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The Mad Philosopher -- Ambrose Bierce

Not quite hate poetry, but a delightful brand of misanthropy nonetheless...

APHORISM, n.: Predigested wisdom
(Poem #879) The Mad Philosopher
 The flabby wine-skin of his brain
 Yields to some pathologic strain,
 And voids from its unstored abysm
 The driblet of an aphorism.
-- Ambrose Bierce
        (from "The Devil's Dictionary")

Note: abysm (n): an old spelling of 'abyss' ( the word has had five
variants, abime, abysm, abysmus, abyssus, abyss; of which abyss remains
asthe ordinary form, and abysm as archaic or poetic. -- OED )

While Bierce was an all-round misanthrope and cynic, he appears to have
reserved his greatest scorn for those he considered pretentious - the self
proclaimedly artistic, philosophic and/or spiritual. Today's poem is an
excellent example; there is not even an attempt at wit, just pure vitriol.

The poem is, nonetheless, memorable for several reasons. Invective is always
impressive if done well, of course, but there is more to it than that - the
central image is very well chosen, with its picture of aphorisms dribbling
out of a flabby wineskin, and the attendant suggestion of bibulousness on
the philosopher's part. The whole has a wonderfully epigrammatic quality
that makes up in large measure for its lack of wit.



  Biography of Bierce: poem #148

  The Devil's Dictionary:
    [broken link]

Frustration -- Dorothy Parker

Guest poem submitted by David Wright, as part of our
ongoing theme, hate rhymes:
(Poem #878) Frustration
 If I had a shiny gun,
 I could have a world of fun
 Speeding bullets through the brains
 Of the folk who give me pains;

 Or had I some poison gas,
 I could make the moments pass
 Bumping off a number of
 People whom I do not love.

 But I have no lethal weapon-
 Thus does Fate our pleasure step on!
 So they still are quick and well
 Who should be, by rights, in hell.
-- Dorothy Parker
This poem from Dorothy Parker is exactly the sort of thing we worry about
the kids reading. My open question is, what do we get from a poem like this,
what kind of pleasure does it give us? I'm not suggesting any answers. I'm
just curious to how we respond to such poems. The first time I read these
things I'm impressed with the vigor and force of the poet's wrath, and a bit
bemusedly shocked, and vicariously pleased.  The second and third readings
are somewhat more disturbing...


[Minstrels Links]

Dorothy Parker:
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

Hate Rhymes:
Poem #185, A Glass of Beer  -- David O'Bruadair
Poem #266, The Litany for Doneraile  -- Patrick O'Kelly
Poem #876, I Wish My Tongue were a Quiver -- Louis McKay
Poem #877, I Do Not Love Thee, Dr Fell -- Tom Brown
Poem #635, Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister -- Robert Browning

I Do Not Love Thee, Dr Fell -- Tom Brown

Following up yesterday's "hate rhyme" with a rhyme of, well, mild dislike, I
(Poem #877) I Do Not Love Thee, Dr Fell
 I do not love thee, Dr Fell,
 The reason why I cannot tell;
 But this I know, and know full well,
 I do not love thee, Dr Fell.
-- Tom Brown
Written circa 1680.

Tradition has it that Brown, while a student at Christ Church, got into some
sort of trouble and was taken to the dean, Dr John Fell.  Brown was set to
be sent down from Oxford, but Dr. Fell decided to waive the expulsion if
Brown could translate, extempore, a Martial epigram. The above poem is the
result; unfortunately, history does not record whether or not Brown's
creativity was sufficient to stay the dean's wrath.

The original Martial epigram follows:

 Non amo te, Sabidi, nec possum dicere quare;
 Hoc tantum posso dicere, non amo te.
        -- Martial

Brown's translation is an excellent one, succinct and faithful to the
original (which reads something like this in English: "I don't like you,
Sabidius, and I can't say why; all I can say is I don't like you"). More to
the point, it's uncannily catchy; what ought by rights to be a snatch of
doggerel has achieved immortality in a thousand and one compilations of
quotable quotes. I wish I knew how he did it...


[Minstrels Links]

Poem #876, I Wish My Tongue were a Quiver -- Louis McKay
Poem #856, Epigram -- Martial


John Fell: 1625-86, English clergyman. He was dean of Christ Church, Oxford,
and bishop of Oxford. While at Oxford, he initiated an extensive building
program and promoted the development of the Oxford Univ. Press. His chief
literary work was his critical edition (1682) of St. Cyprian. He is probably
best remembered today as the subject of Tom Brown's jingle "I do not love
thee, Dr. Fell, The reason why I cannot tell; But this alone I know full
well, I do not love thee, Dr. Fell."
        -- The Columbia Encyclopaedia, at

Martial: See the epigram above.

Tom Brown: Couldn't find anything, sorry.

I Wish My Tongue were a Quiver -- Louis Alexander MacKay

Guest poem submitted by David Wright:
(Poem #876) I Wish My Tongue were a Quiver
 I wish my tongue were a quiver the size of a huge cask
 Packed and crammed with long black venomous rankling darts.
 I'd fling you more full of them, and joy in the task,
 Than ever Sebastian was, or Caesar, with thirty-three swords in his heart.

 I'd make a porcupine out of you, or a pincushion, say;
 The shafts should stand so thick you'd look like a headless hen
 Hung up by the heels, with the long bare red neck stretching, curving, and
   dripping away
 From the soiled floppy ball of ruffled feathers standing on end.

 You should bristle like those cylindrical brushes they use to scrub out
 Not even to reach the kindly earth with the soles of you prickled feet,
 And I would stand by and watch you wriggle and writhe, gurgling through the

   barbs in your throttle
 Like a woolly caterpillar pinned on its back - man, that would be sweet.
-- Louis Alexander MacKay
'Hate Rhymes'

    I'm a pretty mild-mannered guy, so when a colleague confided in me that
she felt the degeneration of Western civilization was epitomized by the pop
stardom of rapper Mashall Mathers, better known as Eminem, she was rather
shocked when I replied that I have both of his CDs and I enjoy him a lot -
at his best he burns with magnificent and often hilarious rage.  "That's
just it.. all that HATE..."  Okay, no arguing with taste.  That night I came
home and a magazine had a leader something like "Will Grammy reward Eminem's
Hate Rhymes?" making a punning equation of Mathers' music with cross-burning
and the like.
     Aside from a tiresome Free Speech response to this which I will spare
you, this got me thinking about the great hate poems of Anon, Homer,
Catullus, Juvenal, Dante, Shakespeare, Donne, Swift, Plath, Doroty Parker,
Browning, W.D. Snodgrass, etc. etc. and I resolved to dig out the most
hate-filled poem I could find.
     So here's one that's right up there.  I know very little about L. A.
MacKay, a Canadian poet, educator and translator from Ontario with such
suitable titles as "The Ill-tempered lover," "Viper's Bugloss" and "The
Wrath of Homer" to his name, or to his psuedonym, John Smalacombe.  But he
really takes his hate beyond the bilious savor that many poets stop at -
certainly Eminem pales in comparison.  This is a huge and warlike,
annihilating hatred; a lascivious, detailed, determined hatred, like
something out of Titus Andronicus.  I'm not sure I've ever experienced quite
such a hatred.


221B -- Vincent Starrett

Guest poem submitted by M. E. Lasseter:
(Poem #875) 221B
 Here dwell together still two men of note
 Who never lived and so can never die:
 How very near they seem, yet how remote
 That age before the world went all awry.
 But still the game's afoot for those with ears
 Attuned to catch the distant view-halloo:
 England is England yet, for all our fears--
 Only those things the heart believes are true.

 A yellow fog swirls past the window-pane
 As night descends upon this fabled street:
 A lonely hansom splashes through the rain,
 The ghostly gas lamps fail at twenty feet.
 Here, though the world explode, these two survive,
 And it is always eighteen ninety-five.
-- Vincent Starrett

Ah, Sherlock Holmes poetry. Perhaps the meter is off, but the imagery in it
makes it worthwhile. That and the fact that it makes things nice for the
closet romantic. All warm-fuzzy and all that.

Rather, it's not warm-fuzzy, but instead gives a feeling of security in this
rapidly changing world of ours. "...though the world explode, these two
[Holmes and Watson] survive", forsooth. Being stuck in a certain era isn't
necessarily a bad thing.

[Short Biography]

Vincent Starrett was the author of the renowned pastiche the Adventure of
the Unique Hamlet, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and other writings.
The pastiche [high-class fan fiction] is widely considered one of the finest
ever written and is listed in The Diogenes Club Required Readings.  Mr
Starrett was a prolific Sherlockian author and critic, friend of many highly
acclaimed authors and writers, including such luminaries as August Derleth
(of the Solar Pons series fame) and  H. P. Lovecraft, and a much admired
journalist with American Newspapers.
        -- [broken link]

Extensive biography and bibliography:
[broken link]


Sometimes -- Sheenagh Pugh

An antidote of sorts to last week's poems on depression:
(Poem #874) Sometimes
 Sometimes things don't go, after all,
 from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
 faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail.
 Sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

 A people sometimes will step back from war,
 elect an honest man, decide they care
 enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
 Some men become what they were born for.

 Sometimes our best intentions do not go
 amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
 The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
 that seemed hard frozen; may it happen for you.
-- Sheenagh Pugh
[Commentary from the Poet]

I wasn't ever going to put this on my site, because I'm sick of it. But I
still get a lot of email asking for information about it so perhaps this
will save time! Besides, it appears on a lot of people's web sites,
generally misquoted - at least this will be as it's meant to read. I wrote
it back in the eighties and it appeared in my Selected Poems, which has
recently been reprinted by Seren, whom you can contact at.

It was then included in Poems on the Underground and has since appeared on
the trams of Helsinki and the Metro in St Petersburg (there's a good Russian
translation on Vitali Ashkinazi's web site. Actually I prefer Vitali's
version to the original and one day I might translate it back).

It featured in a BBC Radio 4 programme called The Secret Life of Poems. It
has been used by several charities and political organisations, including
Charter 88 (for refugees); it has been read during the Irish peace
negotiations and in the South African parliament, has been set to music by
several people and quoted in other books (most lately appearing in the
autobiography of the man in the white suit, Martin Bell).

Despite all this, it wasn't political, nor is it about depression, though a
lot of clinically depressed people think it is. It isn't even basically very
optimistic. It was originally written about a sportsman who had a drug
problem and it expressed the hope that he might eventually get over it -
because things do go right sometimes, but not very often... But it isn't
anywhere near skilful or subtle enough and I would cheerfully disown it, if
people didn't now and then write to me saying it had helped them. By the
way, you might also care to know that I originally wrote "the sun will
sometimes melt a field of snow" (the sportsman's drug of choice was
cocaine). But I mistyped "sorrow" for "snow" and then decided I liked that
better. I believe in letting the keyboard join in the creative process now
and then. Anyway, here's the text, and if you like it, I'm pleased for you,
but I'd be more pleased if you liked something else better!

        -- Sheenagh Pugh,
[broken link]

[Commentary from Me]

This is the sort of poem that puts a gleam into the eyes of manufacturers of
greeting-cards everywhere <grin>.

No, I take that back. The fact that commercialization often cheapens true
emotion should not be used to denigrate the emotion itself. And the poem
_is_ a good one: sincere, honest, and more than a little bit touching. Not
overly subtle (the poet herself deprecates it for this reason), but it
doesn't have to be; it says what it wants to say beautifully and well. Who
could ask for more?



Sheenagh Pugh has a website, [broken link]
We've run one poem of hers before, "The Beautiful Lie". It's archived at
poem #792

Winter Evening -- Archibald Lampman

Posting this on Martin's behalf once again:
(Poem #873) Winter Evening
 To-night the very horses springing by
 Toss gold from whitened nostrils. In a dream
 The streets that narrow to the westward gleam
 Like rows of golden palaces; and high
 From all the crowded chimneys tower and die
 A thousand aureoles. Down in the west
 The brimming plains beneath the sunset rest,
 One burning sea of gold. Soon, soon shall fly
 The glorious vision, and the hours shall feel
 A mightier master; soon from height to height,
 With silence and the sharp unpitying stars,
 Stern creeping frosts, and winds that touch like steel,
 Out of the depth beyond the eastern bars,
 Glittering and still shall come the awful night.
-- Archibald Lampman
When I ran Lampman's "To a Millionaire", I mentioned his "highly atmospheric
and somewhat surreal 'scene' poems that wouldn't raise eyebrows in a fantasy
collection". Today's poem is an excellent example - while not intrinsically
'unnatural', the scene is presented in colours and perspectives that
heighten the sense of magic, and of distance in space and time, all the more
unreal for being overlaid on a superficially normal backdrop.

Like de la Mare's "Silver", "Winter Evening" uses colour as one of its main
notes, casting a wash of gold across the landscape, which sets the dreamlike
tone for the octet. (Compare Wordsworth's 'Westminster Bridge' for a
similarly evoked scene.) The sestet segues abruptly from 'gleam' to
'glitter', as the warm glow of evening is replaced by the cold, harsh grip
of night. The vision of night as a pitiless, inexorable invasion is
beautifully executed, reminding me in places of postapocalyptic sf, and for
much the same reason - there is an instinctive reaction to darkness and cold
as fearful and dangerous; something to be fought against, with the
omnipresent knowledge that it is only being staved off by a tenuous layer of
civilisation, like the wolf that waits just beyond the firelit circle.

And in the end, beautiful as the beginning of the poem is, it is the last
line that makes it truly memorable.


 The poem reminds me of Clarke's 'The Forgotten Enemy' - the one about
 the Earth trapped in an encroaching ice age. Both for the imagery and
 for the ending.


  The one previous Lampman poem we've run on Minstrels, complete with
  biography and notes: poem #784

  de la Mare's 'Silver': poem #725

  Wordsworth's 'Westminster Bridge': poem #462


The House on the Hill -- Edwin Arlington Robinson

Posting this for Martin, who's currently offline:
(Poem #872) The House on the Hill
 They are all gone away,
 The house is shut and still,
 There is nothing more to say.

 Through broken walls and gray
 The winds blow bleak and shrill:
 They are all gone away.

 Nor is there one today
 To speak them good or ill:
 There is nothing more to say.

 Why is it then we stray
 Around the sunken sill?
 They are all gone away.

 And our poor fancy-play
 For them is wasted skill:
 There is nothing more to say.

 There is ruin and decay
 In the House on the Hill
 They are all gone away,
 There is nothing more to say.
-- Edwin Arlington Robinson
Not, perhaps, a poem about depression, but certainly a depressing poem.
Arlington, here, doesn't attempt to overcome the intrinsic limitations of
the villanelle; rather, he uses the repetition and the choppiness to
reinforce the images of passing time, death and decay.

The theme is, in fact, very reminiscent of Hardy, if not handled with the
latter's skill. Arlington's keenly observant eye, very much in evidence in
his character-based poems, seems to have deserted him here; the images don't
quite ring true, or evoke the mood the poet is trying for.

Indeed, the main reason I like this poem is as an example of how clever
wordplay, meaning twists and grammatical tricks are not necessary in order
to write a villanelle, nor is any sort of self-reference, humour or allusion
to the form. 'The House on the Hill' is a straightforward use of the form -
the repeated lines are simply repeated, with no apology or workaround. And
if this isn't that good a poem, the fault is in the content, not the form.


Biography: poem #234


  Compare Hardy's 'During Wind and Rain' for a better treatment of the
  theme: poem #96

  And Thomas's 'Do Not Go Gentle' for the canonical example of a villanelle
  that works both around and with the form:
    poem #38

  See, also, the archive for several better poems by Robinson:
    [broken link]

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain -- Emily Dickinson

Guest poem submitted by Nick Grundy, in response
to yesterday's offering:
(Poem #871) I felt a Funeral, in my Brain
 I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
 And Mourners to and fro
 Kept treading--treading--till it seemed
 That Sense was breaking through--

 And when they all were seated,
 A Service, like a Drum--
 Kept beating--beating--till I thought
 My Mind was going numb--

 And then I heard them lift a Box
 And creak across my Soul
 With those same Boots of Lead, again,
 Then Space--began to toll,

 As all the Heavens were a Bell,
 And Being, but an Ear,
 And I, and Silence, some strange Race
 Wrecked, solitary, here--

 And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
 And I dropped down, and down--
 And hit a World, at every plunge,
 And Finished knowing--then--
-- Emily Dickinson
How strange - I first read the Hopkins poem (#870) last week in a book by
Andrew Solomon about depression called "The Noonday Demon" (it's wonderful,
but this is not a book advert).  If you feel like running a depression theme
- I don't know if you have already - another one Solomon used which is also
a bit of a favourite of mine is the Emily Dickinson above.  Reading the one
after the other, there's a rather lovely counterpoise between them: the
rhythm of the Dickinson is measured where the Hopkins is frantic, but
strangely (given that she uses "I" and he "we") I find the Hopkins more
personal or individual.

I hadn't thought of the poem, before reading Solomon, as being about
depression, and of course I suppose one shouldn't really say it's *about*
anything, but to my mind reading it as such makes the sense break through
more forcefully than before.  Not to, um, coin a phrase.


[Minstrels Links]

The Hopkins poem referred to above:
Poem #870, No worst, there is none

Other poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins:
Poem #59, To a Young Child
Poem #3, Inversnaid
Poem #35, The Windhover
Poem #134, Pied Beauty
Poem #260, Moonrise
Poem #606, God's Grandeur

Other poems by Emily Dickinson:
Poem #92, There's a certain Slant of light
Poem #174, A Route of Evanescence
Poem #341, The Grass so little has to do -
Poem #458, The Chariot
Poem #529, If you were coming in the fall
Poem #580, Split the Lark
Poem #687, Success is counted sweetest
Poem #711, I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Poem #829, It dropped so low in my regard

No worst, there is none -- Gerard Manley Hopkins

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #870) No worst, there is none
 "No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
 More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
 Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
 Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
 My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
 Woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing -
 Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked 'No ling-
 -ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief'.

 O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
 Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
 May who ne'er hung there. Nor does long our small
 Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
 Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
 Life death does end and each day dies with sleep."
-- Gerard Manley Hopkins
Easily one of the darkest poems in the English language, and one of the most
glorious to read aloud. I've always admired Hopkins for the way his poems
almost always have drive - they flow like white water, pouring relentlessly
forward with unimaginable force, dashing angrily through outthrust rocks of
words so that the overall effect is of a sort of muscular grandness that I
can only compare with Blake.

And of all these incredible, unforgettable poems, this one is my favourite.
I love the way Hopkins creates an unrelenting landscape of desolation, a
twisted badlands of igneous pain that one cannot just run through, but that
must be crawled through on hands and knees so that years after I first read
this poem, some line or the other will pop into my head and I will
experience an authentic sense of wretchedness, even when I have absolutely
nothing to be wretched about. And, ironically enough, that's precisely what
makes this poem so precious.


[Minstrels Links]

Gerard Manley Hopkins:
Poem #3, Inversnaid
Poem #35, The Windhover
Poem #59, To a Young Child
Poem #134, Pied Beauty
Poem #260, Moonrise
Poem #606, God's Grandeur

William Blake:
Poem #26, Jerusalem
Poem #66, The Tyger
Poem #97, The Fly
Poem #368, Auguries of Innocence
Poem #546, The Sick Rose
Poem #771, The Divine Image

Scrabble -- Louis McKee

(Poem #869) Scrabble
 We used to pride ourselves
 on the words we knew.
 The dictionary sat beside us
 but was seldom consulted.

 I'm amazed when I think now
 of how few words we actually used

 to talk, that final game
 we played over and over.
 Our vocabularies froze,
 it was as though we were down
 to our last rack
 of letters, board

 space was limited to tight
 corners or tricky gaps,
 and the time limit, set so
 long ago when time seemed endless,
 ticked softly to its end.
-- Louis McKee
 From  "River Architecture: Poems from here and there, 1974-1984"
 Published by the Cynic Press, 1999.

 If Donne could find his conceits in Elizabethan staples such as astronomy
and alchemy, why should not a contemporary poet take his symbolism from the
game of Scrabble? Indeed, as conceits go, McKee's is rather a good one: as
anybody who's played Scrabble can attest, the possibilities when the game
opens are limitless, bingo lines and bonus squares enticing, tempting,
beckoning... equally, though, there are times when the board becomes
impossibly congested, words already played constricting, choking, cutting
off avenues of communication, letters on racks offering hopelessly few
options as the clock ticks inexorably down... an ebb and flow that
accurately reflects the tensions that inhabit many relationships. This is
McKee's extended metaphor, and a lovely one it is, too.



 Of course it's possible to take this sort of thing entirely too seriously;
see, for instance,

[broken link]

for a scholarly article that treats the game of Scrabble as "a
poem-in-progress: a text at cross-purposes ... simultaneously co-produced
and co-read [by] opponents [who] are also partners" [sic]. Herewith, a far
too generous extract:

 "Each advancing letter takes a step toward development while it reduces the
available field. Each formed word both encourages and limits potential
neighboring words. As players build words -- constructing a shared text
within a competitive and cooperative relation -- the issue becomes one of
context: What does the current construction enable and/or limit? Beyond the
immediate, contiguous contextuality of possible linguistic permutations are
the larger contextual limitations of convention and decorum (proper usage),
and the still larger bounds of national discourse (English or American
usage), and the largest bounds of sense (patriarchal usage?) and nonsense
(un autre écriture?). In brief, the Scrabble game enacts an allegory of
language acquisition and development within a maturing field of limit and
desire ...

 "... my adult, academic relation to language rests on and derives from my
childhood, and a particular kind of childhood play. As I reconfigure the
event, playing SCRABBLE with my mother represents and reanimates a potential
space of linguistic co-production between mother and child (see Winnicott
1971, 1-28; 95-110). It's a later developmental model, or high-level,
sublimated scene of earlier primordial relationships, such as reading with
mother and being read to by mother. On the foundational ground of a semiotic
orchestration of language (the Kristevan chora), the newly literate child
learns the powers and limits of a semantic or syntactic organization of
language (see Kristeva 1974). From an arbitrary parataxis of discrete
letters resting in potentia side by side (in a wooden frame, or in an
alphabet), he or she arranges a lexical syntaxis of singular meaning within
the delimited field of play."

        -- David Willbern, "Playing Scrabble with my Mother", in PSYART: A
Hyperlink Journal for Psychological Study of the Arts

Partition -- W H Auden

A poem for India's indepedence day, submitted by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #868) Partition
 Unbiased at least he was when he arrived on his mission,
 Having never set eyes on the land he was called to partition
 Between two peoples fanatically at odds,
 With their different diets and incompatible gods.
 "Time," they had briefed him in London, "is short. It's too late
 For mutual reconciliation or rational debate:
 The only solution now lies in separation.
 The Viceroy thinks, as you will see from his letter,
 That the less you are seen in his company the better,
 So we've arranged to provide you with other accommodation.
 We can give you four judges, two Moslem and two Hindu,
 To consult with, but the final decision must rest with you."

 Shut up in a lonely mansion, with police night and day
 Patrolling the gardens to keep the assassins away,
 He got down to work, to the task of settling the fate
 Of millions. The maps at his disposal were out of date
 And the Census Returns almost certainly incorrect,
 But there was no time to check them, no time to inspect
 Contested areas. The weather was frightfully hot,
 And a bout of dysentery kept him constantly on the trot,
 But in seven weeks it was done, the frontiers decided,
 A continent for better or worse divided.

 The next day he sailed for England, where he could quickly forget
 The case, as a good lawyer must. Return he would not,
 Afraid, as he told his Club, that he might get shot.
-- W H Auden
 From the Collected Poems, 1976, p. 604, poem dated May 1966.

A good example of how while poets are normally thought of as estranged from
daily life, they can comment on news events in illuminating ways. This poem
says as much or more about the impossible nature of Radcliffe's job that any
thing I've read on the subject. The only thing perhaps to add in Radcliffe's
defence is that he refused the fee he was offered for his services.


Anyone for Tennis? (The Savage Seven Theme) -- Cream

Guest poem submitted by Manu Varma :
(Poem #867) Anyone for Tennis? (The Savage Seven Theme)
 Twice upon a time in the valley of the tears
 An auctioneer is bidding for a box of fading years
 And the elephants are dancing on the graves of squealing mice
 Anyone for tennis, wouldn't that be nice?

 And the ice creams are all melting on the streets of bloody beer
 While the beggars stain the pavements with flourescent Christmas cheer
 And the Bentley-driving guru is putting up his price.
 Anyone for tennis, wouldn't that be nice?

 And the prophets in the boutiques give out messages of hope
 With jingle bells and fairy tales and blind kaleidoscopes
 And you can tell they're all the same underneath the pretty lies.
 Anyone for tennis, wouldn't that be nice?

 The yellow Buddhist monk is burning brightly at the zoo
 You can bring a bowl of rice and then a glass of water too
 And fate is setting up the chessboard while death rolls out the dice.
 Anyone for tennis, wouldn't that be nice?
-- Cream
 Lyrics and music by Martin Sharp and Eric Clapton.
 Originally performed by Cream, May 1968.

I am no expert on poetry, but when thinking of surreal stuff this song by
Cream instantly comes to mind. The obvious message in the song seems to be -
enjoy yourself for the moment and the problems of life be damned :-)

The music of this song is very soft and mellow. Along with the lyrics, the
whole invokes a state of warmth and happiness in me. Like being in a lively,
rather noisy crowd and yet experiencing extreme peace in one's mind. Reminds
me of summer afternoons that melted, drifted softly without even a whimper
into evenings and nights of liveliness...


[Minstrels Links]

Poem #832, Love Minus Zero / No Limit -- Bob Dylan
Poem #112, Mr.Tambourine Man  -- Bob Dylan
Poem #227, Desolation Row  -- Bob Dylan
Poem #114, The Soul Cages  -- Gordon Matthew 'Sting' Sumner
Poem #287, Mad About You  -- Gordon Matthew 'Sting' Sumner
Poem #743, Conquistador -- Keith Reid
Poem #745, Indiscipline -- King Crimson
Poem #116, Suzanne  -- Leonard Cohen
Poem #339, The Music Crept By Us  -- Leonard Cohen
Poem #481, Who By Fire  -- Leonard Cohen
Poem #624, Gift -- Leonard Cohen
Poem #744, Joan of Arc -- Leonard Cohen
Poem #785, One Trick Pony -- Paul Simon
Poem #119, A Poem on the Underground Wall  -- Paul Simon
Poem #807, Working Girls -- Redgum
Poem #741, Reasons for Waiting -- Ian Anderson
Poem #742, I Come and Stand at Every Door -- Nazim Hikmet

The Canonization -- John Donne

Guest poem submitted by Divya Sampath:
(Poem #866) The Canonization
 For God's sake hold your tongue, and let me love,
     Or chide my palsy, or my gout,
     My five grey hairs, or ruin'd fortune flout,
 With wealth your state, your mind with arts improve,
         Take you a course, get you a place,
         Observe his Honour, or his Grace,
 Or the King's real, or his stamped face
     Contemplate, what you will, approve,
     So you will let me love.

 Alas, alas, who's injur'd by my love?
     What merchant's ships have my sighs drown'd?
     Who says my tears have overflow'd his ground?
 When did my colds a forward spring remove?
         When did the heats which my veins fill
         Add one more to the plaguy bill?
 Soldiers find wars, and lawyers find out still
     Litigious men, which quarrels move,
     Though she and I do love.

 Call us what you will, we are made such by love;
     Call her one, me another fly,
     We are tapers too, and at our own cost die,
 And we in us find th' eagle and the dove.
         The phoenix riddle hath more wit
         By us; we two being one, are it.
 So, to one neutral thing both sexes fit,
     We die and rise the same, and prove
     Mysterious by this love.

 We can die by it, if not live by love,
     And if unfit for tombs and hearse
     Our legend be, it will be fit for verse;
 And if no piece of chronicle we prove,
         We'll build in sonnets pretty rooms;
         As well a well-wrought urn becomes
 The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs,
     And by these hymns all shall approve
     Us canoniz'd for love;

 And thus invoke us: "You, whom reverend love
     Made one another's hermitage;
     You, to whom love was peace, that now is rage;
 Who did the whole world's soul contract, and drove
         Into the glasses of your eyes
         (So made such mirrors, and such spies,
 That they did all to you epitomize)
     Countries, towns, courts: beg from above
     A pattern of your love!"
-- John Donne
John Donne has always been one of my favorites among the metaphysical poets.
I particularly like this poem, which contends  that  his love, while not the
sort that inspires epic poetry or is immortalised in tragic plays, is still
worthy - "and if no piece of chronicle we prove / we'll build in sonnets
pretty rooms."



Donne, John (1572-1631), English poet, prose writer, and clergyman,
considered the greatest of the metaphysical poets and one of the greatest
writers of love poetry.

Donne was born in London; at the age of 11 he entered the University of
Oxford, where he studied for three years. According to some accounts, he
spent the next three years at the University of Cambridge but took no degree
at either university. He began the study of law at Lincoln's Inn, London, in
1592. About two years later, presumably, he relinquished the Roman Catholic
faith, in which he had been brought up, and joined the Anglican church. His
first book of poems, Satires, written during this period of residence in
London, is considered one of Donne's most important literary efforts.
Although not immediately published, the volume had a fairly wide readership
through private circulation of the manuscript, as did his love poems, Songs
and Sonnets, written at about the same time as the Satires.

The poetry of Donne is characterized by complex imagery and irregularity of
form. He frequently employed the conceit, an elaborate metaphor making
striking syntheses of apparently unrelated objects or ideas. His
intellectuality, introspection, and use of colloquial diction, seemingly
unpoetic but always uniquely precise in meaning and connotation, make his
poetry boldly divergent from the smooth, elegant verse of his day. The
content of his love poetry, often both cynical and sensuous, represents a
reaction against the sentimental Elizabethan sonnet, and this work
influenced the attitudes of the Cavalier poets. Those 17th-century religious
poets sometimes referred to as the metaphysical poets, including Richard
Crashaw, George Herbert, and Henry Vaughan, drew much inspiration from the
imagery and spirituality of Donne's religious poetry. Donne was almost
forgotten during the 18th century, but interest in his work developed during
the 19th century, and his popularity reached new heights after the 1920s,
when Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot acknowledged his influence. Donne also wrote
the Anniversaries, an elegy in two parts (1611-1612); collections of essays;
and six collections of sermons.

        -- [broken link]

[Minstrels Links]

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)

Valentine -- Carol Ann Duffy

Guest poem submitted by Bob Cooper, back in
February; we're only getting to run it now:
(Poem #865) Valentine
 Not a red rose or a satin heart.

 I give you an onion.
 It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
 It promises light
 like the careful undressing of love.

 It will blind you with tears
 like a lover.
 It will make your reflection
 a wobbling photo of grief.

 I am trying to be truthful.

 Not a cute card or kissogram.

 I give you an onion.
 Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
 possessive and faithful
 as we are,
 for as long as we are.

 Take it.
 Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding ring,
 if you like.
 Its scent will cling to your fingers,
 cling to your knife.
-- Carol Ann Duffy
 From "Mean time"
 Anvil books, 1993.

Some poems stay with you from the moment you read them. This is one of them.
It's direct. Simple. Worth going back to. It's allusive. I hear Cordelia
telling King Lear she loves him like salt. I hear Peer Gynt peeling his
onion. Then I just hear the poet, again, telling it how it is for her and
her lover with the uncomfortable frankness and absurdity we sometimes need
when we start using the language of love. I guess it's as simply complicated
as any or all relationships that mean so much to each of us. I think its
strength is partly because of its juxtaposition of positive and negative
features, and because we are never left with anything that's clearly good or
distinctly bad.

I hope it isn't just a poem of the 1990s.

Bob Cooper.

[About the poet]

Originally she's from Glasgow, but she learnt a lot about poetry in
Liverpool (where she was a pal of Adrian Henri). Now she knocks around in
London with Jackie Kay (another poet from Glasgow). Dated details of her
poetry are in the Oxford Companion to 20th Century Literature.

Snow -- Louis MacNeice

(Poem #864) Snow
 The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
 Spawning snow and pink roses against it
 Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
 World is suddener than we fancy it.

 World is crazier and more of it than we think,
 Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
 A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
 The drunkenness of things being various.

 And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
 Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes -
 On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands -
 There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.
-- Louis MacNeice
"Between" is one of the early MacNeice's favourite words. But where his
contemporary W. H. Auden uses it to betoken connection and even a unity of
sorts, in MacNeice it implies a sense of suspension (and suspense; there's
an air of menace that's never very far from the surface in his poetry).
Michael Schmidt puts it well:

"Indecision is powerful ... [MacNeice's poems are written in] a language
like Auden's, but subtly different, a language not authoritatively set down
but winding out like the guy-line strand of a web uncertain what it will
attach to or whether it will hold ... the verse is seldom finger-waggingly
didactic. It is experential, with the sudden changes of tone and of key,
which take us deep into feeling, a sens of the inviolability of individual
        -- Michael Schmidt, "Lives of the Poets"

Seen in this light, MacNeice is a tired old man, not given to the certainty
of Auden on his left or Betjeman on his right, without the optimism of Dylan
Thomas nor even the darkness of Philip Larkin. But (and especially in the
1930s, rightly decribed by the ubiquitous Auden in later years as a "low,
dishonest decade") certainty is not always a good thing. To a reading public
discovering the horrors of Nazism and Fascism - horrors which were
exacerbated by appeasement and blindness and romantic self-delusion - the
revelation that "World is crazier and more of it than we think /
Incorrigibly plural" rings utterly true. MacNeice's skepticism set him
apart; it gave him (as it gave the equally independent William Empson) the
moral upper ground, as it were.

And of course, there's the verse itself. MacNeice's poetry might be
uncertain in subject material, but it's indisputably beautiful. Few even of
his generation equalled him in ease and flow of word and thought; Thomas and
Auden are his peers, never his masters. And there's an excitement, a thrill
born of "the drunkenness of things being various" that informs everything he
wrote: the insistent rhythms of "Bagpipe Music", the sinister beauty of "The
Sunlight in the Garden", the clipped tones of "The Suicide", the delicate
balance, the sense that Creation itself teeters on a knife-edge that informs
today's poem. Marvellous, simply marvellous.


[Minstrels Links]

Louis MacNeice:
Poem #18, Bagpipe Music
Poem #521, The Suicide
Poem #757, The Sunlight on the Garden

W. H. Auden, William Empson, Dylan Thomas, John Betjeman, Philip Larkin: see
the Minstrels website for a full index:

Frogs -- Norman MacCaig

Guest poem submitted by Anustup Datta
(Poem #863) Frogs
 Frogs sit more solid
 than anything sits. In mid-leap they are
 parachutists falling
 in a free fall. They die on roads
 with arms across their chests and
 heads high.

 I love frogs that sit
 like Buddha, that fall without
 parachutes, that die
 like Italian tenors.

 Above all, I love them because,
 pursued in water, they never
 panic so much that they fail
 to make stylish triangles
 with their ballet dancer's
-- Norman MacCaig
Absolutely delightful. I think the comparison with Italian tenors is
especially perfect - it makes you really sit up and chuckle.


[Links etc.]

MacCaig poems on the Minstrels:
Poem #755, Gone are the days
Poem #699, Incident

There's more about MacCaig online at
[broken link]
This site also has a fair collection of his poetry.

Random irrelevancies:
Poem #544, Toads -- Philip Larkin
Poem #799, Mr Toad -- Kenneth Grahame

Pretty Words -- Elinor Wylie

Guest poem submitted by Amulya Gopalakrishnan:
(Poem #862) Pretty Words
 Poets make pets of pretty, docile words:
 I love smooth words, like gold-enamelled fish
 Which circle slowly with a silken swish,
 And tender ones, like downy-feathered birds:
 Words shy and dappled, deep-eyed deer in herds,
 Come to my hand, and playful if I wish,
 Or purring softly at a silver dish,
 Blue Persian kittens fed on cream and curds.

 I love bright words, words up and singing early;
 Words that are luminous in the dark, and sing;
 Warm lazy words, white cattle under trees;
 I love words opalescent, cool, and pearly,
 Like midsummer moths, and honied words like bees,
 Gilded and sticky, with a little sting.
-- Elinor Wylie
"Of that which we cannot speak, we must remain silent", said who,
Wittgenstein? I'm saying it too. There's nothing to pontificate about this
poem, really. But it's real pretty, isn't it?

Elinor Wylie is a rather uncool poet at the moment, but there's a great bio
with links to her poetry and further information, available at


Spanish Dancer -- Rainer Maria Rilke

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #861) Spanish Dancer
 As on all its sides a kitchen-match darts white
 flickering tongues before it bursts into flame:
 with the audience around her, quickened, hot,
 her dance begins to flicker in the dark room.

 And all at once it is completely fire.

 One upward glance and she ignites her hair
 and, whirling faster and faster, fans her dress
 into passionate flames, till it becomes a furnace
 from which, like startled rattlesnakes, the long
 naked arms uncoil, aroused and clicking.

 And then: as if the fire were too tight
 around her body, she takes and flings it out
 haughtily, with an imperious gesture,
 and watches: it lies raging on the floor,
 still blazing up, and the flames refuse to die -
 Till, moving with total confidence and a sweet
 exultant smile, she looks up finally
 and stamps it out with powerful small feet.
-- Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Steven Mitchell.

I can only repeat about this poem what Thomas has already said about "The
Panther" (Minstrels poem #136) that it captures what is poetry in motion in
poetry itself. The visual impact is stunning, and the metaphor so incredibly
real that every time I've seen the flamenco being performed (regrettably
only on TV) since I read this poem I've been instantly reminded of it.


P.S. For those fluent in German I'm including the original poem as well -
frankly, it's worth reading even if you (like me ) don't understand that
much German if only to hear the rhythm of the original that the translation
more or less loses:

 Wie in der Hand ein Schwefelzundholz, weiss,
 eh es zur Flamme komt, nach allen Seiten
 zuckende Zungen streckt -: beginnt im Kreis
 naher Beschauer hastig, hell und heiss
 ihr runder Tanz sich zuckend auszubreiten.

 Und plotzlich ist er Flamme, ganz und gar.

 Mit einem Blick entzundet sie ihr Haar
 und dreht auf einmal mit gewagter Kunst
 ihr ganzes Kleid in diese Feuersbrunst,
 aus welcher sich, wie Schlangen die erschrecken,
 die nackten Arme wach und klappernd strecken.

 Und dann: als wurde ihr das Feuer knapp,
 nimmt sie es ganz zusamm und wirft es ab
 sehr herrisch, mit hochmutiger Gebarde
 und schaut: da liegt es rasend auf der Erde
 und flammt noch immer und ergiebt sich nicht -
 Doch sieghaft, sicher und mit einem sussen
 grussenden Lacheln hebt sie ihr Gesicht
 und stampft es aus mit kleinen festen Fussen.

        -- Rainer Maria Rilke

Sonnet: Love Is Not All -- Edna St Vincent Millay

My thanks are due to Rajat Sharma for introducing me to this poem:
(Poem #860) Sonnet: Love Is Not All
 Love is not all: It is not meat nor drink
 Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain,
 Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
 and rise and sink and rise and sink again.
 Love cannot fill the thickened lung with breath
 Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
 Yet many a man is making friends with death
 even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
 It well may be that in a difficult hour,
 pinned down by need and moaning for release
 or nagged by want past resolution's power,
 I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
 Or trade the memory of this night for food.
 It may well be. I do not think I would.
-- Edna St Vincent Millay
"Monday burn Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn 'em to ashes,
then burn the ashes.  That's our official slogan."
        -- Ray Bradbury, "Fahrenheit 451"

I read Bradbury's classic cautionary tale long before I had even heard of
Millay, but I assumed (given the august company she was placed in) that she
was a writer of note. Unfortunately, the first few poems of hers that I came
across were remarkably unremarkable, and so I added Millay to my list of
Poets Whom Other People Like.

That categorization has changed, though, and I think it was today's poem
which changed it. The tinge of desperation that colours even her most
romantic offerings is present, of course, but there's something else as
well: a compression of thought and word and deed, a _concentration_
reminiscent of no one so much as the early Dylan Thomas. The relentless flow
of metaphors in the opening three lines, the density of syllables in the
wonderful third couplet, the desolation of the sestet - they're all handled
with consummate craftsmanship, and they come together to form a whole that
unequivocally _works_.

The twist right at the end is typical. The lines preceding it are dark, yes,
but where some writers would have been cynical, Millay's tone is one of
experience refined by sorrow. She knows first-hand what love can and cannot
do, and that knowledge makes her final, defiant affirmation of its
importance all the more poignant and powerful. Love is not everything, but
it does not need to be; what it is, is enough.


[Minstrels Links]

Edna St. Vincent Millay:
Poem #34, First Fig
Poem #49, The Unexplorer
Poem #108, The Penitent
Poem #317, Inland
Poem #590, Sonnet XLIII
Poem #604, Euclid Alone Has Looked On Beauty Bare
Poem #817, Grown-up

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

Waste Land Limericks -- Wendy Cope

(Poem #859) Waste Land Limericks

 In April one seldom feels cheerful;
 Dry stones, sun and dust make me fearful;
 Clairvoyantes distress me,
 Commuters depress me--
 Met Stetson and gave him an earful.


 She sat on a mighty fine chair,
 Sparks flew as she tidied her hair;
 She asks many questions,
 I make few suggestions--
 Bad as Albert and Lil--what a pair!


 The Thames runs, bones rattle, rats creep;
 Tiresias fancies a peep--
 A typist is laid,
 A record is played--
 Wei la la. After this it gets deep.


 A Phoenician named Phlebas forgot
 About birds and his business--the lot,
 Which is no surprise,
 Since he'd met his demise
 And been left in the ocean to rot.


 No water. Dry rocks and dry throats,
 Then thunder, a shower of quotes
 From the Sanskrit and Dante.
 Da. Damyata. Shantih.
 I hope you'll make sense of the notes.
-- Wendy Cope
Reams of critical analysis are all very well, but sometimes I think the best
thing to have come out of "The Waste Land" is Wendy Cope's inspired summary
of the poem. Her stripped down version of Eliot's rather impenetrable
masterpiece is (as we've come to expect from Cope) excruciatingly funny, but
it's also amazingly faithful to the original - she seems to capture the
essence of each (long and complex) section in just a few short lines. And in
the pithiest of language, too: phrases such as "After this it gets deep"
invariably set me laughing out loud.


[Links etc]

Wendy Cope rules. Check out
Poem #587, Strugnell's Rubaiyat
Poem #693, Strugnell's Haiku
on the Minstrels website.

T. S. Eliot rules too, but in a more, well, rarefied way. See
Poem #9, La Figlia Che Piange (The Weeping Girl)
Poem #107, Preludes
Poem #193, The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock
Poem #248, Sweeney Among the Nightingales
Poem #258, Macavity: The Mystery Cat
Poem #291, The Journey of the Magi
Poem #466, Rhapsody on a Windy Night
Poem #532, Little Gidding
Poem #574, Growltiger's Last Stand
Poem #630, To Walter de la Mare
Poem #846, The Hippopotamus

and especially
Poem #354, The Waste Land (Part IV)
Poem #858, The Waste Land (Part V)

The entire text of this poem, quite possibly the most influential of the
20th century, can be found at

"The Waste Land" has a (not completely unwarranted) reputation for being
rather hard to parse. I recommend Hugh Kenner's essay "The Invisible Poet",
and "The Waste Land: A Critique of the Myth" by Cleanth Brooks for perceptive
(if somewhat dated) readings of the poem, and descriptions of Eliot's
then-revolutionary poetic technique. My enjoyment of Cope's limericks was
enhanced immeasurably by my reading of these two scholarly articles (and
others; John Wain's Waste Land Casebook is a good compendium, if you really
want to go into depth).

The Waste Land (Part V) -- T S Eliot

Guest poem submitted by Cristina Gazzieri:
(Poem #858) The Waste Land (Part V)
 V. What the Thunder Said

 Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves
 Waited for rain, while the black clouds
 Gathered far distant, over Himavant.
 The jungle crouched, humped, in silence.
 Then spoke the thunder
 D A
 _Datta_: what have we given?
 My friend, blood shaking my heart
 The awful daring of a moment's surrender
 Which an age of prudence can never retract
 By this, and this only, we have existed
 Which is not to be found in our obituaries
 Or in memories draped by the beneficient spider
 Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
 In our empty rooms
 D A
 _Dayadhvam_: I have heard the key
 Turn in the door once and turn once only
 We think of the key, each in his prison
 Only at nightfall, aethereal rumors
 Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus
 D A
 _Damyata_: the boat responded
 Gaily, to the hand expert with the sail and oar
 The sea was calm, your heart would have responded
 Gaily, when invited, beating obedient
 To controlling hands

                                I sat upon a shore
 Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
 Shall I at least set my lands in order?
 London Bridge is falling down, falling down falling down
 _Poi s'ascose nel foco che li affina
 Quando fiam ut chelidon_ - O swallow swallow
 _Le Prince d'aquitaine à la tour abolie_
 These statements I have shored against my ruins
 Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo's mad againe.
 Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.

              Shantih shantih shantih
-- T S Eliot
 From "What the Thunder Said", the fifth and final section of "The Waste
Land", 1922.
 Words and phrases surrounded by _underscores_ are supposed to be in

 These are the last, conclusive, lines of the "Waste Land", which is a text
which often frightens the reader for the obscurity and complexity  of its
references. Yet, I think that, with just a few clues, the text can be fully
enjoyed by any lover of poetry.

 The "Waste Land" is the story of a journey or "Quest" that the man of the
early 20th century makes through the sterility and spiritual aridity of his
modern world, until he arrives, in this final lines, at the Ganges, the
sacred river, where, eventually, he finds some answers to his existential

 "Ganga", the river Ganges is sunken. Water, a symbol of life and fertility
is scarce in the modern world, yet, here he hears the words of the thunder
tThe voice of God according to many ancient religions). The thunder speaks
Sanskrit, because Eliot goes back to the cradle of Western civilisation to
the roots and the most vital source of Western culture. The Thunder-God
repeats to man the three imperatives of the Upanishad, a Hindu sacred book:
        DATTA = give
        DAYADHVAM = co-operate, accept the others
        DAMYATA = control
 So the spiritual quest of the modern wanderer, the modern knight comes to
these ancient, elementary, basic precepts of life on which to rebuild a
crumbled civilisation.

 Yet, the poem does not finish on these three imperatives. Eliot now
introduces the image of the fisher, (which is reminiscent of many legends
and myths: the Fisher King, King  Arthur, Christ, and which represents Man
in his best specifications); this man wants to reorganise his life, his
kingdom, his future, saving something from the collapse of the ideals that
he has witnessed. Of course, he saves poetry, (Dante, Latin literature,
French poetry, Elizabethan drama) which contains those elements of the
growth of the human soul that must not be lost. Probably, in this context,
the last words, "Shantih shantih shantih" (which mean "peace" in Hindi, and
which conclude the Upanishad), are, at the same time, a message, a farewell
and an element of quotation from a consciously "poetic" text  Eliot
eminently loved.

 I have certainly oversimplified things, but basically, starting from these
ideas, I think a reader can go deep further into the interpretation of the
text and find a rich texture of references and suggestions.



  Poem #354, "The Waste Land (Part IV)"

Chorus from 'Atalanta in Calydon' -- Algernon Charles Swinburne

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #857) Chorus from 'Atalanta in Calydon'
 Before the beginning of years,
     There came to the making of man
 Time, with a gift of tears;
     Grief, with a glass that ran;
 Pleasure, with pain for leaven;
     Summer, with flowers that fell;
 Remembrance fallen from heaven,
     And madness risen from hell;
 Strength without hands to smite;
     Love that endures for a breath;
 Night, the shadow of light,
     And life, the shadow of death.
 And the high gods took in hand
     Fire, and the falling of tears,
 And a measure of sliding sand
     From under the feet of the years;
 And froth and drift of the sea;
     And dust of the laboring earth;
 And bodies of things to be
     In the houses of death and birth;
 And wrought with weeping and laughter,
     And fashioned with loathing and love,
 With life before and after,
     And death below and above,
 For a day and a night and a morrow,
     That his strength might endure for a span,
 With travail and heavy sorrow,
     The holy spirit of man.
 From the winds of the north and the south,
     They gathered as unto strife;
 They breathed upon his mouth,
     They filled his body with life;
 Eyesight and speech they wrought
     For the veils of the soul therein,
 A time for labor and thought,
     A time to serve and to sin;
 They gave him light in his ways,
     And love, and a space for delight,
 And beauty and length of days,
     And night, and sleep in the night.
 His speech is a burning fire;
     With his lips he travaileth;
 In his heart is a blind desire,
     In his eyes foreknowledge of death;
 He weaves, and is clothed with derision;
     Sows, and he shall not reap;
 His life is a watch or a vision
     Between a sleep and a sleep.
-- Algernon Charles Swinburne
Swinburne is known for the musicality of his verse. There's another
frequently anthologised part of Atlanta in Calydon, "When the hounds of
spring are on their winter traces", which is one of the most insistently
rhythmic and musical pieces of verse I know. But he also had the ability to
create verse which is almost epigrammatic in its precision and polish -
without any loss of musicality. These lines sound like they are engraved on
the wall of a tomb - omniscient, tragic, hard edged and clear. They are so
simple that they enter your memory almost without your knowing it.


[thomas adds]

Swinburne's poetry fascinates me, and repels me. There's no denying the
felicity (I would hesitate to call it 'beauty') of his verse, the flowing
end-stopped lines, lush with alliteration, laden with promise. But it's a
promise which never seems to be fulfilled. Instead, the poetry turns in on
itself, phrase piled on phrase until the reader is left gasping for any
breath of meaning, any escape from the suffocating music of the words. The
synaesthesia they induce is tempting at first, but its sickly sweet odour
quickly becomes cloying.

Part of the problem is the poet's irritating vagueness. Swinburne never
particularizes; indeed, he delights in using twenty words where one will do.
He never offers details for readers to latch on to; his material is almost
completely abstract. And yet, to rebuke him for this is to miss the point
entirely: for Swinburne, words _are_ meaning; they do not exist to describe
an external world; they form a world in themselves. Their vagueness is not
the vagueness of bad poetry; rather, it forms a vital part of the poet's
style. Eliot puts it well: "The diffuseness is essential; had Swinburne
practised greater concentration his verse would be, not better in the same
kind, but a different thing. His diffuseness is one of his glories".


Epigram -- Martial

Guest poem submitted by Salil Murthy:
(Poem #856) Epigram
 You puff the poets of other days,
 The living you deplore.
 Spare me the accolade: your praise
 Is not worth dying for.
-- Martial
All I know of this gem is that Martial wrote it of a critic of his; the chap
must have curled up and died. I read this ages ago and the fragments have
been buzzing around in my head ever since we got onto this theme. Classy
little number, this one.


[Minstrels Links]

The theme referred to above was one on epigrams, run earlier this year:
 Poem #665, Dreams -- Robert Herrick
 Poem #666, Epigram Engraved on the Collar of a Dog which I gave to His
Royal Highness -- Alexander Pope
 Poem #667, Reflections on Ice-Breaking -- Ogden Nash
 Poem #668, On Problems -- Piet Hein
 Poem #669, Epigram on Charles II -- John Wilmot

Note that the last of the epigrammists above took Martial's advice, and
composed his couplets while Charles was still alive.


Marcus Valerius Martialis was a Roman poet who brought the Latin epigram to
perfection and provided in it a picture of Roman society during the early
empire. Martial was born in a Roman colony in Spain. In his early 20s
Martial made his way to the capital of the empire and attached himself as
client to the powerful and talented family of the Senecas, who were
Spaniards like himself. Yet precisely how Martial lived between AD 65 and 80
is not known.

When he first came to Rome, Martial lived in rather humble circumstances in
a garret on the Quirinal Hill. He gradually earned recognition, however, and
was able to acquire, in addition to a town house on the Quirinal, a small
country estate near Nomentum (about 12 miles northeast of Rome). In time
Martial gained the notice of the court. As his fame grew, he became
acquainted with the literary circles of his day.

Martial's first book, On the Spectacles (AD 80), contained 33
undistinguished epigrams celebrating the shows held in the Colosseum. These
poems are scarcely improved by their gross adulation of the emperor
Domitian. In the year 84 or 85 appeared two undistinguished books that
consist almost entirely of couplets describing presents given to guests at
the December festival of the Saturnalia. In the next 15 or 16 years,
however, appeared the 12 books of epigrams on which his renown rests. After
34 years in Rome, Martial returned to Spain, where his last book was
published, probably in AD 102. He died not much over a year later in his
early 60s.

Martial is virtually the creator of the modern epigram. Though some of the
epigrams (1,561 in all) are devoted to scenic descriptions, most are about
people. Martial made frequent use of the mordant epigram bearing a "sting"
in its tail, i.e. a single unexpected word at the poem's end that completes
a pun, antithesis, or an ingenious ambiguity. Poems of this sort would later
greatly influence the use of the epigram in the literature of England,
France, Spain, and Italy.

        -- [broken link]

Lady Xi -- Wang Wei

(Poem #855) Lady Xi
 No present royal favour could efface
 The memory of the love that once she knew.
 Seeing a flower filled her eyes with tears.
 She did not speak a word to the King of Chu.
-- Wang Wei
 Original circa 8th century AD.
 Translated by Vikram Seth.
 From "Three Chinese Poets", 1994.


 The King of Chu in the seventh century BC defeated the ruler of Xi and took
his wife. She had children by him but never spoke to him.
 Fourteen centuries later Wang Wei, then twenty years old, wrote this poem
in the following circumstances. One of his patrons, a prince, had acquired
the wife of a cake-seller. A year later he asked her if she still loved her
husband, and she gave no answer. The man was sent for, and when she saw him
her eyes filled with tears.
 This took place before a small but distinguished literary gathering, and
the prince, moved, asked for poems on the subject. Wang Wei's poem was
finished first, and when it was read out, everyone else agreed it was
pointless to try to write something better.
 The prince reportedly returned the cake-seller's wife to her husband.
        -- Vikram Seth, "Three Chinese Poets"


I've always found Chinese poetry to be imbued with a peculiar poignancy, a
sense of loss which is no less acute for being remembered. I don't know if
this an artefact of translation, or part of the essence of the poetry
itself, informed as it is by the weight of millennia of history. Probably a
bit of both; either way, I like it.


[On Wang Wei, Tu Fu and Li Po]

 To compare the incomparable, if the difficulty of translating Wang Wei is
akin to the difficulty of playing Mozart, the difficulty of translating Du
Fu with his rich counterpoint of historical allusion can be compared to that
of playing Bach. As for translating the wild and romantic Li Bai -- it is
rather like playing Beethoven, often full of sound and fury, signifying
(usually) a great deal. But in each poem, as important as the texture or
tone of the work is the exact content of what is being said -- and the
translator's task is not to improvise cadenzas in the spirit of the piece
but to stick, as tellingly as he can, to the score.
        -- Vikram Seth, "Three Chinese Poets"

[Minstrels Links]

 Li Po:
Poem #504, About Tu Fu
Poem #683, To Tu Fu from Shantung
Poem #749, Parting
Poem #794, In the Quiet Night
Poem #826, Self-Abandonment

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