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Reflection on the Fallibility of Nemesis -- Ogden Nash

Guest poem submitted by Zenobia Driver:
(Poem #1881) Reflection on the Fallibility of Nemesis
 He who is ridden by a conscience
 Worries about a lot of nonscience;
 He without benefit of scruples
 His fun and income soon quadruples.
-- Ogden Nash
Found this gem while leafing through a random book on poetry. Who could
but agree, albeit with a rueful grin. You haven't run any Ogden Nash for
a while, how about this one?


I remember to have wept with a sense of the unnecessary -- William Empson

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1880) I remember to have wept with a sense of the unnecessary
I remember to have wept with a sense of the unnecessary.
'Do you think me so ungenerous that I need to be deceived about this?
Do you think me such a fool that these tactics will deceive me?'
Now, on the contrary, I shall speak with reverence of liars.

What you must save for is the Golden Bowl,
Cast anthropoid, beaten to delicacy;
One depends on that, though hollow, upon industrialism,
Upon milkwhite metal, upon furnaces all night.
Having got the thing one may fill it when required, at leisure,
From any river, from the common tap;
Those cloud-pipes being frozen, with marine tears;
And there will always be flowers to stick into it in the springtime.

Lies would be more serious if one could lie about the matter in hand;
But it is an impertinence to think oneself so penetrating.
What people tell you by lies is how they would deal with this if it was
What they would like to make you think about this,
The fact that they think this worth repeating or inventing,
Or the fact that they will endeavour to make this true,
And, whether the external circumstances are favourable to them or not,
These are important truths, and you have been told them.

People who feel that lies make life intolerable,
That it is madness to attempt living, since people are liars,
Are like people who look at the handbook before the picture,
Are like people who wish the words of a poem to have a single meaning,
Are unable to feel safe unless they are irrelevantly informed.

Lies are the discipline of knowing that people are not you.
It is licentious not to lie to a friend.
The belief in truth leads to many untrue beliefs.
It leads to the belief that a series of earnest statements make a poem.

If one could speak the whole truth about lies one would be contradicting

Do you think me so ungenerous that I need to be deceived about this?
Do you think me such a fool that these tactics will deceive me?
-- William Empson
Such a delightful, roguish poem this. Both hilariously tongue in cheek
and fiendishly logical. I love the sly 'poetry' digs ("It leads to the
belief that a series of earnest statements make a poem") and some of the
lines are spectacular by themselves ("Lies are the discipline of knowing
that people are not you."). But I also love the central argument - that
you can infer much from the nature and direction of deception (game
theory anyone?) and that there is little purpose to learning a bunch of
meaningless facts, just to be well-informed ("unable to feel safe unless
they are irrelevantly informed").


Windows is Shutting Down -- Clive James

Guest poem submitted by William Grey:
(Poem #1879) Windows is Shutting Down
Windows is shutting down, and grammar are
On their last leg. So what am we to do?
A letter of complaint go just so far,
Proving the only one in step are you.

Better, perhaps, to simply let it goes.
A sentence have to be screwed pretty bad
Before they gets to where you doesnt knows
The meaning what it must of meant to had.

The meteor have hit. Extinction spread,
But evolution do not stop for that.
A mutant languages rise from the dead
And all them rules is suddenly old hat.

Too bad for we, us what has had so long
The best seat from the only game in town.
But there it am, and whom can say its wrong?
Those are the break. Windows is shutting down.
-- Clive James
Clive James is an illustrious expatriate Australian poet and author
living in London. The title (and opening phrase) of his poem will be
familiar to everyone reading these words. I've read them often enough
myself, but it has taken James's wit to point out how they should have
grated painfully on my grammatical ear. It is a marvellously chosen
example to illustrate his claim about declining grammatical standards,
since digital technology has been such a powerful force for generating
mangled syntax. There are many fine essays on the decline of the English
language: George Orwell's 'Politics and the English Language' remains
one of the best. This poem is a companion piece to James's own lament on
the subject. The poem states James's argument more succinctly than the
delightful accompanying essay, 'The Continuing Insult to the Language',
both of which are published in 'The Monthly', June 2006.

William Grey


Clive James:
Orwell's essay:

Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin -- Patrick Kavanagh

Guest poem submitted by Frank O'Shea:
(Poem #1878) Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin
        'Erected to the Memory of Mrs. Dermot O'Brien'

 O commemorate me where there is water,
 Canal water preferably, so stilly
 Greeny at the heart of summer, Brother
 Commemorate me thus beautifully.
 Where by a lock Niagariously roars
 The falls for those who sit in the tremendous silence
 Of mid-July. No one will speak in prose
 Who finds his way to these Parnassian islands
 A swan goes by head low with many apologies.
 Fantastic light looks through the eyes of bridges
 And look! a barge comes bringing from Athy
 And other far-flung towns mythologies.
 O commemorate me with no hero-courageous
 Tomb -- just a canal-bank seat for the passer-by.
-- Patrick Kavanagh
Any poem about, or set at, a canal, has to remind me of Patrick Kavanagh.

What are known as his "canal-bank poems" come from a time when he was
recuperating after an operation in which he had a lung removed. They are
gentle and ruminative, in places self-deprecatory. This is my favourite -
how about that swan? Kavanagh showed that the mundane and the ordinary can
form the basis for fine poetry. In a note to Poem #971 ("Raglan Road"), I
pointed out that as requested here, he is commemorated by a seat on the
Grand Canal. There is now also a bronze of him on another seat - but you
cannot sit beside the poet for a photograph because he has placed his hat
strategically where someone might sit. He was a prickly character at the
best of times, so it is appropriate that he should be figuratively keeping
people at arm's length.

Kavanagh was in the news some time ago when Russell Crowe tried to recite
the following early Kavanagh poem at a BAFTA Awards ceremony and had to be
physically removed from the stage. It is said that this ruckus was what
caused him to be overlooked for the Oscar he should have received for A
Beautiful Mind.


 To be a poet and not know the trade
 To be a lover and repel all women
 Twin ironies by which great saints are made
 The agonising pincer-jaws of heaven.

        -- Patrick Kavanagh

Frank O'Shea.

Oxford Canal -- James Elroy Flecker

Guest poem submitted by Tamsin Bacchus:
(Poem #1877) Oxford Canal
 When you have wearied of the valiant spires of this County Town,
 Of its wide white streets and glistening museums, and black monastic walls,
 Of its red motors and lumbering trams, and self-sufficient people,
 I will take you walking with me to a place you have not seen -
 Half town and half country - the land of the Canal.
 It is dearer to me than the antique town: I love it more than the rounded
 Straightest, sublimest of rivers is the long Canal.
 I have observed great storms and trembled: I have wept for fear of the
 But nothing makes me so afraid as the clear water of this idle canal on a
summer's noon.
 Do you see the great telephone poles down in the water, how every wire is
 If a body fell into the canal it would rest entangled in those wires for
ever, between earth and air.
 For the water is as deep as the stars are high.
 One day I was thinking how if a man fell from that lofty pole
 He would rush through the water toward me till his image was scattered by
his splash,
 When suddenly a train rushed by: the brazen dome of the engine flashed: the
long white carriages roared;
 The sun veiled himself for a moment, and the signals loomed in fog;
 A savage woman screamed at me from a barge: little children began to cry;
 The untidy landscape rose to life; a sawmill started;
 A cart rattled down to the wharf, and workmen clanged over the iron
 A beautiful old man nodded from the first story window of a square red
 And a pretty girl came out to hang up clothes in a small delightful garden.
 O strange motion in the suburb of a county town: slow regular movement of
the dance of death!
 Men and not phantoms are these that move in light.
 Forgotten they live, and forgotten die.
-- James Elroy Flecker
This poem always comes to mind when I look at still water. It's well ahead
of its time (the very beginning of the 20th century) stylistically, and so
was left out of the Victorian/Edwardian anthologies. Later anthologists do
not seem to look beyond Flecker's few well-known poems.  But a school friend
and I used to walk along the canal on Sundays out from boarding school and
so I have loved the poem from the moment I first read it.  Revisiting it
now, I have noticed the "black monastic walls" that obviously pre-date the
massive clean up of the college buildings after centuries of grime. I also
hadn't previously appreciated the description of a steam train rushing by --
only something I have recently experienced waiting for a change of train in
Swindon when a steam special roared through.  The preserved lines that chug
through the British countryside do their best but they are mopeds to a
Harley Davison when you see, feel and smell the real thing!


The Weary Blues -- Langston Hughes

Guest poem submitted by Janice:
(Poem #1876) The Weary Blues
 Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
 Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
 I heard a Negro play.
 Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
 By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
 He did a lazy sway . . .
 He did a lazy sway . . .
 To the tune o' those Weary Blues.
 With his ebony hands on each ivory key
 He made that poor piano moan with melody.
 O Blues!
 Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
 He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
 Sweet Blues!
 Coming from a black man's soul.
 O Blues!
 In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
 I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan--
 "Ain't got nobody in all this world,
 Ain't got nobody but ma self.
 I's gwine to quit ma frownin'
 And put ma troubles on the shelf."

 Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
 He played a few chords then he sang some more--
 "I got the Weary Blues
 And I can't be satisfied.
 Got the Weary Blues
 And can't be satisfied--
 I ain't happy no mo'
 And I wish that I had died."
 And far into the night he crooned that tune.
 The stars went out and so did the moon.
 The singer stopped playing and went to bed
 While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
 He slept like a rock or a man that's dead
-- Langston Hughes
I started out by reading this poem like I read any other poem... and I found
that I fell into a rhythm, swaying, saying the words softly under my
breath... I could feel the smoky, dim atmosphere fill my room... I could
hear the blues player in my head, in front of me, all around me. This is a
poem, like the blues, that is pervasive, and all-encompassing, touched by
melancholy, it stays with you.

I read that Langston Hughes used to write his poetry sitting in little blues
bars... and I think that out of all his poems this one captures the fact
beautifully. Read it over and over again... you still fall into that
rhythm... it's got you by the collar!