

 I may cover the earth with roses,
 I may fill the ocean with tears,
 I may shake the heavens with praises -
 none of this will win him.

 There is only one way to win him,
 this Beloved of mine -

 Become his.
-- Jalaluddin Rumi
This poem actually arrived in my mailbox this morning from a 'Rumi poetry'
egroup I subscribed to recently. I love the way the poem builds up in
passion and desperation and ends in a quiet moment of realisation. Dont have
much to say about the poem except that I thought it was *so* romantic and
beautiful even in translation, that I wonder just how pretty it might have
been if I could read and understand it in Farsi.


No Images -- William Waring Cuney

Guest poem sent in by Vidur
(Poem #1237) No Images
 She does not know
 Her beauty,
 She thinks her brown skin
 Has no glory.
 If she could dance
 Under palm trees
 And see her image in the river
 She would know.

 But there are no palm trees
 On the street,
 And dishwater gives back no images.
-- William Waring Cuney
i first heard this poem on the album 'nina simone sings nina' - she
"sang" it without any instrumental accompaniment, her powerful and
distinctive voice bringing a poignancy to the lyrics. her song is
titled 'images.'

i don't know anything of waring cuney other than that he came out of
the harlem rennaissance. nina simone, however, i know a little more
about, and it was with some sadness that i read in the news that she
had passed away.

although nina simone is often referred to as a jazz and blues singer,
she is far too versatile to be squeezed into any category. in her raspy
(and undeniably sexy) voice she did definitive cover versions of some
very popular songs (she nearly moved me to tears with her rendition of
brel's 'ne me quitte pas').

nina simone was a powerful voice in the civil rights struggle, or as
she liked to say "for her people." she wrote and sang some of her best
songs in response to socio-political events in the 60s - 'mississipi
goddam', 'four women', and 'why?' (on the assassination of mlk jr.) to
name a few.

i think it's fair to say that nina was the last of the great black


Here's a biography:
  [broken link]

Self-Improvement -- Tony Hoagland

Guest poem sent in by Sashidhar Dandamudi
(Poem #1236) Self-Improvement
 Just before she flew off like a swan
 to her wealthy parents' summer home,
 Bruce's college girlfriend asked him
 to improve his expertise at oral sex,
 and offered him some technical advice:

 Use nothing but his tonguetip
 to flick the light switch in his room
 on and off a hundred times a day
 until he grew fluent at the nuances
 of force and latitude.

 Imagine him at practice every evening,
 more inspired than he ever was at algebra,
 beads of sweat sprouting on his brow,
 thinking, thirty-seven, thirty-eight,
 seeing, in the tunnel vision of his mind's eye,
 the quadratic equation of her climax
 yield to the logic
 of his simple math.

 Maybe he unscrewed
 the bulb from his apartment ceiling
 so that passersby would not believe
 a giant firefly was pulsing
 its electric abdomen in 13 B.

 Maybe, as he stood
 two inches from the wall,
 in darkness, fogging the old plaster
 with his breath, he visualized the future
 as a mansion standing on the shore
 that he was rowing to
 with his tongue's exhausted oar.

 Of course, the girlfriend dumped him:
 met someone, apres-ski, who,
 using nothing but his nose
 could identify the vintage of a Cabernet.

 Sometimes we are asked
 to get good at something we have
 no talent for,
 or we excel at something we will never
 have the opportunity to prove.

 Often we ask ourselves
 to make absolute sense
 out of what just happens,
 and in this way, what we are practicing

 is suffering,
 which everybody practices,
 but strangely few of us
 grow graceful in.

 The climaxes of suffering are complex,
 costly, beautiful, but secret.
 Bruce never played the light switch again.

 So the avenues we walk down,
 full of bodies wearing faces,
 are full of hidden talent:
 enough to make pianos moan,
 sidewalks split,
 streetlights deliriously flicker.
-- Tony Hoagland
This poem is from a book of poems I was reading two nights ago, called
Donkey Gospel. And I was rolling in the aisles and speaking in tongues
when I was done as it was just a magnificient take on living (perhaps
living in America), full of humor and irony.

And Self Improvement speaks volumes of a lot of things: relationships
atleast the pathetic aspect of them, the whole self improvement creed,
hidden talents and the need for zany poetry to illumine all of these.

Run this!


Other Details:

TONY HOAGLAND's first book, Sweet Ruin, won the Brittingham Prize in
Poetry and the Zacharis Award from Ploughshares at Emerson College. Donkey
Gospel was the recipient of the 1997 James Laughlin Award of The Academy
of American Poets. Hoagland currently teaches at the University of

for a few more poems from the same book:

Rose -- William Carlos Williams

Another guest poem inspired by Poem #1224 - Aseem

Reading the Gluck poem reminded me of this exquisite Williams poem that
I can't resist sharing:
(Poem #1235) Rose
 The rose is obsolete
 but each petal ends in
 an edge, the double facet
 cementing the grooved
 columns of air--The edge
 cuts without cutting
 itself in metal or porcelain--

 whither? It ends--

 But if it ends
 the start is begun
 so that to engage roses
 becomes a geometry--

 Sharper, neater, more cutting
 figured in majolica--
 the broken plate
 glazed with a rose

 Somewhere the sense
 makes copper roses
 steel roses--

 The rose carried weight of love
 but love is at an end--of roses

 It is at the edge of the
 petal that love waits

 Crisp, worked to defeat
 plucked, moist, half-raised
 cold, precise, touching


 The place between the petal's
 edge and the

 From the petal's edge a line starts
 that being of steel
 infinitely fine, infinitely
 rigid penetrates
 the Milky Way
 without contact--lifting
 from it--neither hanging
 nor pushing--

 The fragility of the flower
 penetrates space
-- William Carlos Williams
A poem that demands not so much to be read as to be fingered.


[Martin adds]

I'm not, in general, a big fan of Williams, but this was an amazing poem.
Right from the blatantly provocative opening line, the images kept me
enthralled with their careful dissonances and their almost mathematical
beauty. As Aseem says, there's something very tactile about the poem, a
promise of precise, crystalline delicacy that demands to be fingered as much
as read - an "infinitely fine, infinitely rigid" rendering of the rose that
despite its inanimate imagery is not in the least bit sterile.

Note the strong undercurrent of Platonic philosophy -

 to engage roses
 becomes a geometry--

speaks of the Platonic ideal of a Rose, and the senses' heavy "copper roses,
steel roses" gradually refine themselves until we're back to the "infinitely
fine, infinitely rigid", the ethereal nature remanifesting itself. And then
the word 'unbruised' at the end simultaneously reminds us that the rose *is*
indeed capable of being bruised (back to imperfect matter), and is
nonetheless unbruised and "penetrating space", uniting the twin threads of
matter and geometry. Exquisite indeed.


Peonies -- Mary Oliver

Guest poem sent in by Vidur
(Poem #1234) Peonies
 This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
 to break my heart
 as the sun rises,
 as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

 and they open -
 pools of lace,
 white and pink -
 and all day the black ants climb over them,

 boring their deep and mysterious holes
 into the curls,
 craving the sweet sap,
 taking it away

 to their dark, underground cities -
 and all day
 under the shifty wind,
 as in a dance to the great wedding,

 the flowers bend their bright bodies,
 and tip their fragrance to the air,
 and rise,
 their red stems holding

 all that dampness and recklessness
 gladly and lightly,
 and there it is again -
 beauty the brave, the exemplary,

 blazing open.
 Do you love this world?
 Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
 Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?

 Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
 and softly,
 and exclaiming of their dearness,
 fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

 with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
 their eagerness
 to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
 nothing, forever?
-- Mary Oliver
I'm a little behind on my minstrels reading, so I just got to the poem
by Louis Gluck that Alan sent in (Poem #1224). To borrow from his dead-on
comment, the truly wonderful nature poets "say something beyond description
while still keeping one's description exact".

I recently discovered Mary Oliver at a used book sale, and simply had to
send in one of her poems. A celebrated American poet, she won the Pulitzer
in '84. Some of the poems are exquisite.

'Peonies' is from the book 'New and Selected Poems', which earned her
the National Book Award for poetry. It is perhaps more representative
of her style and themes than 'Wild Geese' is, although the latter is
her most quoted poem (and I see was run on Minstrels some time ago).

I can't really speak for anyone else, but I do wish that I could be
'wild and perfect for a moment', even if I'm 'nothing forever' after.


[Martin adds]

This is one of those rare poems that packs a little extra punch in both its
opening and its closing lines. Indeed, despite the poised beauty of "wild
and perfect for a moment, before they are nothing forever", I think my
favourite line in a lovely poem is "the green fists of the peonies are
getting ready to break my heart". Poignant, yet as Alan said and Vidur
concurred, an undeniably exact description.

Ballad of Hector in Hades -- Edwin Muir

Guest poem sent in by Russell Y. Webb
(Poem #1233) Ballad of Hector in Hades
 Yes, this is where I stood that day,
      Beside this sunny mound.
 The walls of Troy are far away,
      And outward comes no sound.

 I wait. On all the empty plain
      A burnished stillness lies,
 Save for the chariot's tinkling hum,
      And a few distant cries.

 His helmet glitters near. The world
      Slowly turns around,
 With some new sleight compels my feet
      From the fighting ground.

 I run. If I turn back again
      The earth must turn with me,
 The mountains planted on the plain,
      The sky clamped to the sea.

 The grasses puff a little dust
      Where my footsteps fall.
 I cast a shadow as I pass
      The little wayside wall.

 The strip of grass on either hand
      Sparkles in the light;
 I only see that little space
      To the left and to the right,

 And in that space our shadows run,
      His shadow there and mine,
 The little flowers, the tiny mounds,
      The grasses frail and fine.

 But narrower still and narrower!
      My course is shrunk and small,
 Yet vast as in a deadly dream,
      And faint the Trojan wall.
 The sun up in the towering sky
      Turns like a spinning ball.

 The sky with all its clustered eyes
      Grows still with watching me,
 The flowers, the mounds, the flaunting weeds
      Wheel slowly round to see.

 Two shadows racing on the grass,
      Silent and so near,
 Until his shadow falls on mine.
      And I am rid of fear.

 The race is ended. Far away
      I hang and do not care,
 While round bright Troy Achilles whirls
      A corpse with streaming hair.
-- Edwin Muir
           from First Poems (1925)

What I admire most about this poem is it's consistent voice and
construction of tension in conflict. The voice is distant and mythical
while still being personal. The poem's conclusion is so indirectly
stated that its meaning is felt only on reflection making it more
powerful and horrifying.

I read somewhere that this poem was in part Muir's reflection of being
bullied in the school yard as a child.



  Biography of Muir:

  And Russ's reference to Muir's being bullied in the schoolyard recalled
  Benet's "The General Public", Poem #983

The Best School of All -- Sir Henry Newbolt

Guest poem sent in by Mallika Chellappa , as a
followup to the recent school poems:
(Poem #1232) The Best School of All
 It's good to see the school we knew,
     the land of youth and dream.
 To greet again the rule we knew,
     before we took the stream.
 Though long we've missed the sight of her,
     Out hearts may not forget:
 We've lost the old delight of her,
     We keep her honour yet.

   We'll honour yet the school we knew
       The best school of all
   We'll honour yet the rule we knew
       Till the last bell call
   For working days or holidays
       And glad or melancholy days
   They were great days and jolly days
       At the best school of all

 The stars and sounding vanities
     That half the crowd bewitch.
 What are they but inanities
     To him that treads the pitch?
 And where's the welth I'm wondering,
     Could buy the cheers that roll
 When the last charge goes thundering
     Towards the twilight goal?

 Then men that tanned the hide of us,
     Our daily foes and friends,
 They shall not lose their pride of us,
     However the journey ends.
 Their voice to us who sing of it,
     No more its message bears,
 But the round world shall ring of it,
     And all we are be theirs.

 To speak of fame a venture is,
     There's little here can bide,
 But we may face the centuries,
     And dare the deepending tide;
 for though the dust that's part of us,
     To dust again be gone,
 Yet here shall beat the heart of us,
     The school we handed on!

   We'll honour yet the school we knew
       The best school of all
   We'll honour yet the rule we knew
       Till the last bell call
   For working days or holidays
       And glad or melancholy days
   They were great days and jolly days
       At the best school of all
-- Sir Henry Newbolt
We memorized this one in school, although the poem wasn't in our text. Our
teacher, Miss Dias, wrote it out on the blackboard.  I've always loved the
strong rhythm of Henry Newbolt and Alfred Noyes - the best balladeers
around. Have you run "Drake's Drum" yet? [Not yet - martin]

Although this poem is written for English men, it really doesn't matter, the
nostalgia it evokes works for everybody.


The Gardener (LXXXV) -- Rabindranath Tagore

Guest poem sent in by Sashidhar Dandamudi
(Poem #1231) The Gardener (LXXXV)
Who are you, reader, reading my poems an hundred years hence?
I cannot send you one single flower from this wealth of the spring,
  one single streak of gold from yonder clouds.
Open your doors and look abroad.
From your blossoming garden gather fragrant memories of the vanished
  flowers of an hundred years before.
In the joy of your heart may you feel the living joy that sang one
  spring morning, sending its glad voice across a hundred years.
-- Rabindranath Tagore
The recent poem by Flecker [Poem #1225] immediately triggered my memory of
this poem, that ends Tagore's "The Gardener". Although the time span across
which he was adressing "you" is only a century instead of a millenium, it
remains IMHO, a great ending for a book of poems. Also since we seem to be
reading a series of poems with the theme, "Spring", this fits right there
with the rest of them.

As an interesting aside, Tagore expanded on this theme in a seperate poem
called "The Year 1400" (the year 1400 (1996) refers to the Bengali
calender), in a poem he wrote in 1896. I was told by a friend from
Bangladesh that this poem was widely circulated and celebrated in 1996.  I
have had this poem read to me in Bengali but since I couldn't find a good
enough translation that does justice to the original, I couldn't submit that
to run it on the list. However for the curious here is a translation:


Nude Descending a Staircase -- X J Kennedy

Guest poem sent in by Ivan Krstic

Breaking with Minstrels convention, I'd propose the readers take a look at
Marcel Duchamp's painting, 'Nude Descending a Staircase', before reading
Kennedy's poem.

The painting can be found at:
How the two relate is explained after the poem.
(Poem #1230) Nude Descending a Staircase
 Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh,
 A gold of lemon, root and rind,
 She sifts in sunlight down the stairs
 With nothing on. Nor on her mind.

 We spy beneath the banister
 A constant thresh of thigh on thigh.
 Her lips imprint the swinging air
 That parts to let her parts go by.

 One-woman waterfall, she wears
 Her slow descent like a long cape
 And pausing, on the final stair
 Collects her motions into shape.
-- X J Kennedy
This poem, the first I've read of Kennedy, captures with unique elegance the
seemingly crass sensuality of Duchamp's painting. Marcel Duchamp
(1887-1968), a dadaist and cubist, painted the Nude in trying to capture
continuous motion with overlapping cubist figures. Highly unorthodox at the
time, the painting evoked quite a flurry of emotions at the 1913 famous New
York City's Armory Show.

X.J. Kennedy, faced with the comparably easier task of conveying continued
motion in words, nevertheless had to evade the trap of losing Duchamp's
rough cubist figure overlap in his poem - and succeeded. In line 4, the
short pause between "nothing on" and "nor on her mind", accomplished with a
full-stop between the two sentences instead of a comma, accentuates the
briskly cheerful, worryfree poise of the woman descending the staircase. The
final two lines of the second stanza, possibly my favorite bit of this poem,
evoke a very unusual image: though we don't usually think of air parting as
we walk through it, Kennedy makes the image very accessible; it becomes easy
to imagine air, entranced by the woman just as much as the "spying"
narrator, making way for her to pass.

The last stanza (specifically the last 2 lines) relates very closely to the
painting, alluding to one's almost unconscious expectation for Duchamp's
overlapping figures to collect into a definite shape.


Some links:
 X.J. Kennedy home page:

 More of Kennedy's poetry:

 Kennedy, alternative biography:
  [broken link]

 Kennedy, various links:

 Information about Duchamp's painting, owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art:

 Duchamp information:

 Duchamp, various links:
  [broken link]

You Whose Name -- Czeslaw Milosz

Guest poem sent in by Dominik Rabiej
(Poem #1229) You Whose Name
 You whose name is aggressor and devourer.
 Putrid and sultry, in fermentation.
 You mash into pulp sages and prophets,
 Criminals and heroes, indifferently.
 My vocativus is useless.
 You do not hear me, though I address you,
 Yet I want to speak, for I am against you.
 So what if you gulp me, I am not yours.
 You overcome me with exhaustion and fever.
 You blur my thought, which protests,
 You roll over me, dull unconscious power.
 The one who will overcome you is swift, armed:
 Mind, spirit, maker, renewer.
 He jousts with you in depths and on high,
 Equestrian, winged, lofty, silver-scaled.
 I have served him in the investiture of forms.
 It's not my concern what he will do with me.

 A retinue advances in the sunlight by the lakes.
 From white villages Easter bells resound.
-- Czeslaw Milosz
Note: Milosz won the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature

As the Easter season approaches and Lent draws to a close, I find this poem
particularly moving, especially in the light of recent world events
regarding tyranny and its fall.  No matter how oppressed a people are, the
"dull unconscious power" of hatred can never crush the mind and spirit of
human.  C. Milosz knows this first-hand.  He worked with the Polish
Resistance movement in Warsaw during World War II before defecting to France
in 1951 and finally the United States in 1960.

Dominik R. Rabiej
MIT 2005 VI-3 & XV-OR

  Biography from the Nobel Foundation site:

  The Academy of American Poets Milosz page:
    [broken link]

Learn by Heart This Poem of Mine -- George Faludy

The third of Vikram Doctor's guest poems inspired by Poem #1225
(Poem #1228) Learn by Heart This Poem of Mine
 Learn by heart this poem of mine;
 books only last a little time
 and this one will be borrowed, scarred,
 burned by Hungarian border guards,
 lost by the library, broken-backed,
 its paper dried up, crisped and cracked,
 worm-eaten, crumbling into dust,
 or slowly brown and self-combust
 when climbing Fahrenheit has got
 to 451, for that's how hot
 your town will be when it burns down.
 Learn by heart this poem of mine.

 Learn by heart this poem of mine.
 Soon books will vanish and you'll find
 there won't be any poets or verse
 or gas for car or bus - or hearse -
 no beer to cheer you till you're crocked,
 the liquor stores torn down or locked,
 cash only fit to throw away,
 as you come closer to that day
 when TV steadily transmits
 death-rays instead of movie hits
 and not a soul to lend a hand
 and everything is at an end
 but what you hold within your mind,
 so find a space there for these lines
 and learn by heart this poem of mine.

 Learn by heart this poem of mine;
 recite it when the putrid tides
 that stink of lye break from their beds,
 when industry's rank vomit spreads
 and covers every patch of ground,
 when they've killed every lake and pond,
 Destruction humped upon its crutch,
 black rotting leaves on every branch;
 when gargling plague chokes Springtime's throat
 and twilight's breeze is poison, put
 your rubber gasmask on and line
 by line declaim this poem of mine.

 Learn by heart this poem of mine
 so, dead, I still will share the time
 when you cannot endure a house
 deprived of water, light, or gas,
 and, stumbling out to find a cave,
 roots, berries, nuts to stay alive,
 get you a cudgel, find a well,
 a bit of land, and, if it's held,
 kill the owner, eat the corpse.
 I'll trudge beside your faltering steps
 between the ruins' broken stones,
 whispering "You are dead; you're done!
 Where would you go? That soul you own
 froze solid when you left your town."
 Learn by heart this poem of mine.

 Maybe above you, on the earth,
 there's nothing left and you, beneath,
 deep in your bunker, ask how soon
 before the poisoned air leaks down
 through layers of lead and concrete. Can
 there have been any point to Man
 if this is how the thing must end?
 What words of comfort can I send?
 Shall I admit you've filled my mind
 for countless years, through the blind
 oppressive dark, the bitter light,
 and, though long dead and gone, my hurt
 and ancient eyes observe you still?
 What else is there for me to tell
 to you, who, facing time's design,
 will find no use for life or time?
 You must forget this poem of mine.
-- George Faludy
Note: from 'Poems of George Faludy', edited and translated by Robin Skelton

The last poem is very different and very dark. The only link is the form, of
a poem talking to another generation very deliberately through means of his
poem. Faludy is a poet I don't know much about. I think he was a Hungarian
exile after World War Two and his experiences have clearly coloured his
almost apocalyptic vision. At times I felt the poem goes over the top and
yet the refrain stays with you, corrosively powerful: "Learn by heart this
poem of mine." Its an appeal from the poet that is both desperate and yet,
as the last line shows, despairing.


[Martin adds]

Don't miss the reference to Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451", one of the classics
of dystopic science fiction.

Here Dead We Lie -- A E Housman

Continuing with Vikram Doctor's guest theme:
(Poem #1227) Here Dead We Lie
 Here dead we lie
 Because we did not choose
 To live and shame the land
 From which we sprung.

 Life, to be sure,
 Is nothing much to lose,
 But young men think it is,
 And we were young.
-- A E Housman
The second is a well known one by A.E.Housman, but its
not yet featured on minstrels. I guess its Flecker's
line "I was a poet, I was young" which makes me think
about it, since it also deals with young mens' dreams.
It is in its low key way quite an extraordinary poem,
for the punch it packs, simulatenously compassionate,
commemorative, patriotic and yet with such sad and
bitter knowledge at the end.


[Martin adds]

The second verse of this poem is one that has haunted me ever since I first
read it. Housman's ironic "Life to be sure is nothing much to lose" recalls
Wilfred Owen's quoting of "the old lie, 'Dulce et decorum est, pro patria
mori'", and to my mind, the quiet "but young men think it is, and we were
young" is an even more effective depiction of the pity of war than Owen's
graphically detailed horrors. Housman's narrator says, in effect "yes, we
fought and we died, but know that we did so in full awareness of the
price we were paying."


To My Wife - With A Copy Of My Poems -- Oscar Wilde

Vikram Doctor writes "For no particularly clear
reasons, today's poem [Poem #1225] made me think of three others, each quite
different, but well worth carrying on the list."

I agree - the poems are very different, and yet all connected in some way to
Flecker's poem; they form a nice theme. So, back to Vikram, with the first
of his poems:
(Poem #1226) To My Wife - With A Copy Of My Poems
 I can write no stately proem
 As a prelude to my lay;
 From a poet to a poem
 I would dare to say.

 For if of these fallen petals
 One to you seem fair,
 Love will waft it till it settles
 On your hair.

 And when wind and winter harden
 All the loveless land,
 It will whisper of the garden,
 You will understand.
-- Oscar Wilde
  proem: An introduction; a preface

The first was by Oscar Wilde, a very simple and
delicate poem to his wife. Its not very much, and in
less sure hands could be too mawkish or pretty. But
Wilde gets the balance just right, and the result is a
poem which I read just casually once, but its always
stayed with me.


[Martin adds]

As Vikram says, the poem has a very light, delicate touch - I was reminded in
places of Teasdale. What particularly struck me was the way it kept getting
better with every line - it starts off conventionally enough, but by the time
it gets to the last verse, it is evident that Wilde has painted a softly
beautiful image with a few, precise strokes; and the last line is quietly and
hauntingly perfect.

To A Poet A Thousand Years Hence -- James Elroy Flecker

Guest poem submitted by a poster who wishes to remain anonymous
(Poem #1225) To A Poet A Thousand Years Hence
 I who am dead a thousand years,
 And wrote this sweet, archaic song,
 Send you my words for messengers
 The way I shall not pass along

 I care not if you bridge the seas
 Or ride secure the cruel sky,
 Or build consummate palaces
 Of metal or of masonry.

 But have you wine and music still,
 And statues and a bright-eyed love,
 And foolish thoughts of good and ill,
 And prayers to them who sit above?

 How shall we conquer? Like a wind
 That falls at eve our fancies blow,
 And old Maeonides the blind
 Said it three thousand years ago.

 O friend unseen, unborn, unknown,
 Student of our sweet English tongue:
 Read out my words at night, alone:
 I was a poet, I was young

 Since I can never see your face,
 And never shake you by the hand,
 I send my soul through time and space
 To greet you. You will understand.
-- James Elroy Flecker
Note: Maeonides is Homer.

Have always enjoyed poetry, and I came across this poem first almost 40 years
ago and was struck by what it said to me about how poets could communicate
ideas across space and time; and also about loneliness. It was reinforced in
1995 when I first discovered email and the web - the last paragraph in
particular being particularly poignant, especially since my elder daughter
was about to leave to study overseas. Now that both daughters have left home
and are each half a world away I am even more grateful for the Web.

[Martin adds]

Flecker is a rich and popular source of titles; today's poem provided Clarke
with his "The Cruel Sky", and permeates the following piece:

[broken link],6000,415880,00.html

The Wild Iris -- Louise Glück

Guest poem sent in by Alan Kornheiser

I discovered, to my amazement, that we seem to have no poetry by Louise
Gluck. This must be amended; hence the following:
(Poem #1224) The Wild Iris
 At the end of my suffering
 there was a door.

 Hear me out: that which you call death
 I remember.

 Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
 Then nothing. The weak sun
 flickered over the dry surface.

 It is terrible to survive
 as consciousness
 buried in the dark earth.

 Then it was over: that which you fear, being
 a soul and unable
 to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
 bending a little.  And what I took to be
 birds darting in low shrubs.

 You who do not remember
 passage from the other world
 I tell you I could speak again: whatever
 returns from oblivion returns
 to find a voice:

 from the center of my life came
 a great fountain, deep blue
 shadows on azure sea water.
-- Louise Glück
Nothing is harder than the nature poem; to accurately describe the physical
world, to say something beyond description while still keeping one's
description exact: harder than it seems. Much harder. Here where I live, the
first Iris reticulata is just now forcing itself through the snow, a
foolhardy splash of wonderful purple.

This is the very first Gluck poem I ever read. I still love it. Comments
from other fans would be appreciated; I didn't enjoy her last book as much
as I wanted to, and I wonder if the fault is in me or it. Anyway, we have
The Wild Iris. And it is spring.
Alan S Kornheiser, PhD


   [broken link]

 And a couple of Louise Gluck sites
   [broken link]

A Vow -- Allen Ginsberg

Guest poem sent in by Aseem Kaul
(Poem #1223) A Vow
 I will haunt these States
 with beard bald head
 eyes staring out plane window
 hair hanging out in Greyhound bus midnight
 leaning over taxicab seat to admonish
 an angry cursing driver
 hand lifted to calm
 his outraged vehicle
 that I pass with the Green Light of common law.

 Common sense, Common law, common tenderness
 and common tranquility
 our means in America to control the money munching
 war machine, bright lit industry
 everywhere digesting forests & excreting soft pyramids
 of newsprint, Redwood and Ponderosa patriarchs
 silent in Meditation murdered & regurgitated as smoke,
 sawdust, screaming ceilings of Soap Opera,
 thick dead Lifes, slick Advertisements
 for Gubernatorial big guns
 burping Napalm on palm rice tropic greenery.

 Dynamite in forests,
 boughs fly slow motion
 thunder down ravine,
 Helicopters roar over National Park, Mekong swamp,
 Dynamite fire blasts thru Model Villages,
 Violence screams at Police, Mayors get mad over radio,
 Drop the Bomb on Niggers!
 drop Fire on the gook China
 Frankenstein Dragon
 waving its tail over Bayonne's domed Aluminium oil reservoir!

 I'll haunt these states all year
 gazing bleakly out train windows, blue airfield
 red TV network on evening plains,
 decoding radar Provincial editorial paper message,
 deciphering Iron Pipe laborer's curses as
 clanging hammers they raise steamshovel claws
 over Puerto Rican agony lawyers screams in slums.
-- Allen Ginsberg
Watching the images from Iraq on CNN this is the poem I keep coming
back to - not because it's my favourite war poem, but because it
expresses better than anything else this frustrated sense of rage I
feel for the arrogance of America. I love it because it brings out so
beautifully the contradiction, the hypocrisy at the heart of the
American way - the freedom it arrogates to itself and then, drunk on
its power, denies to others; the deliberate placidity of a world where
an angry taxi driver is the most dangerous thing you have to worry
about while the rest of the world burns to ashes to feed your

Ghost of Ginsberg, it's time.

Aseem Kaul

Brother Mick -- Sigerson Clifford

Guest poem sent in by Frank O'Shea
(Poem #1222) Brother Mick
 The mountain frowned upon the school,
 The school stared at the street,
 And rich men's sons came there in shoes
 While I ran in bare feet.
 The rich had meat and cakes to eat,
 And butter like the Danes, (1)
 While I had only spuds and fish,
 And fish, they say, makes brains. (2)
 But still the rich boys passed exams
 While I kept thin, and thick,
 And thanked the stars that he had come
 Among us... Brother Mick.

 We had the world's slowest clock
 That drowsed upon the wall,
 While I cursed the Roman scoundrels
 That let Caesar loose in Gaul.
 There, too, was Euclid with his cuts,
 And trigonometry.
 That Peachy, Ring and Chas could do
 But they were Greek to me.
 And there were sums on trains and tubs
 Of water running quick:
 'Twas Chinese torture till he came
 To save me... Brother Mick.

 For Brother Tom no patience had
 With duffers such as I
 Who never could be taught to solve
 The mystery of pi.
 And Brother Jim had even less
 For those who didn't prize
 The hairy men of hither Gaul
 As seen through Caesar's eyes.
 Then Brother Tom whacked like a bomb,
 While Jim could wield the stick.
 But that was all before we knew
 The smile of Brother Mick.

 Still the great Power that will not let
 The sparrow fall to earth
 Took pity on bewildered brains
 No Latin could alert.
 For Brother Jim was sent to Trim (3)
 To march with Caesar there,
 While we sprawled in our desks and heard
 The new man on the stair.
 We saw him smile as he came in,
 His footsteps short and quick;
 His name was Brother Michael
 So, of course, we called him Mick.

 And as the weeks meandered on
 We watched with puzzled eye
 And wondered if some archangel
 Had strayed down from the sky.
 He did not shout, he did not clout
 But went his gentle way
 To bring the light to souls that stood
 Full ankle-deep in clay.
 He locked the leather in the press
 And burned the hazel stick;
 ‘Twas then we all threw doubts upon
 The mind of Brother Mick.

 How short is time with one you love,
 A year is like a while.
 The things you will not do for stick
 You learn for a smile.
 We passed exams and scholarships,
 Our mothers thought us fine,
 Though greater than the loaves and fish
 The miracle of mine.
 The gods be praised I even got
 Marks in arithmetic;
 'You'll be a second Einstein yet,'
 Said surprised Brother Mick.

 The big lads reaped their excise jobs,
 We all marched to the train
 And shook their lordly hands and praised
 The old school once again.
 The engine panted up the rails,
 We flung our cheers out loud
 And watched it sprinting past the bridge,
 Its whistle long and proud.
 And as we laughed we little knew
 The card Fate chose to pick,
 How soon he'd be an exile too,
 Our splendid Brother Mick...

 The world has wheeled a lot since then,
 Quiet are the hobs of home
 And far from me these things are now
 As is the moon from Rome.
 But I can see the old school still
 Stand tall above the street,
 I smell the heather from the hill
 And hear the running feet.
 And in the door he walks again,
 His footsteps short and quick,
 And back across the years I wave
 Goodbye to Brother Mick.
-- Sigerson Clifford
(1) Denmark provided much of Ireland's butter in the early and mid-century.
(2) cf Wodehouse on Jeeves: "...he absolutely lives on fish."
(3) A town in County Meath, close to where Pearce Brosnan comes from

What's this, then? A series of poems about teachers, started by Goldsmith
and carried on in Billy Collins' The History Teacher appended at the end of
the Village Schoolmaster (Poem # 1220).

Here is another, written by Sigerson Clifford (see Poem #970). The Brother
in question was an Irish Christian Brother, one of a Catholic religious
order of teaching Brothers, now found all over the world. For more than 150
years they taught Irish boys and men a mixture of religion, nationalism,
Latin, Irish and mathematics, with more or less equal emphasis. The Irish
state proclaimed in 1922 owes a massive debt to the young men who attended
the Christies' schools and who were the founders of the Irish civil service
(called the Excise in this poem, because that was the main thing involved in
the early days). Their method of instruction was primitive by today's
standards: a great deal of rote learning and much corporal punishment.

It is now agreed that their use of strap and cane was extreme, but then so
was the use by all teachers at the time. They were also involved in
reformatory schools where they were in effect unpaid prison staff and acted
accordingly. The film The Magdalen Sisters came from a similar time and
against a similar acceptance of cheap labour by members of religious orders.
Sadly, there were other elements among the Brothers whose actions cannot be
so easily excused. For American readers, it should be pointed out that the
term Christian Brothers in the US usually refers to a different order, the
De La Salle Brothers.

Against that background, this is a lovely tribute to one Brother. The
school, by the way, was a secondary top, ie one or two years of second-level
education tagged on to a primary or elementary school and held in the same
building. How many students today would study the Gallic Wars or
Trigonometry or Euclidean "cuts" in the second year of secondary school?

Frank O'Shea

[Martin adds]

Having spent a couple of years in an Irish Christian Brother-run boarding
school (St. Joseph's College, in Nainital), I'm happy to say that we
followed the ICSE syllabus, and followed it well <g>. Corporal punishment we
had, but nothing really Dickensian - all in all it was a pretty nice school.
The Brothers we noted (as boys will) mostly for their various eccentricities
:) Thanks to Frank for the nostalgia trip.


Woman to Man -- Judith Wright

Guest poem sent in by David Morgan-Mar
(Poem #1221) Woman to Man
 The eyeless labourer in the night,
 the selfless, shapeless seed I hold,
 builds for its resurrection day -
 silent and swift and deep from sight
 forsees the unimagined light.

 This is no child with a child's face;
 this has no name to name it by;
 yet you and I have known it well.
 This is our hunter and our chase,
 the third who lay in our embrace.

 This is the strength that your arm knows,
 the arc of flesh that is my breast,
 the precise crystals of our eyes.
 This is the blood's wild tree that grows
 the intricate and folded rose.

 This is the maker and the made;
 this is the question and reply;
 the blind head butting at the dark,
 the blaze of light along the blade.
 Oh hold me, for I am afraid.
-- Judith Wright
This poem builds one extended image of a developing embryo within the
author's womb. The first three stanzas are full of the wonder of creating
this new life. The eyeless labourer of the fertilised egg cell silently
and swiftly builds the body of what will be a new person, building for
its resurrection, or birth. The use of the word "resurrection" is
interesting, implying a death first, but at this point we can overlook
that symbolism.

Stanza two extends the image. The embryo is not yet a child, has not yet
a name, and yet the author and the nameless man to whom she is speaking
already know it intimately. They share the joy and the love and the wonder
of creation. The child is their hunter and their chase - the urge to
reproduce drives them and provides them with a goal. Although not yet
present, the future existence of the embryo and what will be a baby is
tangible in their lovemaking.

The development into a child is echoed in stanza three. The man's arm
provides the strength, the women's breast the shape of the flesh, the
eyes will be a mixture of theirs. There is cooperation in this endeavour,
and the result will belong to both of them - be a part of both of them.
The blood's wild tree reflects the growing network of arteries and veins
in the embryo. The intricate, folded rose is in the miracle of unfolding
from an undifferentiated mass of cells into a human being.

So far we have love, and wonder. These emotions occupy the minds of new
parents-to-be. Stanza four brings a dramatic and mind-rocking change of
mood. Two lines of paradoxical duality make us question what is really
happening here. Then we have a blind head butting at the dark. Blindness
and darkness cloud our vision and we have the image of violence, enclosure,
constriction. This baby needs to emerge into the world, and the passage
will be a difficult one. The first thing it sees is the blaze of light
along the blade. Pain and shock await, in birth, and in life. The blade
severs ties to the mother as the umbilical cord is cut, and also
represents the fears of the author about the birth. Childbirth can be
dangerous - can be deadly. And thus the significance of the resurrection
in the first stanza hits home. The only way to create new life is to
risk death.

So hold me, for I am afraid.

This is a profoundly moving and deeply affecting poem. I can never know
what it feels like to carry a child, but this poem - Woman to Man - gives
me some idea of the conflicting emotions that must go through an
expectant mother's mind. When published in 1946, it caused a sensation
and uproar. Even now, it is powerful and, well, educational. New
fathers-to-be could do worse than read this poem. But lest this become
clinical and detached, the effect of these words lingers, and reminds
us that poetry speaks to something within us all. And that is something
that this work definitely achieves.


Some biographical links:

The Village Schoolmaster -- Oliver Goldsmith

Guest poem sent in by Srinivasan, Deepak
(Poem #1220) The Village Schoolmaster
 Beside yon straggling fence that skirts the way
 With blossom'd furze unprofitably gay,
 There, in his mansion, skill'd to rule,
 The village master taught his little school;
 A man severe he was, and stern to view,
 I knew him well, and every truant knew;
 Well had the boding tremblers learn'd to trace
 The days disasters in his morning face;
 Full well they laugh'd with counterfeited glee,
 At all his jokes, for many a joke had he:
 Full well the busy whisper, circling round,
 Convey'd the dismal tidings when he frown'd:
 Yet he was kind; or if severe in aught,
 The love he bore to learning was in fault.
 The village all declar'd how much he knew;
 'Twas certain he could write, and cipher too:
 Lands he could measure, terms and tides presage,
 And e'en the story ran that he could gauge.
 In arguing too, the person own'd his skill,
 For e'en though vanquish'd he could argue still;
 While words of learned length and thund'ring sound
 Amazed the gazing rustics rang'd around;
 And still they gaz'd and still the wonder grew,
 That one small head could carry all he knew.
 But past is all his fame. The very spot
 Where many a time he triumph'd is forgot.
-- Oliver Goldsmith
I am surprised that minstrels does not carry this poem. This is one of the
poems that i remember from my early school days and was skilfully unearthed for
me by my teacher.

It is surprising, how even now in these days of internet information sources,
online education, advanced school curricula, etc. a very good teacher can
literally change a person's life by pointing her down a path
of passion for a subject. Before I wax lyrical on the qualities of the
"schoolmaster", Goldsmith has so wonderfully given me a poem to remember him

    "And still they gaz'd and still the wonder grew,
    That one small head could carry all he knew. "


[Martin adds]

Another excellent tribute to that most underappreciated of professions is
Kipling's "A School Song", from "Stalky and Co.":

Luke Havergal -- Edwin Arlington Robinson

Guest poem sent in by andreea cioloca
(Poem #1219) Luke Havergal
 Go to the western gate, Luke Havergal,
 There where the vines cling crimson on the wall,
 And in the twilight wait for what will come.
 The leaves will whisper there of her, and some,
 Like flying words, will strike you as they fall;
 But go, and if you listen she will call.
 Go to the western gate, Luke Havergal —
 Luke Havergal.

 No, there is not a dawn in eastern skies
 To rift the fiery night that's in your eyes;
 But there, where western glooms are gathering,
 The dark will end the dark, if anything:
 God slays Himself with every leaf that flies,
 And hell is more than half of paradise.
 No, there is not a dawn in eastern skies —
 In eastern skies.

 Out of a grave I come to tell you this,
 Out of a grave I come to quench the kiss
 That flames upon your forehead with a glow
 That blinds you to the way that you must go.
 Yes, there is yet one way to where she is,
 Bitter, but one that faith may never miss.
 Out of a grave I come to tell you this —
 To tell you this.

 There is the western gate, Luke Havergal,
 There are the crimson leaves upon the wall.
 Go, for the winds are tearing them away, —
 Nor think to riddle the dead words they say,
 Nor any more to feel them as they fall;
 But go, and if you trust her she will call.
 There is the western gate, Luke Havergal —
 Luke Havergal.
-- Edwin Arlington Robinson
           (From "The Children of the Night", Collected Poems, 1921)

I like this poem for many reasons. The western gate suggests a kind of portal
between life and death that reminds me of all the Greek myths where someone had
to go down into Hades by the river Styx entrance, and of the poem "Gates of
Damascus". I won't get into possible meanings -- there are so many! -- but I'd
love to see what other people think this poem is about!


Yasmin -- James Elroy Flecker

(Poem #1218) Yasmin
(A Ghazel)

 How splendid in the morning grows the lily: with what grace he throws
 His supplication to the rose: do roses nod the head, Yasmin?

 But when the silver dove descends I find the little flower of friends
 Whose very name that sweetly ends I say when I have said, Yasmin.

 The morning light is clear and cold: I dare not in that light behold
 A whiter light, a deeper gold, a glory too far shed, Yasmin.

 But when the deep red light of day is level with the lone highway,
 And some to Meccah turn to pray, and I toward thy bed, Yasmin;

 Or when the wind beneath the moon in drifting like a soul aswoon,
 And harping planets talk love's tune with milky wings outspread, Yasmin,

 Shower down thy love, O burning bright! For one night or the other night,
 Will come the Gardener in white, and gathered flowers are dead, Yasmin.
-- James Elroy Flecker
Today's wonderfully musical poem is all the more impressive for the ease with
which Flecker handles the difficult form. The ghazal does not fit naturally
into English verse, and attempts to make it do so often end up sounding
strained and artificial - notable, perhaps, for their adherence to the rules of
the game, but at the expense of any real poetic merit.

In 'Yasmin', in delightful contrast, Flecker achieves such an illusion of
effortlessness that the form seems almost native - and a closer look reveals
that this *is* indeed the case. Underlying the lazily meandering couplets and
ubiquitous internal rhymes of the ghazal is the standard 4x4 "ballad metre"
that characterises a good majority of English verse.

The seamless blending of the two forms is amazing - my first reaction to the
poem was "Whoa! So *that's* how it's done". So simple, so obvious - but only
after seeing Flecker in action. I'm by no means saying that this is the One
True Way to write a good, native English ghazal; merely that if I were called
upon to write one, this is how I'd do it. Contrast, for example, Drury's
"Ghazal of the Lagoon" (Poem #1161), a beautiful, atmospheric poem, but one
that seems ever so slightly held back by the form. Flecker takes the form and
makes it sing; the imagery is, perhaps, somewhat lacking when compared to
masterpieces like "The Gates of Damascus", but more, I think, because Flecker
didn't take the poem seriously enough than from any stylistic corner he painted
himself into.

The pedantic will have doubtless already noted that Flecker breaks an important
rule - the first couplet is supposed to have both rhymes ending with the rhyme
and refrain. This is, indeed, a genuine tradeoff caused by Flecker's wish to
have his quatrains-disguised-as-couplets not have a real break between the two
long lines, and one which points strongly to the fact that 'Yasmin' is first
and foremost a poem conforming to the aesthetics of English verse. But so,
note, are Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat, and the latter have vastly overshadowed more
faithful translations that neglected those aesthetics. 'Yasmin' is not quite in
that league, but it is definitely the most unobtrusively natural attempt to
capture the form in English that I've seen.


  Mark Ryan has listed the main rules of the ghazal form in his commentary on
Poem #1161

On the Birth of his Son -- Su Tung-p'o

Guest poem sent in by Raj Bandyopadhyay

A universal gem in sarcasm...
(Poem #1217) On the Birth of his Son
 Families, when a child is born
 Want it to be intelligent.
 I, through intelligence,
 Having wrecked my whole life,
 Only hope the baby will prove
 Ignorant and stupid.
 Then he will crown a tranquil life
 By becoming a Cabinet Minister.
-- Su Tung-p'o
         [ CE)
         translated by Arthur Waley (1919)

The Confucian examination system for recruiting officials into the
bureaucracy may have been far more egalitarian than anything comparable in its
heyday; yet it had its limits. Wealthy men were able to hire tutors to ensure
their success, and poor but intelligent men seldom rose to the top.

Su Tung-p'o, usually considered the greatest poet of the Sung Dynasty,
often commented cynically on the system he considered corrupt and was
dismissed from various positions for his pains. His sarcasm in the
following poem sounds a strikingly contemporary note in this age of
cynicism about politicians. The poet's revenge lies in the fact that his poems
are still read and memorized when all those who persecuted him have been


[Martin adds]

There's a wonderful takeoff on the examination system in Pratchett's
"Interesting Times", though that poked fun not at its fairness, but at its
utility in selecting capable people. I'm also reminded of the President in
Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator":

    It soon began to dawn on me
    He wasn't very bright
    Because when he was twenty-three
    He couldn't read or write

    'What shall we do?' his parents sob
    'The boy has got the vapors!
    He couldn't even get a job
    Delivering the papers!'

    'Ah-ha!' I said, 'this little clot
    Could be a politician.'
    'Nanny', he cried 'Oh, Nanny, what
    A super proposition!'

Any resemblance to actual presidents is strictly coincidence (and mighty
prophetic coincidence at that). Great book, for those of you who've never
encountered Dahl.


Sonnet -- Billy Collins

Guest poem sent in by Supriya Nair
(Poem #1216) Sonnet
 All we need is fourteen lines, well, thirteen now,
 and after this one just a dozen
 to launch a little ship on love's storm-tossed seas,
 then only ten more left like rows of beans.
 How easily it goes unless you get Elizabethan
 and insist the iambic bongos must be played
 and rhymes positioned at the ends of lines,
 one for every station of the cross.
 But hang on here wile we make the turn
 into the final six where all will be resolved,
 where longing and heartache will find an end,
 where Laura will tell Petrarch to put down his pen,
 take off those crazy medieval tights,
 blow out the lights, and come at last to bed.
-- Billy Collins
Billy Collins is easy to love and easier to understand, but for all that, I
don't think he could be classified under "Light Verse". He almost always
manages to get serious without seeming to. But then, the things he takes
seriously are often the things which we are conditioned NOT to take seriously,
but which we secretly do care about. His realm of expertise is the marginalia
(see poem #1130) of the mind - history, literature, pets, food, and how all
these get mixed up with our daydreams and memories and form bits of our life.
He's quite like a kindly, dreamy professor going about it, and this blends
beautifully with his dry, educated humour ("Laura will tell Petrarch to put
down his pen.").

I found a book of his poems which keep me awake half the night, but I picked
this one over a lot of others because I read it with the delight of recognition
- having given an English exam recently - and the warm, fuzzy, not at all
cynical final image of the muse telling her devotee call it a day is, for me,
one of Billy Collins' finest achievements.


Regime Change -- Andrew Motion

Guest poem sent in by Reed C Bowman

Here's Andrew Motion's latest take, as UK poet laureate, on the
destruction of Iraq (from
(Poem #1215) Regime Change
 Advancing down the road from Nineveh
 Death paused a while and said 'Now listen here.

 You see the names of places roundabout?
 They're mine now, and I've turned them inside out.

 Take Eden, further south: At dawn today
 I ordered up my troops to tear away

 Its walls and gates so everyone can see
 That gorgeous fruit which dangles from its tree.

 You want it, don't you? Go and eat it then,
 And lick your lips, and pick the same again.

 Take Tigris and Euphrates; once they ran
 Through childhood-coloured slats of sand and sun.

 Not any more they don't; I've filled them up
 With countless different kinds of human crap.

 Take Babylon, the palace sprouting flowers
 Which sweetened empires in their peaceful hours -

 I've found a different way to scent the air:
 Already it's a by-word for despair.

 Which leaves Baghdad - the star-tipped minarets,
 The marble courts and halls, the mirage-heat.

 These places, and the ancient things you know,
 You won't know soon. I'm working on it now.'
-- Andrew Motion
Calling it 'Regime Change', presumably the change from life's to death's realm,
from standing monuments of history to fading memory, is bleakly ironic
commentary on the political beginnings and propaganda of this war.

The comment 'You see the names of places round about?' reflects the
extra awe and horror of modern warfare's havoc wreaked on places
hallowed by millennia of history. (I'm reminded of James Fenton's
"Jerusalem" - I forget if you've run that yet - though there it is the
history itself that is the bone of contention. Here it is merely the
recipient of attention from that infamous hobgoblin, collateral damage.)

I am sure that due attention is in fact being paid by bomber commands
not to destroy ancient monuments if it can be helped, as they always
insist, but I dread the Friday when at time of prayer some ancient
faience-decked and thronging mosque will fall to a bomb made to look
like a cruise missile blast, because what better way would there be for
a desperate, ruthless and irreligious regime to at least call down
vengeance for its own passing on the enemy which is hunting it down?

Even if someone's hand balks at that deed, we'll see Monte Cassinos
fall, the more in Iraq because their equivalents are more densely
strewn, in any city the ground war takes by storm. If we protested the
war before it started, this poem is, in a way mourning the passing of
monuments which have not yet been destroyed. But beyond that, it laments the
stain of death now being brought to the hallows, even if the mosques or temples
or palaces or ruins are not battered down.


[Martin adds]

I like today's poem a lot more than I did Motion's previous antiwar piece,
Causa Belli [Poem #1143]. Motion addresses the common concern about priceless
historical sites being obliterated in a moment of wanton destruction, and sets
that against the background of a Middle East enriched by the passing millennia,
the cradle of civilisations, empires and legends.

'Regime Change' doesn't really do justice to the richly evocative, almost
legendary nature of the region's history (I wonder, for instance, what Flecker
would have made of the same material), but then, that isn't its focus. Instead,
its tone captures the indifference-masquerading-as-pragmatism that seems to be
vying with patriotic glory as a justification for some of modern warfare's
indiscriminate excesses. The understated, almost offhand "I'm working on it
now" hits just the right note.


p.s. Quote of the day:
  "Andrew Motion said his 22 lines of verse were intended to be explicitly
    -- [broken link]

On Being Asked to Write a Poem Against the War in Vietnam -- Hayden Carruth

Guest poem sent in by amulya gopalakrishnan
(Poem #1214) On Being Asked to Write a Poem Against the War in Vietnam
 Well I have and in fact
 more than one and I'll
 tell you this too

 I wrote one against
 Algeria that nightmare
 and another against

 Korea and another
 against the one
 I was in

 and I don't remember
 how many against
 the three

 when I was a boy
 Abyssinia Spain and
 Harlan County

 and not one
 breath was restored
 to one

 shattered throat
 mans womans or childs
 not one not

 but death went on and on
 never looking aside

 except now and then
 with a furtive half-smile
 to make sure I was noticing.
-- Hayden Carruth
Poems on war sometimes seem so useless and uncalled for, like flinging bits of
confetti at this pitiless juggernaut. This poem sort of captures that, right
from the throwaway tone it begins with to the bland monstrousness of the end.


[Martin adds]

This is indeed a brilliant poem, but its very brilliance serves to mask an
underlying fallacy. The purpose of war poetry is not so much to "restore breath
to one shattered throat", but to show people what exactly war is, in a way that
the safely sanitised capsules delivered by newspapers and television cannot or
do not. "The pity of war, the pity war distilled" needs to be adequately
conveyed to the populace-at-large, and I submit that poets, as much as anyone
else, have served to counteract the "dulce et decorum est" blood-and-glory
mindset of an earlier day.


Paradise Lost (excerpt) -- John Milton

Guest poem sent in by Matt Chanoff
(Poem #1213) Paradise Lost (excerpt)
 Who first seduced them to that foul revolt?
 Th' infernal Serpent; he it was, whose guile
 Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived
 The mother of mankind, what time his pride
 Had cast him out from heav'n, with all his host
 Of rebel angels, by whose aid aspiring
 To set himself in glory above his peers,
 He trusted to have equaled the Most High,
 If he opposed; and with ambitious aim
 Against the throne and monarchy of God
 Raised impious war in heav'n and battle proud
 With vain attempt. Him the Almighty Power
 Hurled headlong flaming from th' ethereal sky
 With hideous ruin and combustion down
 To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
 In adamantine chains and penal fire,
 Who durst defy th' Omnipotent to arms.
 Nine times the space that measures day and night
 To mortal men, he with his horrid crew
 Lay vanquished, rolling in the fiery gulf
 Confounded though immortal: but his doom
 Reserved him to more wrath; for now the thought
 Both of lost happiness and lasting pain
 Torments him; round he throws his baleful eyes
 That witnessed huge affliction and dismay
 Mixed with obdúrate pride and steadfast hate:
 At once as far as angels ken he views
 The dismal situation waste and wild,
 A dungeon horrible, on all sides round
 As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames
 No light, but rather darkness visible
 Served only to discover sights of woe,
 Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
 And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
 That comes to all; but torture without end
 Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed
 With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed:
 Such place Eternal Justice had prepared
 For those rebellious, here their prison ordained
 In utter darkness, and their portion set
 As far removed from God and light of heav'n
 As from the center thrice to th' utmost pole.
-- John Milton
No Milton has been posted here since 1999. Here's something I've appreciated
during these apocalyptic times. It's from Paradise Lost, right near the
beginning. The lines "Hurled headlong flaming from th'ethereal sky/ With
hideous ruin and combustion down" are, and I think, belong, in the pantheon of
immortal poetry. I'm no Christian, but the embers of that combustion seem all
around us recently.

There's a lot more about Milton than I know described and linked to Poem #106,
Poem #127, Poem #279 and Poem #281.