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The List of Most Difficult Words -- Len Roberts

Guest poem submitted by Ajit Narayanan:

Monday's poem ('My Father's Love Letters') reminded me, in spirit and
in content, of this one:
(Poem #1291) The List of Most Difficult Words
 I was still standing although
 Gabriella Wells and Barbara Ryan were too,
 their bodies dark against the wall of light
 that dull-pewter December afternoon,
 shadows with words that flowed
 so easily from their mouths,
 fluorescent and grievous,
 pied and effervescent,
 words I'd spelled out to the rhythm
 of my father's hoarse whispers
 during our nightly practice sessions
 beneath the dim bulb,
 superfluous, excelsior,
 desultory and exaggeration
 mixed with his Schaefer breath
 and Lucky Strike smoke

 as I went down
 The List of Most Difficult Words
 with a man whose wife had left,
 one son grown into madness,
 the other into death,
 my father's hundred and five-pound skeleton
 of skin glowing in that beer-flooded kitchen
 when he'd lift the harmonica

 to blow a few long, sad riffs
 of country into a song
 while he waited for me to hit
 the single l of spiraling,
 the silent i of receipt,
 the two of us working words hard
 those nights on Olmstead Street,
 sure they would someday save me.
-- Len Roberts
Like a lot of beautiful poems, it's difficult to pinpoint _where_
exactly the beauty of Roberts' poem lies. Perhaps it's the sudden shift
from one image to another, but nonetheless conveying, with great
expressiveness, the relationship between a father and his son. His
choice of difficult words isn't too bad either!

Roberts is a fairly established poet, having published seven books of
poetry and having won several awards. Several of his poems can be found

LEN ROBERTS, a professor of English at Northampton Community College,
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, has published seven collections of poetry. One
of them, Black Wings, was selected for the National Poetry Series in
1989. His work has appeared in many journals, including The American
Poetry Review, The Hudson Review, and Poetry.
        -- [broken link]

My Father's Love Letters -- Yusef Komunyakaa

Guest poem sent in by Sashidhar Dandamudi
(Poem #1290) My Father's Love Letters
 On Fridays he'd open a can of Jax
 After coming home from the mill,
 & ask me to write a letter to my mother
 Who sent postcards of desert flowers
 Taller than men. He would beg,
 Promising to never beat her
 Again. Somehow I was happy
 She had gone, & sometimes wanted
 To slip in a reminder, how Mary Lou
 Williams' "Polka Dots & Moonbeams"
 Never made the swelling go down.
 His carpenter's apron always bulged
 With old nails, a claw hammer
 Looped at his side & extension cords
 Coiled around his feet.
 Words rolled from under the pressure
 Of my ballpoint: Love,
 Baby, Honey, Please.
 We sat in the quiet brutality
 Of voltage meters & pipe threaders,
 Lost between sentences . . .
 The gleam of a five-pound wedge
 On the concrete floor
 Pulled a sunset
 Through the doorway of his toolshed.
 I wondered if she laughed
 & held them over a gas burner.
 My father could only sign
 His name, but he'd look at blueprints
 & say how many bricks
 Formed each wall. This man,
 Who stole roses & hyacinth
 For his yard, would stand there
 With eyes closed & fists balled,
 Laboring over a simple word, almost
 Redeemed by what he tried to say.
-- Yusef Komunyakaa

[1] The recent poem submitted by Jasmina (Poem #1288: Amanda Townsend),
made me remember this poem which I had read a few weeks ago in Komunyaaka's
Pulitzer Prize winning collection "Neon Vernacular". It deals with the same
pieces of conflict and agreement between men and women.

[2] The whole poem seems to be structured in a very beautiful way around
brutality (beat her, claw hammer, pressure of my ballpoint pen, five pound
wedge, concrete floor) and tenderness (desert flowers, Polka Dots and
Moonbeams, sunset, roses & hyacinth) to reflect how the narrator is
similarly caught between the same kind of feeling towards his father. Can't
do anything better than that!

[3] I was also suprised that Komunyakaa was missing from the Minstrels
pantheon! I think he is a great poet, who has written some powerful poetry,
the notable being of his experiences as a black journalist serving in
Vietnam War. So I belive we might consider adding this missing link.


[Bio] [broken link]
[Other Poems]

The Lie -- Sir Walter Raleigh

(Poem #1289) The Lie
 Go, Soul, the body's guest,
   Upon a thankless errand:
 Fear not to touch the best;
   The truth shall be thy warrant:
 Go, since I needs must die,
 And give the world the lie.

 Say to the court, it glows
   And shines like rotten wood;
 Say to the church, it shows
   What's good, and doth no good:
 If church and court reply,
 Then give them both the lie.

 Tell potentates, they live
   Acting by others' action;
 Not loved unless they give,
   Not strong, but by a faction:
 If potentates reply,
 Give potentates the lie.

 Tell men of high condition,
   That manage the estate,
 Their purpose is ambition,
   Their practice only hate:
 And if they once reply,
 Then give them all the lie.

 Tell them that brave it most,
   They beg for more by spending,
 Who, in their greatest cost,
   Seek nothing but commending:
 And if they make reply,
 Then give them all the lie.

 Tell zeal it wants devotion;
   Tell love it is but lust;
 Tell time it is but motion;
   Tell flesh it is but dust:
 And wish them not reply,
 For thou must give the lie.

 Tell age it daily wasteth;
   Tell honour how it alters;
 Tell beauty how she blasteth;
   Tell favour how it falters:
 And as they shall reply,
 Give every one the lie.

 Tell wit how much it wrangles
   In tickle points of niceness;
 Tell wisdom she entangles
   Herself in over-wiseness:
 And when they do reply,
 Straight give them both the lie.

 Tell physic of her boldness;
   Tell skill it is pretension;
 Tell charity of coldness;
   Tell law it is contention:
 And as they do reply,
 So give them still the lie.

 Tell fortune of her blindness;
   Tell nature of decay;
 Tell friendship of unkindness;
   Tell justice of delay;
 And if they will reply,
 Then give them all the lie.

 Tell arts they have no soundness,
   But vary by esteeming;
 Tell schools they want profoundness,
   And stand too much on seeming:
 If arts and schools reply,
 Give arts and schools the lie.

 Tell faith it's fled the city;
   Tell how the country erreth;
 Tell, manhood shakes off pity;
   Tell, virtue least preferreth:
 And if they do reply,
 Spare not to give the lie.

 So when thou hast, as I
   Commanded thee, done blabbing --
 Although to give the lie
   Deserves no less than stabbing --
 Stab at thee he that will,
 No stab the soul can kill.
-- Sir Walter Raleigh
Today's poem makes an interesting companion piece to Chidiock
Tichborne's elegy "My prime of youth is but a frost of cares" (Minstrels
Poem #144). Both poems were written in the Tower of London, while their
authors awaited execution. But whereas Tichborne's earlier piece is
suffused with an air of 'what might have been', Raleigh's offering is
all bitter defiance. This is the outpouring of a man who, more than
most, knew the ups and downs of Fortune, from favoured courtier to
condemned prisoner. And it shows; there's an edge to his satire --
especially in the attacks on court, church, potentates and men of high
estate -- that's noteworthy given his reputation as dashing gallant.



Raleigh, Sir Walter (1552?-1618) English explorer, courtier, poet, and
prose writer. One of the favorites of Queen Elizabeth between 1581 and
1592, Raleigh helped his friend Edmund Spenser arrange for the
publication of the first three books of The Faerie Queene; also during
this period he sent several expeditions to North America, though the
Queen would not allow him to make the voyages himself. He fell from
Elizabeth's favor in 1592, according to legend, because of his seduction
of one of her maids of honor. He took advantage of being in the Queen's
bad graces by making in 1595 an expeditionary voyage to South America,
which he described in the colorful (and fanciful) Discovery of Guiana.
He was reinstated at court during the last years of Elizabeth's reign,
but at the accession of James I he was imprisoned on a flimsy charge of
treason. He narrowly escaped execution, and was detained in the Tower
(though in reasonable comfort) for the next thirteen years. In 1616 he
was released on the promise to James I to discover gold in South
America, providing that he neither intruded on Spanish possessions nor
pirated Spanish ships, Unfortunately, Raleigh attacked a Spanish
settlement, and on his return to England was condemned and executed. A
true courtier poet, Raleigh did not publish his poetry but had it
circulated in manuscript. As a result, only a few of his poems have come
down to the present day, "Cynthia," a long poem in honor of the Queen,
was highly praised by Spenser, but only a fragment has survived. Among
his best-known poems are "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd," an answer
to Christopher Marlowe's "Passionate Shepherd"; "The Lie"; "The
Passionate Man's Pilgrimage"; and the sonnet beginning "Methought I saw
the grave where Laura lay," prefixed to Spenser's Faerie Queene. In
addition to a prose History of the World (of which only one volume was
completed), Raleigh wrote a narrative of the sea baffle between the
Revenge and a Spanish warship in which his cousin, Sir Richard
Grenville, was killed; Tennyson's ballad "The Revenge" is largely based
on Raleigh's account. The legend of the courteous Sir Walter spreading
his cloak over a puddle that the Queen might cross dry-shod is mentioned
by Sir Walter Scott in Kenilworth.

        -- [broken link] ...
... engsurveyindex/biography/16century/biowraleigh.htm

More biographies can be found here:

Let's be discreet -- Amanda Townsend

Guest poem sent in by Jasmina Ravnjak
(Poem #1288) Let's be discreet
 Tell me
 That your eyes do not search for me
 In a crowd
 And I shall say to you
 That my heart does not miss a beat
 When I see you
 And that nature's fertile flow
 Does not bathe
 The most delicate
 And intimate essence of my femininity
 Tell me
 That I have not felt
 The pressure of your body against mine
 And that I was not shocked
 Or excited
 By the power of your masculinity
 Tell me that you cannot cure the ache
 Which lingers between my thighs
 And my body will deny that I desire you
-- Amanda Townsend
I found this poem in a collection of African – American erotic writings ("Dark
Eros", St. Martin's Press, Inc., December 1998, edited by Reginald Martin).

Simple, yet it provokes complex feelings – it is at the same time melancholic
and spiritually sensual.

Unfortunately, I could not find any information about Amanda Townsend. I also
do not know whether the original is English or French[1], or both?

Many Regards,


[1] The English version was printed on one page, followed by the French version
on the next page (you had to turn the page and it was on the back of the
initial page). The French version had "French Translation" in between the title
and Amanda Townsend's name, which makes me think that she translated it

The French translation:

'Soyons Discrets'

 Que tes yeux ne me cherchent pas
 Dans une foule
 Et je te dirai
 Que mon coeur ne s'arrete pas de battre
 Quand je te vois
 Et que l'ecoulement fertil de la nature
 Ne baigne pas
 L'essence la plus intime
 Et la plus delicate
 De ma feminité
 Dis-moi que
 Je n'ai pas senti
 La pression de ton corps contre le mien
 Et que je n'etais pas choquée
 Ni excitée
 Par la force de ta masculinité
 Dis-moi que tu ne peux pas querir
 La douleur intime qui me ronge
 Et mon corps niera
 Que je te desire

A Fable -- J H Frere

(Poem #1287) A Fable
 (In imitation of Dryden)

 A dingy donkey, formal and unchanged,
 Browsed in the lane and o'er the common ranged.
 Proud of his ancient asinine possessions,
 Free from the panniers of the grave professions,
 He lived at ease; and chancing once to find
 A lion's skin, the fancy took his mind
 To personate the monarch of the wood;
 And for a time the stratagem held good.
 He moved with so majestical a pace
 That bears and wolves and all the savage race
 Gazed in admiring awe, ranging aloof,
 Not over-anxious for a clearer proof --
 Longer he might have triumph'd -- but alas!
 In an unguarded hour it came to pass
 He bray'd aloud; and show'd himself an ass!

 The moral of this tale I could not guess
 Till Mr Landor sent his works to press.
-- J H Frere
The Horace quote from Monday's poem [1] was still fresh in my mind when
I came across this gem of a putdown in the Faber Book of Comic Verse.
Nothing much more to say, really.


[1] The poem was "Etiquette", by W. S. Gilbert, and the quote was
"parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus": "the mountains are in
labour; a ridiculous mouse will be born".


Today's fable dates back to Aesop:

J. H. Frere was a diplomat who lived from 1769 to 1848. More:

Mr Landor, of course, is Walter Savage Landor. Britannica says "Landor
spent a lifetime quarreling with his father, neighbours, wife, and any
authorities at hand who offended him. Paradoxically, though, he won the
friendship of literary men from Robert Southey, Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
and Charles Lamb among the Romantics to Charles Dickens and Robert
Browning". One can assume that Mr Frere fell in the former category.

The irrepressible Dorothy Parker had this to say about Mr L:
  Upon the work of Walter Landor
  I am unfit to write with candor.
  If you can read it, well and good;
  But as for me, I never could.
          -- Dorothy Parker

And yes, he features on the Minstrels: Poem #10.

Jim Bludso of the Prairie Belle -- John Hay

Guest poem sent in by Suresh Ramasubramanian

Keeping in step with the recent "narrative poems" theme, here's one
more, an old favorite.
(Poem #1286) Jim Bludso of the Prairie Belle
 Wall, no! I can't tell whar he lives,
 Becase he don't live, you see;
 Leastways, he's got out of the habit
 Of livin' like you and me.
 Whar have you been for the last three year
 That you haven't heard folks tell
 How Jimmy Bludso passed in his cheeks
 The night of the Prairie Belle?

 He were n't no saint, them engineers
 Is all pretty much alike,
 One wife in Natchez-under-the-Hill
 And another one here, in Pike;
 A keerless man in his talk was Jim,
 And an awkward hand in a row,
 But he never flunked, and he never lied,
 I reckon he never knowed how.

 And this was all the religion he had,
 To treat his engine well;
 Never be passed on the river;
 To mind the pilot's bell;
 And if ever the Prairie Belle took fire,
 A thousand times he swore,
 He'd hold her nozzle agin the bank
 Till the last soul got ashore.

 All boats has their day on the Mississip,
 And her day come at last,
 The Movastar was a better boat,
 But the Belle she wouldn't be passed.
 And so she come tearin' along that night
 The oldest craft on the line-
 With a nigger squat on her safety-valve,
 And her furnace crammed, rosin and pine.

 The fire bust out as she clared the bar,
 And burnt a hole in the night,
 And quick as a flash she turned, and made
 For that willer-bank on the right.
 There was runnin' and cursin', but Jim yelled out,
 Over all the infernal roar,
 "I'll hold her nozzle agin the bank
 Till the last galoot's ashore."

 Through the hot, black breath of the burnin' boat
 Jim Bludso's voice was heard,
 And they all had trust in his cussedness,
 And knowed he would keep his word.
 And, sure's you're born, they all got off
 Afore the smokestacks fell,-
 And Bludso's ghost went up alone
 In the smoke of the Prairie Belle.

 He were n't no saint, but at jedgment
 I'd run my chance with Jim,
 'Longside of some pious gentlemen
 That would n't shook hands with him.
 He seen his duty, a dead-sure thing,
 And went for it thar and then;
 And Christ ain't a-going to be too hard
 On a man that died for men.
-- John Hay
This poem was written in 1871 by John Hay, formerly one of Lincoln's private
secretaries and later secretary of State under William McKinley and Teddy
Roosevelt.  Hay's poem, based on the true story of a Missisippi riverboat
engineer who died saving his passengers, became instantly popular, making him,
at that time, as famous as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain.

This was a fairly staple poem in American textbooks, but might not be too
popular now, given that political correctness requires that poems with the "N"
word (or even books like Huck Finn) get bowdlerized or even outright banned
from school textbooks.

This is a poem that is quite easy on the ears, and it has been set to ballad /
country and western music by several people.  A touch melodramatic, but then...

For more on the "dramatic poem" genre, try this rather well written article -


Etiquette -- W S Gilbert

(Poem #1285) Etiquette
 The Ballyshannon foundered off the the coast of Cariboo,
 And down in fathoms many went the captain and the crew;
 Down went the owners -- greedy men whom hope of gain allured:
 Oh dry the starting tear, for they were heavily ensured.

 Besides the captain and the mate, the owners and the crew,
 The passengers were also drowned excepting only two:
 Young Peter Gray, who tasted teas for Baker, Croop & Co.
 And Somers, who from Eastern shores, imported indigo.

 These passengers, by reason of their clinging to a mast
 Upon a desert island were eventually cast.
 They hunted for their meals, as Alexander Selkirk used,
 But they couldn't chat together -- they had not been introduced.

 For Peter Gray, and Somers too, though certainly in trade,
 Were properly particular about the friends they made;
 And somehow thus they settled it without a word of mouth --
 That Gray should take the northern half, while Somers took the South.

 On Peter's portion oysters grew -- a delicacy rare,
 But oysters were a delicacy Peter couldn't bear,
 On Somers' side was turtle, on the shingle lying thick,
 Which Somers couldn't eat, because it always made him sick.

 Gray gnashed his teeth with envy as he saw a mighty store,
 Of turtle unmolested on his fellow-creature's shore.
 The oysters at his feet aside impatiently he shoved,
 For turtle and his mother were the only things he loved.

 And Somers sighed in sorrow as he settled in the south,
 For the thought of Peter's oysters brought the water to his mouth.
 He longed to lay him down upon the shelly bed, and stuff:
 He had often eaten oysters, but had never had enough.

 How they wished an introduction to each other they had had
 When on board the Ballyshannon! And it drove them nearly mad.
 To think how very friendly with each other they might get,
 If it wasn't for the arbitrary rule of etiquette!

 One day when out a-hunting for the mus ridiculus,
 Gray overheard his fellow man soliloquizing thus:
 "I wonder how the playmates of my youth are getting on,
 McConnell, S.B. Walters, Paddy Byles, and Robinson?"

 These simple words made Peter as delighted as could be
 Old chummies at the Charterhouse were Robinson and he!
 He walked straight up to Somers, then he turned extremely red.
 Hesitated, hummed and hawed a bit, then cleared his throat and said:

 "I beg your pardon -- pray forgive me if I seem too bold,
 But you have breathed a name I know familiarly of old.
 You spoke aloud of Robinson -- I happened to be by --
 You know him?" "Yes, extremely well" "Allow me -- so do I!"

 It was enough: they felt they could more sociably get on,
 For (ah, the magic of the fact!) they each knew Robinson!
 And Mr. Somers' turtle was at Peter's service quite,
 And Mr. Somers punished Peter's oyster beds all night.

 They soon became like brothers from community of wrongs:
 They wrote each other little odes and sang each other songs;
 They told each other anecdotes disparaging their wives;
 On several occasions, too, they saved each other's lives.

 They felt quite melancholy when they parted for the night,
 And got up in the morning soon as ever it was light;
 Each other's pleasant company they reckoned so upon,
 And all because it happened that they both knew Robinson.

 They lived for many years on that inhospitable shore,
 And day by day they learned to love each other more and more.
 At last, to their astonishment, on getting up one day,
 They saw a frigate anchored in the offing of the bay.

 To Peter an idea occurred. "Suppose we cross the main?
 So good an opportunity may not be found again".
 And Somers thought a minute, then ejaculated "Done!
 I wonder how my business in the City's getting on?"

 "But stay," said Mr. Peter: "when in England as you know,
 I earned a living tasting teas for Baker, Croop and Co.,
 I may be superseded -- my employer thinks me dead!"
 "Then come with me," said Somers, "and taste indigo instead".

 But all their plans were scattered in moment when they found
 The vessel was a convict ship from Portland, outward bound;
 When a boat came off to fetch them, though they felt it very kind,
 To go on board they firmly but respectfully declined.

 As both the happy settlers roared with laughter at the joke,
 They recognized a gentlemanly fellow pulling stroke:
 'Twas Robinson -- a convict, in an unbecoming frock!
 Condemned to seven years for misappropriating stock!!!

 They laughed no more, for Somers thought he had been rather rash
 In knowing one whose friend had misappropriated cash;
 And Peter thought a foolish tack he must have gone upon
 In making the acquaintance of a friend of Robinson.

 At first they didn't quarrel very openly, I've heard;
 They nodded when they met, and now and then exchanged a word;
 The word grew rare, and rarer still the nodding of the head,
 And when they meet each other now, they cut each other dead.

 To allocate the island they agreed by word of mouth,
 And Peter takes the north again, and Somers takes the south;
 And Peter has the oysters, which he loathes with horror grim,
 And Somers has the turtle -- turtle disagrees with him.
-- W S Gilbert

When I first read this poem I was certain that the denouement would be
the discovery that Gray's childhood friend Robinson was a different
Robinson from Somers' schoolmate Robinson. But Gilbert's chosen ending
is much more satisfactory. The delicious way in which it skewers the
essential arbitrariness (not to mention pretence) of much of what
constitutes 'proper etiquette' is just perfect.

Gilbert's rhyme and scansion are, as always, spot on. Another thing I
like about today's poem is its symmetry: from shipwreck to comradeship
and back to isolation, with all the inevitability of a classical



"Alexander Selkirk" - a real-life castaway who became the model for
Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Hmm, I wonder if Gilbert's choice of the name
'Robinson' for the man who becomes Gray's and Somers' sole link with
civilization is intentional...

"Cariboo" - a place in British Columbia, Canada.

"Charterhouse" - an English public school:
[broken link]

"mus ridiculus" - Latin for 'ridiculous mouse'. The phrase is from
Horace, Epistles, Book II, 3, Ars Poetica (The Art of Poetry), line 139:
"parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus", which translates to "the
mountains are in labour; a ridiculous mouse will be born". This is
Horace ripping other poets who promise great things of their work but do
not deliver; they talk the talk but don't walk the walk.


Sir William Schwenk Gilbert:
Poem #88, The Major General's Song
Poem #135, I've Got a Little List
Poem #161, The Yarn of the Nancy Bell
Poem #247, To Sit In Solemn Silence...
Poem #505, The Story of Prince Agib
Poem #899, Ballad: The Sorcerer's Song
Poem #1023, The Soldiers of our Queen

Poem #161, The Yarn of the Nancy Bell  -- W. S. Gilbert
Poem #284, Most Anglers are Very Humane  -- Norman Rowland Gale
Poem #347, The Walrus and the Carpenter  -- Lewis Carroll
Poem #935, The Lobster Quadrille -- Lewis Carroll
Poem #448, To The Immortal Memory of the Halibut, On Which I Dined This
Day, Monday, April 26, 1784  -- William Cowper

Etiquette (sort of):
Poem #463, Disobedience  -- A. A. Milne
Poem #638, Song of Perfect Propriety -- Dorothy Parker
Poem #809, Jim -- Hilaire Belloc

A Hillside Thaw -- Robert Frost

Guest poem sent in by Gregory Marton
(Poem #1284) A Hillside Thaw
 To think to know the country and not know
 The hillside on the day the sun lets go
 Ten million silver lizards out of snow!
 As often as I've seen it done before
 I can't pretend to tell the way it's done.
 It looks as if some magic of the sun
 Lifted the rug that bred them on the floor
 And the light breaking on them made them run.
 But if I thought to stop the wet stampede,
 And caught one silver lizard by the tail,
 And put my foot on one without avail,
 And threw myself wet-elbowed and wet-kneed
 In front of twenty others' wriggling speed, --
 In the confusion of them all aglitter,
 And birds that joined in the excited fun,
 By doubling and redoubling song and twitter,
 I have no doubt I'd end by holding none.

 It takes the moon for this. The sun's a wizard
 By all I tell; but so's the moon a witch.
 >From the high west she makes a gentle cast
 And suddenly, without a jerk or twitch,
 She has her spell on every single lizard.
 I fancied when I looked at six o'clock
 The swarm still ran and scuttled just as fast.
 The moon was waiting for her chill effect.
 I looked at nine: the swarm was turned to rock
 In every lifelike posture of the swarm,
 Transfixed on mountain slopes almost erect.
 Across each other and side by side they lay.
 The spell that so could hold them as they were
 Was wrought through trees without a breath of storm
 To make a leaf, if there had been one, stir.
 It was the moon's: she held them until day,
 One lizard at the end of every ray.
 The thought of my attempting such a stay!
-- Robert Frost
The recent Frost spree brought to mind this poem with all its wonderful
early-spring imagery.  This poem was my introduction to Robert Frost, now
my favorite poet.  I had been expounding to a friend[1] about how one could
find just about everything online (c.a. 1999) and she asserted that this, her
favorite Frost poem was nowhere to be found.  Needless to say, she was right!
In fact as I started on a quest for it, the poem turned out not to be on our
university library shelves either, and I finally found it in an ancient first
edition copy in the Maryland room.  It was magnificent to read it that first
time, and a triumph to finally have found her a copy, and a pleasure to hold
the tome, and see Frost's inscription in his own hand.

It might have been the chase that made me fall in love with this poem, but
reading it aloud and seeing the newts come alive under the golden sunbeams
chasing them with torn and muddy clothes as I might have done, excited
child, and looking on from afar as the pale moon's glow slows them to
Escherlike images ... that beauty kept me enthralled.

The last line sealed it, expressing as no other could my sheer awe and
humility at nature's subtle power.

Happy spring!  :-)

[1] [broken link]

The Discovery of Daily Experience -- William Stafford

Guest poem sent in by Jade
(Poem #1283) The Discovery of Daily Experience
 It is a whisper.  You turn somewhere,
 hall, street, some great even: the stars
 or the lights hold; your next step waits you
 and the firm world waits- but
 there is a whisper.  You always live so,
 a being that receives, or partly receives, or
 fails to receive each moment's touch.

 You see the people around you- the honors
 they bear- a crutch, a cane, eye patch,
 or the subtler ones, that fixed look, a turn
 aside, or even the brave bearing: all declare
 our kind, who serve on the human front and earn
 whatever disguise will take them home. (I saw
 Frank last week with his crutch de guerre.)

 When the world is like this- and it is-
 whispers, honors or penalties disguised- no wonder
 art thrives like a pulse wherever civilized people,
 or any people, live long enough in a place to
 build, and remember, and anticipate; for we are
 such beings as interact elaborately with what
 surrounds us.  The limited actual world we
 overcome by fictions and by the mind's inventions
 that cannot be quite arbitrary (and hence do reflect
 the actual), but can escape the actual (and hence
 may become art).
-- William Stafford
I was reading 'Writing the Australian Crawl', a book William Stafford had
written on the subject of writing poetry, when this poem (among many others)
caught my eye.

As he says in the book "This attitude toward the immediate experience of the
world may indicate why in planning to consider writing I reminded myself to be
alert, to be aware of the nowness of things- the feel of the day, the
temperature, the kind of room, the people, what they said" (47.)  He is
discussing the concept of art in this chapter and in this poem.  Every little
object or attitude that someone can become art.  An artist must be keen to the
details of their surroundings, and I believe that Stafford encompasses that
theme well in this poem.



 Here's a biography and bibliography:

Snake -- D H Lawrence

Guest poem sent in by singh_abs2000
(Poem #1282) Snake
 A snake came to my water-trough
 On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
 To drink there.

 In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob tree
 I came down the steps with my pitcher
 And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before me.

 He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
 And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the
   edge of the stone trough
 And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
 And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
 He sipped with his straight mouth,
 Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,

 Someone was before me at my water-trough,
 And I, like a second-comer, waiting.

 He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
 And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
 And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a  moment,
 And stooped and drank a little more,
 Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
 On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.

 The voice of my education said to me
 He must be killed,
 For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.
 And voices in me said, If you were a man
 You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.

 But must I confess how I liked him,
 How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
 And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
 Into the burning bowels of this earth?

 Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him?
 Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him?
 Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
 I felt so honoured.

 And yet those voices:
 If you were not afraid, you would kill him!

 And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid,
 But even so, honoured still more
 That he should seek my hospitality
 From out the dark door of the secret earth.

 He drank enough
 And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
 And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
 Seeming to lick his lips,
 And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
 And slowly turned his head,
 And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
 Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
 And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.

 And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
 And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
 A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into
   that horrid black hole,
 Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
 Overcame me now his back was turned.

 I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
 I picked up a clumsy log
 And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.

 I think it did not hit him,
 But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in
   undignified haste,
 Writhed like lightning, and was gone
 Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
 At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.

 And immediately I regretted it.
 I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
 I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.

 And I thought of the albatross,
 And I wished he would come back, my snake.

 For he seemed to me again like a king,
 Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
 Now due to be crowned again.

 And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
 Of life.
 And I have something to expiate:
 A pettiness.
-- D H Lawrence
          (From: Birds, Beasts and Flowers)

This is one of those poems that leaves its impressions deep in ones mind (I
am still haunted by that silent shimering serene snake)...the fact that it
also happens to be written by D. H.  Lawrence who voies some fundamental
issues that I deeply feel about makes this poem doubly precious!

The most striking aspect of this poem is the sense of tight conflict that it
evokes. Man vs. (his own?) nature, mystery vs. conformity, cool waters vs.
afternoon heat, Satan vs. Adam. The biblical connotations are pretty
obvious, and in his typical iconoclastic way Lawrence flouts the heavens by
finally acknowledging this alternative Lord of life.

Those who have read and are familiar with Lawrence's work would be able to
see the oft repeated motif of sexual and mystic repression forced by society
and its instinctual (re)awakening.  Needless to say the poem abounds with
freudian symbols; the snake, the trough, the hole in the earth...In fact the
poem is so cogent that when studying it we spent hours on each line!

Despite all the literary paraphernalia that often goes with Lawrence there
is something deeply human about his work. At some level we have all
experienced the sense of confusion, intrigue, awe, lust, anger, guilt (The
albatross is a reference to the "Rime of the Mariner" by Coleridge where a
sailor brings misfortune upon his ship by shooting the bird), shame and
ultimately sadness and wistfulness (...come back, my snake) that overcomes
us whenever we come face to face with our 'deeper' darker beings (what after
all are the origins of the original sin?)...

Well! Who else but Lawrence for the closing statement:

"If there is a serpent of secret and shameful desire in my soul, let me not
beat it out of my consciousness with sticks. It will lie beyond, in the
marsh of the so-called subconsciousness, where I cannot follow it with my
sticks. Let me bring it to the fire to see what it is. For a serpent is a
thing created. It has its own raison d'etre. In its own being it has beauty
and reality. Even my horror is a tribute to its reality. And I must admit
the genuineness of my horror, accept it, and not exclude it from my
understanding. . . .  There is a natural marsh in my belly, and there the
snake is naturally at home. Shall he not crawl into my consciousness? Shall
I kill him with sticks the moment he lifts his flattened head on my sight?
Shall I kill him or pluck out the eye which sees him? None the less, he will
swarm within the marsh. Then let the serpent of living corruption take his
place among us honourably. . . . For the Lord is the lord of all things, not
of some only. And everything shall in its proportion drink its own draught
of life."

(p. 235 DHL: Life into Art by Keith Sagar/University of Georgia Press,
Athens, 1985)

There are plenty of online discussions of this classic poem. One of
my favorites is:

Night Mail -- W H Auden

Guest poem sent in by Bob Swallow
(Poem #1281) Night Mail
 This is the Night Mail crossing the border,
 Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
 Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
 The shop at the corner and the girl next door.
 Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb:
 The gradient's against her, but she's on time.
 Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder
 Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,
 Snorting noisily as she passes
 Silent miles of wind-bent grasses.

 Birds turn their heads as she approaches,
 Stare from the bushes at her blank-faced coaches.
 Sheep-dogs cannot turn her course;
 They slumber on with paws across.
 In the farm she passes no one wakes,
 But a jug in the bedroom gently shakes.

 Dawn freshens, the climb is done.
 Down towards Glasgow she descends
 Towards the steam tugs yelping down the glade of cranes,
 Towards the fields of apparatus, the furnaces
 Set on the dark plain like gigantic chessmen.
 All Scotland waits for her:
 In the dark glens, beside the pale-green sea lochs
 Men long for news.

 Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
 Letters of joy from the girl and the boy,
 Receipted bills and invitations
 To inspect new stock or visit relations,
 And applications for situations
 And timid lovers' declarations
 And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
 News circumstantial, news financial,
 Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
 Letters with faces scrawled in the margin,
 Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
 Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
 Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands
 Notes from overseas to Hebrides
 Written on paper of every hue,
 The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
 The chatty, the catty, the boring, adoring,
 The cold and official and the heart's outpouring,
 Clever, stupid, short and long,
 The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong.

 Thousands are still asleep
 Dreaming of terrifying monsters,
 Or of friendly tea beside the band at Cranston's or Crawford's:
 Asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh,
 Asleep in granite Aberdeen,
 They continue their dreams,
 And shall wake soon and long for letters,
 And none will hear the postman's knock
 Without a quickening of the heart,
 For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?
-- W H Auden
When I need the text of a poem or indeed to check any poetic reference
I generally turn first to "Wondering Minstrels".

The other day I needed a copy of "From a Railway Carriage" by R. L.
Stevenson.  It was for a music lesson where strong rhythms were being
illustrated under the theme of trains. And that poem of course was the
obvious choice.

Naturally I found it on this wonderful site but was rather surprised to find
that another 'railway' poem Was not in your list. This poem "Night Mail" was
written by W. H. Auden for a film advertisement for "British Rail".

The rhythms and rhymes are wonderfully evocative of the railways in the
steam age and bring back to me memories Of railway journeys on which my
sisters and I  worked out phrases to fit the rhythms we could hear as the
wheels clicked over the joins.

I offer this for the collection partly because it has so many memories for
me and partly to ensure that it is Available when I next need to use it.


Lepanto -- G K Chesterton

Guest poem sent in by Mallika Chellappa
(Poem #1280) Lepanto
 White founts falling in the Courts of the sun,
 And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
 There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
 It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard;
 It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips;
 For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
 They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
 They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
 And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
 And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross.
 The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
 The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
 From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
 And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.

 Dim drums throbbing, in the hills half heard,
 Where only on a nameless throne a crownless prince has stirred,
 Where, risen from a doubtful seat and half attainted stall,
 The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall,
 The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung,
 That once went singing southward when all the world was young.
 In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,
 Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.
 Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,
 Don John of Austria is going to the war,
 Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold
 In the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold,
 Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,
 Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes.
 Don John laughing in the brave beard curled,
 Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world,
 Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.
 Love-light of Spain -- hurrah!
 Death-light of Africa!
 Don John of Austria
 Is riding to the sea.

 Mahound is in his paradise above the evening star,
 (Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
 He moves a mighty turban on the timeless houri's knees,
 His turban that is woven of the sunsets and the seas.
 He shakes the peacock gardens as he rises from his ease,
 And he strides among the tree-tops and is taller than the trees;
 And his voice through all the garden is a thunder sent to bring
 Black Azrael and Ariel and Ammon on the wing.
 Giants and the Genii,
 Multiplex of wing and eye,
 Whose strong obedience broke the sky
 When Solomon was king.

 They rush in red and purple from the red clouds of the morn,
 From the temples where the yellow gods shut up their eyes in scorn;
 They rise in green robes roaring from the green hells of the sea
 Where fallen skies and evil hues and eyeless creatures be,
 On them the sea-valves cluster and the grey sea-forests curl,
 Splashed with a splendid sickness, the sickness of the pearl;
 They swell in sapphire smoke out of the blue cracks of the ground, --
 They gather and they wonder and give worship to Mahound.
 And he saith, "Break up the mountains where the hermit-folk can hide,
 And sift the red and silver sands lest bone of saint abide,
 And chase the Giaours flying night and day, not giving rest,
 For that which was our trouble comes again out of the west.
 We have set the seal of Solomon on all things under sun,
 Of knowledge and of sorrow and endurance of things done.
 But a noise is in the mountains, in the mountains, and I know
 The voice that shook our palaces -- four hundred years ago:
 It is he that saith not 'Kismet'; it is he that knows not Fate;
 It is Richard, it is Raymond, it is Godfrey at the gate!
 It is he whose loss is laughter when he counts the wager worth,
 Put down your feet upon him, that our peace be on the earth."
 For he heard drums groaning and he heard guns jar,
 (Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
 Sudden and still -- hurrah!
 Bolt from Iberia!
 Don John of Austria
 Is gone by Alcalar.

 St. Michael's on his Mountain in the sea-roads of the north
 (Don John of Austria is girt and going forth.)
 Where the grey seas glitter and the sharp tides shift
 And the sea-folk labour and the red sails lift.
 He shakes his lance of iron and he claps his wings of stone;
 The noise is gone through Normandy; the noise is gone alone;
 The North is full of tangled things and texts and aching eyes,
 And dead is all the innocence of anger and surprise,
 And Christian killeth Christian in a narrow dusty room,
 And Christian dreadeth Christ that hath a newer face of doom,
 And Christian hateth Mary that God kissed in Galilee, --
 But Don John of Austria is riding to the sea.
 Don John calling through the blast and the eclipse
 Crying with the trumpet, with the trumpet of his lips,
 Trumpet that sayeth ha!
 Domino gloria!
 Don John of Austria
 Is shouting to the ships.

 King Philip's in his closet with the Fleece about his neck
 (Don John of Austria is armed upon the deck.)
 The walls are hung with velvet that is black and soft as sin,
 And little dwarfs creep out of it and little dwarfs creep in.
 He holds a crystal phial that has colours like the moon,
 He touches, and it tingles, and he trembles very soon,
 And his face is as a fungus of a leprous white and grey
 Like plants in the high houses that are shuttered from the day,
 And death is in the phial and the end of noble work,
 But Don John of Austria has fired upon the Turk.
 Don John's hunting, and his hounds have bayed --
 Booms away past Italy the rumour of his raid.
 Gun upon gun, ha! ha!
 Gun upon gun, hurrah!
 Don John of Austria
 Has loosed the cannonade.

 The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,
 (Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)
 The hidden room in man's house where God sits all the year,
 The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.
 He sees as in a mirror on the monstrous twilight sea
 The crescent of his cruel ships whose name is mystery;
 They fling great shadows foe-wards, making Cross and Castle dark,
 They veil the plumèd lions on the galleys of St. Mark;
 And above the ships are palaces of brown, black-bearded chiefs,
 And below the ships are prisons, where with multitudinous griefs,
 Christian captives sick and sunless, all a labouring race repines
 Like a race in sunken cities, like a nation in the mines.
 They are lost like slaves that sweat, and in the skies of morning hung
 The stair-ways of the tallest gods when tyranny was young.
 They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
 Before the high Kings' horses in the granite of Babylon.
 And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
 Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell,
 And he finds his God forgotten, and he seeks no more a sign --
 (But Don John of Austria has burst the battle-line!)
 Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
 Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate's sloop,
 Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
 Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
 Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
 White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.

 Vivat Hispania!
 Domino Gloria!
 Don John of Austria
 Has set his people free!

 Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
 (Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
 And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
 Up which a lean and foolish knight for ever rides in vain,
 And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade...
 (But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)
-- G K Chesterton
I mentioned "Lepanto" in my last submission and thought I would add it. [A
very welcome submission - it was just a few days ago that I was startled to
notice we had only run one Chesterton poem. - martin]

My father had this "Anthology of Modern Verse" (Methuen 1921??) which had
the most amazing poetry, all the more since most (all?) of the poets were
alive at the time the book was first published. It was a small green book,
and later he got "A New Anthology of Modern Verse" which was red.  Sadly I
lost both these books when moving house in 1981, when I had to drop
everything on hearing that my grandfather had died. The books were in a sack
along with lots of letters (each with a limerick written by my brother) and
were thrown away(?) by the moving firm which completed the job in my

It is looong, but it is a great read!

If you know anyone who needs elocution lessons, this is just the ticket -
they will enjoy it.



  Lepanto: Italian name for Naupactos (Naupactus) a titular metropolitan see
  of ancient Epirus. [...]

  Occupied by the Turks in 1498, Lepanto is chiefly celebrated for the
  victory which the combined papal, Spanish, Venetian, and Genoese fleets,
  under Don John of Austria, gained over the Turkish fleet on 7 Oct., 1571.

Untitled -- Plato

Guest poem sent in by Nikhil Sethi
(Poem #1279) Untitled
 Star of my life, to the stars your face is turned;
 Would I were the heavens, looking back at you with ten thousand eyes.
-- Plato
Comments :) does it really need any? Its just so simple and so beautiful
that nothing I say about it can do it justice. (or so I feel about it).

Nikhil Sethi

[Martin adds]

Plato had a lot to say about poetry :). On the one hand, there's his famous

   "Poetry comes nearer to vital truth than history"

On the other hand, book 10 of his Republic contains an extended diatribe
against poetry ("imitative poetry" to be precise), which he considers "thrice
removed" from the truth, and rejected in his Ideal Republic:

   Of he many excellences which I perceive in the order of our State, there is
   none which upon reflection pleases me better than the rule about poetry.

   To what do you refer?

   To the rejection of imitative poetry, which certainly ought not to be


I think today's poem speaks more eloquently than any diatribe, though.

[1] a fascinating document, by the way - the first time I read it, I was
spellbound despite my initial reluctance to embark upon it

From the Wreck -- Adam Lindsay Gordon

Guest poem sent in by Mallika Chellappa
(Poem #1278) From the Wreck
 "Turn out, boys!" -- "What's up with our super to-night?
     The man's mad -- Two hours to daybreak I'd swear --
 Stark mad -- why, there isn't a glimmer of light."
     "Take Bolingbroke, Alec, give Jack the young mare;
 Look sharp. A large vessel lies jamm'd on the reef,
     And many on board still, and some wash'd on shore.
 Ride straight with the news -- they may send some relief
     From the township; and we -- we can do little more.
 You, Alec, you know the near cuts; you can cross
     'The Sugarloaf' ford with a scramble, I think;
 Don't spare the blood filly, nor yet the black horse;
     Should the wind rise, God help them! the ship will soon sink.
 Old Peter's away down the paddock, to drive
     The nags to the stockyard as fast as he can --
 A life and death matter; so, lads, look alive."
     Half-dress'd, in the dark, to the stockyard we ran.
 There was bridling with hurry, and saddling with haste,
     Confusion and cursing for lack of a moon;
 "Be quick with these buckles, we've no time to waste;"
     "Mind the mare, she can use her hind legs to some tune."
 "Make sure of the crossing-place; strike the old track,
     They've fenced off the new one; look out for the holes
 On the wombat hills." "Down with the slip rails; stand back."
     "And ride, boys, the pair of you, ride for your souls."

 In the low branches heavily laden with dew,
     In the long grasses spoiling with deadwood that day,
 Where the blackwood, the box, and the bastard oak grew,
     Between the tall gum-trees we gallop'd away --
 We crash'd through a brush fence, we splash'd through a swamp --
     We steered for the north near "The Eaglehawk's Nest" --
 We bore to the left, just beyond "The Red Camp",
     And round the black tea-tree belt wheel'd to the west --
 We cross'd a low range sickly scented with musk
     From wattle-tree blossom -- we skirted a marsh --
 Then the dawn faintly dappled with orange the dusk,
     And peal'd overhead the jay's laughter note harsh,
 And shot the first sunstreak behind us, and soon
     The dim dewy uplands were dreamy with light;
 And full on our left flash'd "The Reedy Lagoon",
     And sharply "The Sugarloaf" rear'd on our right.
 A smothered curse broke through the bushman's brown beard,
     He turn'd in his saddle, his brick-colour'd cheek
 Flush'd feebly with sundawn, said, "Just what I fear'd;
     Last fortnight's late rainfall has flooded the creek."

 Black Bolingbroke snorted, and stood on the brink
     One instant, then deep in the dark sluggish swirl
 Plunged headlong. I saw the horse suddenly sink,
     Till round the man's armpits the waves seemed to curl.
 We follow'd, -- one cold shock, and deeper we sank
     Than they did, and twice tried the landing in vain;
 The third struggle won it; straight up the steep bank
     We stagger'd, then out on the skirts of the plain.

 The stockrider, Alec, at starting had got
     The lead, and had kept it throughout; 'twas his boast
 That through thickest of scrub he could steer like a shot,
     And the black horse was counted the best on the coast.
 The mare had been awkward enough in the dark,
     She was eager and headstrong, and barely half broke;
 She had had me too close to a big stringy-bark,
     And had made a near thing of a crooked sheoak;
 But now on the open, lit up by the morn,
     She flung the white foam-flakes from nostril to neck,
 And chased him -- I hatless, with shirt sleeves all torn
     (For he may ride ragged who rides from a wreck) --
 And faster and faster across the wide heath
     We rode till we raced. Then I gave her her head,
 And she -- stretching out with the bit in her teeth --
     She caught him, outpaced him, and passed him, and led.

 We neared the new fence, we were wide of the track;
     I look'd right and left -- she had never been tried
 At a stiff leap; 'twas little he cared on the black.
     "You're more than a mile from the gateway," he cried.
 I hung to her head, touched her flank with the spurs
     (In the red streak of rail not the ghost of a gap);
 She shortened her long stroke, she pricked her sharp ears,
     She flung it behind her with hardly a rap --
 I saw the post quiver where Bolingbroke struck,
     And guessed that the pace we had come the last mile
 Had blown him a bit (he could jump like a buck).
     We galloped more steadily then for a while.

 The heath was soon pass'd, in the dim distance lay
     The mountain. The sun was just clearing the tips
 Of the ranges to eastward. The mare -- could she stay?
     She was bred very nearly as clean as Eclipse;
 She led, and as oft as he came to her side,
     She took the bit free and untiring as yet;
 Her neck was arched double, her nostrils were wide,
     And the tips of her tapering ears nearly met --
 "You're lighter than I am," said Alec at last;
     "The horse is dead beat and the mare isn't blown.
 She must be a good one -- ride on and ride fast,
     You know your way now." So I rode on alone.

 Still galloping forward we pass'd the two flocks
     At M'Intyre's hut and M'Allister's hill --
 She was galloping strong at the Warrigal Rocks --
     On the Wallaby Range she was galloping still --
 And over the wasteland and under the wood,
     By down and by dale, and by fell and by flat,
 She gallop'd, and here in the stirrups I stood
     To ease her, and there in the saddle I sat
 To steer her. We suddenly struck the red loam
     Of the track near the troughs -- then she reeled on the rise --
 From her crest to her croup covered over with foam,
     And blood-red her nostrils, and bloodshot her eyes,
 A dip in the dell where the wattle fire bloomed --
     A bend round a bank that had shut out the view --
 Large framed in the mild light the mountain had loomed,
     With a tall, purple peak bursting out from the blue.

 I pull'd her together, I press'd her, and she
     Shot down the decline to the Company's yard,
 And on by the paddocks, yet under my knee
     I could feel her heart thumping the saddle-flaps hard.
 Yet a mile and another, and now we were near
     The goal, and the fields and the farms flitted past;
 And 'twixt the two fences I turned with a cheer,
     For a green grass-fed mare 'twas a far thing and fast;
 And labourers, roused by her galloping hoofs,
     Saw bare-headed rider and foam-sheeted steed;
 And shone the white walls and the slate-coloured roofs
     Of the township. I steadied her then -- I had need --
 Where stood the old chapel (where stands the new church --
     Since chapels to churches have changed in that town).
 A short, sidelong stagger, a long, forward lurch,
     A slight, choking sob, and the mare had gone down.
 I slipp'd off the bridle, I slacken'd the girth,
     I ran on and left her and told them my news;
 I saw her soon afterwards. What was she worth?
     How much for her hide? She had never worn shoes.
-- Adam Lindsay Gordon
Again a poem from my brother's poetry text "Poems old and new".  I learnt
the meaning of alliteration from the phrases of this poem, just as I learnt
the meaning of onomatopoea from G K Chesterton's "Lepanto".

Of course it is also a ballad/story poem par excellence. But what is really
remarkable is the narrative sentences that have both rhyme and rhythm.
They are absolutely unlaboured.


 Adam Lindsay Gordon (1833 - 1870)
 [broken link]

Come-By-Chance -- A B "Banjo" Paterson

(Poem #1277) Come-By-Chance
 As I pondered very weary o'er a volume long and dreary —
 For the plot was void of interest — 'twas the Postal Guide, in fact, —
 There I learnt the true location, distance, size, and population
 Of each township, town, and village in the radius of the Act.

 And I learnt that Puckawidgee stands beside the Murrumbidgee,
 And that Booleroi and Bumble get their letters twice a year,
 Also that the post inspector, when he visited Collector,
 Closed the office up instanter, and re-opened Dungalear.

 But my languid mood forsook me, when I found a name that took me,
 Quite by chance I came across it — "Come-by-Chance" was what I read;
 No location was assigned it, not a thing to help one find it,
 Just an N which stood for northward, and the rest was all unsaid.

 I shall leave my home, and forthward wander stoutly to the northward
 Till I come by chance across it, and I'll straightway settle down,
 For there can't be any hurry, nor the slightest cause for worry
 Where the telegraph don’t reach you nor the railways run to town.

 And one's letters and exchanges come by chance across the ranges,
 Where a wiry young Australian leads a pack-horse once a week,
 And the good news grows by keeping, and you’re spared the pain of weeping
 Over bad news when the mailman drops the letters in the creek.

 But I fear, and more's the pity, that there’s really no such city,
 For there’s not a man can find it of the shrewdest folk I know,
 "Come-by-chance", be sure it never means a land of fierce endeavour, —
 It is just the careless country where the dreamers only go.

 .     .     .     .     .

 Though we work and toil and hustle in our life of haste and bustle,
 All that makes our life worth living comes unstriven for and free;
 Man may weary and importune, but the fickle goddess Fortune
 Deals him out his pain or pleasure, careless what his worth may be.

 All the happy times entrancing, days of sport and nights of dancing,
 Moonlit rides and stolen kisses, pouting lips and loving glance:
 When you think of these be certain you have looked behind the curtain,
 You have had the luck to linger just a while in "Come-by-chance".
-- A B "Banjo" Paterson

I love parodies of famous poets by other famous poets, so it was a pleasant
thrill, while reading through a collection of poems, to read the opening
line of 'Come-by-Chance'. Raven parodies are a wildly variable lot, but I
had no fears that Paterson would disappoint me, and indeed he has not.

What I didn't expect, though, was that the parodic element would confine
itself to the (brilliant) first two lines. Paterson packs the entire
punchline of his parody into the phrase "'twas the Postal Guide, in fact",
and then, the reader having been supplied the promised laugh, uses the lines
as a springboard into a decidedly *non*-parodic poem.

By the second verse, the poem has taken on more of the air of Turner's
"Romance" [Poem #238], evoking a sense of distance and otherness through its
use of exotic place names - with, perhaps, a dash of Lehrer's "Lobachevsky"
in its recognition of the humorous aspect of those names. By verse three,
the poem is pure Paterson; we recognise and welcome the familiar scenes of
the Australian bush, and the men who inhabit it. And note, in passing, the
similarity between the second half of today's poem and that of "Clancy of
the Overflow" [Poem #566].

Another thing I found fascinating about today's poem is how Paterson uses
the same basic metre as 'The Raven', but by deft use of pacing and secondary
stresses ends up with a very different sounding poem. I've spoken about this
before - the way that some poems manage an almost paeonic metre (four
syllables to a foot, doesn't really exist in English verse) - so here's an
explicit example:

 /   x     /   x    /    x    /   x    /  x    /  x  /   x    /   x
 I shall leave my home, and forthward wander stoutly to the northward

(all stressed syllables equally marked) tends towards

 x   x     /   x  |  x    x    /   x    | x  x    /  x   | x   x    /   x
 I shall leave my   home, and forthward   wander stoutly  to the northward

where I've demoted secondary stresses to unstresses and marked the division
between 'paeonic' feet with a | .


 /    x \  x  /   x    /  x   /     x  \    x   /    x  /  x
 Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary

where the heavier syllables suggest the more trochaic scansion.

(Incidentally, if it hadn't been so long since I last read Derek Attridge's
brilliant "The Rhythms of English Poetry"[1], I might have been able to
better explain it in terms of stress/beat combinations, but it has, so I
won't try.  Anyone with a more confident grasp of Attridge's methods is
encouraged to supply the analysis.)

[1] and really, this is far and away the best book on the subject I've read.
I highly encourage anyone with an interest in prosody to give it a look.



  Poe's "The Raven": Poem #85

  One of the benefits of running Minstrels is that it encourages me to surf
  other people's poetry pages. I discovered today's poem on the following
  delightful (and cheerfully labyrinthine) site:
    [broken link]

A Dream Pang -- Robert Frost

Guest poem sent in by Kevin Litzinger
(Poem #1276) A Dream Pang
 I had withdrawn in forest, and my song
 Was swallowed up in leaves that blew away;
 And to the forest edge you came one day
 (this was my dream) and looked and pondered long,
 But did not enter, though the wish was strong:
 You shook your pensive head as who should say,
 "I dare not--too far in his footsteps stray--
 He must seek me would he undo the wrong."

 Not far, but near, I stood and saw it all,
 Behind low boughs the trees let down outside;
 And the sweet pang it cost me not to call
 and tell you that I saw does still abide.
 But 'tis not true that thus I dwelt aloof,
 For the wood wakes, and you are here for proof.
-- Robert Frost
I've been wanting to submit this poem for quite some time, because it means
so much to me, and then a few days ago I saw a Robert Frost poem and was
upset because I wanted to submit a Frost poem. Well, I decided to submit
anyway. This poem is very poignant to me in so many ways: like the last
Frost poem [Poem #1272], he uses nature as a metaphor for life, or, as I
believe in this poem, his dream life or daydreams. But this poem displays
more of the dream of love.

It has a man, pining for a woman, guiltily:
"He must seek me would he undo the wrong."

It shows the fear I think almost all men have of women, and this may be the
same vice versa, but Ive never been a woman. But I think we are generally
afraid of women, and we simply overcome it, and that's what his final line
is meant to me.

"For the wood wakes, and you are here for proof"

The dream of the love of a woman that we fear, yet desire as well, is
fulfilled, and the woman is there to prove it.

--Kevin Litzinger

The Wind and the Sea -- Paul Lawrence Dunbar

(Poem #1275) The Wind and the Sea
 I stood by the shore at the death of day,
     As the sun sank flaming red;
 And the face of the waters that spread away
   Was as gray as the face of the dead.

 And I heard the cry of the wanton sea
   And the moan of the wailing wind;
 For love's sweet pain in his heart had he,
   But the gray old sea had sinned.

 The wind was young and the sea was old,
   But their cries went up together;
 The wind was warm and the sea was cold,
   For age makes wintry weather.

 So they cried aloud and they wept amain,
   Till the sky grew dark to hear it;
 And out of its folds crept the misty rain,
   In its shroud, like a troubled spirit.

 For the wind was wild with a hopeless love,
   And the sea was sad at heart
 At many a crime that he wot of,
   Wherein he had played his part.

 He thought of the gallant ships gone down
   By the will of his wicked waves;
 And he thought how the churchyard in the town
   Held the sea-made widows' graves.

 The wild wind thought of the love he had left
   Afar in an Eastern land,
 And he longed, as long the much bereft,
   For the touch of her perfumed hand.

 In his winding wail and his deep-heaved sigh
   His aching grief found vent;
 While the sea looked up at the bending sky
   And murmured: "I repent."

 But e'en as he spoke, a ship came by,
   That bravely ploughed the main,
 And a light came into the sea's green eye,
   And his heart grew hard again.

 Then he spoke to the wind: "Friend, seest thou not
   Yon vessel is eastward bound?
 Pray speed with it to the happy spot
   Where thy loved one may be found."

 And the wind rose up in a dear delight,
   And after the good ship sped;
 But the crafty sea by his wicked might
   Kept the vessel ever ahead.

 Till the wind grew fierce in his despair,
   And white on the brow and lip.
 He tore his garments and tore his hair,
   And fell on the flying ship.

 And the ship went down, for a rock was there,
   And the sailless sea loomed black;
 While burdened again with dole and care,
   The wind came moaning back.

 And still he moans from his bosom hot
   Where his raging grief lies pent,
 And ever when the ships come not,
   The sea says: "I repent."
-- Paul Lawrence Dunbar
Today's wonderfully and darkly whimsical fairytale of a poem took me
completely by surprise - my eye was caught by the striking opening verse,
but that led me to expect a very different sort of poem, something more
along the lines of Lampman or Poe.

I love the way the tone gradually shifts as the poem progresses. Dunbar
subtly injects personalities into the wind and the sea, so that what seems
at first like metaphor becomes personification, and the focus moves from the
"I" of the first verse to the wind and the sea themselves. And with that
transition, the language acquires a definite touch of whimsy, and what I can
only describe as a "children's story" sort of phrasing, until by its end the
poem is totally fantastic. .

Also, not being too familiar with Dunbar's work aside from a few pieces
seen in other anthologies, it was nice to discover how versatile he could
be. His work is not uniformly good, of course, and his dialect poems get
annoying (as dialect poems are ever wont to do), but reading several of his
poems in succession was definitely a pleasant experience.


The Time I've Lost in Wooing -- Thomas Moore

I've just realised that we have not run a single poem by Thomas Moore! So
here's another glaring omission rectified...
(Poem #1274) The Time I've Lost in Wooing
 The time I've lost in wooing,
 In watching and pursuing
 The light, that lies
 In woman's eyes,
 Has been my heart's undoing.
 Though Wisdom oft has sought me,
 I scorn'd the lore she brought me,
 My only books
 Were woman's looks,
 And folly's all they've taught me.

 Her smile when Beauty granted,
 I hung with gaze enchanted,
 Like him, the sprite,
 Whom maids by night
 Oft meet in glen that's haunted.
 Like him, too, Beauty won me,
 But while her eyes were on me,
 If once their ray
 Was turn'd away,
 Oh! winds could not outrun me.

 And are those follies going?
 And is my proud heart growing
 Too cold or wise
 For brilliant eyes
 Again to set it glowing?
 No, vain, alas! th' endeavour
 From bonds so sweet to sever;
 Poor Wisdom's chance
 Against a glance
 Is now as weak as ever.
-- Thomas Moore
Note: Moore wrote these words to an old Irish air, "Pease Upon a Trencher"

I like today's poem both for its musicality - it scarcely needs a footnote
to realise that it is a song rather than a poem - and for its unabashed lack
of seriousness (in the sense of lightness rather than silliness). It reminds
me of Millay's

   And put a ribbon on my my hair
   To please a passing lad,
   And, "One thing there's no getting by --
   I've been a wicked girl," said I:
   "But if I can't be sorry, why,
   I might as well be glad

though, of course, Moore's narrator espoused a far more 'acceptable'
viewpoint than Millay's.

The viewpoint itself is thoroughly trite, and it is only the beauty of the
words that redeems the banality of the sentiment, but this they do a more
than adequate job of. In particular, songs often follow a different set of
conventions from 'pure' poetry, and today's piece falls well within those

Incidentally, Herrick's "Night Piece, To Julia" scans almost precisely to
today's song - I wonder if Herrick had the same tune in mind, or whether
it's just an easily-hit-upon pattern. Interestingly enough, my comment on
the former

  Another of those wonderfully musical poems the rhythm of which sticks in
  my mind long after the words have faded.

proved itself true - I hadn't thought of Herrick's poem in ages, but the
rhythms of today's piece instantly recalled it.



  There's a MIDI file here: [broken link]


Love among the Ruins -- Robert Browning

(Poem #1273) Love among the Ruins
 Where the quiet-coloured end of evening smiles,
       Miles and miles
 On the solitary pastures where our sheep
 Tinkle homeward thro' the twilight, stray or stop
       As they crop--
 Was the site once of a city great and gay,
       (So they say)
 Of our country's very capital, its prince
       Ages since
 Held his court in, gathered councils, wielding far
       Peace or war.

 Now the country does not even boast a tree,
       As you see,
 To distinguish slopes of verdure, certain rills
       From the hills
 Intersect and give a name to, (else they run
       Into one)
 Where the domed and daring palace shot its spires
       Up like fires
 O'er the hundred-gated circuit of a wall
       Bounding all
 Made of marble, men might march on nor be prest
       Twelve abreast.

 And such plenty and perfection, see, of grass
       Never was!
 Such a carpet as, this summer-time, o'er-spreads
       And embeds
 Every vestige of the city, guessed alone,
       Stock or stone--
 Where a multitude of men breathed joy and woe
       Long ago;
 Lust of glory pricked their hearts up, dread of shame
       Struck them tame;
 And that glory and that shame alike, the gold
       Bought and sold.

 Now--the single little turret that remains
       On the plains,
 By the caper overrooted, by the gourd
 While the patching houseleek's head of blossom winks
       Through the chinks--
 Marks the basement whence a tower in ancient time
       Sprang sublime,
 And a burning ring, all round, the chariots traced
       As they raced,
 And the monarch and his minions and his dames
       Viewed the games.

 And I know, while thus the quiet-coloured eve
       Smiles to leave
 To their folding, all our many-tinkling fleece
       In such peace,
 And the slopes and rills in undistinguished grey
       Melt away--
 That a girl with eager eyes and yellow hair
       Waits me there
 In the turret whence the charioteers caught soul
       For the goal,
 When the king looked, where she looks now, breathless, dumb
       Till I come.

 But he looked upon the city, every side,
       Far and wide,
 All the mountains topped with temples, all the glades'
 All the causeys, bridges, aqueducts,--and then
       All the men!
 When I do come, she will speak not, she will stand,
       Either hand
 On my shoulder, give her eyes the first embrace
       Of my face,
 Ere we rush, ere we extinguish sight and speech
       Each on each.

 In one year they sent a million fighters forth
       South and North,
 And they built their gods a brazen pillar high
       As the sky
 Yet reserved a thousand chariots in full force--
       Gold, of course.
 O heart! oh blood that freezes, blood that burns!
       Earth's returns
 For whole centuries of folly, noise and sin!
       Shut them in,
 With their triumphs and their glories and the rest!
       Love is best.
-- Robert Browning
Note: First published in volume I of Men and Women, 1855, in fourteen
 six-line stanzas; changed to present seven twelve-line stanzas in 1863.
 Written in January 1852. There has been much learned and irrelevant
 argument [nicely put - martin] about the supposed location of the ruins
 Browning is describing.
    -- RPO (

A charming and somewhat quirky poem, though the quirkiness lies more in the
form than in the content. The tripping metre, with its interspersed long and
short lines, is a bold but successful experiment; it is in a sense a little
too obtrusive, in that it draws attention away from what the poem is
actually saying, but once the initial novelty wears off, it fits the tone of
the poem nicely, and adds greatly to the reader's pleasure in the pure sound
of the words.

Apart from the poem's beautiful imagery, I love the way in which Browning
weaves the narrator's twin reveries together. In particular, I love the

   When the king looked, where she looks now, breathless, dumb
       Till I come.

   But he looked upon the city, every side...

with its altogether unexpected segue from love back to history. Indeed,
although the narrator wraps up the poem with a very final "love is best", he
spends far more time musing about the ruins than about his waiting love, so
that when he says "love is best" he is making a passionate choice, not just
mouthing an idle platitude.

The other thing I love about the poem is its extravagaince - Browning could
be a beautifully controlled poet, but he was seldom a restrained one. Of
course, extravagance by itself is more likely to produce a bad poem than a
good one; it is the mixture of extravagance and perfect control that makes
Browning one of the greats.


Birches -- Robert Frost

Guest poem sent in by Raji Rao
(Poem #1272) Birches
 When I see birches bend to left and right
 Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
 I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
 But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay.
 Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
 Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
 After a rain. They click upon themselves
 As the breeze rises, and turn many-coloured
 As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
 Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
 Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust
 Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
 You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
 They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
 And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
 So low for long, they never right themselves:
 You may see their trunks arching in the woods
 Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground,
 Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
 Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
 But I was going to say when Truth broke in
 With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm,
 I should prefer to have some boy bend them
 As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
 Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
 Whose only play was what he found himself,
 Summer or winter, and could play alone.
 One by one he subdued his father's trees
 By riding them down over and over again
 Until he took the stiffness out of them,
 And not one but hung limp, not one was left
 For him to conquer. He learned all there was
 To learn about not launching out too soon
 And so not carrying the tree away
 Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
 To the top branches, climbing carefully
 With the same pains you use to fill a cup
 Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
 Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
 Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
 So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
 And so I dream of going back to be.
 It's when I'm weary of considerations,
 And life is too much like a pathless wood
 Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
 Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
 From a twig's having lashed across it open.
 I'd like to get away from earth awhile
 And then come back to it and begin over.
 May no fate wilfully misunderstand me
 And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
 Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
 I don't know where it's likely to go better.
 I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
 And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
 Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
 But dipped its top and set me down again.
 That would be good both going and coming back.
 One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
-- Robert Frost
Maybe this is not one of Frost's popular poems, but it sure is an
interesting one. This is one of my favourite poems. Frost uses simple
language to  bring his readers into a deep and abiding relationship with the
world around them. This poem describes Frost's growth from a  young "swinger
of birches" to an old man who went through various trials and challenges.
The comparison of the birch tree to that of a girl bending with her hands on
her knees to dry her hair is awesome and also rings a bell, illustrating the
poet's power to blend observation and imagination.

He describes in a symbolic manner the harsh realities of life, the way in
which the boy swings on a birch tree. He also talks about the ups and downs
and the hardships experienced by people in life, with the various conditions
and movement of the birch tree.  Frost uses nature to symbolize aspects of
real life situations that humans undergo. He also fancies to be a swinger of
birches in the end, meaning to say he has grown old now as he has already
experienced life's sweet misery, and only left to wait for death. (I'd like
to go by climbing a birch tree, And climb black branches up a snow-white
trunk Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more, But dipped its top and
set me down again.)

My favourite lines in the poem are:
    And life is too much like a pathless wood
    Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
    Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
    From a twig's having lashed across it open.
    I'd like to get away from earth awhile
    And then come back to it and begin over.
    May no fate wilfully misunderstand me
    And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
    Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
    I don't know where it's likely to go better.

These lines reveal Frost's love for life.  He compares life to a pathless
wood, where he symbolizes man's quest to happiness. And in the lines, "where
you face.....across it open" he describes life as a never-ending journey of
sadness and misery mixed with happiness.  He also frankly states his wish not
to die when he says: "I'd like to get away from earth .....Not to return".

Reading this poem, one can experience an acute sense of understanding
towards life in general. It's invigorating and entertaining at the same

Rajeshwari Rao Subbu

[Martin adds]

Another thing I like about today's poem is the way it highlights the
versatility of iambic pentameter, and how well it can be blended with the more
irregular rhythms of speech. The poem starts off regularly enough, the first
four or so lines being flowing sequences of iambs which gradually give way to a
more varied pattern as the poem progresses and the narrator sinks deeper into
his reverie, and ending with a line that is so removed from the metre that it
acts more as a sort of slghtly detached, one-line coda than as part of the
'main body' of the poem.