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From A Letter From Lesbia -- Dorothy Parker

Not all poets admire (or aspire to to be like) Catullus; for a different
point of view, here's a lovely poem suggested by :
(Poem #1467) From A Letter From Lesbia
 ... So, praise the gods, Catullus is away!
 And let me tend you this advice, my dear:
 Take any lover that you will, or may,
 Except a poet. All of them are queer.

 It's just the same -- a quarrel or a kiss
 Is but a tune to play upon his pipe.
 He's always hymning that or wailing this;
 Myself, I much prefer the business type.

 That thing he wrote, the time the sparrow died --
 (Oh, most unpleasant -- gloomy, tedious words!)
 I called it sweet, and made believe I cried;
 The stupid fool! I've always hated birds ...
-- Dorothy Parker
Catullus may have brought about a revolution in Latin verse by
"[rejecting] the epic and its public themes ... [and using] colloquial
language to write about personal experience" [1]. But it's clear that to
some people, at least, he took the process altogether too far. Dorothy
Parker skewers the typical self-absorption of the poet quite brilliantly
-- though in a nice irony, what is her own poem but a declaration of
personal preferences?


[1], quoted at greater length in the commentary to
Catullus' fifth Song, Minstrels Poem #1463.


One imagines that Dorothy Parker would have enjoyed reading Wendy Cope's
"Being Boring" (Poem #1444), and indeed, there's something delightfully
Cope-ish about today's poem.

Other Parkers:
Poem #150, Resume
Poem #192, Comment
Poem #486, Epitaph for a Darling Lady
Poem #560, Chant for Dark Hours
Poem #638, Song of Perfect Propriety
Poem #697, A Well Worn Story
Poem #878, Frustration
Poem #1090, Unfortunate Coincidence
Poem #1460, Love Song

Other Copes:
Poem #587, Strugnell's Rubaiyat
Poem #693, Strugnell's Haiku
Poem #859, Waste Land Limericks
Poem #1059, An Unusual Cat-Poem
Poem #1323, Strugnell's Sonnets (VI)

The sparrow referred to by Parker/Lesbia is this one:

The Daily Telegraph ran a Catullus translation competition based on the
sparrow poem; here are the winners:
[broken link]

More dead sparrow poems:

My Sweetest Lesbia -- Thomas Campion

(Poem #1466) My Sweetest Lesbia
 (in imitation of Catallus)

 My sweetest Lesbia, let us live and love,
 And though the sager sort our deeds reprove,
 Let us not weigh them. Heaven's great lamps do dive
 Into their west, and straight again revive,
 But soon as once set is our little light,
 Then must we sleep one ever-during night.

 If all would lead their lives in love like me,
 Then bloody swords and armour should not be;
 No drum nor trumpet peaceful sleeps should move,
 Unless alarm came from the camp of love.
 But fools do live, and waste their little light,
 And seek with pain their ever-during night.

 When timely death my life and fortune ends,
 Let not my hearse be vexed with mourning friends,
 But let all lovers, rich in triumph, come
 And with sweet pastimes grace my happy tomb;
 And Lesbia, close up thou my little light,
 And crown with love my ever-during night.
-- Thomas Campion
An unabashedly hedonistic poem. Life is short, Campion says, so let us
devote it to love, not to the vain pursuit of honour and glory. And when
death comes, a life thus lived will seem more worthwhile, and more
worthy of celebration, than one lived according to the precepts of
'sager sorts'.

Notice how the 'never-ending night' of Catullus becomes a refrain with
which Campion ends his stanzas: this gives each verse a sense of
finality. Form cleaves to content, as indeed it should. Notice also how
melodic and rhythmic the lines are: this is more song than poem.


[Minstrels Links]

Four poems in imitation of Catullus:
Poem #1463, Song Five -- Catullus / Richard Crashaw
Poem #1464, From Catullus 5 -- Sir Walter Raleigh
Poem #1465, Come, My Celia -- Ben Jonson
Poem #1466, My Sweetest Lesbia -- Thomas Campion

Other poems by poets named Thomas:
Poem #96, During Wind and Rain  -- Thomas Hardy
Poem #199, Lord Ullin's Daughter  -- Thomas Campbell
Poem #236, Memory  -- Thomas Bailey Aldrich
Poem #251, No!  -- Thomas Hood
Poem #359, The Angler  -- Thomas Buchanan Read
Poem #461, Couplets  -- Thomas Lynch
Poem #489, Horatius  -- Thomas Babbington Macaulay
Poem #499, Lay of Ancient Rome  -- Thomas Ybarra
Poem #527, I Bended Unto Me a Bough of May -- Tom Brown
Poem #565, Now Winter Nights Enlarge -- Thomas Campion
Poem #595, The Last Man -- Thomas Lovell Beddoes
Poem #957, Whoso list to hunt -- Thomas Wyatt
Poem #1091, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard -- Thomas Grey
Poem #1274, The Time I've Lost in Wooing -- Thomas Moore
Poem #1305, Poem in Thanks -- Thomas Lux
Poem #1390, The Salutation -- Thomas Traherne

Come, My Celia -- Ben Jonson

(Poem #1465) Come, My Celia
 Come, my Celia, let us prove
 While we may, the sports of love;
 Time will not be ours forever;
 He at length our good will sever.
 Spend not then his gifts in vain.
 Suns that set may rise again;
 But if once we lose this light,
 'Tis with us perpetual night.
 Why should we defer our joys?
 Fame and rumor are but toys.
 Cannot we delude the eyes
 Of a few poor household spies,
 Or his easier ears beguile,
 So removed by our wile?
 'Tis no sin love's fruit to steal;
 But the sweet theft to reveal.
 To be taken, to be seen,
 These have crimes accounted been.
-- Ben Jonson
This poem, while clearly based on Catullus' fifth Song, is also more
than a little reminiscent of Marlowe's "Passionate Shepherd" [1], from
the rhymes used in the opening couplet to the underlying philosophy of
'carpe diem', seize the day [2]. It seems likely that Marlowe, like
Jonson, was inspired [3] by the Latin lyricist whose ode was the
starting point for this week's theme.

Note that I use the word 'inspired': unlike Richard Crashaw, or even Sir
Walter Raleigh, who were both content to simply translate part or all of
Catullus' song, Jonson introduces some significant changes of his own.
Gone are the censurious old men and their scandal-mongering; gone also
is the awkward business of mixing up three thousand three hundred kisses
for purposes of deception. In their place is a new idea: that affairs
themselves are are somehow less objectionable than their public display.
In other words, Jonson's poem embodies the 11th commandment: "Thou Shalt
Not Get Caught" <grin>.


[1] Poem #997, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
        -- Christopher Marlowe

[2] See also:
Poem #158, To His Coy Mistress -- Andrew Marvell
Poem #633, Odes: Book 1, Verse 11 -- Horace
Poem #1341, Carpe Diem, Baby -- James Hetfield

[3] In response to yesterday's poem, John Taber wrote in with a very
insightful and informative comment about how imitation was prized and
originality deprecated in pre-Romantic poetry. You can read it, along
with the Raleigh poem and commentary that prompted it, on the Minstrels
website under Poem #1464.

From Catullus V -- Sir Walter Raleigh

(Poem #1464) From Catullus V
 The sun may set and rise,
 But we, contrariwise,
 Sleep, after our short light,
 One everlasting night.
-- Sir Walter Raleigh
Typically, Raleigh seizes upon the most fatalistic aspect of Catullus'
love song, and converts it into an epigram that is no less poignant for
being less than staggeringly original. I don't have much more to say,
and this commentary is already twice as long as the poem being commented
on, so I'll stop here :)


[Minstrels Links]

Ben Jonson:
Poem #301, The Noble Nature
Poem #313, Gypsy Songs
Poem #340, To Celia
Poem #724, Hymn to Diana

John Donne:
Poem #330, A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
Poem #384, Song
Poem #403, A Lame Beggar
Poem #465, The Sun Rising
Poem #796, Death Be Not Proud (Holy Sonnets: X)
Poem #866, The Canonization
Poem #1002, The Bait
Poem #1168, The Good Morrow

and others:
Poem #149, Bethsabe's Song  -- George Peele
Poem #957, Whoso list to hunt -- Thomas Wyatt
Poem #1001, The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd -- Sir Walter Raleigh
Poem #1289, The Lie -- Sir Walter Raleigh
Poem #1336, Of Human Knowledge -- John Davies

Song Five -- Gaius Valerius Catullus

Guest poem submitted by TJ:
(Poem #1463) Song Five
 Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love,
 and let us judge all the rumors of the old men
 to be worth just one penny!
 The suns are able to fall and rise:
 When that brief light has fallen for us,
 we must sleep a never ending night.
 Give me a thousand kisses, then another hundred,
 then another thousand, then a second hundred,
 then yet another thousand more, then another hundred.
 Then, when we have made many thousands,
 we will mix them all up so that we don't know,
 and so that no one can be jealous of us when he finds out
 how many kisses we have shared.
-- Gaius Valerius Catullus
I noticed that there wasn't any Catullus anywhere in the Archive, so I
thought that I'd toss some your way.  I include the Latin just in case
anybody is interested, there's a certain texture to the language that i
find wonderful.

 "Carmen Quinque"

 Vivamus mea Lesbia, atque amemus,
 rumoresque senum severiorum
 omnes unius aestimemus assis!
 soles occidere et redire possunt:
 nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux,
 nox est perpetua una dormienda.
 da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
 dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
 deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum.
 dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,
 conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus,
 aut ne quis malus inuidere possit,
 cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.

        -- Gaius Valerius Catullus

I remember having to translate all of this stuff by myself in my high
school Latin class years ago.  At the time it was a chore, but now
looking at it just for the enjoyment, it's quite wonderful.  Poor
Catullus, he was always going back and forth on Lesbia, love to hate,
hate to love.  I highly recommend him for the conflicted sort.



Very little is objectively known of the life of Gaius Valerius Catullus.
It is believed that he was born in Verona in 84 B.C. to a wealthy and
well-connected family. Catullus' father was a friend of Julius Caesar.
He died in Rome in 54 B.C. at the age of thirty. From his poems it is
known that he went to Bithynia as an aide to the governor of that
province in 57-56 B.C. We also know from Cicero that Catullus was one of
the "neoteric" or new poets. Whereas the majority of poets in Rome at
that time produced epic poems, often commissioned by aristocratic
families, Catullus and other neoteric rejected the epic and its public
themes. The neoteric poets used colloquial language to write about
personal experience. Their poems are mostly smaller lyrics that are
characterized by wit and erudition. Aside from these facts, what is
known of the life of Catullus comes from the thoughts expressed in his

The knowledge of Catullus' poems comes from a single manuscript that
survived the Dark Ages. This manuscript was discovered in Verona in
around 1305 and disappeared again at the end of the century. Two copies
of it, however, were made and one survives in the Bodleian Library in
Oxford. The other copy, which was believed to be owned by Petrarch, was
also lost. The surviving copy contains 116 poems in three sections:
sixty shorter poems written mostly in Greek lyric meters, primarily
hendecasyllabic or eleven-syllable lines; eight long poems; and a set of
short epigrams.

The shorter poems are often extremely playful and personal. Catullus
speaks directly to his friends in a casual voice. For instance, the
dedication poem begins with the lines "To whom am I giving my charming,
new, little book / polished just now with the dry pumice stone? /
Cornelius, to you: for you were the one / who thought this rubbish was
something ..." The short lyrics are often funny, and on occasion
extremely crude. He also used these poems to explore the limits of
friendship and love. He wrote twenty-five poems to a woman he named
Lesbia, offering both erotic banter as well as heartbreak at her
infidelity and their eventual breakup. English poets such as Ben Jonson
and Christopher Marlowe wrote imitations of these poems, particularly
poem five, which begins "Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love."

The longer poems deal with many of the same concerns. They also
chronicle the death of his brother at Troy and Catullus' visit to his
grave. In this poem, Catullus speaks frankly of loss and the inability
to express such a loss. Many people consider it to be one of the finest
elegies ever written. The remaining group of poems consists of short
epigrams that offer satiric observations on the life in Rome.

Although nearly lost, Catullus' poems had a profound impact on later
poets. This influence can be seen not only in Latin love poets such as
Horace or Ovid, but also in English Renaissance poets such as Robert
Herrick. John Milton spoke Catullus' "Satyirical sharpness, or naked
plainness." Catullus has also been praised as a lyricist by twentieth
century poets, and translated by writers as diverse as Thomas Campion,
William Wordsworth, and Louis Zukofsky.


[thomas adds]

While searching the web for background information on today's poem, I
discovered that Ben Jonson, Walter Raleigh and Thomas Campion have all
written their own poems inspired partly or wholly by Catullus' fifth
Song. I plan to run these 'spinoff' poems as a theme over the next week.

The 17th century poet Richard Crashaw also wrote a poem based on
Catullus, but where Jonson, Raleigh and Campion all use the original as
merely a starting point for their own excursions, Crashaw's version is a
literal (and somewhat dry) translation:

 Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love,
 and let us count the opinion of censurious old men as a penny.
 Suns can set and rise again:
 our brief light only sets
 and then there is an endless night for sleeping.
 Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred,
 then another thousand, and a second hundred,
 then a thousand and a hundred over and over again
 then when we will have kissed that many thousand times,
 even we will not know how many,
 and no one who wishes us ill because he is envious, can hold against us
 the kisses he cannot count.

        -- Gaius Valerius Catullus / tr. Richard Crashaw


Point of View -- Shel Silverstein

Guest poem submitted by Salima Virani:
(Poem #1462) Point of View
 Thanksgiving dinner's sad and thankless
 Christmas dinner's dark and blue
 When you stop and try to see it
 From the turkey's point of view.

 Sunday dinner isn't sunny
 Easter feasts are just bad luck
 When you see it from the viewpoint
 Of a chicken or a duck.

 Oh how I once loved tuna salad
 Pork and lobsters, lamb chops too
 'Til I stopped and looked at dinner
 From the dinner's point of view.
-- Shel Silverstein
I don't mean to rain on Vijay's parade (see Poem #1461).  In all
honesty, I love good food too!  But I could not resist sending this one
out as a cheeky retort to Vijay's submission.  Trust Shel to give
perspective to the other side.  The poem is humorous but the point he
gets across is deep and somber!  Remember "The little boy and the old
man" also by Shel Silverstein (Poem # 996)?  That's another classic
example of Shel giving the "other" point of view.


Lucile: Part 1, Canto 2 -- Owen Meredith

Guest poem submitted by Vijay:
(Poem #1461) Lucile: Part 1, Canto 2
 We may live without poetry, music and art;
 We may live without conscience and live without heart;
 We may live without friends; we may live without books;
 But civilized man can not live without cooks.
 He may live without books, -- what is knowledge but grieving?
 He may live without hope,  -- what is hope but deceiving?
 He may live without love,  -- what is passion but pining?
 But where is the man that can live without dining?
-- Owen Meredith
The next time I am confronted with a "Do you eat to live or live to
eat?" debate/lecture, I know what I am going to say!

Owen Meredith is the pseudonym of Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, son of
Edward George Bulwer-Lytton the novelist. The son was a diplomat and a
poet. The father was a novelist, author of the novel "Paul Clifford",
famous for its opening line:

"It was a dark and stormy night and the rain fell in torrents -- except
at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind
which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies),
rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of
the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

Check out for the Bulwer-Lytton fiction


Love Song -- Dorothy Parker

Guest poem submitted by Suresh Ramasubramanian, <suresh at hserus dot

Not had a good Dorothy Parker in a while. So here's one.
(Poem #1460) Love Song
 My own dear love, he is strong and bold
 And he cares not what comes after.
 His words ring sweet as a chime of gold,
 And his eyes are lit with laughter.
 He is jubilant as a flag unfurled--
 Oh, a girl, she'd not forget him.
 My own true love, he is all my world,--
 And I wish I'd never met him.

 My love, he's mad, and my love, he's fleet,
 And a wild young wood-thing bore him!
 The ways are fair to his roaming feet,
 And the skies are sunlit for him.
 As sharply sweet to my heart he seems
 As the fragrance of acacia.
 My own dear love, he is all my dreams--
 And I wish he were in Asia.

 My love runs by like a day in June,
 And he makes no friends of sorrows.
 He'll tread his galloping rigadoon
 In the pathway of the morrows.
 He'll live his days where the sunbeams start,
 Nor could storm or wind uproot him.
 My own dear love, he is all my heart--
 And I wish somebody'd shoot him.
-- Dorothy Parker
Bitterly ironic, incisively humorous - it all sounds cliched (and
probably IS cliched).  This is a devastating parody of a whole lot of
romantic poetry, from Sir Walter Scott to Byron, Keats and Shelley.


Dorothy Parker on the Minstrels:
Poem #150, Resume
Poem #192, Comment
Poem #486, Epitaph for a Darling Lady
Poem #560, Chant for Dark Hours
Poem #638, Song of Perfect Propriety
Poem #697, A Well Worn Story
Poem #878, Frustration
Poem #1090, Unfortunate Coincidence

Every Town a Home Town -- Kaniyan Punkunran

Guest poem submitted by Ravi Rajagopalan:
(Poem #1459) Every Town a Home Town
 Every town our home town,
 Every man a kinsman.

 Good and evil do not come
 from others.
 Pain and relief of pain
 come of themselves.
 Dying is nothing new.
 We do not rejoice
 that life is sweet
 nor in anger
 call it bitter.

 Our lives, however dear,
 follow their own course,
        rafts drifting
        in the rapids of a great river
        sounding and dashing over the rocks
        after a downpour
        from skies slashed by lightnings-

 we know this
 from the vision
 of men who see.

 we are not amazed by the great,
 and we do not scorn the little.
-- Kaniyan Punkunran
      from "The Purananuru"
        translated by A. K. Ramanujan.

I am adding to your collection another poem in Tamil - the language
spoken by 50 million Indians and more in Malaysia, Singapore, Guyana,
Mauritius and South Africa - from the ancient collection called
"Purananuru" or "Four Hundred Poems about the Exterior" - an anthology
of 400 poems by more than 150 poets composed between the first and third
centuries in the Christian Era. Written before the penetration of Aryan
influence in South India, it remains a great historical record of life
in pre-Aryan India. Moreover, as George Hart and Hank Heifetz state,
"The Purananuru is one of the few works of classical India that
confronts life without the insulation of a philosophical façade; it
makes no assumptions about karma and the other world; it faces existence
as a great and unsolved mystery". The Purananuru concerns itself with
life outside the self and family - with kings and kingship, war,
statesmanship, greatness and generosity, ethics, death and dying.

The first line of this particular poem is very well known amongst Tamil
speakers - "Yaavum Oore Yavarum Kelir". The poem in itself is work of
remarkable simplicity and existential realism. It makes no pretense to
understand the whys and wherefores of the world. It merely makes a
statement that the world is what it is. The great dualities that concern
us all, and indeed most religions - such as good and evil, joy and
sorrow, happiness and pain, victory and defeat - are a part and parcel
of the great uncertainty that is life. In this sense it resonates with
modern poetry, which is amazing considering that it was probably written
2000 years ago. The universality of life expounded in this poem really
appeals to me.

Again, AK Ramanujan has achieved a lyrical translation from the Tamil
original. Tamil poetry has an alliterative and sometimes dramatic
quality to it that adds to the pleasure of listening to it being
declaimed. This is difficult to reproduce in any other language - but
Prof Ramanujan has managed it.

Those of you interested in reading about early Tamil poetry to
understand its place in world literature would do well to look at George
Hart's "The Poems of Ancient Tamil" The University of California Press,


aesop revised by archy -- Don Marquis

Guest poem submitted by Sean Dwyer, who writes the
following prologue:

  I have a Don Maquis archy poem here that should be required reading.
It's a revision of an Aesop fable, which runs thus:

  _The Lamb and the Wolf_

  A Wolf pursued a Lamb, which fled for refuge to a certain Temple. The
Wolf called out to him and said, "The Priest will slay you in sacrifice,
if he should catch you."  On which the Lamb replied, "It would be better
for me to be sacrificed in the Temple than to be eaten by you."

and I'll attach the poem here:
(Poem #1458) aesop revised by archy
 a wolf met a spring
 lamb drinking
 at a stream
 and said to her
 you are the lamb
 that muddied this stream
 all last year
 so that i could not get
 a clean fresh drink
 i am resolved that
 this outrage
 shall not be enacted again
 this season i am going
 to kill you
 just a minute said the lamb
 i was not born last
 year so it could not
 have been i
 the wolf then pulled
 a number of other
 arguments as to why the lamb
 should die
 but in each case the lamb
 pretty innocent that she was
 easily proved
 herself guiltless
 well well said the wolf
 enough of that argument
 you are right and i am wrong
 but i am going to eat
 you anyhow
 because i am hungry
 stop exclamation point
 cried a human voice
 and a man came over
 the slope of the ravine
 vile lupine marauder
 you shall not kill that
 beautiful and innocent
 lamb for i shall save her
 exit the wolf
 left upper exit
 poor little lamb
 continued our human hero
 sweet tender little thing
 it is well that i appeared
 just when i did
 it makes my blood boil
 to think of the fright
 to which you have been
 subjected in another
 moment i would have been
 too late come home with me
 and the lamb frolicked
 about her new found friend
 gambolling as to the sound
 of a wordsworthian tabor [1]
 and leaping for joy
 as if propelled by a stanza
 from william blake
 these vile and bloody wolves
 went on our hero
 in honest indignation
 they must be cleared out
 of the country
 the meads must be made safe
 for sheepocracy
 and so jollying her along
 with the usual human hokum [2]
 he led her to his home
 and the son of a gun
 did not even blush when
 they passed the mint bed
 gently he cut her throat
 all the while inveigling
 against the inhuman wolf
 and tenderly he cooked her
 and lovingly he sauced her
 and meltingly he ate her
 and piously he said a grace
 thanking his gods
 for their bountiful gifts to him
 and after dinner
 he sat with his pipe
 before the fire meditating
 on the brutality of wolves
 and the injustice of
 the universe
 which allows them to harry
 poor innocent lambs
 and wondering if he
 had not better
 write to the paper
 for as he said
 for god s sake can t
 something be done about
-- Don Marquis
[1] tabor: a small hand-held drum common in Elizabethan times
[2] hokum: nonsense, meaningless drivel

For archy, this is a LONG poem, he must have been feeling either
extremely energetic, or found some great food. One of the pleasures of
the poem is the narration which pops up here and there as stage
directions or commentary. It is a hilarious upturning of myth and the
what-if the fable implies. It's also decent blank verse [I think you
mean 'free verse'; 'blank verse' is unrhymed iambic pentameter a la
Shakespeare and co. - Martin] , and archy's work often reminds me of e.
e. cummings, not for the obvious typographical reasons, but its terse

Sean Dwyer.

[thomas adds]

Here archy seems to be conflating several distinct fables, the one
featured in Sean's prologue above, and one or both of the following:

  A Wolf, meeting with a Lamb astray from the fold, resolved not to lay
violent hands on him, but to find some plea to justify to the Lamb the
Wolf's right to eat him.  He thus addressed him: "Sirrah, last year you
grossly insulted me."  "Indeed," bleated the Lamb in a mournful tone of
voice, "I was not then born."  Then said the Wolf, "You feed in my
pasture."  "No, good sir," replied the Lamb, "I have not yet tasted
grass."  Again said the Wolf, "You drink of my well."  "No," exclaimed
the Lamb, "I never yet drank water, for as yet my mother's milk is both
food and drink to me."  Upon which the Wolf seized him and ate him up,
saying, "Well! I won't remain supperless, even though you refute every
one of my imputations."  The tyrant will always find a pretext for his

  Once upon a time a Wolf was lapping at a spring on a hillside, when,
looking up, what should he see but a Lamb just beginning to drink a
little lower down.  "There's my supper," thought he, "if only I can find
some excuse to seize it."  Then he called out to the Lamb, "How dare you
muddle the water from which I am drinking?" "Nay, master, nay," said
Lambikin; "if the water be muddy up there, I  cannot be the cause of it,
for it runs down from you to me." "Well, then," said the Wolf, "why did
you call me bad names this time last year?" "That cannot be," said the
Lamb; "I am only six months old." "I don't care," snarled the Wolf; "if
it was not you it was your father;" and with that he rushed upon the
poor little Lamb and ate her all up.  But before she died she gasped out
"Any excuse will serve a tyrant."

        -- both from

The "wordsworthian tabor" is probably this one:

    Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song,
    And while the young lambs bound
        As to the tabor's sound,

        -- William Wordsworth
        "Intimations of Immortality"
        full text at

while the "stanza from william blake" is likely to be one of two from
the poem "The Lamb", which I should have mentioned in yesterday's
Minstrels links section: Poem #1405.

Talking of yesterday's poem, thanks to Michael, Faith and Carolyn, all
of whom wrote in with biographical information about John Dressel; said
info can be found on the Minstrels website under Poem #1457.


Spring Song, Meirionydd -- John Dressel

Guest poem submitted by Stefan Bartels:
(Poem #1457) Spring Song, Meirionydd
 A white combustion rules these fields,
 and testifies to men, and rams;
 the mind of winter thaws, and yields--
 Great God, the world is drunk with lambs.

 The high grey stone is clean of snows,
 the streams come tumbling, far from dams;
 the wind is green, the day's eye grows--
 Great God, the world is drunk with lambs.

 The heart, gone light as all the ewes,
 redounds with milk, and epigrams
 that make no sense; except their news--
 Great God, the world is drunk with lambs.

 In gold October, grown to size,
 they'll know the hook, and hang with hams,
 but March is all their enterprise--
 Great God, the world is drunk with lambs.
-- John Dressel
While staying at a school in North Wales on an exchange program, I
stumbled upon this poem in an old school reader. I haven't been able to
find any information about John Dressel -- the name doesn't sound Welsh,
anyway -- but the poem still reminds me of the lambing on the Welsh
hillsides in late February and early March. The world is really "drunk
with lambs" then.

Dressel maintains a fine balance between a nature poem and an ironic,
sceptical poem. Nature is abundant, but man is always in the picture
from the second line in the first to the second line in the fourth
stanza. Seemingly a negligible detail, man is yet the most momentous
influence on the life of lambs, which, I think, come across more as
ignorant than innocent in this poem. The buoyant rhythm and indomitable
metaphors keep this poem from being just another complaint about cruelty
to animals. It is uplifting, not pessimistic.


[Minstrels Links]

Poem #14, Prologue  -- Dylan Thomas
Poem #138, Fern Hill  -- Dylan Thomas
Poem #175, I am Taliesin -- Anon. (Welsh, 13th century)
Poem #270, Under Milk Wood  -- Dylan Thomas
Poem #333, Gnomic Stanzas  -- Anon. (Welsh, 12th century)
Poem #374, Psalm Of the Valleys  -- Alex Pascall

Lambs, sheep and other Similar Characters:
Poem #120, The Purple Cow  -- Gelett Burgess
Poem #424, The Moonsheep  -- Christian Morgenstern
Poem #507, The Sheep-Child  -- James Dickey
Poem #1080, The Lama -- Ogden Nash

It's raining in love -- Richard Brautigan

Guest poem submitted by Salima Virani:
(Poem #1456) It's raining in love
 I don't know what it is,
 but I distrust myself
 when I start to like a girl
 a lot.

 It makes me nervous.
 I don't say the right things
 or perhaps I start
 to examine,
 what I am saying.

 If I say, "Do you think it's going to rain?"
 and she says, "I don't know,"
 I start thinking: Does she really like me?

 In other words
 I get a little creepy.

 A friend of mine once said,
 "It's twenty times better to be friends
 with someone
 than it is to be in love with them."

 I think he's right and besides,
 it's raining somewhere, programming flowers
 and keeping snails happy.
 That's all taken care of.


 if a girl likes me a lot
 and starts getting real nervous
 and suddenly begins asking me funny questions
 and looks sad if I give the wrong answers
 and she says things like,
 "Do you think it's going to rain?"
 and I say, "It beats me,"
 and she says, "Oh,"
 and looks a little sad
 at the clear blue California sky,
 I think: Thank God, it's you, baby, this time
 instead of me.
-- Richard Brautigan

I've been working in the same office building for about six years now.
And every year, for the last six years, I've seen them recycle the same
decorations for Halloween, Christmas and Valentine's Day.  Even the
stores have the same clichéd banners and the same old gifts that surface
year after year.  Surely there's more to Valentine's Day than roses,
lingerie and chocolates. For there is so much more to the emotion of
love than the butterflies and the weak knees.  I like this poem because
it is so much more real.  A lot of us start out like that in love -
unsure of what to expect, what to say and feeling vulnerable.  I
particularly like how Brautigan suggests that even when we know what
bothers us in a relationship - we often end up doing those very same
things ourselves! And the last line, "I think: Thank God, it's you,
baby, this time instead of me." is a smug, cynical and yet humorous way
to end it.  The situation will not be resolved by him... he's just happy
that the anguish is someone else's and not his.

Brautigan reminds me a lot of Phil Larkin.  Most of Brautigan's poems,
like Larkin's, are a combination of honesty, humour and cynicism.  He
keeps it real!


Brautigan was born in 1935 in Tacoma, Washington. In October of 1984,
his body was discovered at his home; he had shot himself in the head
some four or five weeks earlier.

Although Brautigan, whose work largely defies classification, is not
properly considered a Beat writer, he shared the Beats' aversion to
middle class values, commercialism, and conformity.

Brautigan's success as a poet was marginal. He published several slim
volumes, all with small presses, but none of these received much
recognition. It wasn't until the publication of Trout Fishing in America
(1967), which many consider his best novel, that Brautigan caught the
public's attention and was transformed into a cult hero. By 1970, Trout
Fishing in America had become the namesake of a commune, a free school,
and an underground newspaper.

Richard Brautigan's poetry collections include June 30th, June 30th
(Delacorte, 1978), Loading Mercy with a Pitchfork (1975), Rommel Drives
on Deep Into Egypt (1970), The San Francisco Weather Report (1969), and
Please Plant This Book (eight poems printed on separate seed packet
envelopes, 1968). His novels include The Tokyo-Montana Express (1980),
Willard and his Bowling Trophies (1975), In Watermelon Sugar (1967), and
A Confederate General from Big Sur (1964). Brautigan's last novel was
recently discovered and published posthumously, under the title An
Unfortunate Woman (Rebel Inc., 2000).


[thomas adds]

In a similar vein, check out Carol Ann Duffy's "Valentine", Poem #865 on
the Minstrels.

The Queerness of it All -- bpNichol

Guest poem sent in by Ajit Narayanan
(Poem #1455) The Queerness of it All
-- bpNichol
There was a reference to bpNichol's interpretations of Basho's haiku
(Poem #23) in a Karl Young commentary that Thomas quoted when he ran
"Landscape I" (Poem #497) ages and ages ago, and that is why, when I came
upon this quirky little poem a few days back without an author name under
it, I guessed that it was possibly by bpNichol. Some fairly strenuous
googling later, I found that this was indeed the case. (Thanks to Minstrels,
I can now identify poets automagically!  Whoo!)

On a more serious note, I think this is one of the best examples of visual
poetry that I have seen. The first thing it reminded me of was an I-Ching
hexagram, an association that is somehow appropriate but not obvious outside
the context of this poem. It is a fine tribute to Nichol's skill that he
makes this association possible -- any improvisation that triggers a new
association is really a work of literature in itself, and bpNichol adds
substantially to Basho's original haiku when he arranges it this way
visually. I think.

As an aside, it is my opinion that when a poet tries to experiment
dramatically with form (like bpNichol or E. E. Cummings often do), an
additionally radical choice of _content_ as well can often confuse the
reader and rend an otherwise brilliant poem somewhat incomprehensible.
Others may disagree, but my own humble opinion is that I probably wouldn't
have been as impressed with this poem if it hadn't been a variant on that
most famous haiku of all time, Basho's 'Old Pond...'. With the possible
exception of Lewis Carroll's masterworks, parodies are nicer when they're
parodies of well-known themes.

This poem also holds a certain amount of personal significance for me,
having gone through five years of college at IIT Madras with the nickname
'Q', as a result of which it is now a name that more people know me by now
than my real one. Hmmm... maybe I'll make this poem the theme song of my
life :).

- AjitQ

An Exile's Lament -- Jacqueline Carey

Guest poem sent in by fellriana
(Poem #1454) An Exile's Lament
 Beneath the golden balm
 Settling on the fields
 Evening steals in calm
 And farmers count their yields
 The bee is in the lavender,
 The honey fills the comb,
 But here a rain falls never-ending
 And I am far from home.
-- Jacqueline Carey
Note: From the novel "Kushiel's Dart"

I don't know whether this poem counts, as it's a far cry from recognized
poetry -- but it's worth suggesting, at very least, as the images are
dead on, vivid without calling attention to themselves, and it's a beautiful
portrayal of a less-than-beautful kind of sadness.  It's in fact out of a
fantasy novel series (which while being exceptionally well-written and
highly entertaining is not "good literature").

[Martin adds]

I've always liked quietly atmospheric "still" poems like today's - the
imagery comes across very nicely, and while I can see it working well in a
fantasy novel, the fact is irrelevant to its appreciation.

And as for the comment on the series - well, there's all the difference
between good literature and "Good Literature", and I'm far more a fan of the
former than the latter. And it's always nice to see fantasy with *good*
poetry - there's way too much of the other kind around. I've put it on my
'to read' list.


Jacqueline Carey's homepage:

  [broken link]

Why, Asks a Friend, Attempt Tetrameter? (Golden Gate 5.4) -- Vikram Seth

Guest poem sent in by a contributor who wishes to remain anonymous:
(Poem #1453) Why, Asks a Friend, Attempt Tetrameter? (Golden Gate 5.4)
 Why, asks a friend, attempt tetrameter?
 Because it once was noble, yet
 Capers before the proud pentameter,
 Tyrant of English. I regret
 To see this marvelous swift meter
 Deamean its heritage, and peter
 Into mere Hudibrastic tricks,
 Unapostolic knacks and knicks.
 But why take all this quite so badly?
 I would not, had I world and time
 To wait for reason, rhythm, rhyme,
 To reassert themselves, but sadly,
 The time is not remote when I
 Will not be here to wait. That's why.
-- Vikram Seth
Seth's 'The Golden Gate'- labelled "The Great Californian Novel" by Gore
Vidal, was inspired by Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, and like Pushkin's work, is
constructed with sonnets set end to end. Within 690 rhyming tetrameter
sonnets, Seth weaves a satirical romance describing the stories of young
professionals in San Francisco throughout their quests and questions to
find, then deal with, love in their own lives as well as each others'.

I still recall how, years ago, when I'd first got hold of The Golden Gate,
I'd put in an all-nighter as I read what was my first exposure to modern
verse. Alternating between spartan and rich, wicked and funny, this racy
novel made me realize how beautifully verse can lend itself to describing
even the most mundane and monotonous travails of everyday life in the most
delightful fashion.

[Martin adds]

This is a delightful defense of the tetrameter, a verse form that, as Seth
notes, has lost out to the pentameter in the arena of 'nobility'. As Derek
Attridge points out[1], iambic pentameter is practically the only metre that
isn't expressible as a variant of the "natural" 4x4 metre (four lines of
four beats), and thus distinguishes itself as more "intellectual". To this
has been added the weight of tradition and association, so that today a
pentametric poem by its mere form biases the reader towards taking it more
seriously - indeed the "tyrant of English".

Besides "Eugene Onegin", Seth's book reminds me of Byron's "Don Juan".
There is the same effect of brilliant, polished verse that nonetheless can
give the impression of being dashed off in an odd moment - an ever-present
vein of authorial joie de vivre and sheer fun that leavens the unusual weight
of a novel written entirely in metrical verse.

[1] In "The Rhythms of English Poetry", one of the best nonfiction books I've
ever read. It's been a while, so any mistakes in summarising his argument
are entirely mine.



 For more on the ever-popular tetrameter:

 Eugene Onegin:

The Clod and the Pebble -- William Blake

Guest poem sent in by Gregory Marton
(Poem #1452) The Clod and the Pebble
 Love seeketh not Itself to please,
 Nor for itself hath any care;
 But for another gives its ease,
 And builds a Heaven in Hell's despair.

     So sang a little Clod of Clay,
     Trodden with the cattle's feet:
     But a pebble of the brook,
     Warbled out these metres meet.

 Love seeketh only Self to please,
 To bind another to Its delight:
 Joys in another's loss of ease,
 And builds a Hell in Heaven's despite.
-- William Blake
I'm not sure if by ordering the clod first the poem's bent is actually
pessimistic, but in coming upon this from the pebble's passion, I found
myself rejoyced, and remembered to smile. This is in Songs of Experience,
which caught my eye with its illuminated illustrations and pleasant price
at a used book sale. Heaven sends the choicest gems to break Hell's mood!

Your humble Clod,

[Martin adds]

Blake's ordering of the verses here reminds me of another of his Songs of
Experience, "A Poison Tree" [Poem #1087]. It has a similar 'dark' structure,
upholding (or seeming to uphold) schadenfreude over selflessness.  Gremio is
right - one would expect the "moral" of the poem to support the clod, and
Blake's letting the pebble have the last word flies in the face of those
expectations, making the modern reader (at least) slightly uneasy.

Rose, Oh Pure Contradiction, Joy -- Rainer Maria Rilke

Guest poem sent in by Tim Reynolds
(Poem #1451) Rose, Oh Pure Contradiction, Joy
 Rose, oh pure contradiction, joy
 of being No-one's sleep, under so
 many lids.
-- Rainer Maria Rilke
           (translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Notes: This is Rilke's self-composed epitaph; in the original German:

        Rose, oh reiner Widerspruch, Lust
        Niemandes Sclaf zu sein unter soviel

The Tanith Lee poem [Poem #1366] reminded me of today's poem by Rilke.

"Lidern" could be a pun on "Lieder", songs, poems. Lips like roses is a
cliche, but lips like rose *petals*, clinically precise, a matter of texture
not color, isn't.


[Martin adds]

I find the line breaks in this poem confusing - could someone who speaks
German tell me whether they're more natural in the original?


  Another translation, and a biography:
    [broken link]

After Reading a Child's Guide to Modern Physics -- W H Auden

Guest poem sent in by Zenobia Driver
(Poem #1450) After Reading a Child's Guide to Modern Physics
 If all a top physicist knows
 About the Truth be true,
 Then, for all the so-and-so's,
 Futility and grime,
 Our common world contains,
 We have a better time
 Than the Greater Nebulae do,
 Or the atoms in our brains.

 Marriage is rarely bliss
 But, surely it would be worse
 As particles to pelt
 At thousands of miles per sec
 About a universe
 Wherein a lover's kiss
 Would either not be felt
 Or break the loved one's neck.

 Though the face at which I stare
 While shaving it be cruel
 For, year after year, it repels
 An ageing suitor, it has,
 Thank God, sufficient mass
 To be altogether there,
 Not an indeterminate gruel
 Which is partly somewhere else.

 Our eyes prefer to suppose
 That a habitable place
 Has a geocentric view,
 That architects enclose
 A quiet Euclidian space:
 Exploded myths - but who
 Could feel at home astraddle
 An ever expanding saddle?

 This passion of our kind
 For the process of finding out
 Is a fact one can hardly doubt,
 But I would rejoice in it more
 If I knew more clearly what
 We wanted the knowledge for,
 Felt certain still that the mind
 Is free to know or not.

 It has chosen once, it seems,
 And whether our concern
 For magnitude's extremes
 Really become a creature
 Who comes in a median size,
 Or politicizing Nature
 Be altogether wise,
 Is something we shall learn.
-- W H Auden
Note: As the son of a physicist, Auden had an enduring interest in science and
the moral issues surrounding it.

I could not resist a poem called 'After Reading a Child's Guide to Modern
Physics'. Never read a poem like this before - that compared one's life to
the way it would be if one was a nebula or one were an atom. (BTW can a
nebula or an atom have an identity? So 'one' in the sense of 'me' could
never be a nebula right? Anyway. )  The first time I read the poem I
couldn't stop grinning at consequences of the lovers kiss. And the lines 'but
who/ Could feel at home astraddle/ An ever expanding saddle?' totally grabbed
me. They are just too cool - the idea of some astronomical body feeling
uncomfortable because it was being stretched as the universe expanded was a
nice quirky way to think of the big bang theory. Wish he had taken a shot at
some more science theories - Darwinism would have been interesting I think.

Zenobia D. Driver


Auden's reading of the poem here:

The Inner Part -- Louis Simpson

Guest poem sent in by Bob Fish
(Poem #1449) The Inner Part
 When they had won the war
 And for the first time in history
 Americans were the most important people --
 When the leading citizens no longer lived in their shirtsleeves
 and their wives did not scratch in public
 Just when they'd stopped saying "Gosh" --
 When their daughters seemed as sensitive
 as the tip of a fly rod,
 and their sons were as smooth as a V-8 engine --
 Priests, examining the entrails of birds,
 Found the heart misplaced, and seeds
 As black as death, emitting a strange odor.
-- Louis Simpson
Reading Yehuda Amichai's poem, "The Diameter of the Bomb" [Poem #1448] made
me think of the awful diameter of American political hegemony in the world
today and brought this poem by Jamaican-born poet Louis Simpson to mind. I
have long admired the economy with which he paints this ominous augury,
re-claiming the priestly mantle for the contemporary poet. Just a few
carefully selected swaths of a brush effectively paint a picture of a gawky,
adolescent American society coming out of the World Wars, proud and slightly
naive about it's newfound status. Progress through technology would be the
new religion that would shape the planet in a benevolent Pax Americana.

Then, with a startlingly glorious turn at the word "Priests," Simpson
skewers the modern political pretension with a reminder of the ancient
mysteries, confirming that the sources of true life-sustaining power remain
elusive, dark and primordial. America's current hubristic foreign policy
clearly indicates this is a lesson we are still obstinately unwilling to

--Bob Fish


Biography: [broken link]

The Diameter of the Bomb -- Yehuda Amichai

Guest poem sent in by Huat Chye Lim

The Yehuda Amichai poem from a couple of weeks ago [Poem #1437] reminded me of
another poem of his that I really like and isn't in your anthology:
(Poem #1448) The Diameter of the Bomb
 The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
 and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
 with four dead and eleven wounded.
 And around these, in a larger circle
 of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
 and one graveyard. But the young woman
 who was buried in the city she came from,
 at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
 enlarges the circle considerably,
 and the solitary man mourning her death
 at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
 includes the entire world in the circle.
 And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans
 that reaches up to the throne of God and
 beyond, making
 a circle with no end and no God.
-- Yehuda Amichai
        (translated by Chana Bloch)

Amichai starts with a recitation of cold, technical facts about the bomb--its
diameter, its range, the number of casualties.  But then, unexpectedly and
rather jarringly, he segues into a personal sketch of one of the victims and
her grieving lover, "the solitary man mourning her death / at the distant
shores of a country far across the sea"--two lines I find especially poignant.
Amichai's conversational, somewhat detached tone ("And I won't even
mention...") throughout the poem serves almost as a foil to the raw emotional
loss that the bomb wreaked, and emphasizes it all the more.

Huat Chye Lim

Take This Waltz -- Leonard Cohen

Guest poem sent in by M. Karki
(Poem #1447) Take This Waltz
 Now in Vienna there's ten pretty women
 There's a shoulder where Death comes to cry
 There's a lobby with nine hundred windows
 There's a tree where the doves go to die
 There's a piece that was torn from the morning
 And it hangs in the Gallery of Frost
 Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay
 Take this waltz, take this waltz
 Take this waltz with the clamp on its jaws

 Oh I want you, I want you, I want you
 On a chair with a dead magazine
 In the cave at the tip of the lily
 In some hallways where love's never been
 On a bed where the moon has been sweating
 In a cry filled with footsteps and sand
 Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay
 Take this waltz, take this waltz
 Take its broken waist in your hand

 This waltz, this waltz, this waltz, this waltz
 With its very own breath of brandy and Death
 Dragging its tail in the sea

 There's a concert hall in Vienna
 Where your mouth had a thousand reviews
 There's a bar where the boys have stopped talking
 They've been sentenced to death by the blues
 Ah, but who is it climbs to your picture
 With a garland of freshly cut tears?
 Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay
 Take this waltz, take this waltz
 Take this waltz it's been dying for years

 There's an attic where children are playing
 Where I've got to lie down with you soon
 In a dream of Hungarian lanterns
 In the mist of some sweet afternoon
 And I'll see what you've chained to your sorrow
 All your sheep and your lilies of snow
 Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay
 Take this waltz, take this waltz
 With its "I'll never forget you, you know!"

 This waltz, this waltz, this waltz, this waltz ...

 And I'll dance with you in Vienna
 I'll be wearing a river's disguise
 The hyacinth wild on my shoulder,
 My mouth on the dew of your thighs
 And I'll bury my soul in a scrapbook,
 With the photographs there, and the moss
 And I'll yield to the flood of your beauty
 My cheap violin and my cross
 And you'll carry me down on your dancing
 To the pools that you lift on your wrist
 Oh my love, Oh my love
 Take this waltz, take this waltz
 It's yours now. It's all that there is
-- Leonard Cohen
Note: This is Leonard Cohen's adaptation of Lorca's "Pequeño Vals Vienes"
  ("Little Viennese Waltz"). An ordinary English translation of the poem,
  along with Cohen's version, can be found at:

The best measure of translated work's worth, as it has often been pointed
out, is to see how well it holds up as a poem in the translated language. By
that yardstick this poem should be counted among the very best ever.

Unfortunately, Cohen's reputation as a poet seems to have suffered much for
his taking up singing as a profession... Cohen manages to preserve both
Lorca's vision and form while taking many liberties with the words
themselves, and the end product is not only the best translation of Lorca in
English, but also a song/poem that is not only faithful to Lorca's original
but also uniquely Cohen's. Cohen's admiration of Lorca is, of course, quite
well known... I always like to think of this poem as Cohen's tribute to his


The People of Spain Think Cervantes -- Edmund Clerihew Bentley

(Poem #1446) The People of Spain Think Cervantes
 The people of Spain think Cervantes
 Equal to half-a-dozen Dantes;
 An opinion resented most bitterly
 By the people of Italy.
-- Edmund Clerihew Bentley
Bentley's eponymous invention, the clerihew, is one of those simple ideas
that seem so natural in retrospect. Humorous biographies are nothing new, of
course, but the formal structure of the clerihew lends them a certain extra
something, in much the same way that the structure of a limerick predisposes
the reader to expect humour, and thereby enhances that humour.

And the clerihew espouses a particularly irreverent form of humour. To begin
with, the idea of summarising someone's life in four lines already calls for
a certain lack of regard, a willingness to pick out the most salient feature
and satirise that. And then there are the rhymes - Nash may have lent a
certain respectability to the bad rhyme, but the clerihew practically
institutionalises it, to the extent that I feel slightly cheated if there
isn't at least a hint of contrivedness. And the short lines and rhyming
couplets give the poem a breezy, dashed-off feel that reinforces this
irreverence - a perfect contrast to the hundreds of serious (and often
deadly serious) eulogies out there.