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Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal, Now the White -- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

(Poem #825) Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal, Now the White
 Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
 Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
 Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font:
 The fire-fly wakens: waken thou with me.

 Now droops the milkwhite peacock like a ghost,
 And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.

 Now lies the Earth all Danaë to the stars,
 And all thy heart lies open unto me.

 Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves
 A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.

 Now folds the lily all her sweetness up,
 And slips into the bosom of the lake:
 So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip
 Into my bosom and be lost in me.
-- Alfred, Lord Tennyson
As is the case with much of Tennyson's poetry, today's excerpt from 'The
Princess' [1] is notable not so much for its depth of insight or emotion as
for the utter beauty of its language. Tennyson himself put it best when he
commented that other people may have written better poetry than him, but
nobody ever wrote poetry that sounded better [2].

Incidentally, an interesting contrast obtains between this poem and
Shelley's "Indian Serenade" [3]: both poems express roughly the same
(annoyingly vapid) sentiments, but whereas Shelley's work seems strained and
pretentious, Tennyson's is unhurried and charming. Or maybe that's just me.


[1] Tennyson's first long poem, published in 1847 and described by
Britannica as "a singular anti-feminist fantasia". I have to confess
ignorance of the poem beyond today's extract, which I came across in that
lovely anthology, "Poems on the Underground".

[2] See Martin's notes to Minstrels Poem #15, "The Eagle".

[3] Minstrels Poem #399: one of my favourite poems - not!

[Minstrels Links]

After an initial flurry, the pace of Tennyson-inclusion in the Minstrels has
slowed somewhat. Still, here are all the poems of his that we've covered:

Poem #15, "The Eagle (a fragment)"
Poem #31, "Break, break, break"
Poem #80, "The Brook (excerpt)"
Poem #121, "Ulysses"
Poem #355, "The Charge of the Light Brigade"
Poem #653 "Ring Out, Wild Bells"

The first of these has a brief biography, as well as some critical notes
describing Tennyson's peculiar mastery of atmosphere, and his position among
the great Romantics. The second has more critical material on Tennyson's
life and works. Both are worth a dekko.


Porphyry: a semi-precious mineral.
Danaë: a character in Greek mythology, who, after being locked up in a tower
by her father, was visited (ahem! euphemism alert!) by Zeus in a shower of

The Mysterious Naked Man -- Alden Nowlan

Guest poem submitted by Alison Lang:
(Poem #824) The Mysterious Naked Man
 A mysterious naked man has been reported
 on Cranston Avenue. The police are performing
 the usual ceremonies with coloured lights and sirens.
 Almost everyone is outdoors and strangers are conversing
 as they do during disasters when their involvement is
 'What did he look like?' the lieutenant is asking.
 'I don't know,' says the witness. 'He was naked.'
 There is talk of dogs--this is no ordinary case
 of indecent exposure, the man has been seen
 a dozen times since the milkman spotted him and now
 the sky is turning purple and voices
 carry a long way and the children
 have gone a little crazy as they often do at dusk
 and cars are arriving
 from other sections of the city.
 And the mysterious naked man
 is kneeling behind a garbage can or lying on his belly
 in somebody's garden
 or maybe even hiding in the branches of a tree,
 where the wind from the harbour
 whips at his naked body,
 and by now he's probably done
 whatever it was he wanted to do
 and wishes he could go to sleep
 or die
 or take to the air like Superman.
-- Alden Nowlan
I don't know too much about Alden Nowlan, although in Canada he can often be
found in the ubiquitous poetry books we have to use for school. We have the
mandatory Canadian poetic stalwarts: Atwood, Cohen, Ondaatje, and then
there's poor Mr. Nowlan, in the background.

Nowlan's poetry has always appealed to me because of its absolute frankness.
He is a very honest poet. His writing is sparse but every word seems to go
out on a small, lovely errand. Nowlan strikes me as an observer, and much of
his poetry recounts everyday events, with a little quirk that makes them
instantly extraordinary and unforgettable. He is delightful, and this poem
is one of my favorites. It's both funny and poignant, two attributes Nowlan
balances easily in his writing.


[Minstrels Links]

See the Canadian theme from last month:
Poem #781, The Law of the Yukon -- Robert Service
Poem #782, National Identity -- F. R. Scott
Poem #783, Northwest Passage -- Stan Rogers
Poem #784, To a Millionaire -- Archibald Lampman
Poem #786, Post-card -- Margaret Atwood
Poem #787, Seagulls -- E. J. Pratt
Poem #789, The Social Plan -- Stephen Leacock

Astro-Gymnastics -- Piet Hein

(Poem #823) Astro-Gymnastics
Do-it-yourself grook

 Go on a starlit night,
  stand on your head,
 leave your feet dangling
  outwards into space,
 and let the starry
  firmament you tread
 be, for the moment,
  your elected base.

 Feel Earth's colossal weight
  of ice and granite,
 of molten magma,
  water, iron, and lead;
 and briefly hold
  this strangely solid planet
 balanced upon
  your strangely solid head.
-- Piet Hein
Today's grook is rather atypical, in that it is not particularly
epigrammatic, pithy or aphoristic. However, it does share in the other main
quality that most of the grooks possess - it reveals Hein's delightfully
quirky sense of play, to say nothing of his keen perception and his
occasional trick of deftly turning established ideas on their heads.

The paradigm shift is handled beautifully - from the initial 'leave your
feet dangling outwards into space' to the wonderful image in the last four
lines, I can not just visualise but almost *feel* what he means. Definitely
one of my favourite grooks, despite its unconventional nature.


We've run one other grook: poem #668

The comments to which also contain a biography

and a bunch of other links.


I Want To Write -- Margaret Walker

Guest poem submitted by Aamir Ansari:
(Poem #822) I Want To Write
 I want to write
 I want to write the songs of my people.
 I want to hear them singing melodies in the dark.
 I want to catch the last floating strains from their sob-torn throats. I
want to frame their dreams into words; their souls into notes. I want to
catch their sunshine laughter in a bowl;
 fling dark hands to a darker sky
 and fill them full of stars
 then crush and mix such lights till they become
 a mirrored pool of brilliance in the dawn.
-- Margaret Walker
I came across this poem on one of those aimless web wanderings and, even
though I am not a minstrel, this one found its place with me. Few poets
convey responsibility as Dr. Walker does; responsibility stemming from a
deep-rooted sense of love for people. She gives writers a good name. And
young people a place to start from, a home created with her words and her
extraordinary sensibility.



Margaret Walker was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1915, the daughter of
college professors. Her family moved to Mississippi, back to Alabama, and
then to New Orleans when Margaret was ten. Walker's maternal grandmother,
Elvira Ware Dozier, lived with the family, and the stories she told Margaret
of life during slavery in Georgia inspired Walker's novel, Jubilee (1966),
which imagines the Civil War and emancipation from the point of view of
slaves on the cusp of freedom. When Walker was sixteen, Langston Hughes, who
was reading at New Orleans University, read some of her poetry and
encouraged her to go north for her education. Walker graduated from
Northwestern University in 1935, and worked in the New Deal Federal Writers'
Project from 1936 to 1939. In 1940, Walker received an M.A. in creative
writing from the University of Iowa. Her thesis became her first published
collection of poetry, For My People (1942). Walker taught from 1949 through
1979 at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi, where she retains
emeritus status. While teaching, she completed her Ph.D work for Iowa, and
in 1966, she received her Ph.D. Jubilee, which Walker had been working on
since she was nineteen, served as her dissertation. Walker initiated a Black
Studies program at Jackson State in the early 1970s (a research center for
African-American studies at Jackson State is currently named for Walker),
and has published a number of works of poetry, as well as a biography of
Richard Wright.

[broken link]

[Links] is a large and comprehensive site devoted
to Walker and her poetry. It includes a detailed biography.

Maragaret Walker passed away in December 1998; here's an obituary:

The Mill -- Edwin Arlington Robinson

(Poem #821) The Mill
 The miller's wife had waited long,
 The tea was cold, the fire was dead;
 And there might yet be nothing wrong
 In how he went and what he said:
 "There are no millers any more,"
 Was all that she heard him say;
 And he had lingered at the door
 So long it seemed like yesterday.

 Sick with a fear that had no form
 She knew that she was there at last;
 And in the mill there was a warm
 And mealy fragrance of the past.
 What else there was would only seem
 To say again what he had meant;
 And what was hanging from a beam
 Would not have heeded where she went.

 And if she thought it followed her,
 She may have reasoned in the dark
 That one way of the few there were
 Would hide her and would leave no mark:
 Black water, smooth above the weir
 Like starry velvet in the night,
 Though ruffled once, would soon appear
 The same as ever to the sight.
-- Edwin Arlington Robinson

A morbid poem, the storlyline echoing that of many of the more depressing
sort of ballad. However, while 'The Mill' does rely in part upon the little
atmospheric touches common in the genre - the dying fire, the miller's wife
'sick with a fear that had no form', the velvet blackness of the night - its
main impact lies more in the tension between the story's development and the
quietness with which it is told.

Notice how there is no attempt to introduce the characters, to gain the
readers' sympathy for them that their death may have all the more impact.
Instead, the very casualness and lack of commentary with which the story is
told, the anonymity of the miller and his wife, the absence of any motive
other than the enigmatic "there are no millers any more", seem to say that
the double suicide was nothing particularly noteworthy, and that, like the
waters of the millrace, the continued passage of life would hide them, and
leave no mark.

By rights, the poem ought to feel a lot more hurried - in three short
verses, the scene is set, builds up to the discovery of a suicide, and
follows with another. Exeunt omnes. And yet, the actual effect is the very
opposite of hurried. The poem moves, rather, with a quiet grace; the curtain
opens, the characters are introduced, have their brief moment on stage, and
exit again, but so smoothly and naturally that at no point does the
transition between scenes feel hasty or abrupt. And yet, in counterpoint,
there is the increasing urgency of the protagonist, the buildup from
apprehension to fear to despair, the suggestion of a barely contained thrill
of horror that permeates the 'warm and mealy fragrance' of the mill and the
smooth black waters outside.


"There are no millers any more" sounds like it could be a bit of social
commentary, an attribution of the miller's suicide to the loss of his job
when economic conditions overwhelmed the self-employed miller. Comments?

Biography: poem #234

Links: is a
  fascinating grammatical analysis of the poem, suggesting that Arlington is
  playing subtle games with the reader's perception of reality, and that
  "Another, even more provocative question has never been asked: did the
  miller actually hang himself?" Highly recommended. has links
  to several other essays on the poet's life and works


Love bade me welcome -- George Herbert

Guest poem submitted by Gerry Rowe:
(Poem #820) Love bade me welcome
 Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
 Guilty of dust and sin.
 But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
 From my first entrance in,
 Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
 If I lack'd anything.

 "A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
 Love said, "You shall be he."
 "I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
 I cannot look on thee."
 Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
 "Who made the eyes but I?"

 "Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
 Go where it doth deserve."
 "And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
 "My dear, then I will serve."
 "You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
 So I did sit and eat.
-- George Herbert
This poem may have a strong appeal even to those who, like me, are not
practitioners of religion but who are not entirely averse thereto, and
sometimes wish that they could find some of what is so attractively
described in its verses.

In the first verse Love is presented as a person of unknown gender,
appearance or occupation to be imagined as you will. This is not the love
laid down as an obligation in the Christian Ten Commandments (love thy
neighbour); still less is it the passionate love that may entail so much
struggle and potential hardship. It is a soothing love of welcome, an
observant, encouraging, solicitous, hospitable love that provides exactly
what the narrator needs (acceptance, anticipation and painless removal of
feelings of unworthiness) and demands nothing more than that the narrator
sit down and partake of a meal of love itself! What love could better that?

In the course of the second and third verses it becomes clear that this Love
is in fact the christian god, a vision of a version of Christ.

In this poem Love leads the narrator to self-acceptance. "My dear, then I
will serve." 'Serve' is used interestingly here: more, in my opinion, in the
sense of 'to be sufficient, good enough' than in the more obvious one.

The metrical scheme (iambic pentameters alternating with lines of three feet
of two syllables) allows for enjambement (but without creating long phrases)
and also for short, stand-alone questions and statements. Excellent for the
variations required by dialogue.

I know of two choral settings of this poem from the twentieth century: by
Vaughan Williams in his Five Mystical Songs and by John Tavener in a
standalone version. The latter is exceptionally good and contributes a good
deal to my appreciation of this beautiful poem.

Gerry Rowe.

[Minstrels Links]

Poem #391, The Pulley  -- George Herbert
Poem #567, Easter Wings -- George Herbert
Poem #546, The Sick Rose -- William Blake
Poem #771, The Divine Image -- William Blake
Poem #26, Jerusalem  -- William Blake
Poem #66, The Tyger  -- William Blake
Poem #97, The Fly  -- William Blake
Poem #368, Auguries of Innocence  -- William Blake
Poem #330, A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning  -- John Donne
Poem #384, Song  -- John Donne
Poem #403, A Lame Beggar  -- John Donne
Poem #465, The Sun Rising  -- John Donne
Poem #796, Death Be Not Proud (Holy Sonnets: X) -- John Donne

I am listening to Istanbul -- Orhan Veli

Guest poem submitted by Isil Cinar:
(Poem #819) I am listening to Istanbul
 I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed;
 At first there blows a gentle breeze
 And the leaves on the trees
 Softly flutter or sway;
 Out there, far away,
 The bells of water carriers incessantly ring;
 I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.

 I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed;
 Then suddenly birds fly by,
 Flocks of birds, high up, in a hue and cry
 While nets are drawn in the fishing grounds
 And a woman's feet begin to dabble in the water.
 I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.

 I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.
 The Grand Bazaar is serene and cool,
 A hubbub at the hub of the market,
 Mosque yards are brimful of pigeons,
 At the docks while hammers bang and clang
 Spring winds bear the smell of sweat;
 I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.

 I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed;
 Still giddy since bygone bacchanals,
 A seaside mansion with dingy boathouses is fast asleep,
 Amid the din and drone of southern winds, reposed,
 I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.

 I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.
 Now a dainty girl walks by on the sidewalk:
 Cusswords, tunes and songs, malapert remarks;
 Something falls on the ground out of her hand,
 It's a rose I guess.
 I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.

 I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed;
 A bird flutters round your skirt;
 I know your brow is moist with sweat
 And your lips are wet.
 A silver moon rises beyond the pine trees:
 I can sense it all in your heart's throbbing.
 I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.
-- Orhan Veli
Orhan Veli Kanik was born in 1914 in Istanbul, Turkey. He was the son of the
conductor of the Presidential Symphony and his younger brother was Adnan
Veli who was a famous writer. Adnan Veli was imprisoned for political
offense in 1949 but Orhan Veli was able to publish a literary journal,
Yaprak [Leaf], for 28 issues until a cerebral hemorrage ended his life.

Orhan Veli was more influenced by the sketch image of the Japanese haiku
than by any Turkish or even conventional Western poetic source. He once said
that we "must free ourselves from poetic conceptions and from the effort to
make the use of words beautiful". He broke the mold of classical and polite
Turkish verse and this action of him brought a new movement to Turkish
poetry. His free style and nihilistic world view always struck me. Orhan
Veli has always been the translator of my ideas with his poems.

In this poem, he describes a single day in Istanbul. If you live in Istanbul
you'd understand that there could be no other poem that could help you
picture Istanbul in your mind as well as this one. I'm moving to Dallas,
Texas next year as an exchange student, but I can certainly say that this
poem of Orhan Veli will be among the things that I'll carry with me, for
when I'm homesick for the city I love.


[Minstrels Link]: poem #469

Television -- Roald Dahl

(Poem #818) Television
 The most important thing we've learned,
 So far as children are concerned,
 Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
 Them near your television set --
 Or better still, just don't install
 The idiotic thing at all.
 In almost every house we've been,
 We've watched them gaping at the screen.
 They loll and slop and lounge about,
 And stare until their eyes pop out.
 (Last week in someone's place we saw
 A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
 They sit and stare and stare and sit
 Until they're hypnotised by it,
 Until they're absolutely drunk
 With all that shocking ghastly junk.
 Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
 They don't climb out the window sill,
 They never fight or kick or punch,
 They leave you free to cook the lunch
 And wash the dishes in the sink --
 But did you ever stop to think,
 To wonder just exactly what
 This does to your beloved tot?
 'All right!' you'll cry. 'All right!' you'll say,
 'But if we take the set away,
 What shall we do to entertain
 Our darling children? Please explain!'
 We'll answer this by asking you,
 'What used the darling ones to do?
 'How used they keep themselves contented
 Before this monster was invented?'
 Have you forgotten? Don't you know?
 We'll say it very loud and slow:
 THEY ... USED ... TO ... READ! They'd READ and READ,
 AND READ and READ, and then proceed
 To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
 One half their lives was reading books!
 The nursery shelves held books galore!
 Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
 And in the bedroom, by the bed,
 More books were waiting to be read!
 Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
 Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
 And treasure isles, and distant shores
 Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
 And pirates wearing purple pants,
 And sailing ships and elephants,
 And cannibals crouching 'round the pot,
 Stirring away at something hot.
 (It smells so good, what can it be?
 Good gracious, it's Penelope.)
 The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
 With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
 And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
 And Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and-
 Just How The Camel Got His Hump,
 And How the Monkey Lost His Rump,
 And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
 There's Mr. Rate and Mr. Mole-
 Oh, books, what books they used to know,
 Those children living long ago!
 So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
 Go throw your TV set away,
 And in its place you can install
 A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
 Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
 Ignoring all the dirty looks,
 The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
 And children hitting you with sticks-
 Fear not, because we promise you
 That, in about a week or two
 Of having nothing else to do,
 They'll now begin to feel the need
 Of having something to read.
 And once they start -- oh boy, oh boy!
 You watch the slowly growing joy
 That fills their hearts. They'll grow so keen
 They'll wonder what they'd ever seen
 In that ridiculous machine,
 That nauseating, foul, unclean,
 Repulsive television screen!
 And later, each and every kid
 Will love you more for what you did.
-- Roald Dahl
 From "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", 1964.
 Sung by the Oompa-Loompas, upon the terrible fate that befalls Mike Teavee.
 The song is untitled in the original.

Roald Dahl's gorgeously gruesome books have been thrilling me from a very
young age, so it was with a sense of meeting old friends that I chanced upon
a Dahl exhibition last night, at a bookstore here in Tokyo. I came home
laden with a haul of goodies, which I promptly proceeded to read and reread,
and it was in that process that I rediscovered today's poem. Immortal verse
it might not be, but as a rant against television and a rave about the magic
of books, it says all I've ever wanted to say. What more could one ask for?



 born Sept. 13, 1916, Llandaff, Wales
 died Nov. 23, 1990, Oxford, Eng.

British writer, a popular author of ingenious, irreverent children's books
and of adult horror stories.

Following his graduation from Repton, a renowned British public school, in
1932, Dahl avoided a university education and joined an expedition to
Newfoundland. He worked from 1937 to 1939 in Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika (now
in Tanzania), but he enlisted in the Royal Air Force (RAF) when World War II
broke out. Flying as a fighter pilot, he was seriously injured in a crash
landing in Libya. He served with his squadron in Greece and then in Syria
before doing a stint (1942-43) as assistant air attaché in Washington, D.C.
There the novelist C.S. Forester encouraged him to write about his most
exciting RAF adventures, which were published by the Saturday Evening Post.

Dahl's first book, The Gremlins (1943), was written for Walt Disney and
later became a popular movie. He achieved best-seller status with Someone
like You (1953; rev. ed. 1961), a collection of stories for adults, which
was followed by Kiss, Kiss (1959). His children's book James and the Giant
Peach (1961; film 1996), written for his own children, was a popular
success, as was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964), which was made
into the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). His other works
for young readers include Fantastic Mr. Fox (1970), The Enormous Crocodile
(1978), and Matilda (1988; film 1996). Dahl also wrote several scripts for
movies, among them You Only Live Twice (1967) and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

        -- EB

There's more at [broken link]

[Minstrels Links]

Poem #91, Cottleston Pie  -- A. A. Milne
Poem #463, Disobedience  -- A. A. Milne
Poem #562, The King's Breakfast -- A. A. Milne
Poem #576, Tra-la-la, tra-la-la -- A. A. Milne
Poem #799, Mr Toad -- Kenneth Grahame
Poem #564, Warning to Children -- Robert Graves
Poem #2, The Listeners  -- Walter de la Mare
Poem #725, Silver -- Walter de la Mare
Poem #630, To Walter de la Mare -- T. S. Eliot
Poem #809, Jim -- Hilaire Belloc
Poem #811, The Insect God -- Edward Gorey

Grown-up -- Edna St Vincent Millay

(Poem #817) Grown-up
 Was it for this I uttered prayers,
 And sobbed and cursed and kicked the stairs,
 That now, domestic as a plate,
 I should retire at half-past eight?
-- Edna St Vincent Millay
A delightfully whimsical little piece of commentary, all the funnier for
its grain of truth. Not to mention nostalgic memories about fighting with my
parents over bedtime <g>. As usual, Millay gets the tone and choice of words
perfectly right; like her 'Unexplorer', this is not a children's poem, but
it is unmistakably a poem about childhood (to say nothing of adulthood), an
image as vivid and compelling as any in Milne or Watterson.


  The Unexplorer (complete with Millay biography): poem #49

  Complete list of Millay poems on Minstrels:

  Poem #34 First Fig
  Poem #49 The Unexplorer
  Poem #108 The Penitent
  Poem #317 Inland
  Poem #604 Euclid Alone Has Looked On Beauty Bare
  Poem #590 Sonnet XLIII (What lips my lips have kissed...)

-martin (who has often retired at half past eight <g>)

I'm Explaining a Few Things -- Pablo Neruda

Guest poem submitted by Amulya Gopalakrishnan:
(Poem #816) I'm Explaining a Few Things
 You are going to ask: and where are the lilacs?
 and the poppy-petalled metaphysics?
 and the rain repeatedly spattering
 its words and drilling them full
 of apertures and birds?
 I'll tell you all the news.

 I lived in a suburb,
 a suburb of Madrid, with bells,
 and clocks, and trees.

 From there you could look out
 over Castille's dry face:
 a leather ocean.
 My house was called
 the house of flowers, because in every cranny
 geraniums burst: it was
 a good-looking house
 with its dogs and children.
 Remember, Raul?
 Eh, Rafel?         Federico, do you remember
 from under the ground
 my balconies on which
 the light of June drowned flowers in your mouth?
 Brother, my brother!
 loud with big voices, the salt of merchandises,
 pile-ups of palpitating bread,
 the stalls of my suburb of Arguelles with its statue
 like a drained inkwell in a swirl of hake:
 oil flowed into spoons,
 a deep baying
 of feet and hands swelled in the streets,
 metres, litres, the sharp
 measure of life,
 stacked-up fish,
 the texture of roofs with a cold sun in which
 the weather vane falters,
 the fine, frenzied ivory of potatoes,
 wave on wave of tomatoes rolling down the sea.

 And one morning all that was burning,
 one morning the bonfires
 leapt out of the earth
 devouring human beings --
 and from then on fire,
 gunpowder from then on,
 and from then on blood.
 Bandits with planes and Moors,
 bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
 bandits with black friars spattering blessings
 came through the sky to kill children
 and the blood of children ran through the streets
 without fuss, like children's blood.

 Jackals that the jackals would despise,
 stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
 vipers that the vipers would abominate!

 Face to face with you I have seen the blood
 of Spain tower like a tide
 to drown you in one wave
 of pride and knives!

 see my dead house,
 look at broken Spain :
 from every house burning metal flows
 instead of flowers,
 from every socket of Spain
 Spain emerges
 and from every dead child a rifle with eyes,
 and from every crime bullets are born
 which will one day find
 the bull's eye of your hearts.

 And you'll ask: why doesn't his poetry
 speak of dreams and leaves
 and the great volcanoes of his native land?

 Come and see the blood in the streets.
 Come and see
 The blood in the streets.
 Come and see the blood
 In the streets!
-- Pablo Neruda
Translated by Nathaniel Tarn.

Here's one for all those who decry politically engaged literature as being
aesthetically compromised: Pablo Neruda. For some of the most wonderful
poems that combine Art and heart. He wrote some of the most burning,
gorgeous lines but what powers his poetry is always his politics. Unlike
Nabokov's idea that 'the sole purpose of art is aesthetic bliss', he
fiercely believes that poems can make new worlds. He described the first of
his poetry readings at a trade union meeting as 'the most important fact of
my literary career'.

This particular poem combines generosity, fight, painfulness... and
lyricism, even as it shows up the absurdity of 'poppy-petalled metaphysics'.
There's an aggressive overabundance - the spilling over of the merchandise,
building up to the rush of violent visual images, (black friars spattering
blessings) and then, the unexpected, bludgeoning moments of tenderness (the
house of geraniums, the children's blood).

Neruda's surreal, sure, but it isn't swimmy, soft-focus surrealism. His
images cohere emotionally, with the energy of his anger, all the way up to
the terrible finality of 'come out and see the blood on the streets'. The
poem burns clean.


Mulch -- Peter Meinke

Guest poem submitted by :
(Poem #815) Mulch
 There where the punk stump marks
 the end of our yard we've strung
 chickenwire around a six-by-six
 plot of crabgrass In theory
 we apply a nice layer of leaves
 a layer of leftovers like eggshells and coffee grounds
 and then another layer of leaves
 ad infinitum or nauseam whichever
 comes first In practice of course
 we just toss in whatever's at hand:

 sawdust and guacamole corncobs
 and grass cuttings willy-nilly
 in gross disorganization where
 they decay and ooze together
 like some vegetable Dorian Gray
 until in spring and fall we spread it
 below allamanda and oleander
 camellia and azalea choking the weeds
 holding in moisture making
 spectacular over-achievers of them all

 If only we could mulch our own mistakes
 before they harden and stain
 dropping the rinds of argument and affair
 shells of dead dreams nasty shocks
 skins of bad habits lumps of neglect
 and sad pride into a pile
 that bubbles and burns in the dark
 until it's usable and by using
 we'd learn for a change
 and open and soar like
 hollyhocks in a country garden
-- Peter Meinke
Ever since my father's best friend gave me the book "Zinc Fingers" for
Christmas, Peter Meinke has been one of my favorite contemporary poets. This
poem in particular shows his mastery of imagery, metaphor, and rhythm, and
it's a poem that begs to be read aloud--the contents of the compost heap
roll trippingly off the tongue.  Anyone who has ever attempted to make a
compost heap can attest to the reality pictured in the first two stanzas,
but it's the final stanza that is my favorite -- the idea of taking all the
"junk" in our pasts and being able to turn it into something wonderful,
"like hollyhocks in a country garden."

[Biograpty etc.]

Peter Meinke (b. 1932). Born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of a salesman,
Meinke served in the U.S. Army from 1955 to 1957, attended Hamilton College
(B.A. 1955), the University of Michigan (M.A., 1961), and earned his Ph.D.
at the University of Minnesota (1965). He taught English at a New Jersey
high school, Hamline University, and Presbyterian College (now Eckerd
College) in Florida, where he began directing the writing workshop in 1972.

His reviews, poems, and stories have appeared in periodicals such as the
Atlantic, the New Yorker, and the New Republic. The latest of his three
books in the Pitt Poetry Series is Nightwatch on the Chesapeake (1987). His
collection of stories, The Piano Tuner, won the 1986 Flannery O'Connor
Award. Also, he has been the recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Poetry.

See also
for a newspaper article on Meinke and his poetry.

Parting at Morning -- Robert Browning

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #814) Parting at Morning
 Round the cape of a sudden came the sea,
 And the sun look'd over the mountain's rim:
 And straight was a path of gold for him,
 And the need of a world of men for me.
-- Robert Browning
I don't know about other people, but every time I think of sending in a
guest poem to the Minstrels, I'm beset by this feeling that all my favourite
poems have already been done (dammit, you even have Desolation Row!!). So
it's a smugly surprised me who's sending in these two Browning poems [one of
which - "Meeting at Night" - has been set aside for later - t.] which I
simply worship but which, for all my ardent searching, I can't find in the

Anyway, the poems. Both are incredibly visual - to a point where you have
only to shut your eyes to see the scene described blaze before you in
gorgeous technicolour. And both have an almost magically musical quality
that is so typical of Browning (see for instance, "A Toccata of Gallupi's",
Minstrels poem #526). But most importantly, I think, both have a concise
directness that would be the envy of many a modern poet, let alone of the
Victorians. Perhaps you can imagine a poem that says less and expresses
greater feeling with more vividness than "Parting at Morning". I can't.


[Minstrels Links]

Browning Poems:
Poem #65, Home Thoughts From Abroad
Poem #104, My Last Duchess
Poem #130, The Lost Leader
Poem #133, Song, from Pippa Passes
Poem #242, The Pied Piper of Hamelin
Poem #352, My Star
Poem #364, The Patriot
Poem #425, Memorabilia
Poem #526, A Toccata of Galuppi's
Poem #635, Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister
Poem #778, Incident of the French Camp

Weathers -- Thomas Hardy

(Poem #813) Weathers

 This is the weather the cuckoo likes,
     And so do I;
 When showers betumble the chestnut spikes,
     And nestlings fly;
 And the little brown nightingale bills his best,
 And they sit outside at 'The Traveller's Rest,'
 And maids come forth sprig-muslin drest,
 And citizens dream of the south and west,
     And so do I.


 This is the weather the shepherd shuns,
     And so do I;
 When beeches drip in browns and duns,
     And thresh and ply;
 And hill-hid tides throb, throe on throe,
 And meadow rivulets overflow,
 And drops on gate bars hang in a row,
 And rooks in families homeward go,
     And so do I.
-- Thomas Hardy
There's something comfortable about Hardy's poetry - I can always open up a
collection of his and be assured of finding something quietly contemplative,
familiar but never stale.

Today's poem is another variation on the theme of weather and country
landscape that Hardy was fond of exploring. The poem is rather skilfully
constructed; the main impact is in the first and last two lines of each
verse, the intermediate lines building up a smooth segue from the first 'and
so do I' to the second.


  There's a biography at poem #96

  And here's just one example of a poem that makes an interesting pair with
  'Weathers': poem #226


Sex Without Love -- Sharon Olds

Guest poem submitted by Ravi Mundoli:
(Poem #812) Sex Without Love
 How do they do it, the ones who make love
 without love? Beautiful as dancers,
 Gliding over each other like ice-skaters
 over the ice, fingers hooked
 inside each other's bodies, faces
 red as steak, wine, wet as the
 children at birth, whose mothers are going to
 give them away. How do they come to the
 come to the come to the God come to the
 still waters, and not love
 the one who came there with them, light
 rising slowly as steam off their joined
 skin? These are the true religious,
 the purists, the pros, the ones who will not
 accept a false Messiah, love the
 priest instead of the God. They do not
 mistake the lover for their own pleasure,
 they are like great runners: they know they are alone
 with the road surface, the cold, the wind,
 the fit of their shoes, their over-all cardio
 vascular health--just factors, like the partner
 in the bed, and not the truth, which is the
 single body alone in the universe
 against its own best time.
-- Sharon Olds

A poem that is not easily forgettable? I think Olds tries to answer a
question that we have all asked at some point or the other in some form or
the other. One of the nice things about the poem is that there is this nice
balance between the view on the one hand that making love is the wonderful,
sharing/caring type thing it is:

  ... How do they come to the
 come to the come to the God come to the
 still waters, and not love
 the one who came there with them, light
 rising slowly as steam off their joined
 skin? ...

On the other hand, there is this superb analogy with long distance running.
And as a wannabe long distance runner and admirer of long distance running
(in a vaguely "Chariots of Fire"-y sense!), that is a particularly powerful
image, of the marathoner-hedonist. In the end though, there doesn't seem to
be an answer the "coming to the still waters" bit is as weighty as the long
distance runner bit. More questions!


There is a page on the poet at [broken link]
Googling will lead you to several other links.


[thomas adds]

See also the third of Peter Porter's "Japanese Jokes":

     Love without sex is
 still the most efficient form
     of hell known to man.

(The remaining ten haiku in this sequence can be read at poem #198)

The Insect God -- Edward Gorey

Guest poem submitted by Natalie Gray, in response to
Hilaire Belloc's "Jim" (Minstrels poem #809):

Your poem reminded me of one of my favorite poets/authors/artists, Edward
Gorey. I'm submitting this poem from him. Although not my favorite (The
Gashlycrumb Tinies is), it certainly is a lovely piece!
(Poem #811) The Insect God
 O what has become of Millicent Frastley?
 Is there any hope that she's still alive?
 Why haven't they found her? It's rather ghastly
 To think that the child was not yet five.

 The dear little thing was last seen playing
 Along by herself at the edge of the park;
 There was no one with her to keep her from straying
 Away in the shadows and oncoming dark.

 Before she could do so, a silent and glittering
 Black motor drew up where she sat nibbling grass;
 From within came a nearly inaudible twittering,
 A tiny green face peered out through the glass.

 She was ready to flee, when the figure beckoned;
 An arm with two elbows held out a tin
 Full of cinnamon balls; she paused; a second
 Reached out as she took one, and lifted her in.

 The nurse was discovered collapsed in some shrubbery,
 But her reappearance was not much use;
 Her eyes were askew, he extremities rubbery,
 Her clothing was stained with a brownish juice.

 She was questioned in hopes of her answers revealing
 What had happened; she merely repeatedly said
 'I hear them walking about on the ceiling'.
 She had gone irretrievably out of her head.

 O feelings of horror, resentment, and pity
 For things, which so seldom turn out for the best;
 The car, unobserved, sped away from the city
 As the last of the light died out in the west.

 The Frastleys grew sick with apprehension,
 Which a heavy tea only served to increase;
 Though they felt it was scarcely genteel to mention
 The loss of their child, they called in the police.

 Through unvisited hamlets the car went creeping,
 With its head lamps unlit and its curtains drawn;
 Those natives who happened not to be sleeping
 Heard it pass, and lay awake until dawn.

 The police with their torches and notebooks descended
 On the haunts of the underworld, looking for clues;
 In spite of their praiseworthy efforts, they ended
 With nothing at all in the way of news.

 The car, after hours and hours of travel,
 Arrived at a gate in an endless wall;
 It rolled up a drive and stopped on the gravel
 At the foot of a vast and crumbling hall.

 As the night wore away, hope started to languish
 And soon was replaced by all manner of fears;
 The family twisted their fingers in anguish,
 Or got them all damp from the flow of their tears.

 They removed the child to the ball-room, whose hangings
 And mirrors were streaked with a luminous slime;
 They leapt through the air with buzzings and twangings
 To work themselves up to a ritual crime.

 They stunned her, and stripped off her garments, and lastly
 They stuffed her inside a kind of a pod;
 And then it was that Millicent Frastley
 Was sacrificed to The Insect God.
-- Edward Gorey
Gorey has such a nice way of painting pictures with his words. The first
time I ever read a Gorey poem, I was both horrified and fascinated. I
normally eschew horror of any kind, yet I am inextricably drawn to Gorey's
stuff.  I won't attempt a critical analysis. Suffice it to say the words
fall trippingly off the tongue and paint quite a lurid picture. May we all
be saved from sacrifice to The Insect God.

For more about Gorey, the sites below have great info:
[broken link]


[Minstrels Links]

Other cautionary poems:
Poem #463, Disobedience  -- A. A. Milne
Poem #809, Jim -- Hilaire Belloc
Poem #564, Warning to Children -- Robert Graves

Strange and (occasionally) grisly tales:
Poem #692, The Messenger -- H. P. Lovecraft
Poem #259, Songs from an Evil Wood  -- Lord Dunsany
Poem #252, The Midnightmouse  -- Christian Morgenstern
Poem #424, The Moonsheep  -- Christian Morgenstern
Poem #215, The Loch Ness Monster's Song  -- Edwin Morgan
Poem #304, The Subway Piranhas  -- Edwin Morgan
Poem #631, Mean Mr Mustard / Polythene Pam -- John Lennon
Poem #358, Abdul Abulbul Amir  -- Percy French

Beatrix is Three -- Adrian Mitchell

(Poem #810) Beatrix is Three
 At the top of the stairs
 I as for her hand. O.K.
 She gives it to me.
 How her fist fits my palm,
 A bunch of consolation.
 We take our time
 Down the steep carpetway
 As I wish silently
 That the stairs were endless.
-- Adrian Mitchell
Another poem which stands or falls by the strength of its final line... the
fact that I'm running it suggests that the former case holds <g>.  Indeed, I
think it's quite a successful (if slight) venture - one of those all too
rare poems which capture the essence of a moment, of an emotion, so exactly
that it makes you think you know precisely what the author felt at the time
of composition. Very nice.


[Minstrels Links]

Adrian Mitchell poems:
Poem #28, "To Whom It May Concern"
Poem #95, "Nostalgia - Now Threepence Off"
Poem #211, "The Oxford Hysteria of English Poetry"
Poem #337, "Jimmy Giuffre Plays 'The Easy Way'"
Poem #397, "Ancestors"
Poem #623, "Ten Ways to Avoid Lending Your Wheelbarrow to Anybody"

Jim -- Hilaire Belloc

(Poem #809) Jim
 There was a Boy whose name was Jim;
 His Friends were very good to him.
 They gave him Tea, and Cakes, and Jam,
 And slices of delicious Ham,
 And Chocolate with pink inside
 And little Tricycles to ride,
 And read him Stories through and through,
 And even took him to the Zoo--
 But there it was the dreadful Fate
 Befell him, which I now relate.

 You know--or at least you ought to know,
 For I have often told you so--
 That Children never are allowed
 To leave their Nurses in a Crowd;
 Now this was Jim's especial Foible,
 He ran away when he was able,
 And on this inauspicious day
 He slipped his hand and ran away!

 He hadn't gone a yard when--Bang!
 With open Jaws, a lion sprang,
 And hungrily began to eat
 The Boy: beginning at his feet.
 Now, just imagine how it feels
 When first your toes and then your heels,
 And then by gradual degrees,
 Your shins and ankles, calves and knees,
 Are slowly eaten, bit by bit.
 No wonder Jim detested it!
 No wonder that he shouted "Hi!"

 The Honest Keeper heard his cry,
 Though very fat he almost ran
 To help the little gentleman.
 "Ponto!" he ordered as he came
 (For Ponto was the Lion's name),
 "Ponto!" he cried, with angry Frown,
 "Let go, Sir! Down, Sir! Put it down!"
 The Lion made a sudden stop,
 He let the Dainty Morsel drop,
 And slunk reluctant to his Cage,
 Snarling with Disappointed Rage.
 But when he bent him over Jim,
 The Honest Keeper's Eyes were dim.
 The Lion having reached his Head,
 The Miserable Boy was dead!

 When Nurse informed his Parents, they
 Were more Concerned than I can say:--
 His Mother, as She dried her eyes,
 Said, "Well--it gives me no surprise,
 He would not do as he was told!"
 His Father, who was self-controlled,
 Bade all the children round attend
 To James's miserable end,
 And always keep a-hold of Nurse
 For fear of finding something worse.
-- Hilaire Belloc
Belloc's children's poems fall into two main categories - his animal poems,
collected in 'The Bad Child's Book of Beasts' and 'More Beasts for Worse
Children', and a series of cautionary tales collected, appropriately enough,
in 'Cautionary Tales'.

Today's poem is a fine example of the latter - like Roald Dahl after him,
Belloc appealed to the more gruesome side of children's imaginations, while
at the same time poking fun at the 'cautionary tales' in vogue during the
Victorian era. When Belloc's heroes and heroines come to a Bad End, they
come to a very bad end indeed, the details of which are expounded with glee
and relish, in a manner that has doubtless delighted generations of


Speaking of Dahl, he seems to have been influenced more than a little by
Belloc. In particular, the cautionary tales in 'Charlie and the Chocolate
Factory' and its sequel, 'Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator' seem to pay
a definite tribute to Belloc's. Compare the sound and language of today's
poem with this little excerpt from the sad saga of Goldie Pinklewseet:

    You see, how could young Goldie know,
    For nobody had told her so,
    That Grandmama, her old relation
    Suffered from frightful constipation.
    This meant that every night she'd give
    Herself a powerful laxative,
    And all the medicines that she'd bought
    Were naturally of this sort.

        -- Roald Dahl

Also, here's Shel Silverstein on lions and children:

    It's Dark in Here
    I am writing these poems
    From inside a lion,
    And it's rather dark in here.
    So please excuse the handwriting
    Which may not be too clear.
    But this afternoon by the lion's cage
    I'm afraid I got too near.
    And I'm writing these lines
    From inside a lion,
    And it's rather dark in here.

        -- Shel Silverstein


  There's a biography at poem #124

  A review of a recording of some of Gilbert's poems and a few of Belloc's
  Cautionary Verses:

  Some of Bentley's illustrations for Belloc's verses:


Not From The Stars Do I My Judgment Pluck (Sonnets XIV) -- William Shakespeare

Guest poem submitted by Caroline Mann:
(Poem #808) Not From The Stars Do I My Judgment Pluck (Sonnets XIV)
 Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck,
 And yet methinks I have astronomy,
 But not to tell of good or evil luck,
 Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons' quality.
 Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
 Pointing to each his thunder, rain, and wind,
 Or say with princes if it shall go well
 By oft predict that I in heaven find.
 But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
 And, constant stars, in them I read such art
 As truth and beauty shall together thrive,
 If from thyself to store thou wouldst convert.
        Or else of thee this I prognosticate;
        Thy end is truth's and beauty's doom and date.
-- William Shakespeare
This is my favorite sonnet. It travels from nature to humanity with perfect
language before suddenly falling into one of Shakespeare's five themes
(time, death, unrequited love, splendid love, and procreation). The
transition from astronomy to sex is perfectly constructed. I am not trying
to trivialize this poem; I still love it for its language and fluid thought.
The connection between stars and eyes is also magnificent.


[thomas adds]

I don't know the Sonnets [1] as well as I should, hence I'm always glad to
run them on the Minstrels - reading and writing commentaries invariably
enhances my knowledge and appreciation of these wonderful works of genius.
My sincerest thanks go to Caroline for submitting today's poem.

"Not From The Stars Do I My Judgment Pluck" seems fairly difficult to
understand on first reading. The problem is partly syntactic (the Bard's
often convoluted phraseology, coupled with the difficulty that Elizabethan
English presents to modern readers, makes parsing the lines no easy task)
and partly semantic (the subtleties of thought embodied in the sonnets -
both the individual poems and the sequence as a whole - are indicative of
the amazing width and depth of Shakespeare's insight into, well, everything
under the sun, really. As Britannica puts it, "In these sonnets the supposed
love story is of less interest than the underlying reflections on time and
art, growth and decay, and fame and fortune". ).

Difficult, but not impenetrable. The poem starts with denial: the poet lists
all the things he cannot predict - good and bad luck, famines and
plenitudes, seasons and changes. He cannot apportion 'thunder, rain and
wind' to minutes that lie in the future; he cannot read the heavens to
advise princes. And yet he is not without knowledge of some sort, without
'astronomy' [2]. For his beloved's eyes are like stars, and in them he reads
all he needs to know of truth and beauty.


[1] Despite the lack of an explicit attribution, the capitalization leaves
no doubt as to the author.

[2] In Shakespeare's time there was no clear distinction between astronomy
and astrology. Indeed, even leading scientific figures like Kepler and
Newton dabbled extensively in horoscopes and geomancy.

[Notes on Form]

Form: English (Elizabethan) sonnet (who'd have thunk it?)
Metre: iambic pentameter
Rhyme scheme: abab cdcd efef gg

The rhyme scheme of the English sonnet is abab cdcd efef gg. Its greater
number of rhymes makes it a less demanding form than the Petrarchan sonnet,
but this is offset by the difficulty presented by the couplet, which must
summarize the impact of the preceding quatrains with the compressed force of
a Greek epigram.
        -- EB

[Minstrels Links]

Shakespeare's sonnets:
Poem #44, "My Mistress' Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun (Sonnets CXXX)"
Poem #71, "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day? (Sonnets XVIII)"
Poem #219, "Full many a glorious morning have I seen (Sonnets XXXIII)"
Poem #363, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds (Sonnets CXVI)"

[More on Form]

Hook was profoundly dejected.

He was often thus when communing with himself on board ship in the quietude
of the night. It was because he was so terribly alone. This inscrutable man
never felt more alone than when surrounded by his dogs. They were socially
inferior to him.

Hook was not his true name. To reveal who he really was would even at this
date set the country in a blaze; but as those who read between the lines
must already have guessed, he had been at a famous public school; and its
traditions still clung to him like garments, with which indeed they are
largely concerned. Thus it was offensive to him even now to board a ship in
the same dress in which he grappled her, and he still adhered in his walk to
the school's distinguished slouch. But above all he retained the passion for
good form.

Good form! However much he may have degenerated, he still knew that this is
all that really matters.

From far within him he heard a creaking as of rusty portals, and through
them came a stern tap-tap-tap, like hammering in the night when one cannot
sleep. "Have you been good form to-day?" was their eternal question.

"Fame, fame, that glittering bauble, it is mine", he cried.

"Is it quite good form to be distinguished at anything?" the tap-tap from
his school replied.

"I am the only man whom Barbecue feared", he urged, "and Flint feared

"Barbecue, Flint--what house?" came the cutting retort.

Most disquieting reflection of all, was it not bad form to think about good

His vitals were tortured by this problem. It was a claw within him sharper
than the iron one; and as it tore him, the perspiration dripped down his
tallow countenance and streaked his doublet. Ofttimes he drew his sleeve
across his face, but there was no damming that trickle.

Ah, envy not Hook.

There came to him a presentiment of his early dissolution. It was as if
Peter's terrible oath had boarded the ship. Hook felt a gloomy desire to
make his dying speech, lest presently there should be no time for it.

"Better for Hook", he cried, "if he had had less ambition!" It was in his
darkest hours only that he referred to himself in the third person.

"No little children to love me!"

Strange that he should think of this, which had never troubled him before;
perhaps the sewing machine brought it to his mind. For long he muttered to
himself, staring at Smee, who was hemming placidly, under the conviction
that all children feared him.

Feared him! Feared Smee! There was not a child on board the brig that night
who did not already love him. He had said horrid things to them and hit them
with the palm of his hand, because he could not hit with his fist, but they
had only clung to him the more. Michael had tried on his spectacles.

To tell poor Smee that they thought him lovable! Hook itched to do it, but
it seemed too brutal. Instead, he revolved this mystery in his mind: why do
they find Smee lovable? He pursued the problem like the sleuth-hound that he
was. If Smee was lovable, what was it that made him so? A terrible answer
suddenly presented itself--"Good form?"

Had the bo'sun good form without knowing it, which is the best form of all?

        -- J. M. Barrie, "Peter Pan"

Working Girls -- Redgum

Guest poem sent in by Jennie Godden
(Poem #807) Working Girls
 She said she came from Portland
 Where the ashen skies and leaden ocean
 Left her like the local boys, barren of emotion
 As we talked we watched the raindrops
 Running down the window
 Laundromat in Darlinghurst,
 Like a fish shop from the past.

 And her mother called her Mary
 After Mary Magdalene,
 To deny her beauty
 Would have been the greatest sin
 It was a profile in the neon and a Kings Cross Doorway lean
 To half an hour of tending someone else's tangled dream.

 There were lines of sailors, lines of speed
 Lines upon the Footpath where she stared
 When things were quiet, as night deferred to dawn.
 And the coke cups played red rover
 In the breeze that scuttled through the streets
 Taxies left for greener fields
 While Sydney stretched and yawned

 And her mother called her Mary
 After Mary Magdalene,
 There were virgins in the morning,
 She had sisters in the pain;
 And the wives would clutch their husbands
 Perhaps they shared the shame,
 'cause working streets and Weddingrings are sometimes much the same.

 She tap-danced with the buskers
 Near the subway shouting blues songs
 They remembered from their teenage years of dreamtime radio.
 And the years withdrew behind her eyes
 To let the little girl look out
 In simple childish innocence
 At drawings in the sand.

 And her mother called her Mary
 After Mary Magdalene,
 She had long dark hair and massage oil
 And a key to let you in;
 And the lines upon her face were maps of roads she'd travelled,
 Lined with people throwing stones because they didn't understand,
 That a half an hour of tenderness (perhaps they shared the same)
 'cause working streets and Weddingrings are sometimes much the same.
-- Redgum
I don't know if the Minstrels have ever had a Redgum song but I think this
Australian band deserves a mention. Like most songs it has a rhythm all of
it's own and really needs to be read out aloud and despite the fact that this
isn't a "proper" poem it's worth adding it to the list. They only thing I'm
concerned about is the accuracy of my own transcription. [I crosschecked it
against the lyrics on a Redgum site on the web - m.]

For me the imagery is wonderful, I can really see that Laundromat with water
running down the window, in Britain we still have fish and chip shops just
like that too! Other images that catch the eye include;
"dreamtime radio",
"ashen skies and leaden ocean",
"Sydney stretched and yawned".

Redgum were quite a political group, and the message here gives a new and
Interesting twist to a biblical cliché we've all heard before, i.e. "Let he
who is without sin cast the first stone".



[broken link] is an extensive Redgum site has a listing of band

Nearer, my God, to Thee -- Sarah Flower Adams

Guest poem sent in by Suresh Ramasubramanian
(Poem #806) Nearer, my God, to Thee
 Nearer, my God, to Thee,
    Nearer to Thee!
 E'en though it be a cross
    That raiseth me;
 Still all my song would be,
 Nearer, my God, to Thee,
    Nearer to Thee!

 Though like the wanderer,
    The sun gone down,
 Darkness be over me,
    My rest alone.
 Yet in my dreams I'd be
 Nearer, my God, to Thee,
    Nearer to Thee!

 There let the way appear
    Steps unto heav'n;
 All that Thou sendest me
    In mercy giv'n;
 Angels to beckon me
 Nearer, my God, to Thee,
    Nearer to Thee!

    Bright with Thy praise,
 Out of my stony griefs
    Bethel I'll raise;
 So by my woes to be
 Nearer, my God, to Thee,
    Nearer to Thee!

 Or if on joyful wing,
    Cleaving the sky,
 Sun, moon, and stars forgot,
    Upwards I fly,
 Still all my song shall be,
 Nearer, my God, to Thee,
    Nearer to Thee!
-- Sarah Flower Adams

Sarah Flower was born in Harlow, Essex, was an actress (playing Lady
Macbeth in the 1837), a dramatic poet (who wrote "Vivia Perpetua" - about a
Christian martyr - in 1841).  More to the point, she was a Unitarian hymn

She was one of the earliest feminists.  When she married William Bridges
Adams in 1834, she insisted on a "no housekeeping" pact with him.

She was a close friend of Shelley, and continued with the increasingly
unfashionable ideals of romantic poetry (especially as this was the era when
gritty realism, as seen in Dickens and Carlyle, was becoming more popular)

She was particularly associated the influential but eccentric, and eventually
forgotten school of poets satirized by William Aytoun as "Spasmodics".

The first poem I thought of when I read this hymn was William Ernest Henley's
"Invictus".  And then Dylan Thomas' "Do not go gentle into that good night".
Sheer guts in Invictus, bitter and dogged resistance in "Do not go gentle
...", compared with absolute faith in God in this hymn.

"Do not go gentle..." in particular, stands out in stark contrast to this
poem, with its last, angry stanza -

        And you, my father, there on the sad height,
        Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
        Do not go gentle into that good night
        Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Now for a little more, rather interesting, trivia :)

"Nearer, my God, to Thee" is supposed to have been the hymn the band on the
RMS Titanic played when it sank after hitting an iceberg on 14 April 1912.

Wallace Hartley, the bandleader of the Titanic, an employee of the White Star
Line, who, like all the musicians on board, went down with the ship, was
reportedly particularly fond of this hymn, and wished it to be performed at
his funeral.

There is, however, a controversy about whether "Nearer, my God ..." was even
played on the Titanic that night.  The other contenders for "last song" are
Songe d'Automne (a waltz by Archibald Joyce) and the episcopalian hymn Autumn.

Even among the adherents to the "Nearer, my God .." theory, there's another
(national and denominational) schism.  Protestant Americans are familiar with
the tune (known as "Bethany" written by Lowell Mason, and this is the tune
played both in James Cameron's recent turkey er...umm... hit movie, and the
1953 Eugene Negulesco movie "Titanic", which was the first Hollywood movie on
the Titanic.

However, Wallace Hartley was an Englishman, and would doubtless have
preferred (and been much more familiar with) the British tune (called
"Horbury"), which was composed by the venerable John B Dykes, an Episcopalian
clergyman.  For what it's worth, British director Roy Baker's 1958 Titanic
movie, "A Night to Remember" plays Horbury :)

The Methodists prefer another tune altogether, "Propior Deo", written by Sir
Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan).  I doubt if any movie has been
made featuring this tune though :)  However, shipboard services were
nominally Church of England, and Hartley, the bandleader, was brought up a
methodist (and this was the tune his father, a choirmaster, used at church
for over thirty years).  So "Propior Deo" is just as likely as the other two.

Confusion worse confounded, Sir Arthur Sullivan has _another_ tune for this
grand hymn, which apparently goes under the name "St.Edmund".

A lot of this has been filched from several pages, but mostly summarized
from the excellent article at [broken link] which
includes links to MIDI files of all the contenders to the Titanic's swan



 Sarah Flower was born in Harlow, Essex, and married William Bridges Adams
 in 1834. Harold William Stephenson wrote a biography of this actress--Lady
 Macbeth, 1837--dramatic poet (Vivia Perpetua, 1841) and Unitarian hymn
 writer in The Author of Nearer my God to Thee in 1922. "Nearer my God to
 Thee" was one of thirteen hymns published by William Johnson Fox
 (1786-1864) in his Hymns and Anthems in 1841. They were originally sung
 in services at his South Place Chapel.

Rigid Body Sings -- James Maxwell

Winding up the theme...
(Poem #805) Rigid Body Sings
 Gin a body meet a body
 Flyin' thro the air,
 Gin a body hit a body,
 Will it fly? And where?
 Ilka impact has its measure
 Ne'er a' ane hae I
 Yet a' the lads they measure me,
 Or, at least, they try.

 Gin a body meet a body
 Altogether free,
 How they travel afterwards
 We do not always see.
 Ilka problem has its method
 By analytics high;
 For me, I ken na ane o' them,
 But what the waur am I?
-- James Maxwell
Notes: gin: if
       ilka: each
       ane: one
       ken: know, understand
       waur: worse

 The poem is a parody of Robert Burns' "Comin' Thro the Rye"

Maxwell needs little introduction - his eponymous "Maxwell's Equations"
revolutionised electromagnetism, and much of physics thereby. Planck said of
him "His name stands magnificently over the portal of classical physics, and
we can say this of him; by his birth James Clerk Maxwell belongs to
Edinburgh, by his personality he belongs to Cambridge, by his work he
belongs to the whole world."

Lesser known, however, is the fact that Maxwell was, from an early age, an
enthusiastic and prolific poet:

  About the middle of his school career however he surprised his companions
  by suddenly becoming one of the most brilliant among them, gaining prizes
  and sometimes the highest prizes for scholarship, mathematics, and English
  verse composition.
        -- J J O'Connor and E F Robertson, see 'Biography' link

'Rigid Body' doesn't get as 'scientific' as some of Maxwell's other poems,
but it's one of his best known, and IMO one of his most charming. The rigid
body's philosophical look at the scientists and their analytics strikes just
the right balance between playful and serious, and finishes off with a couplet
worthy of Burns himself. All in all, quite delightful.


  There's an excellent biography at


The Burns original: poem #675

A rather different poem by Maxwell:

A long essay on Maxwell, the man and the scientist:


 This proved to be a rather popular theme - sadly, few people paid heed to
 the 'poems by scientists' criterion, but there were so many good science
 poems sent in that I decided to relax the rule. Indeed, we actually got
 more poems than we could run in the theme - if you've sent in a poem and it
 hasn't appeared, worry not; we'll run it as a standalone piece.

 Here's a listing of the poems in the theme:
  Poem #795 Harold P. Furth, 'The Perils of Modern Living'
  Poem #797 Lewis F. Richardson, 'Big Whorls Have Little Whorls'
  Poem #798 John Updike, 'V.B. Nimble, V.B. Quick'
  Poem #800 Miroslav Holub, 'In the Microscope'
  Poem #801 Anonymous, 'A mosquito was heard to complain'
  Poem #803 Catherine Faber, 'The Word of God'


The Looking Glass -- Kamala Das

Guest poem submitted by Vidur:
(Poem #804) The Looking Glass
 Getting a man to love you is easy
 Only be honest about your wants as
 Woman. Stand nude before the glass with him
 So that he sees himself the stronger one
 And believes it so, and you so much more
 Softer, younger, lovelier. Admit your
 Admiration. Notice the perfection
 Of his limbs, his eyes reddening under
 The shower, the shy walk across the bathroom floor,
 Dropping towels, and the jerky way he
 Urinates. All the fond details that make
 Him male and your only man. Gift him all,
 Gift him what makes you woman, the scent of
 Long hair, the musk of sweat between the breasts,
 The warm shock of menstrual blood, and all your
 Endless female hungers. Oh yes, getting
 A man to love is easy, but living
 Without him afterwards may have to be
 Faced. A living without life when you move
 Around, meeting strangers, with your eyes that
 Gave up their search, with ears that hear only
 His last voice calling out your name and your
 Body which once under his touch had gleamed
 Like burnished brass, now drab and destitute.
-- Kamala Das
I noticed that you've run a couple of poems by Eunice De Souza but none by
the other excellent contemporary Indian woman poet, Kamala Das. This is by
far my favourite Kamala Das poem. I'm not terribly good with analyses, but
I'll try to express what I like about the poem.

Kamala Das, like all good poets, displays excellent control over her words.
There's a quiet strength in her verse. And unabashed candour. For instance,
I like the way in which she describes human (male) quirks as defining
intimacy in a relationship. Even though on the surface the poem appears to
encourage submissiveness, it's really about being in control (even with the
melancholic end). This underlying message comes through clearly in the lines
"... so that he sees himself the stronger one / And believes it so" (i.e.,
let him believe what pleases him) and "Gift him ... all your / Endless
female hungers" (the paradox in "gift" and "your hungers" is particularly
good: satisfy *your* needs, it says, and use the essence of being a woman to
do so).

A brief bio of the poet can be found here:


[Minstrels Links]

Other contemporary Indian poets writing in English include

Eunice de Souza:
Poem #603, "Marriages are Made
Poem #682, "Advice to Women

A. K. Ramanujan:
Poem #382, "A River"
Poem #434, "Extended Family"

Nissim Ezekiel:
Poem #516, "The Patriot"
Poem #579, "The Professor"
Poem #714, "Night of the Scorpion"

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

The Word of God -- Catherine Faber

Guest poem sent in by Rob Bos
(Poem #803) The Word of God
 From desert cliff and mountaintop we trace the wide design,
 Strike-slip fault and overthrust and syn and anticline...
 We gaze upon creation where erosion makes it known,
 And count the countless aeons in the banding of the stone.
 Odd, long-vanished creatures and their tracks & shells are found;
 Where truth has left its sketches on the slate below the ground. [1]
 The patient stone can speak, if we but listen when it talks.
 Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the rocks.

 There are those who name the stars, who watch the sky by night,
 Seeking out the darkest place, to better see the light.
 Long ago, when torture broke the remnant of his will,
 Galileo recanted, but the Earth is moving still                  [2]
 High above the mountaintops, where only distance bars,
 The truth has left its footprints in the dust between the stars.
 We may watch and study or may shudder and deny,
 Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the sky.

 By stem and root and branch we trace, by feather, fang and fur,
 How the living things that are descend from things that were.
 The moss, the kelp, the zebrafish, the very mice and flies,
 These tiny, humble, wordless things -- how shall they tell us lies?
 We are kin to beasts; no other answer can we bring.
 The truth has left its fingerprints on every living thing.
 Remember, should you have to choose between them in the strife,
 Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote life.

 And we who listen to the stars, or walk the dusty grade         [3]
 Or break the very atoms down to see how they are made,
 Or study cells, or living things, seek truth with open hand.
 The profoundest act of worship is to try to understand.
 Deep in flower and in flesh, in star and soil and seed,
 The truth has left its living word for anyone to read.
 So turn and look where best you think the story is unfurled.
 Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the world.
-- Catherine Faber
  Lyrics and melody © Catherine Faber, 1994

  [1] Pun on slate, kind of obvious but I wanted to point it out explicitly.
  [2] Galileo was reputed to have said after his recantation, "and yet it
  [3] i.e, on the moon.

This song, and this poem, encountered me recently.  Let me point out that as
an atheist, I have long wanted to reconcile my own beliefs with my sense of
wonder at the world.. I found this song significant in many ways: the idea
that 'should you have to choose between them in the strife', a choice
between the Bible, words written by humans, and the universe, words written
by God.. when we have to make the choice, the world should take precedence.

The idea of the world as a puzzle, as a book, left to us by a Divine to
decode, is an evocative one. There are several lines in this song that
simply give me shivers since they express a spiritually agnostic viewpoint
so clearly.

Lyrics: [broken link]
Recording:  (performed by Leslie

Rob Bos}, alive and kicking.

[Martin adds]

  A quick note on filk - like many other genres, it is impossible to define
  both concisely and accurately. This has not, of course, stopped people from
  trying - an extensive list of definitions can be found at

    [broken link]

  A lot of the links seem to be broken; one that works, and provides a good
  introduction to the topic is [broken link]

  [broken link] has a lot of filk-related links

  And finally, there's an active filk community on usenet,