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On Monsieur's Departure -- Queen Elizabeth I

Guest poem submitted by Abhishek:
(Poem #1662) On Monsieur's Departure
 I grieve and dare not show my discontent,
 I love and yet am forced to seem to hate,
 I do, yet dare not say I ever meant,
 I seem stark mute but inwardly to prate.
 I am and not, I freeze and yet am burned.
 Since from myself another self I turned.

 My care is like my shadow in the sun,
 Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it,
 Stands and lies by me, doth what I have done.
 His too familiar care doth make me rue it.
 No means I find to rid him from my breast,
 Till by the end of things it be supprest.

 Some gentler passion slide into my mind,
 For I am soft and made of melting snow;
 Or be more cruel, love, and so be kind.
 Let me or float or sink, be high or low.
 Or let me live with some more sweet content,
 Or die and so forget what love ere meant.
-- Queen Elizabeth I
Adding to the list of 'Q's in the minstrels, this poem is probably one of
Queen Elizabeth's most well known... and also perhaps her most human and
poignant one. It is said to have been written around the time when Francis,
Duke of Alencon, tired of the politics of a royal match, gave up his suit
and returned to France. Elizabeth was known to be very fond of her French
suitor, calling him her 'little frog', and even announcing in 1581 that she
would marry him. It would be her last suit, and the aging Queen realized
that. Some argue however that the poem was written with Robert Dudley
('Sweet Robin'), the Earl of Leicester in mind -- someone whom Elizabeth
apparently loved her entire life but couldn't marry due to political and
personal compulsions.

Elizabeth still remains one of the biggest enigmas of history. A women who
was passionate yet repressed, strong yet confused, regal yet human, one of
the most powerful women in history who was forever haunted by the murder of
her mother (by her father of all the people!), a Queen who had the
self-avowed "heart of a King", a woman who always searched for love yet
spurned marriage ("I will have here but one mistress and no master").
Despite it all, this poem lays out her heart for all to see. And like all
great poetry it reaches beyond the confines of its circumstances. It talks
about the (self-imposed?) contradictions of adult life. We all grow and make
choices in life... the conflict often altering us forever. For isn't it the
great Bard who said, "Anything that is mended is but patched"? And with all
these patches on our souls, haven't many of us yearned for the purity of
being... of freedom, of love, of death?

A list of Queen Elizabeth's suitors:

Life of Elizabeth (check out the link to her works):

Another good site:


Mirror, Mirror -- Spike Milligan

Guest poem submitted by Kamalika Chowdhury:

It's been a while since you've run Spike Milligan on the Minstrels. I
thought this one would make a good addition to the archive.
(Poem #1661) Mirror, Mirror
 A young spring-tender girl
 combed her joyous hair
 'You are very ugly' said the mirror.
 on her lips hung
 a smile of dove-secret loveliness,
 for only that morning had not
 the blind boy said,
 'You are beautiful'?
-- Spike Milligan
"Spike was entirely his own mad Irish self. He came out of nowhere."
Comedian Stephen Fry's tribute to Milligan's talent speaks perfectly for his
poems. Among the typically crazy comic fare of his verse, there lie poems
that convey a less cavalier and more poignant voice - these are rarer, but
equally memorable. One such is "The Soldiers at Lauro" (Poem #831 on the

Browsing through Milligan's work, I found another lovely little poem, that
deviates from the norm. This one is not dire and helpless in tone on the
lines of ".. Lauro"; in fact it is soft-textured and full of light, like the
girl's "dove-secret loveliness" and "joyous hair". Nonetheless, it manages
to very gently bring home a huge point about life, love and happiness.

Milligan's touch has a salt-of-the-earth quality to it that makes it
immediately credible. He does not disguise the young girl's objective
ugliness in mirror-image, just as he manages to completely convey her
new-found beauty from within. And what a master wordsmith he was! I can't
imagine a better way to say so much in a single line than: "on her lips
hung/ a smile of dove-secret loveliness".


Small Blue Thing -- Suzanne Vega

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1660) Small Blue Thing
 Today I am
      a small blue thing
 Like a marble
      or an eye

 With my knees against my mouth
 I am perfectly round
 I am watching you

 I am cold against your skin
 You are perfectly reflected
 I am lost inside your pocket
 I am lost against
      your fingers

 I am falling down the stairs
 I am skipping on the sidewalk
 I am thrown against the sky
 I am raining down in pieces
 I am scattered like light
 Scattering like light
 Scattering like light

 Today I am
 A small blue thing
 Made of china
      made of glass

 I am cool and smooth and curious
 I never blink
 I am turning in your hand
 Turning in your hand

 small blue thing
-- Suzanne Vega
Somewhere on the fringes of music, there's a country with a language and a
sound all its own - a thin strip of a land, trapped between the borders of
folk and punk and mainstream rock, a land through which the sound of the
acoustic guitar flows like a river, and where poetry sings like a migratory
bird, on its way to warmer climes.

And of all the wonderful voices that sing to us from this land, there are
few finer than that of Suzanne Vega. Vega exists in that nowhere land
between poetry and song-writing: her work is rarely good enough to be
considered poetry by itself (though listening to her sing her songs you are
easily betrayed into thinking it is) but also rarely banal enough to be
dismissed as just another rock song. Because somewhere, even in the simplest
of her songs, there is that one lurking line that is the authentic poetic
image. In 'Left of Centre' Vega sings "If you want me, you can find me /
Left of center, off of the strip / In the outskirts and in the fringes / In
the corner out of the grip". I can't think of a better description.

Today's poem is a fine example of just how incredible a poet Vega can be -
it's a tiny gem of a poem, literally 'a small blue thing' it's lines
multi-faceted and sparkling, constantly revealing new perspectives. At its
best, it is a poem that seems to echo Plath (try reading "I am cool and
smooth and curious" and not thinking of "I am silver and exact") but it's
also a poem with incredible drive - the first four stanzas building into a
crescendo that dies away in the last two - a poem that is thrown against the
sky and then comes raining down in pieces. Most of all though, it's a poem
that truly captures the sense of something small and insignificant and
fragile that can both be played with and wondered at.

I must admit I'm not overly fond of the music this song is set to (it's from
her self-titled 1985 album) but the words are so incredibly, intensely
beautiful that they more than make up for it.


Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth -- Arthur Hugh Clough

Guest poem submitted by Patrick Brinton :
(Poem #1659) Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth
 Say not the struggle naught availeth,
   The labour and the wounds are vain,
 The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
   And as things have been they remain.

 If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
   It may be, in yon smoke conceal'd,
 Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,
   And, but for you, possess the field.

 For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
   Seem here no painful inch to gain,
 Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
   Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

 And not by eastern windows only,
   When daylight comes, comes in the light;
 In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!
   But westward, look, the land is bright!
-- Arthur Hugh Clough
I am amazed, actually, that today's poem is not listed in the Minstrels
archive; it is my second favorite poem that I know of so far (Kubla Khan is
#1!). It is by Arthur Hugh Clough, and is quite different in tone from the
two examples you have of his work. It also contains at least one aphorism
that has entered the language ("If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars"). I
thing that the reason I like it so much is that I am fundamentally an
optimist, and it is a very optimistic poem.

Patrick Brinton.

[Minstrels Links]

Poem #30, Kubla Khan
Poem #69, There is no god, the wicked sayeth  -- Arthur Hugh Clough
Poem #159, The Latest Decalogue  -- Arthur Hugh Clough

The Night Wind -- Emily Bronte

Guest poem sent in by John Barr
(Poem #1658) The Night Wind
 In summer's mellow midnight
 A cloudless moon shone through
 Our open parlour window
 And rosetrees wet with dew -

 I sat in silent musing -
 The soft wind waved my hair;
 It told me Heaven was glorious
 And sleeping Earth was fair -

 I needed not its breathing
 To bring such thoughts to me,
 But still it whispered lowly
 "How dark the woods will be! -

 "The thick leaves in my murmur
 Are rustling like a dream,
 And all their myriad voices
 Instinct with spirit seem."

 I said "Go, gentle singer
 Thy wooing voice is kind
 But do not think its music
 Has power to reach my mind -

 "Play with the scented flower,
 The young tree's supple bough -
 And leave my human feelings
 In their own course to flow."

 The Wanderer would not leave me;
 Its kiss grew warmer still -
 "O come", it sighed so sweetly,
 "I'll win thee 'gainst thy will."

 "Have we not been from childhood friends?
 Have I not loved thee long?
 As long as though hast loved the night
 Whose silence wakes my song.

 "And when thy heart is resting
 Beneath the churchyard stone
 I shall have time for mourning
 And thou for being alone."
-- Emily Bronte
I love the poetry of Emily Bronte. Her best known works ("No Coward Soul is
Mine" etc) are frequently quoted, yet some of her other poetry is equally
powerful, despite its relative obscurity.

"The Night Wind" is such a poem. This poem is rich in allusion to the
semi-supernatural, or perhaps more accurately natural, world evoked in much
of her work. Every time I read this poem, the hairs on the back of my neck
rise. Something dark drifts through the language of this poem like tendrils
of smoke.

Emily Bronte frequently used the 'life-giving wind' as a metaphor for the
being she communed with on a daily basis, the 'soul' of nature. A deity
perhaps, but one far removed from Christian theology, despite alternative
interpretations of 'No Coward Soul..' and other poems. Emily's deity was an
elemental force. Her Heaven was an eternity 'without identity' at one with
this natural spirit.

In this poem, as in many others, Emily Bronte is visited by a spiritual
manifestation of nature. After setting the scene briefly and efficiently: an
open window, midnight, a cloudless moon (another recurring image in her
poetry, cf. 'How Clear she Shines'), we are introduced directly to the
quasi-mystical concept of the night wind entering through the open window
and addressing her in human terms. This is remarkable. We are invited to
share this moment with the writer, not in the sense that 'a very strange
thing happened..', but that it is perfectly natural, right and ordinary for
the night wind to interact and communicate in this way. Perhaps it is the
paradox between Emily Bronte's relaxed description and the mystical
significance of this encounter that first sets alarm bells ringing.

It is impossible not to see parallels between the persuasive language of the
night wind and the allegorical serpent of Genesis, "O come', it sighed so
sweetly/I'll win thee 'gainst thy will...", as the zephyr spirit attempts to
persuade the writer to go out into the night with him. As her denial becomes
stronger, the wind's language becomes more persuasive, more beguiling. "Have
we not been from childhood friends/Have I not loved thee long.". There is a
darkness here, which attracts us, yet scares us, like the fascination of the
Vampire, understood and interpreted so well by Bram Stoker and others. We
want to go with the spirits of the night. Is the night wind the serpent of

"How dark the woods will be..." The truth is, that as human beings, we want
to walk with the spirits, we want to lift the veil and see the other side.
Emily Bronte's whole life was a personal quest for this enlightenment: In
this poem she shares with us some of this odyssey.

Every time I read this poem, I feel an exhilaration, an apprehension. And
what a superb finale - the mortal and the immortal embrace in a climax of
icy sadness!

"And when thy heart is resting Beneath the churchyard stone, I shall have
time for mourning And thou for being alone."


The Heaven of Animals -- James Dickey

Guest poem sent in by Kerri Clarke
(Poem #1657) The Heaven of Animals
 Here they are.  The soft eyes open.
 If they have lived in a wood
 It is a wood.
 If they have lived on plains it is grass rolling
 Under their feet forever.

 Having no souls, they have come,
 Anyway, beyond their knowing.
 Their instincts wholly bloom
 And they rise.
 The soft eyes open.

 To match them, the landscape flowers,
 Outdoing, desperately
 Outdoing what is required:
 The richest wood,
 The deepest field.

 For some of these, it could not be the place
 It is, without blood.
 These hunt, as they have done,
 But with claws and teeth grown perfect,

 More deadly than they can believe.
 They stalk more silently,
 And crouch on the limbs of trees,
 And their descent
 Upon the bright backs of their prey

 May take years
 In a sovereign floating of joy.
 And those that are hunted
 Know this as their life,
 Their reward:  to walk

 Under such trees in full knowledge
 Of what is in glory above them,
 And to feel no fear,
 But acceptance, compliance.
 Fulfilling themselves without pain

 At the cycle's center,
 They tremble, they walk
 Under the tree,
 They fall, they are torn,
 They rise, they walk again.
-- James Dickey
Following a recent discussion amongst friends about whether or not animals
possess souls (and whether beloved pets will meet us in the afterlife), I
was very happy to come across this entirely beautiful poem by James Dickey.
I hope that it acts as a valuable addition to the Dickey poems already on
your site.

Kerri Clarke

[Links] contains several interesting pages on Dickey,
including biographical snippets under

The Rose of the World -- William Butler Yeats

Guest poem sent in by Aseem
(Poem #1656) The Rose of the World
 Who dreamed that beauty passes like a dream?
 For these red lips, with all their mournful pride,
 Mournful that no new wonder may betide,
 Troy passed away in one high funeral gleam,
 And Usna's children died.

 We and the labouring world are passing by:
 Amid men's souls, that waver and give place
 Like the pale waters in their wintry race,
 Under the passing stars, foam of the sky,
 Lives on this lonely face.

 Bow down, archangels, in your dim abode:
 Before you were, or any hearts to beat,
 Weary and kind one lingered by His seat;
 He made the world to be a grassy road
 Before her wandering feet.
-- William Butler Yeats
I was reading Yeats on Minstrels in honour of St. Patrick's day and realised
to my horror that the thirty or so poems of his on Minstrels did not include
one of my personal favourites - this one.

This is, quite simply, a beautiful poem. For starters, it's a wonderfully
melodic poem - with a soft cadence to the words and an intriguing rhyme
pattern (abba followed by that breathtaking shortened b again). Then there's
the vividness of the images - the crimson fire of the first stanza, the
gently rippling wake of the second and the verdant green of the third - and
the way that they mirror so perfectly the three stages of the poet's
emotion: the passion of the first stanza, the uncertainty and restlessness
of the second, the surrender of the third (elsewhere (Poem #597) Yeats
writes "I have spread my dreams under your feet / Tread softly, because you
tread on my dreams" - it's hard to read the last lines of this poem without
thinking of those lines).

But what makes this poem truly unforgettable for me is the question that it
opens with. It's an incredible first line; not just because it's so
memorable and sticks in your head forever, but because it sets the tone so
beautifully for what is to follow - the dreaminess, the sadness, the sense
of defeat, the sense of acceptance.



 For reference to Usna's children, see the story of Dierdre of

Battle Song -- Patrick Barrington

Guest poem sent in by William Grey
(Poem #1655) Battle Song
 There's havoc on the staircase where the guests come streaming,
 Shirt-fronts shining and tiaras gleaming,
 Frail folk shuddering and stout folk steaming --
   Steaming in the heat of the fray.
 Midnight striking and the strife appalling,
 Strong men staggering and weak men falling,
 And deep in the heart of me a still voice calling:
   'Make for the buffet while you may.

 'Make for the buffet while you may, poor stranger,
   Make for the buffet while you can;
 There's hope for the stale there, strength for the frail there,
   Drink for the thirsty man.
 Thrust through the throng! Be obstreperous and strong!
   Fight till your strength is sped.
 Fight and prevail; do not falter, do not fail,
   Make for the buffet and be fed!

 'Make for the buffet and be fed, poor stranger,
   Make for the buffet and be strong;
 Dense is the press and the air is growing less,
   Fierce is the fight and long.
 Fierce is the fight and oppressive is the night,
   Stern is the strife and fell;
 Pale is your cheek; you are wan and you are weak;
   Make for the buffet and be well!'

 Painfully and wearily the hours are dragging,
 Old men are falling now and young men flagging;
 White ties weakening and stiff shirts sagging --
   Sagging as the hours go by.
 Consciousness is failing me and outlines merging,
 Thunder in my ears as of sea-foam surging,
 And deep in the heart of me a faint voice urging:
   'Make for the buffet lest you die.

 'Make for the buffet lest you die, poor stranger;
   Make for the buffet while you can;
 Fight your way through like a woman in a queue,
   Fight like a jungle-man!
 Batter the élite with your hands and your feet,
   Butt them in the backs with your head:
 Strike for your own! You are hungry and alone;
   Make for the buffet and be fed.

 'Make for the buffet and be fed, poor stranger,
   Make for the buffet lest you die.
 There's hope for stale there, strength for the frail there,
   Drink for the throat that's dry.
 Courage and strength will rewarded be at length;
   Weight in the end will tell.
 Up, then, and on! Are you weary? Are you wan?
   Make for the buffet and be well,
                                                Poor stranger!
   Make for the buffet and be well,
                                                Poor ranger!
   Make for the buffet and be well!'
-- Patrick Barrington
The rousing heroic metre of this poem is sublime. Imagine the jingoistic
ends to which this form might have been pressed by a Henry Newbolt! Indeed
some of the lines could almost have been penned by Newbolt -- except that
Newbolt never wrote poetry anywhere near as good as Barrington's. But one
can almost imagine some of the lines seamlessly incorporated into a Newbolt

  Strong men staggering and weak men falling,

  Consciousness is failing me and outlines merging,
  Thunder in my ears as of sea-foam surging,
  And deep in the heart of me a faint voice urging:

Perhaps not. The prosody is too good. Newbolt's sentimental jingoistic
claptrap (Vitai Lampada, Poem #946) enjoyed an inflated reputation only
because of its timely articulation of tiresome (but then-fashionable)
imperialist values. His reputation was based not on poetic merit but on
politics. Barrington in contrast possesses fine prosodic skills, masked by
his wonderfully eccentric loopiness -- and the exuberant absurdity which
shines through his verse.  (Carefully rereading him while typing the poem
deepened my appreciation of his prosodic talents.)

The genius of this poem lies in Barrington's handling of the heroic verse
genre, subtly applied to a formal social occasion -- circumstances in which
anything like the belligerent heroic behaviour which Barrington recommends
would be simply unthinkable. The absurd juxtaposition in this case is a
wonderful clash between form and content.

The poem was published in 'Songs of a Sub-Man' (London: Methuen & Company
Limited, 1934).

William Grey

We Should Talk about This Problem -- Hafiz

Guest poem sent in by Pavi Krishnan
(Poem #1654) We Should Talk about This Problem
 There is a Beautiful Creature
 Living in a hole you have dug.

 So at night
 I set fruit and grains
 And little pots of wine and milk
 Beside your soft earthen mounds,

 And I often sing.

 But still, my dear,
 You do not come out.

 I have fallen in love with Someone
 Who hides inside you.

 We should talk about this problem---

 I will never leave you alone.
-- Hafiz
Such a beguiling poem. It calls out to you with such patient, laughing
tenderness that the proud and frightened creature somewhere inside lifts its
small head in helpless confusion and wonder - this then the beginning of the
end - of glittery-eyed guardedness and a long lack of faith. A fierce
loneliness that must finally give way to love's kindness too sweetly
intentioned to be condescension. How scandalously fond I have grown of this
Sufi poet-saint whose name is Hafiz - and to think we only just met. I like
his willingness to confront the seeming stuck-ness of the situation with
such a sly, reproachful twinkle. I like the gentle humour of the understated
title suggestion: 'We should talk about this problem.' ...And I
particularly love the conclusion - for the caressing determination of its
exquisite threat.



There's a biography attached to Poem #447. is a nicely done site with a lot of information

Dream Interpretation -- Piet Hein

(Poem #1653) Dream Interpretation

 Everything's either
 concave or -vex,
 so whatever you dream
 will be something with sex.
-- Piet Hein
"Epigrammatic" is too weak a word for today's poem - it is one of those
poems that seems to have been written to be quoted. It has that combination
of insight and pithy phrasing that make it almost irresistible to drop
into a discussion wherever appropriate (and often when not!), and needless
to say, I have been far from immune to the temptation. (Anecdotally, it
really does work to get someone off that particular hobbyhorse - there is
nothing much one can say in reply to it.)

I suspect part of my liking for the poem is the fact that Hein shares my
annoyance with the overpervasive aspects of dream interpretation and Freudian
psychology (in another of his grooks he says

  She gave me hope
  she gave me love,
    with bounty unalloyed.
  But what she had of faith,
    she gave to Freud.

which leaves his feelings on the matter in little doubt). I also love his
ability to sum up an entire argument in a few well-chosen words (a talent
that is very much in evidence throughout his body of work) - there is a
satisfaction to watching him at work that is quite independent of which side
of the argument he's chosen.

That said, I must admit I like this more as a quote than as a poem - the
verse itself feels slightly 'off', so it's not as much fun to recite as some
of Hein's other grooks. Nevertheless, it's definitely one of the more
memorable ones.


Asides on the Oboe -- Wallace Stevens

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul
(Poem #1652) Asides on the Oboe
 The prologues are over. It is a question, now,
 Of final belief. So, say that final belief
 Must be in a fiction. It is time to choose.


 That obsolete fiction of the wide river in
 An empty land; the gods that Boucher killed;
 And the metal heroes that time granulates -
 The philosophers' man alone still walks in dew,
 Still by the sea-side mutters milky lines
 Concerning an immaculate imagery.
 If you say on the hautboy man is not enough,
 Can never stand as a god, is ever wrong
 In the end, however naked, tall, there is still
 The impossible possible philosophers' man,
 The man who has had the time to think enough,
 The central man, the human globe, responsive
 As a mirror with a voice, the man of glass,
 Who in a million diamonds sums us up.


 He is the transparence of the place in which
 He is and in his poems we find peace.
 He sets this peddler's pie and cries in summer,
 The glass man, cold and numbered, dewily cries,
 "Thou art not August unless I make thee so."
 Clandestine steps upon imagined stairs
 Climb through the night, because his cuckoos call.


 One year, death and war prevented the jasmine scent
 And the jasmine islands were bloody martyrdoms.
 How was it then with the central man? Did we
 Find peace? We found the sum of men. We found,
 If we found the central evil, the central good.
 We buried the fallen without jasmine crowns.
 There was nothing he did not suffer, no; nor we.

 It was not as if the jasmine ever returned.
 But we and the diamond globe at last were one.
 We had always been partly one. It was as we came
 To see him, that we were wholly one, as we heard
 Him chanting for those buried in their blood,
 In the jasmine haunted forests, that we knew
 The glass man, without external reference.
-- Wallace Stevens
Every time I read Wallace Stevens I have the sense of being sucked into a
dream. There's the same impression of being faced with something immense and
urgent and terribly meaningful that lies just outside one's grasp. There's
the same feeling of derangement - the coming together of images that are
crystal clear and contradictory and yet strangely right together. And
there's the same sensation, coming away from it, that you have experienced
something truly profound, though what exactly it is you have grasped about
the universe remains elusive, impossible to articulate.

This poem, one of my favourites, is a good example. On the one hand it's a
poem rich with both sharp yet surreal images ("Clandestine steps upon
imagined stairs / climb through the night, because his cuckoos call") and
lines of such simple, aching beauty as "The prologues are over. It is a
question now, of final belief". On the other hand, this is an incredible
exercise in myth creation - Stevens gives us the philosopher's man (another
great figure to go with The Emperor of Icecream, the mountain-minded Hoon
and the man with a blue guitar): part Nietzschian superman, part Orpheus and
part cubist glass sculpture. It's this combination of language and myth that
makes this poem so incredibly multifaceted and beautiful - like staring deep
into the heart of a diamond or listening to a Bach fugue.

Steven's great gift, of course, is that he makes the figure of the
philosopher's man come alive so dramatically - both the vividness of the
image, and the credibility of the idea. If final belief must be in a
fiction, then it's hard to imagine a fiction more compelling than
this one.


Gay Chaps at the Bar -- Gwendolyn Brooks

Guest poem sent in by Mark Penney

[Typography note:  the inscription is right-justified in my copy; I've
tried to reproduce this by tabbing over twice.]
(Poem #1651) Gay Chaps at the Bar
                ...and guys I knew in the States, young
                officers, return from the front crying and
                trembling.  Gay chaps at the bar in Los
                Angeles, Chicago, New York...
                        --Lt. William Couch
                                in the South Pacific

 We knew how to order.  Just the dash
 Necessary.  The length of gaiety in good taste.
 Whether the raillery should be slightly iced
 And given green, or served up hot and lush.
 And we knew beautifully how to give to women
 The summer spread, the tropics of our love.
 When to persist, or hold a hunger off.
 Knew white speech.  How to make a look an omen.
 But nothing ever taught us to be islands.
 And smart, athletic language for this hour
 Was not in the curriculum.  No stout
 Lesson showed how to chat with death.  We brought
 No brass fortissimo, among our talents,
 To holler down the lions in this air.
-- Gwendolyn Brooks
Leading off with the form, since it's so arresting:  This is a sonnet,
the first (and title) poem in a sequence of twelve sonnets Brooks wrote
based on letters she received from black American soldiers during the
Second World War.  (The other eleven are just as remarkable.)  The poem
doesn't scan in places, and it uses off-rhyme rather than true rhyme,
but more on these features later.  The rhyme scheme is a slight
variation on the Petrarchian pattern, abba cddc efggef.  The break
between the octet and sestet is not only preserved, but used by Brooks
to tremendous effect.  The octet is a brilliant, wry evocation of the
familiar life of the "gay chaps at the bar," where they are absolute
masters of their world.  But then, in the sestet, we see how totally
unprepared they are and unnerved they are by -- war.  This is a poem
about disjuncture, about a world gone crazy.

The imperfect scansion and off-rhyme help emphasize this, in a
way--they're emblematic of a struggle to make experiences that defy
rationality obey rational rules.  "Islands" and "talents," let's face
it, don't rhyme, just as a bar in Manhattan doesn't "rhyme" with a
firefight in Guadalcanal.  But still somehow, you have to make it hold
together.  Does that make sense?

I love the line "But nothing ever taught us to be islands."  Of course
it's a reference to John Donne's Meditation 17.  It's also a reference
to the nature of America's war.  (If you were a Marine in 1943, chances
are your life consisted of island after bitter deadly island in an
endless chain off beyond the horizon to your death.)  Nothing ever
taught these men to detach themselves from humanity, which the war is
forcing them to do.  And likewise, nothing ever taught them what they
need to fight such an alien and unforgiving war, to kill and die on hot,
malarial islands on the opposite side of the world.  On that note,
consider also the contrast between "raillery . . . served up hot and
lush" (or "the hot tropics of our love") and the real tropics and hot,
lush jungles of the islands on which there's no way at all to "holler
down the lions in this air."


Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000).  The poem I sent in a few weeks ago was
the first by Brooks that Minstrels had run.  But I forgot to give
biographical info.

There's a very good biography and tons of criticism, including of this
poem, at

There's another biography that's not quite as extensive but is less
likely to go away, at
[broken link]


Aerialist -- Sylvia Plath

Guest poem submitted by Kamalika Chowdhury:
(Poem #1650) Aerialist
 Each night, this adroit young lady
 Lies among sheets
 Shredded fine as snowflakes
 Until dream takes her body
 From bed to strict tryouts
 In tightrope acrobatics.

 Nightly she balances
 Cat-clever on perilous wire
 In a gigantic hall,
 Footing her delicate dances
 To whipcrack and roar
 Which speak her maestro's will.

 Gilded, coming correct
 Across that sultry air,
 She steps, halts, hung
 In dead center of her act
 As great weights drop all about her
 And commence to swing.

 Lessoned thus, the girl
 Parries the lunge and menace
 Of every pendulum;
 By deft duck and twirl
 She draws applause; bright harness
 Bites keen into each brave limb

 Then, this tough stint done, she curtsies
 And serenely plummets down
 To traverse glass floor
 And get safe home; but, turning with trained eyes,
 Tiger-tamer and grinning clown
 Squat, bowling black balls at her.

 Tall trucks roll in
 With a thunder like lions; all aims
 And lumbering moves

 To trap this outrageous nimble queen
 And shatter to atoms
 Her nine so slippery lives.

 Sighting the stratagem
 Of black weight, black bail, black truck,
 With a last artful dodge she leaps
 Through hoop of that hazardous dream
 To sit up stark awake
 As the loud alarmclock stops.

 Now as penalty for her skill,
 By day she must walk in dread
 Steel gaunticts of traffic, terror-struck
 Lest, out of spite, the whole
 Elaborate scaffold of sky overhead
 Fall racketing finale on her luck.
-- Sylvia Plath
One of the lesser known poems of Plath's short but prolific career, this
poem belongs to the phase Hughes classified as "Juvenilia" - poems written
in her early teenage years. This poem is by no means an example of her best,
nor her most powerful work. Nevertheless, it showcases the development of a
vivid imagination and what was to become her characteristic fascination with
the dark side of human experience.

Plath's remarkable imagery never ceases to amaze. She brings the dream
circus to life - the young aerialist deftly, almost calmly negotiating
obstacles, while the circus conspires to "shatter to atoms/ Her nine so
slippery lives". The relentless pressure builds until the "escape" of the
penultimate stanza, when the final, inescapable "dread" of reality catches

And one can't help but marvel at the deft pun on the title and theme - is
the aerialist a realist?


It was not death, for I stood up -- Emily Dickinson

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1649) It was not death, for I stood up
 It was not death, for I stood up,
 And all the dead lie down;
 It was not night, for all the bells
 Put out their tongues, for noon.

 It was not frost, for on my flesh
 I felt siroccos crawl, -
 Nor fire, for just my marble feet
 Could keep a chancel cool.

 And yet it tasted like them all;
 The figures I have seen
 Set orderly, for burial,
 Reminded me of mine,

 As if my life were shaven
 And fitted to a frame,
 And could not breathe without a key;
 And 'twas like midnight, some,

 When everything that ticked has stopped,
 And space stares, all around,
 Or grisly frosts, first autumn morns
 Repeal the beating ground.

 But most like chaos - stopless, cool, -
 Without a chance or spar,
 Or even a report of land
 To justify despair.
-- Emily Dickinson
There are some poems you cannot escape. Poems that are like locked, bare
rooms filled with a light so cold it can only be the truth. Poems that
capture not only the horror of desolation, but also its stark, simple

This is one of those poems.

This is a poem that grabs you by the throat right at the start (can you
imagine an opening more immediate, more engaging that "It was not death for
I stood up / And all the dead lie down?") and gradually increases in
pressure until it finally lets you go, gasping for breath, only at the very
end. This is a poem that combines some of the sharpest, most suffocating
lines in the language ("As if my life were shaven / And fitted to a frame")
with a sense of quiet acceptance that both informs the first two stanzas and
radiates through those hearbreaking last lines. This is a poem that is at
once a mosaic of images and a single, singing voice.

It is also, of course, vintage Dickinson. The short, haiku-like lines are
back, with their awkward rhymes that somehow manage to sound exactly right.
There's the usual sense of precision, the feeling that every word has been
carefully selected and carries within it a great weight of meaning. And
there's that deeply personal tone which makes what would otherwise be an
exceedingly cruel poem, a moving and sad one.


Baseball's Sad Lexicon -- Franklin P Adams

(Poem #1648) Baseball's Sad Lexicon
 These are the saddest of possible words:
   "Tinker to Evers to Chance."
 Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
   Tinker and Evers and Chance.
 Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
   Making a Giant hit into a double --
 Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
   "Tinker to Evers to Chance."
-- Franklin P Adams
Note: for a detailed
  explanation of what's going on

Poetry had its origins in oral tradition, and it continues to rely heavily on
the spoken word for its full impact. Devices like rhyme and metre, which
have attended poetry since antiquity (and continue to attend it despite
transient bubbles of unfashionability) are not just mnemonic, but actively
pleasing to the ear; moreover, they form a natural framework in which words
and phrases are emphasised or deemphasised, linked together or split apart -
in other words, they are an integral part of the sense and flow of the poem.

Today's poem is firmly rooted in the oral camp - it really cries out to be
read aloud, and even a silent read through gets me counting out the rhythm
in some physical form. And I was delighted to learn the story behind its

        The author was Franklin Pierce Adams who was a Cubs fan, a sportswriter
  for the New York Evening Mail and a poet thanks to an article that his
  editors said was too short — making him pen Baseball's Sad Lexicon on his
  way to a game at the Polo Grounds.

There is no real way to know why some poems of this sort enjoy a brief spurt
of popularity and vanish tracelessly, while others become immortal;
nonetheless, having known and enjoyed this little ditty long before I knew
anything about baseball, I am unsurprised it has fallen into the latter



We've run a couple of Franklin's poems before; there's a biography attached
to Poem #212

And the wikipedia article on baseball should tell you more than you ever
wanted to know about it:

Men at Forty -- Donald Justice

Guest poem submitted by William Lucy:
(Poem #1647) Men at Forty
 Men at forty
 Learn to close softly
 The doors to rooms they will not be
 Coming back to.

 At rest on a stair landing,
 They feel it moving
 Beneath them now like the deck of a ship,
 Though the swell is gentle.

 And deep in mirrors
 They rediscover
 The face of the boy as he practises tying
 His father's tie there in secret

 And the face of the father,
 Still warm with the mystery of lather.
 They are more fathers than sons themselves now.
 Something is filling them, something

 That is like the twilight sound
 Of the crickets, immense,
 Filling the woods at the foot of the slope
 Behind their mortgaged houses.
-- Donald Justice
 From "New and Selected Poems" (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1997).

 The Minstrels directory shows only two entries for Donald Justice, the
later one in 2003.  I only discovered him after his death in August, 2004,
in the subsequent mini-biography in the New York Times Book Review.  When I
read his collected works, I was moved by the everyday "normalcy" of his
themes, and the extraordinary depth of meaning he gave them through simple,
yet exquisitely and intensely well-crafted, American verse.

 The poem I submitted was a particular favorite, probably because I first
read it autumn as two forty-something October birthdays approached - my own,
and that of a buddy of mine who had recently lured me back into reading
classic literature and verse as an antidote for the ennui caused by writing
banker's English 10 hours a day.  (Thanks, E.)  The opening stanza of this
little poem perfectly captures the "gathering gloom" of middle-age.
Speaking of birthday poems, I found #225, "Poem in October" by Dylan Thomas,
the first time I googled into Wondering Minstrels; "his tears burned my
cheeks and his heart moved in mine."

 By a coincidence, the last poem read last Saturday morning (3/05/05) on the
WBAI-AM (New York) poetry program was also about time and age:  a Yeats'
mini-gem: "The Wheel."

 My submission was also a favorite because's short!!! Maybe it was the
fourth-grade nun having us compose autumn haikus with Magic Markers on maple
leaves, but for some reason shorter poems seem all the more beautiful,
intense and memorable for their brevity, and for the skill needed to squeeze
the meter and meaning out of every syllable.  (I drafted this submission
before #1643, Stephen King's "IT" haiku, appeared on Sunday)

 With profound apologies to John Milton, it is just too darn hard to read
Paradise Lost on the city bus at rush hour - believe me, I tried!  I guess
10 hours a day of financial prose will turn anyone into a philistine -
except Wallace Stevens.

William Lucy.

Fata Morgana -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Guest poem sent in by Shalini Umachandran
(Poem #1646) Fata Morgana
 O sweet illusions of song
 That tempt me everywhere,
 In the lonely fields, and the throng
 Of the crowded thoroughfare!

 I approach and ye vanish away,
 I grasp you, and ye are gone;
 But ever by night and by day,
 The melody soundeth on.

 As the weary traveller sees
 In desert or prairie vast,
 Blue lakes, overhung with trees
 That a pleasant shadow cast;

 Fair towns with turrets high,
 And shining roofs of gold,
 That vanish as he draws nigh,
 Like mists together rolled --

 So I wander and wander along,
 And forever before me gleams
 The shining city of song,
 In the beautiful land of dreams.

 But when I would enter the gate
 Of that golden atmosphere,
 It is gone, and I wonder and wait
 For the vision to reappear.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A friend introduced me to the Wondering Minstrels about three years ago but
all this time I've just been content to read the poetry that landed in my
inbox and feel glad that someone made the effort to brighten up my day.

Today, I actually decided to find out who the Thomas, Martin and Sitaram
were. I know, I've really left it a long time, but then... at least I looked
at the site now.

And I thought I'd send in this poem because somehow it seemed to go with the
idea of wondering minstrels wandering along, seeking songs of the wood that
make you feel better.



Explaining the allusion in the title:

Haiku -- Michael P Garofalo

Guest poem submitted by Hemant R. Mohapatra
(Poem #1645) Haiku
 A frog floats
 belly up --
 dead silence.
-- Michael P Garofalo
One of the Haikus that perfectly describes the weather that is up and about
today the place where I stay. It brings out images of a marshy, silent,
secret land all shrouded up in a mystical fog. Outside, it's cloudy and
ominous today; much like a drop of water poised achefully at the edge of a
leaf, pondering whether to take the plunge or not. Whenever it's like this,
more often than not a carefree happy-go-lucky droplet would roll mindlessly
down the leaf and drag the thoughtful drop along with it and away they'd go
all the way down to meet the earth rising up to meet its prize.

I am sure it'll rain by evening.


On Passing the New Menin Gate -- Siegfried Sassoon

Guest poem sent in by GB (Ireland)
(Poem #1644) On Passing the New Menin Gate
 Who will remember, passing through this Gate,
 The unheroic Dead who fed the guns?
 Who shall absolve the foulness of their fate, -
 Those doomed, conscripted, unvictorious ones?
 Crudely renewed, the Salient holds its own.
 Paid are its dim defenders by this pomp;
 Paid, with a pile of peace-complacent stone,
 The armies who endured that sullen swamp.

 Here was the world's worst wound. And here with pride
 'Their name liveth for evermore' the Gateway claims.
 Was ever an immolation so belied
 As these intolerably nameless names?
 Well might the Dead who struggled in the slime
 Rise and deride this sepulchre of crime.
-- Siegfried Sassoon
For poetry that brings home the vicious inhumanity of modern mass warfare,
it is hard to surpass Siegfried Sassson, and for me the best of his poetry
is On Passing New Menin Gate. Ironically, Sassoon himself volunteered
himself for service in the British Army in World War One, where his almost
suicidal courage (to some extent a reaction to the death of his younger
brother earlier in the War in the Gallipoli campaign) earned him a Military
Cross (the ribbon of which he later threw in the River Mersey) and would
have earned him another, but for the fact that the battle in which he had
fought had been lost and the award of a medal was deemed impolitic. At some
point, the slaughter became too much for Sassoon. He then showed that his
courage was not confined to the battlefield. Whilst on convalescent leave,
he wrote a Declaration of "wilful defiance" against the continuation of the
war, for which, but for the intervention of his friend Robert Graves, he
would have been court-martialled. Instead he was hospitalised for ‘shell
shock’ (with the poet Wilfred Owen, who became a great friend).  Eventually,
he resumed his military career, fought as bravely as ever, and was
recuperating from injuries sustained when the war ended. He lived quietly
through World War II and died in 1967.

I first came across this poem in school, where its shocking honesty gave it
an impact in the classroom that no other poem had. Not for Sassoon the
euphemisms and clichés that honour the dead of the war but simultaneously
disguise their fate. The fallen are ‘unheroic’. (Other poetry of Sassoon’s
looks at the motives which brought them to the war.) They are
‘unvictorious’. The fate inflicted on them by the society which sent them to
die in a ‘swamp’ is ‘foul’. They have been ‘fed to the guns’ by their
political masters (or by society or by all of us). Contrary to this monument
tells us, their name liveth not for evermore – they are no more than the
nameless victims of a criminal immolation, who, if they could live again,
would see what had been done to them and deride society’s payment in the
form of this monument  - a pile of stone. I can only imagine the impact that
this poem, which I believe was first published in 1936, must have produced
in the inter-war period to its readers, many or most of whom would have lost
friends or relatives in the war.

Compare this with Wilfred Owen's similarly impressive Dulce Et Decorum Est
(Poem #32 on Minstrels). Contrast it  with John McCrae’s In Flanders
Field (Poem #11 on Minstrels) which the dead ask for the living to ‘take
up our quarrel with the foe’, and which I must admit, perhaps because of my
awareness of the awful scale of the deaths in World War One, I have never
liked. For me, it seems far less impressively aware of terrible political
realities than this poem, but perhaps as a testament to individual
motivation for what (in spite of Sassoon’s valid perspective) in many cases
was heroic self-sacrifice, it is also worthy of attention. Another good poem
on Minstrels (with a good discussion attached) is Hayden Carruth’s On Being
Asked to Write a Poem Against the War in Vietnam (Poem #1214 on
Minstrels). Yeats was appropriately modest (or perhaps politically wise)
when asked to write a war poem (See Poem #1040) – but poetry like
Sassoon’s, Carruth’s , Owen’s, Kettle’s, Ledwidge’s  and perhaps even
McCrae’s show us that poets do have contributions of great value to give us
on this topic.



There are some good sites on Sassoon. The best biography is at His obituary in the Times is also
worth reading.

Another biography is found at [broken link]
And a few of his poems are to be found at

PS: There are a number of other good Sassoon poems on Minstrels.

The Misanthrope -- Moliere

Guest poem submitted by Seema Pai, an excerpt from:
(Poem #1643) The Misanthrope
 In short, I am your servant. And now, dear friend,
 Since you have such fine judgement, I intend
 To please you, if I can, with a small sonnet
 I wrote not long ago. Please comment on it,
 And tell me whether I ought to publish it.

 Sir, these are delicate matters; we all desire
 To be told that we've the true poetic fire.
 But once, to one whose name I shall not mention,
 I said, regarding some verse of his invention,
 That gentlemen should rigorously control
 That itch to write which often afflicts the soul;
 That one should curb the heady inclination
 To publicize one's little avocation;
 And that in showing off one's works of art
 One often plays a very clownish part.
 You're under no necessity to compose;
 Why you should wish to publish, heaven knows.
 There's no excuse for printing tedious rot
 Unless one writes for bread, as you do not.
 Resist temptation, then, I beg of you;
 Conceal your pastimes from the public view.
-- Moliere
 from "The Misanthrope" (1666).
 translated by Richard Wilbur (1965).
 Moliere was the pen-name of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (1662-1673).

 This absolutely delightful exchange between Alceste, the misanthrope and
the aspiring poet Oronte is from Richard Wilbur's translation of Moliere's
play. I think translation is an underappreciated art that could be
especially challenging when it comes to verse. This is from a book I own
called 'Five Plays' by Moliere of which three are translated by Wilbur. I
think the translation is absolutely brilliant as are the plays. After
reading it, I wished I had the wit to respond so sharply to several
acquaintances who chose to hunt me down (years after we lost touch) only to
subject me to the fruits of their pursuits with a keyboard, MS-Word and an
empty afternoon!


Untitled -- Stephen King

(Poem #1642) Untitled
 Your hair is winter fire,
 January embers
 My heart burns there, too.
-- Stephen King
       (from "IT")

   I first read this poem when I was 16, and was smitten by it. I like it
because, like Ben's english teacher explained to him in the book, "a haiku
... could be just seventeen syllables long - no more, no less. It usually
concentrated on one clear image which was linked to one specific emotion:
sadness, joy, nostalgia, happiness ...  love". I hope that you'll read IT
if you like this poem; IT is a mighty fine book.

I'd like to type in a few sentences that precede this poems in the book:

       "During the last week of school before exams, they had been reading and
  writing haiku in English class. Haiku was a Japanese form of poetry, brief,
  disciplined. A haiku, Mrs Douglas said, could be just seventeen syllables
  long - no more, no less. It usually concentrated on one clear image which
  was linked to one specific emotion: sadness, joy, nostalgia, happiness ...

       Ben had been utterly charmed by the concept. He enjoyed his
  English classes, although mild enjoyment was generally as far as it went. He
  could do the work, but as a rule there was nothing in it which gripped him.
  Yet there was something in the concept of haiku that fired his imagination.
  The idea made him feel happy, the way Mrs Starrett's explanation of the
  greenhouse effect had made him happy. Haiku was good poetry, Ben felt,
  because it was structured poetry. There were no secret rules.  Seventeen
  syllables, one image linked to one emotion, and you were out. Bingo. It was
  clean, it was utilitarian, it was entirely contained within and dependent
  upon its own rules. He even liked the word itself, a slide of air broken as
  if along a dotted line by the 'k'-sound at the very back of your mouth:

        Her hair, he thought, and saw her going down the school steps again
  with it bouncing on her shoulders. The sun did not so much glint on it as
  seem to burn within it."

Subramanyam Chitti

[Martin adds]

Actually, haiku are subject to a long and complex set of rules. Here's a
pointer to some places where you can learn more about them:

Jane Reichhold notes that "Haiku, which seem so light, free and spontaneous,
are built on discipline."

Keiko Imaoka on the distinct set of traditions that have grown up around
English haiku...

Note in particular the bit about syllable counting:
        Today, many bilingual poets and translators in the mainstream North
  American haiku scene agree that something in the vicinity of 11 English
  syllables is a suitable approximation of 17 Japanese syllables, in order to
  convey about the same amount of information as well as the brevity and the
  fragmented quality found in Japanese haiku. As to the form, some American
  poets advocate writing in 3-5-3 syllables or 2-3-2 accented beats. While
  rigid structuring can be accomplished in 5-7-5 haiku with relative ease due
  to a greater degree of freedom provided by the extra syllables, such
  structuring in shorter haiku will have the effect of imposing much more
  stringent rules on English haiku than on Japanese haiku, thereby severely
  limiting its potential.

  [broken link]

George Swede has another excellent essay on the form, including the
startling fact about "Criterion 2: The Haiku Should Be Arranged in Three

  This rules has one corollary:

  a. The three lines should be arranged according to a 5-7-5 syllable count.

  Neither this rule nor its corollary are essential. In fact, Japanese haiku
  almost always have been and continue to be written in one line or rather,
  column, as the language is usually written vertically. Because Japanese onji
  are so short, seventeen onji always fit easily into one line or column. On
  the other hand, a seventeen-syllable haiku in English usually has to be more
  than one line otherwise it would run off the page, at least in the normal
  horizontal way the language is written.

The site appears to be down, but you can read it thanks to the wayback machine:

Swede also distingushes between haiku and senryu, the latter being "a
haiku-like poem involving human nature only". By extension, in English the
word 'senryu' seems to be coming to be used to mean "a poem adhering to the
form of a haiku, but not any of the other rules".

Yet another proposal for the English haiku:

And as a parting note, here's an appropriate strip from one of my favourite
  [broken link]


[Stephen King Links]


And Amazon's page on "It":

[broken link]

Magna est Veritas -- Coventry Patmore

(Poem #1641) Magna est Veritas
 Here, in this little Bay,
 Full of tumultuous life and great repose,
 Where, twice a day,
 The purposeless, glad ocean comes and goes,
 Under high cliffs, and far from the huge town,
 I sit me down.

 For want of me the world’s course will not fail;
 When all its work is done, the lie shall rot;
 The truth is great, and shall prevail,
 When none cares whether it prevail or not.
-- Coventry Patmore
      (1823 - 1896)

Note: The title is Latin, and means "Great is the Truth"

Although today's poem touches upon several age-old themes, I don't think
I've seen them combined in quite this way. I like the quiet, reflective tone
of the poem, the image of a man sitting by the seashore contemplating his
insignificance in the grand scheme of things, but comforted rather than
otherwise by the thought. And the final two lines are unexpected and
thought-provoking; the usual sentiment is that Truth shall prevail against a
sea of lies, or against all efforts to quash it, or something similarly
hostile. But as Patmore implicitly points out, indifference is often
deadlier to a cause than any amount of opposition; the truth that shall
prevail "when none cares whether it prevail or not" is great indeed.




You know, my Friends, how Long since in my House -- Omar Khayyam

Guest poem submitted by M. Shamanth :
(Poem #1640) You know, my Friends, how Long since in my House
 You know, my Friends, how long since in my House
 For a new Marriage I did make Carouse:
 Divorc'd old barren Reason from my Bed,
 And took the Daughter of the Vine to Spouse.

 For "IS" and "IS-NOT" though with Rule and Line,
 And "UP-AND-DOWN" without I could define,
 I yet in all I only cared to know,
 Was never deep in anything but--Wine.

 And lately, by the Tavern Door agape,
 Came stealing through the Dusk an Angel Shape
 Bearing a Vessel on his Shoulder; and
 He bid me taste of it; and 'twas--the Grape!

 The Grape that can with Logic absolute
 The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects confute:
 The subtle Alchemist that in a Trice
 Life's leaden Metal into Gold transmute:

 The mighty Mahmúd, the victorious Lord,
 That all the misbelieving and black Horde
 Of Fears and Sorrows that infest the Soul
 Scatters and slays with his enchanted Sword.

 But leave the Wise to wrangle, and with me
 The Quarrel of the Universe let be:
 And, in some corner of the Hubbub coucht,
 Make Game of that which makes as much of Thee.

 For in and out, above, about, below,
 'Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
 Play'd in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
 Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.

 And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
 End in the Nothing all Things end in--Yes--
 Then fancy while Thou art, Thou art but what
 Thou shalt be--Nothing--Thou shalt not be less.

 While the Rose blows along the River Brink,
 With old Khayyám the Ruby Vintage drink:
 And when the Angel with his darker Draught
 Draws up to Thee--take that, and do not shrink.

 'Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
 Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
 Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
 And one by one back in the Closet lays.

 The Ball no Question makes of Ayes and Noes,
 But Right or Left as strikes the Player goes;
 And He that toss'd Thee down into the Field,
 He knows about it all--HE knows--HE knows!

 The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
 Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
 Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
 Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

 And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
 Whereunder crawling coop't we live and die,
 Lift not thy hands to It for help--for It
 Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.

 With Earth's first Clay They did the Last Man's knead,
 And then of the Last Harvest sow'd the Seed:
 Yea, the first Morning of Creation wrote
 What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.
-- Omar Khayyam
Fitzgerald's rendition of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is a wonderful piece
of hedonist literature. Sometimes depressing with its allusions to fatalism,
sometimes a glimmering beacon of hope with its evocation of hope and
possibility, but always wonderfully beautiful, carried  upon the stilts of
idioms and proverbs that give a brilliant clarity, this is a piece of verse
that invigorates, makes you sit up every time you look at it, makes you
murmur a silent thanks for everything beautiful in life and hope that you
don't get carried by cares and worries that infest life. It gives you the
belief that perhaps you can walk away from it all, follow yourself, seek
pleasures that you've always longed for.


[Minstrels Links]

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:
  Poem #162, Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
  Poem #342, Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
  Poem #545, The Moving Finger Writes; and, Having Writ
  Poem #654, Think, in this Batter'd Caravanserai
  Poem #750, Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough
  Poem #1354, Ah, Love!, Could Thou and I with Fate Conspire

In Prison -- William Morris

(Poem #1639) In Prison
 Wearily, drearily,
 Half the day long,
 Flap the great banners
 High over the stone;
 Strangely and eerily
 Sounds the wind's song,
 Bending the banner-poles.

 While, all alone,
 Watching the loophole's spark,
 Lie I, with life all dark,
 Feet tether'd, hands fetter'd
 Fast to the stone,
 The grim walls, square-letter'd
 With prison'd men's groan.

 Still strain the banner-poles
 Through the wind's song,
 Westward the banner rolls
 Over my wrong.
-- William Morris

What fascinated me about today's poem was the interplay between form and
content. The subject material is appropriately sombre - but my first
impression was an almost startled reaction to the bouncily dactylic metre of
the first line[1]. As the poem progresses, there is the continual tension
between the clever, almost playful form and the increasingly grim depiction
of the prison. (Note, in addition to the metre, the beautifully intricate
abcdabe dffgdgd ebeb rhyme scheme, indeed, this is about as complex a rhyme
scheme as I've ever seen in a poem that wasn't adhering to some "named"

That tension is beautifully resolved in the last verse, indeed in the last two
lines - the lines "westward the banner rolls/ over my wrong" have exactly
the air of finality, the implacable ring of a closing door, to cast a
tomblike pall over the rest of the poem, and convey the fact that yes, the
narrator is in prison, and it is indeed a grim fate to befall anyone.


[1] indeed, the rhyming 'wearily, drearily' foreshadows one of my favourite
forms, the decidedly unsolemn double dactyl


Astoundingly, we've run no poems by William Morris, who in addition to being
a delightful poet was an impressive polymath. Here's some biographies:

And a link to some more of his poems:

  [broken link]

The Rover -- Robert Service

Guest poem submitted by Jeff Huo:

With your indulgence, I would like to present the commentary first, and then
the poem:


References from multiple on-line sources, available upon request.

To just one day ditch the 9-to-5 grind and drive off in pursuit of
adventure. To toss the staid, predicable, tie-and-pressed shirt routine to
the wind and go off into the unknown. Most of us have entertained those
fantasies at one time or another. Robert William Service did it.

Robert Service had started out following in his father's footsteps, working
in banking.  For years he put in his 9:30 to 4:00 at the Commercial Bank of
Scotland with diligence, earning promotions and an ever-increasing salary.
The ordinary, predictable, respectable life of the middle class professional
was what he lived. Up until the day in 1896 he resigned from his bank job,
took his carefully amassed savings, and headed out for the wild, undeveloped
Canadian frontier.

No impulsive fancy was this -- it was the culmination of many years of
aspirations and planning.  His imagination had been fired by the works of
Kipling and Stevenson and other adventurers and world travellers.  He saved
money carefully to fund the journey. He exercised to build up his physical
condition. And most of all, he developed the habits of hard work and mental
discipline necessary to succeed in such a journey. Even as he put in his
hours at the office, to an ultimate goal of leaving that ordinary office
life he worked.  And finally after years of work, he set his plans in
motion,  crossed almost halfway around the world, across the Atlantic and
then across the entire Canadian landmass, to pursue the life of adventure on
the frontier he had thought about for so long.

Over the next many years, Robert travelled from Vancouver to Seattle to San
Francisco.  He worked as a farmhand, a cow herder, a miner, a road worker,
even a handyman in a bordello.  Eventually, up to the Yukon Gold country he
found his way. And it was while up there that Robert Service, based on the
stories he heard around him and the stories he had lived, wrote the poems --
"The Cremation of Sam McGee" [Poem #698], "The Law of the Yukon" [Poem
#781], "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" [Poem #1126] and many others -- that
first made him both famous and wealthy.

By the age of thirty-nine, Robert Service had lived as much as a dozen
ordinary men. He had been end to end repeatedly across the North American
continent, from Cuba to California to the Klondike. He had braved the wild
Edmonton Trail.  He had done almost everything one could think of in the
wildernesses of the North and captured the wild spirit of those lands in
poetry.  And he had won acclaim as the unofficial poet laureate of the
Canadian high north, both by the world at large and, perhaps more
importantly, by his fellows who lived there with him.  And it was at the age
of thirty-nine, in 1913, that after half a lifetime of adventure and travel,
bouncing from mining camp to boomtown, Robert Service found both love and a
permanent home.

He had gone to Europe in 1912 as a war correspondent. While there, in 1913
he met -- and married -- a French lady named Germaine Bourgoin.  He
purchased a home at Lancieux, on the Emerald Coast of Brittany, just west of
Dinard.  Robert Service's adventures weren't quite over -- he drove an
ambulance during the fighting at Verdun, he reported from many of the
battlefield fronts of World War I, he made movies in Hollywood.  But
largely, the remaining forty-six years of his life he would spend there in
France, until he died in 1958, surrounded by family, at the home on the
ocean he came to call "Dream Haven".

And it is that context that I think frames the poem I would like to present,
"The Rover", from his collection "Rhymes of a Rolling Stone". Two parts the
poem is: the first half glorifying the wild life of adventure with nothing
to tie one down; the second half wistful for the comforts of a place to call
one's own and the love of a lady to welcome one there. Both these things
Robert Service lived; both these things Robert knew.  He had lived the wild
life of excitement.  He was later blessed with the joys of loving family and
warm home.  When one considers this poem against the narrative of the life
of the poet who wrote it, it seems almost a perfect encapsulation of all
that he felt and all that drove him: and in the very last few lines, you can
easily imagine that the poet is speaking, heartfelt, for himself -- and for
so many of us.

(Poem #1638) The Rover
 Oh, how good it is to be
 Foot-loose and heart-free!
 Just my dog and pipe and I, underneath the vast sky;
 Trail to try and goal to win, white road and cool inn;
 Fields to lure a lad afar, clear spring and still star;
 Lilting feet that never tire, green dingle, fagot fire;
 None to hurry, none to hold, heather hill and hushed fold;
 Nature like a picture book, laughing leaf and bright brook;
 Every day a jewel bright, set serenely in the night;
 Every night a holy shrine, radiant for a day divine.

       Weathered cheek and kindly eye, let the wanderer go by.
       Woman-love and wistful heart, let the gipsy one depart.
       For the farness and the road are his glory and his goad.
       Oh, the lilt of youth and Spring! Eyes laugh and lips sing.

    Yea, but it is good to be
    Foot-loose and heart-free!

 Yet how good it is to come
 Home at last, home, home!
 On the clover swings the bee, overhead's the hale tree;
 Sky of turquoise gleams through, yonder glints the lake's blue.
 In a hammock let's swing, weary of wandering;
 Tired of wild, uncertain lands, strange faces, faint hands.

       Has the wondrous world gone cold? Am I growing old, old?
       Grey and weary . . . let me dream, glide on the tranquil stream.
       Oh, what joyous days I've had, full, fervid, gay, glad!
       Yet there comes a subtile change, let the stripling rove, range.
       From sweet roving comes sweet rest, after all, home's best.
       And if there's a little bit of woman-love with it,
       I will count my life content, God-blest and well spent. . . .

    Oh but it is good to be
    Foot-loose and heart-free!
    Yet how good it is to come
    Home at last, home, home!
-- Robert Service

Thank you,

Theme for English B -- Langston Hughes

(Poem #1637) Theme for English B
 The instructor said,

     Go home and write
     a page tonight.
     And let that page come out of you --
     Then, it will be true.

 I wonder if it's that simple?
 I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
 I went to school there, then Durham, then here
 to this college on the hill above Harlem.
 I am the only colored student in my class.
 The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem
 through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
 Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
 the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
 up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

 It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
 at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what
 I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
 hear you, hear me -- we two -- you, me, talk on this page.
 (I hear New York too.) Me -- who?
 Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
 I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
 I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
 or records -- Bessie, bop, or Bach.
 I guess being colored doesn't make me NOT like
 the same things other folks like who are other races.
 So will my page be colored that I write?
 Being me, it will not be white.
 But it will be
 a part of you, instructor.
 You are white --
 yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
 That's American.
 Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.
 Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
 But we are, that's true!
 As I learn from you,
 I guess you learn from me --
 although you're older -- and white --
 and somewhat more free.

 This is my page for English B.
-- Langston Hughes

Writing about writing is overdone to the point where it has almost become a
cliche - but that is not to say that the genre has not produced some
excellent poems. Indeed, if the old aphorism to "write what you know" is
true, poetry is surely one subject that poets are uniquely qualified to
write about. ("There's nothing to writing", as Walter Smith famously
remarked, "All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open up a vein.")

In today's poem, Hughes reexamines the age old topic of whether a poem
is actually two different poems when viewed in the context the writer's
experiences and that of the reader's, and the inevitable follow up about
what that says about the "validity" of the poem. This is a poem on two
levels, though - not a clever but sterile Metaphysical conceit on the
Nature of Truth, or a Romantic intertwining of Truth and Beauty, but a
deeply personal narrative that speaks truth even while questioning it, that
communicates with the reader in the very act of wondering whether such
communication is possible.

And above all, the poem's genius lies in the way its "voice" retains a
certain "English B" naivete, a diffidence that draws the reader in right
from the beginning, and prevents the poem from becoming sententious or
preachy when it draws into its conclusion and moves from questions to
statements. In the hands of a lesser poet, this poem could well have fallen
flat - indeed, the lack of a metrical structure and the banality of the
subject might well have led me to wonder just why this was even considered
poetry. Instead, I am left marvelling - as I often have occasion to do - at
the way in which a good poet can touch even the most timeworn of themes with
an indefinable, magical *something*, and leave it glowing with life.



There's a biography after Poem #410