Subscribe: by Email | in Reader

Seduction -- Harry Graham

Guest poem submitted by Laura Simeon:
(Poem #1512) Seduction
 Weep not for little Leonie,
 Abducted by a French Marquis!
 Though loss of honour was a wrench,
 Just think how it's improved her French.
-- Harry Graham
Today's contribution of Ogden Nash's "The Purist" inspired me to check
whether any of Harry Graham's delightfully wicked gems have appeared on the
Minstrels list before.  Harry Graham (1874-1936) was a prolific English poet
and playwright, best known today for two volumes of verse, "Ruthless Rhymes
for Heartless Homes" and "More Ruthless Rhymes."

A brief biography of him appears in the "St. James Guide to Children's
Writers," and is accessible via the Biography Resource Center database.

Today's poem is one of my favorites.

Laura Simeon

Lot's Wife -- Anna Akhmatova

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1511) Lot's Wife
 And the just man trailed God's messenger
 His huge, light shape devoured the black hill.
 But uneasiness shadowed his wife and spoke to her:
 "It's not too late, you can look back still

 At the red towers of Sodom, the place that bore you,
 The square in which you sang, the spinning-shed,
 At the empty windows of that upper storey
 Where children blessed your happy marriage-bed.'

 Her eyes that were still turning when a bolt
 Of pain shot through them, were instantly blind;
 Her body turned into transparent salt,
 And her swift legs were rooted to the ground.

 Who mourns one woman in a holocaust?
 Surely her death has no significance?
 Yet in my heart she will never be lost
 She who gave up her life to steal one glance.
-- Anna Akhmatova
        Trans. D. M. Thomas.

The first time I read this poem I had the strange sensation of trying
running through the first three stanzas (saying "yeah, yeah") and then being
struck by the last stanza as if by a bolt of lightning, that transformed me,
if not into salt, then into something equally crumbly.

I love the way that Akhmatova transforms the story of Lot's wife, making her
a more noble, more courageous character (is it just me, or are there shades
of Orpheus here?). And I can't help but wondering -- what did Lot get out of
being the only survivor? Was it really worth it to live on, having lost
every single person that he knew?

The one other thing that intrigues me about the translation is the use of
the word 'holocaust' in the first line of the last stanza. I can't help
thinking that that's a really clever touch and adds a sense of deep
injustice to the poem that would otherwise be missing. Would be interesting
to know what the word is in the original Russian.


[Incidentally, the translator D. M. Thomas was a reasonably well-known poet
himself, though we haven't had any of his poems on the Minstrels. I believe
he's Welsh, but no relation to Dylan Marlais Thomas, in case you were
wondering.  -- ed.]

The Purist -- Ogden Nash

Guest poem submitted by Sandeep Bhadra :
(Poem #1510) The Purist
 I give you now Professor Twist,
 A conscientious scientist,
 Trustees exclaimed, "He never bungles!"
 And sent him off to distant jungles.
 Camped on a tropic riverside,
 One day he missed his loving bride.
 She had, the guide informed him later,
 Been eaten by an alligator.
 Professor Twist could not but smile.
 "You mean," he said, "a crocodile."
-- Ogden Nash
I can see that there are quite a few Ogden Nashes in your collection, but
this particular one is a personal favourite. Unlike his longer rambling
poems, this one captures so much, so humourously and so accurately in so
little. It is a wonder no one thought of suggesting this one for your

I can picture an old naturalist-academician in khakis through muddy swamps
in Central America, thoroughly devoted to newts and alligators and other
amphibians, with very little time for his loving bride. I think his almost
mathematical preciseness, even at a time of such utter loss, is not so much
an effect of sang-froid as it is of a habitual inclination to set the other
guy right - I have heard of that being called 'academic arrogance'. It's
pure reflex action for him - and the realisation that old habits die hard
bring out his smile. I should imagine that to be a very wry smile indeed!

The other cool thing is that with the first two lines, the poem is
introduced as an introduction. 'I give you now...' clearly indicates an
appearance on a dias/podium of some sort. What is so darkly funny is that
whoever is introducing Prof. Twist with these words had to chose this
anecdote to prove the professor's conscientiousness.

more on Ogden Nash (bio/poems) at:


Ode to Joy -- Friedrich Schiller

Guest poem submitted by Vijay:
(Poem #1509) Ode to Joy
 Joy, thou beauteous godly lightning
   Daughter of Elysium,
 Fire drunken we are ent'ring
 Heavenly, thy holy home!
 Thy enchantments bind together,
 What did custom stern divide,
 Every man becomes a brother,
 Where thy gentle wings abide.

 Who the noble prize achieveth,
 Good friend of a friend to be;
 Who a lovely wife attaineth,
 Join us in his jubilee!
 Yes--he too who but {one} being
 On this earth can call {his} own!
 He who ne'er was able, weeping
 Stealeth from this league alone!

 Joy is drunk by every being
 From kind nature's flowing breasts,
 Every evil, every good thing
 For her rosy footprint quests.
 Gave she {us} both {vines} and kisses,
 In the face of death a friend,
 To the worm were given blisses
 And the Cherubs God attend.

 As the suns are flying, happy
 Through the heaven's glorious plane,
 Travel, brothers, down your lane,
 Joyful as in hero's vict'ry.

 Be embrac'd, ye millions yonder!
 Take this kiss throughout the world!
 Brothers--o'er the stars unfurl'd
 Must reside a loving Father.
 He who in the great ring dwelleth,
 Homage pays to sympathy!
 To the stars above leads she,
 Where on high the {Unknown} reigneth.
-- Friedrich Schiller
        Translated by William F. Wertz

Like most others, I came across the Ode to Joy, or "An die Freude" while
listening to Beethoven's 9th Symphony. It is such an absolutely wonderful
piece of music which makes you see fireworks and want to burst into song
with the choir. It's spectacular, spectacular! I looked up the English
translation only to find out what it meant.

The first verse, in German from Beethoven's 9th Symphony is:

    Freude, schvner Gvtterfunken
    Tochter aus Elysium,
    Wir betreten feuertrunken,
    Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
    Deine Zauber binden wieder
    Was die Mode streng geteilt;
    Alle Menschen werden Br|der,
    Wo dein sanfter Fl|gel weilt.

Beethoven revised the two lines starting "Was die Mode..", which in
Schiller's poem were:

    Was der Mode Schwert geteilt;
    Bettler werden F|rstenbr|der,

Wikipedia ( says:

The ode "To Joy" (Ode "An die Freude" in German) is an ode written in 1785
by the German poet and historian Friedrich Schiller, and known especially
for its musical setting by Beethoven in the fourth and final movement of his
Ninth Symphony, for four solo voices, chorus, and orchestra. In this
symphonic version it is often referred to popularly as the "Ode to Joy".

The Ode to Joy was adopted as Europe's anthem by the Council of Europe in
1972, with an official arrangement for orchestra written by Herbert von
Karajan. [1]

In 2003, the European Union chose Beethoven's music for the poem as the EU
anthem, without German lyrics, because of the many different languages used
within the European Union. Therefore, the EU anthem is in effect the
Beethoven theme (or melody) rather than Schiller's poem, although its
connection with the ideal of human brotherhood in the text is understood.
This ideal is stated in much more universal terms in Beethoven's adaptation
("All human beings become brothers") than in Schiller's original, which
states that "beggars become the brothers of princes."

Beethoven's theme is also the setting for the Christian hymn, Joyful, Joyful
We Adore Thee (or Hymn to Joy), a poem written in 1908 by Henry van Dyke


O Where Are You Going? -- W H Auden

Guest poem submitted by Daedalus Athenai:
(Poem #1508) O Where Are You Going?
 "O where are you going?" said reader to rider,
 "That valley is fatal when furnaces burn,
 Yonder's the midden whose odours will madden,
 That gap is the grave where the tall return."

 "O do you imagine," said fearer to farer,
 "That dusk will delay on your path to the pass,
 Your diligent looking discover the lacking
 Your footsteps feel from granite to grass?"

 "O what was that bird," said horror to hearer,
 "Did you see that shape in the twisted trees?
 Behind you swiftly the figure comes softly,
 The spot on your skin is a shocking disease."

 "Out of this house," said rider to reader,
 "Yours never will," said farer to fearer,
 "They're looking for you," said hearer to horror,
 As he left them there, as he left them there.
-- W H Auden
Commentary: I think this is a beautiful poem, although I don't pretend to
understand it. I just enjoy the rhythm, with its overtones of despair and
hope in the face of despair. The wonderful imagery has inspired me to paint
a series of pictures based on this poem.


[thomas adds]

Vikram Doctor has a nice mini-essay on the nightmarish qualities of Auden's
mid-30s output, in his commentary on Poem #427 on the Minstrels website.
Other Auden poems on the Minstrels can be found here:
[broken link]

I Am -- John Clare

Guest poem submitted by Celine:
(Poem #1507) I Am
 I am - yet what I am, none cares or knows:
 My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
 I am the self-consumer of my woes --
 They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
 Like shadows in love's frenzied stifled throes
 And yet I am, and live-like vapours tost

 Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
 Into the living sea of waking dreams,
 Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
 But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteem:
 Even the dearest that I love the best
 Are strange-nay, rather, stranger than the rest.

 I long for scenes where man hath never trod
 A place where woman never smiled or wept
 there to abide with my creator God,
 And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
 Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
 The grass below, above, the vaulted sky.
-- John Clare
When he was sane John Clare was a country man so most of his poems were
about animals, birds and other rural topics. Self-educated, poor beyond
imagining, John Clare experienced a brief, condescending vogue as England's
"Peasant Poet," at a time when illiteracy was a norm for England's rural
workers, and poets were expected to come from higher social ranks. (Keats,
for example, was ridiculed for writing "Cockney poetry"). When he was in
fashion, people would visit his cottage and sometimes give him a few coins.
When the novelty had worn off, this immensely gifted writer experienced
isolation and hardship, and finally became insane, spending most of his life
in an institution. The tough, memorable language of "I Am" demonstrates that
Clare was an extremely impressive artist. Lines such as "I am the
self-consumer of my woes" have a distinction and force that need no propping
up by the pathos of the life behind the writing. It was at Northampton
General Asylum, most likely within his first two years as an inmate, that
Clare composed what has become his best-known poem, a definitive lament
simply and achingly called "I Am". It is slightly disturbing, and terribly
well written. The first two verses are wonderful, though I fear the last
verse lets it down slightly.


[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

Rocket Show -- James K Baxter

Guest poem submitted by Cat Pegg:
(Poem #1506) Rocket Show
 As warm north rain breaks over suburb houses,
 Streaming on window glass, its drifting hazes
 Covering harbour ranges with a dense hood:
 I recall how eighteen months ago I stood
 Ankle-deep in sand on an Otago beach
 Watching the fireworks flare over strident surf and bach,
 In brain grey ash, in heart the sea-change flowing
 Of one love dying and another growing.

 For love grows like the crocus bulb in winter
 Hiding from snow and from itself the tender
 Green frond in embryo; but dies as rockets die
 (White sparks of pain against a steel-dark sky)
 With firebird wings trailing an arc of grief
 Across a night inhuman as the grave,
 Falling at length a dull and smouldering shell
 To frozen dunes and the wash of the quenching swell.

 There was little room left where the crowd had trampled
 Grass and lupin bare, under the pines that trembled
 In gusts from the sea.  On a sandhillock I chose
 A place to watch from.  Then the rockets rose,
 O marvellous, like self-destroying flowers
 On slender stems, with seed-pods full of flares,
 Raining down amber, scarlet, pennies from heaven
 On the skyward straining heads and still sea-haven.
 Had they brought death, we would have stood the same,
 I think, in ecstasy at the world-end flame.

 It is the rain streaming reminds me of
 Those ardent showers, cathartic love and grief.
 As I walked home through the cold street by moon-light,
 My steps ringing in the October night,
 I thought of our strange lives, the grinding cycle
 Of death and renewal come to full circle,
 And of man's heart, that blind Rosetta stone,
 Mad as the polar moon, decipherable by none.
-- James K Baxter

I encountered this poem in high school and it haunted me for a decade until
I found it again last year.  I'd have to say it's the bit about the crocus
and the rocket that rang in my mind.  And 'mad as the polar moon'.

James K. Baxter is, in my opinion, the finest of the New Zealand poets
(since we have a population of only 4 million, he may need a bit of a
description).  Son of a self-educated farmer and a Cambridge scholar, he
cultivated (lived?) an image of a hairy, yet cultured poet wedded to

Much of his work has a deceptively rough-as-guts feel (note the many
half-rhymes here), and he was fond of crude-sounding ballads.  He also wrote
some rather exquisite sestinas, so I feel the roughness was a stylistic

This poem doesn't show it, but he had a lot of Maori influences (Maori being
the non-English-speaking culture of New Zealand) when this was somewhat
unpopular with the Powers-That-Be.  (He said in one of his poems 'His only
crime was being Maori' or something similar.)  Race relations are rather
less strained than they used to be and I suspect Baxter had something to do
with it.  I'm writing this to give some context to how New Zealanders think
of him - sorry it's so wordy.  You can find a biography of him at:
 [broken link]


1. The poem would probably have been written in Auckland, a large city in
the north of New Zealand, where it is quite warm.  Otago is down south and
rather chilly.

2. A bach is a small beach house, often quite shabby and used for holidays.

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

Good Linemen Live in a Closed World -- James Whitehead

Guest poem submitted by Chris Boese:
(Poem #1505) Good Linemen Live in a Closed World
 Good linemen live in a closed world -- they move
 Inside themselves to move themselves against
 The others and their violence -- they give
 To interior visions whole seasons no good sense
 Would approve -- their insides creak and groan, crying
 A thing that's trapped along the line is shrill
 And curious and wants out. Bodies playing
 Laugh and dream to gain the massive will
 Their trade requires. These men maintain, they attack,
 They suffer repetition for years and years.
 Part war and similar to art, their work
 Is sometimes elegant. Inside their fears
 At the closed center of one fear, they move
 Quickly against themselves with a massive love.
-- James Whitehead
I'd like to nominate a poem to honor my great teacher and the wonderful
Southern poet James Whitehead, who passed away last Friday [several months
ago now - ed.]. This poem from his book _Local Men_ gives a different cast
to the traditional love sonnet. Its theme is love, but it crawls inside the
punishing line of (what for Jim was) the Vanderbilt football team. The
prosody is as tight as the line must be. Not a word is wasted. I never had
Jim's ear for prosody, and he sometimes had to whack me on the head to help
hear the beat.

This is also one of his most famous poems.

Chris Boese.