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Sestina -- Elizabeth Bishop

Guest poem sent in by Mark Penney
(Poem #1799) Sestina
 September rain falls on the house.
 In the failing light, the old grandmother
 sits in the kitchen with the child
 beside the Little Marvel Stove,
 reading the jokes from the almanac,
 laughing and talking to hide her tears.

 She thinks that her equinoctial tears
 and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
 were both foretold by the almanac,
 but only known to the grandmother.
 The iron kettle sings on the stove.
 She cuts some bread and says to the child,

 It’s time for tea now; but the child
 is watching the teakettle’s small hard tears
 dance like mad on the hot black stove,
 the way the rain must dance on the house.
 Tidying up, the old grandmother
 hangs up the clever almanac

 on its string.  Birdlike, the almanac
 hovers half open above the child,
 hovers above the old grandmother
 and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
 She shivers and says she thinks the house
 feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.

 It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
 I know what I know, says the almanac.
 With crayons the child draws a rigid house
 and a winding pathway.  Then the child
 puts in a man with buttons like tears
 and shows it proudly to the grandmother.

 But secretly, while the grandmother
 busies herself about the stove,
 the little moons fall down like tears
 from between the pages of the almanac
 into the flower bed the child
 has carefully placed in the front of the house.

 Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
 The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
 and the child draws another inscrutable house.
-- Elizabeth Bishop
I was amazed to discover that Minstrels had never run this poem.

Like it says, it’s a sestina; Minstrels has run a couple before, notably the
awesome Shrinking Lonesome Sestina by Miller Williams [Poem #904]. There’s an
explanation of the form there; if that’s not enough for you, you could also
try googling "sestina", which will send you to all kinds of sites that’ll
have you writing them in no time.

I love this one because it uses the form so gloriously.  Look at the six key
words:  house, grandmother, child, stove, almanac, tears.  Five homey,
mundane, comforting, cozy words, and "tears".  That choice right there tells
you that there’s something going on beneath the surface, that not all is
right with the world of grandmother and child and crayons and tea.  After
the second stanza, the tears aren’t even literal, but we’re still seeing
other things (the rain, the tea, the moon figures in the almanac, seeds)
likened to tears.  There’s an all-pervasive sadness there, even though the
surface imagery of the poem is so very cheery and homey.

And the relationship between grandmother and child is captured so
beautifully, too.

Classic Elizabeth Bishop; you wouldn’t mistake it for anyone else.


I Do Not Love You Except Because I Love You -- Pablo Neruda

Guest poem sent in by Shatarupa Ghoshal
(Poem #1798) I Do Not Love You Except Because I Love You
 I do not love you except because I love you;
 I go from loving to not loving you,
 From waiting to not waiting for you
 My heart moves from cold to fire.

 I love you only because it's you the one I love;
 I hate you deeply, and hating you
 Bend to you, and the measure of my changing love for you
 Is that I do not see you but love you blindly.

 Maybe January light will consume
 My heart with its cruel
 Ray, stealing my key to true calm.

 In this part of the story I am the one who
 Dies, the only one, and I will die of love because I love you,
 Because I love you, Love, in fire and blood.
-- Pablo Neruda
    (translator unknown)

I first came across Neruda’s poetry when I was in college. We studied him as
part of the syllabus. Though poetry was never one of my favourite subjects,
I found that I liked Neruda. There is something about the way he wrote that
just captivates the reader, even a lay one like me.

This poem quickly entered my halls of poetical fame because on some level I
identified with the very literal movement from intense love to hatred and
back again that the poem portrays.

I am afraid that’s the best - and I know it is not nearly enough - I can do
here. I hope those of you who read it, also fall in love with it the way I


A Note -- Wislawa Szymborska

Guest poem sent in by Neville Clemens
(Poem #1797) A Note
 Life is the only way
 to get covered in leaves,
 catch your breath on the sand,
 rise on wings;

 to be a dog,
 or stroke its warm fur;

 to tell pain
 from everything it's not;

 to squeeze inside events,
 dawdle in views,
 to seek the least of all possible mistakes.

 An extraordinary chance
 to remember for a moment
 a conversation held
 with the lamp switched off;

 and if only once
 to stumble upon a stone,
 end up soaked in one downpour or another,

 mislay your keys in the grass;
 and to follow a spark on the wind with your eyes;
 and to keep on not knowing
 something important.
-- Wislawa Szymborska
 (Translated from the Polish, by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.)

It's hard to follow a poetic commentary on Life with a commentary on it.
Every line in this poem draws a sigh out of the reader. And to think of it,
if they stand *alone*, many of the lines might seem quite...well...unpoetic:

  "mislay your keys in the grass"

Hmm. Not quite up there with spectacular descriptions of searing sunsets and
passionate romances. Or is it? The magic of the poem, I daresay, is in the
opening line. It is only when *dovetailed* with this opening line that the
rest of the poem's lines acquire their magical qualities :

  "Life is the only way..."

It wakes the reader up! We're all ears now; what is this Life thing?  Oh
let's see what it's all about. This is going to be deeply philosophical and
wrenching. Intense.

But then Szymborska follows it up with all these simple and yet wonderful,
wonderful lines that defy any sort of intellectual analysis. It defies them.
Denies them the opportunity to probe the poem for this or that with their
rude speculative tools. Follows it up with lines that are almost Koan-esque
in nature, accessible only to the intuition and leaves the reader with the
sense that he/she now shares this secret knowledge of Life with the poet - a
knowing, and at the same time a Not Knowing that gives us joy, the joy

  "to keep on not knowing
  something important."

- Neville

Kimbol Soques had posted a comment on Poem #224 with a link to Szymborska's
Nobel acceptance speech. I think it's worth posting a link to that speech
again, so here it is:

Flying at Night -- Ted Kooser

Guest poem sent in by Sarah Korah

My favourite Ted Kooser poem is already on Minstrels [Poem #1667]. Here's
another nice poem:
(Poem #1796) Flying at Night
 Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
 Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
 like a snowflake falling on water. Below us,
 some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,
 snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
 back into the little system of his care.
 All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,
 tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.
-- Ted Kooser
A galaxy dies.. Not with a bang, and not with a whimper.. but like a
snowflake falling on water.  And far away, a nameless shepherd, feeling the
sudden nip in the air, snaps on his porch light - bringing all that is
precious into the warmth of his care.

There's something very comforting about that yard light. It reminds me of
hot chocolate fondue.. and Christmas at home. And doesn't the image of death
as a snowflake falling on water sound more hopeful, and meaningful, than the
usual "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust" ?

Sarah Korah

Tangmalangaloo -- John O'Brien

Guest poem sent in by William Grey
(Poem #1795) Tangmalangaloo
 The bishop sat in lordly state and purple cap sublime,
 And galvanized the old bush church at Confirmation time.
 And all the kids were mustered up from fifty miles around,
 With Sunday clothes, and staring eyes, and ignorance profound.
 Now was it fate, or was it grace, whereby they yarded too
 An overgrown two-storey lad from Tangmalangaloo?

 A hefty son of virgin soil, where nature has her fling,
 And grows the trefoil three feet high and mats it in the spring;
 Where mighty hills uplift their heads to pierce the welkin's rim,
 And trees sprout up a hundred feet before they shoot a limb;
 There everything is big and grand, and men are giants too --
 But Christian Knowledge wilts, alas, at Tangmalangaloo.

 The bishop summed the youngsters up, as bishops only can;
 He cast a searching glance around, then fixed upon his man.
 But glum and dumb and undismayed through every bout he sat;
 He seemed to think that he was there, but wasn't sure of that.
 The bishop gave a scornful look, as bishops sometimes do,
 And glared right through the pagan in from Tangmalangaloo.

 "Come, tell me, boy," his lordship said in crushing tones severe,
 "Come, tell me why is Christmas Day the greatest of the year?
 "How is it that around the world we celebrate that day
 "And send a name upon a card to those who're far away?
 "Why is it wandering ones return with smiles and greetings, too?"
 A squall of knowledge hit the lad from Tangmalangaloo.

 He gave a lurch which set a-shake the vases on the shelf,
 He knocked the benches all askew, up-ending of himself.
 And so, how pleased his lordship was, and how he smiled to say,
 "That's good, my boy. Come, tell me now; and what is Christmas Day?"
 The ready answer bared a fact no bishop ever knew --
 "It's the day before the races out at Tangmalangaloo."
-- John O'Brien
This is a Christmas poem by my favourite Australian bush poet: Patrick
Joseph Hartigan (1878-1952) who published under the alias "John O'Brien".
The poem immortalises an incident that took place at a school at
Tanbangaroo, a "Back-o'-Bourke" town (see notes to [1]), near Yass in New
South Wales. Tangmalangaloo is a fictitious town, presumably invented to
serve the poet's prosodic requirements.

Hartigan was a Roman Catholic priest in rural New South Wales, in particular
the Goulburn diocese and later at Narrandera. He is less well known than
Banjo Paterson[2] and Henry Lawson[3][4], the doyens of the Australian
bush ballad tradition, though he expresses a closer and gentler affinity for
the Australian bush and its communities than either of them. Hartigan has
another connection with Paterson: he gave the last rites to Jack Riley of
Bringenbrong, the man whose legendary exploits are supposedly recorded in
Paterson's epic bush ballad 'The Man from Snowy River'.

According to legend, Hartigan was in the Albury presbytery in 1914 when word
came through that an old man named Riley was dying at a place called
Bringenbong on the Upper Murray, and had asked for a priest to bring him the
last sacraments. It took Hartigan several days to reach Riley, who he found
not at Bringenbong but at a place called Hickeys, in sight of Mt Kosciusko
at the end of the track. After administering the sacraments it was too late
for Hartigan to return to Albury, so he gratefully accepted local
hospitality and, in front of a blazing log fire, recited one of his
favourite poems, 'The Man From Snowy River'. After he had finished he
remarked that it must have been in these parts that the man from Snowy River
had made his famous ride. To his astonishment the laconic reply came that
the subject of Paterson's poem was none other than Riley, the old man he had
just prepared for death.

Hartigan was known as an ecumenist and was greatly respected for his
pastoral care, particularly during the Great Depression, for those of all
faiths and none. 'Tangmalangaloo' was published in [5]. A second collection
of his poetry [6], honouring his Narrandera parishioners, was published

William Grey

[1] Poem #1573, 'Said Hanrahan',  John O'Brien
[2] Poem #566, 'Clancy of the Overflow',  Banjo Paterson
[3] Poem #569, ' The Great Grey Plain',  Henry Lawson
[4] Poem #1569, 'Past Carin',  Henry Lawson
[5] John O'Brien. 'Around the Boree Log and Other Verses'. Sydney: Angus &
Robertson, 1921.
[6] John O'Brien. 'The Parish of St. Mel's and Other Verses'. Sydney: Angus
& Robertson, 1954.

The Huron Carol -- St Jean de Brébeuf

Merry Christmas from all of us - and here's a guest poem sent in by Mac Robb:
(Poem #1794) The Huron Carol
 ’Twas in the moon of wintertime,
 When all the birds had fled,
 That mighty Gitchi Manitou
 Sent angel choirs instead;
 Before their light the stars grew dim,
 And wondering hunters heard the hymn:
 Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
 In excelsis gloria.

 Within a lodge of broken bark
 The tender babe was found,
 A ragged robe of rabbit skin
 Enwrapped His beauty round;
 But as the hunter braves drew nigh,
 The angel song rang loud and high:
 Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
 In excelsis gloria.

 The earliest moon of wintertime
 Is not so round and fair
 As was the ring of glory on
 The helpless Infant there.
 The chiefs from far before Him knelt
 With gifts of fox and beaver pelt.
 Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
 In excelsis gloria.

 O children of the forest free,
 O sons of Manitou,
 The holy Child of earth and Heav’n
 Is born today for you.
 Come kneel before the radiant Boy,
 Who brings you beauty, peace and joy.
 Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
 In excelsis gloria.
-- St Jean de Brébeuf
      c.1643 (Old Huron); tr. Jesse Edgar Middleton, 1926

The approach of Christmas in hot Australia makes northern hemisphere natives
acutely nostalgic for white Decembers (and not only northern hemisphere
natives: a Tamil Christian friend of mine’s parents retired from Singapore
to Canada instead of India precisely because they love chestnuts roasting on
an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose, and all that). So here is
that belovèd chestnut, St. Jean de Brébeuf’s Huron Carol.

The Huron Carol used to embarrass me mightily when I was 8 and 9 years old
and we were obliged to sing it in school assemblies as Christmas drew nigh.
The symbolism was so obvious, and so patronising; the reference to "Gitchi
Manitou" so bogus -- and certainly in today’s terms it is politically
incorrect. But nobody seems to mind, and I’ve mellowed.

Brébeuf, a Jesuit missionary in New France, first stayed among the Huron at
Georgian Bay (in modern Ontario) in 1628 and wrote the original "Jes8s
ahatonhia" in 1643. Verse 1 is as follows:

  Estennialon de tson8e
  Jes8s ahatonhia
  Onnawatewa d' oki
  Ennonchien skwatrihotat
  Jes8s ahatonhia, Jes8s ahatonhia.

The Old Huron language, more accurately the Wendat dialect, became extinct,
though it can be reconstructed through 17th century French-Wendat
dictionaries.  The Jesuits’ orthography for Old Huron is essentially a
representation of corresponding French vowel and consonant sounds with the
"8", actually a "u" over an "o", representing the French "u" before a

The Iroquois finally dispersed the Huron in 1650 and during the course of
that dispersal massacred Brébeuf and his companions in 1649. (For a literary
reconstruction of the episode, see E.J. Pratt’s 1940 epic poem "Brébeuf and
His Brethren.") The Canadian Martyrs, as they came to be known, were in due
course canonised by the Catholic Church (Feast Day September 26: curiously,
in the USA it is observed as the Feast of the North American Martyrs [sic]
on October 19) and there are numerous "Canadian Martyrs" parishes throughout

The 1926 English version of the Huron Carol set out here -- actually more an
interpretation than a translation -- is by Jesse Edgar Middleton (1872-1960),
a Toronto journalist and church musician. Little needs to be said of the
hymn itself in Middleton’s version; strictly speaking it is not a carol at
all, having been written by an author -- two authors -- known to history, but
that is perhaps a minor point of pedantry. Despite its slightly clichéd and
inauthentic aboriginal Canadian terms it is considered something of a
national treasure in Canada; it has been commemorated in postage stamps,
paintings gift books and children's picture books. (I may seem to praise it
with faint damns but I really am now very fond of it, doubtless mostly for
reasons of sentiment.)

It is of course simply the nativity story of St Luke’s Gospel locally
adapted.  Gitchi Manitou is "the Great Spirit", or "the Mighty Lord of All
the World" (cf the several Lake Manitous and Lake Manitoba as well as the
province of of that name). Verse 3, concerning the magi-chieftains, does not
work quite as well as the other verses since, although furs became an
extremely valuable trade item for aboriginal hunters and trappers in New
France and, later, Canada, they lack the scriptural significance of gold
(for a king), incense (for a god) and myrrh (for mortality). Possibly for
this reason the verse is often omitted when the hymn appears in English and
American Christmas collections and hymnals.

A literal English translation of Brébeuf’s hymn has been made by John
Steckley Teondecheron; it is perhaps mostly of scholarly interest:

  Have courage, you who are humans;
  Jesus, he is born

  Behold, the spirit, who had us as prisoners, has fled
  Do not listen to it, as it corrupts the spirits of our minds
  Jesus, he is born

  They are spirits, sky people, coming with a message for us
  They are coming to say, "Be on top of life [Rejoice]"
  Marie, she has just given birth. Rejoice"
  Jesus, he is born

  Three have left for such, those who are elders
  Tichion, a star that has just appeared on the horizon leads them there
  He will seize the path, he who leads them there
  Jesus, he is born

  As they arrived there, where he was born, Jesus
  the star was at the point of stopping, not far past it
  Having found someone for them, he says, "Come here!"
  Jesus, he is born

  Behold, they have arrived there and have seen Jesus,
  They made a name [praised] many times, saying "Hurray, he is good in nature."
  They greased his scalp [greeted him with reverence], saying "Hurray."
  Jesus, he is born

  "We will give to him praise for his name,
  Let us show reverence for him as he comes to be compassionate to us.
  It is providential that you love us and wish, ‘I should adopt them.’"
  Jesus, he is born

Mac Robb
Brisbane, Australia

An Ulster Twilight -- Seamus Heaney

Guest poem submitted by Janice:
(Poem #1793) An Ulster Twilight
 The bare bulb, a scatter of nails,
 Shelved timber, glinting chisels:
 In a shed of corrugated iron
 Eric Dawson stoops to his plane
 At five o'clock on a Christmas Eve.
 Carpenter's pencil next, the spoke-shave,
 Fretsaw, auger, rasp and awl,
 A rub with a rag of linseed oil.
 A mile away it was taking shape,
 The hulk of a toy battleship,
 As waterbuckets iced and frost
 Hardened the quiet on roof and post.
 Where is he now?
 There were fifteen years between us two
 That night I strained to hear the bells
 Of a sleigh of the mind and heard him pedal
 Into our lane, get off at the gable,
 Steady his Raleigh bicycle
 Against the whitewash, stand to make sure
 The house was quiet, knock at the door
 And hand his parcel to a peering woman:
 `I suppose you thought I was never coming.'
 Eric, tonight I saw it all
 Like shadows on your workshop wall,
 Smelled wood shavings under the bench,
 Weighed the cold steel monkey-wrench
 In my soft hand, then stood at the road
 To watch your wavering tail-light fade
 And knew that if we met again
 In an Ulster twilight we would begin
 And end whatever we might say
 In a speech all toys and carpentry,
 A doorstep courtesy to shun
 Your father's uniform and gun,
 But -- now that I have said it out --
 Maybe none the worse for that.
-- Seamus Heaney
This is one of my favourite Heaney poems -- simple, beautiful, so
atmospheric. Okay, a little background on Ulster. Ulster is one of the
provinces of Ireland and makes up Northern Ireland which is part of The
United Kingdom (except for three counties which are part of The Republic of
Ireland). The majority of the population, the Unionists, wish to remain
under The United Kingdom stamp while a minority, the Nationalists, long for
a United Ireland. The conflict of course, arises from the fact that the
former are predominantly Protestant and the latter are mainly Catholics.
Political unrest was at its worst during 1968-1994, violence stemming from
the wish to end British presence in the area launched by the Provisional
IRA, resisted by the British Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. (For a
far more detailed account check

This state of being neither here nor there, of an uneasy silence, of
brooding heaviness is beautifully captured in Ulster Twilight, the title
encompassing the situation and feelings of a people who fight for freedom
and identity. Heaney begins with fragmented images, small images, like
little pictures that flash through a window. A work-shop where anything
could be in the process of being made -- a bomb? a weapon? But it is
Christmas Eve and Eric Dawson is making a toy battleship -- but a battleship
all the same. The frosty evening images reflect the sombre, cold

Then we realise that it is a flashback. It is a Christmas Eve of fifteen
years ago, a surreptious evening unmarked by the season's cheer and
brightness. It is steeped in an atmosphere of surveillance, the cautiously
peering woman, the little boy watching with a monkey wrench in hand ...
while the man does something as simple as deliver a present. The dim hope
held at the end is that perhaps if they ever met again, there could be some
sort of dialogue (note: a 'speech', not even a conversation) and not a mere
doorstep courtesy.

I love the fact that the movement of the poem spirals as we reach the end.
Beginning with sharp, small images the feeling at the end is of something
larger, looming, something that envelopes and permeates. The underlying
violence, tension is like a gun that's trained on you, waiting to go off.

Hope you enjoy the poem!


Winter '84 -- Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta

Guest poem submitted by Salima Virani:
(Poem #1792) Winter '84
 I tell the corner store owner
 'pretty cold out there'
 he says
 'ain't what it used to be'
 'oh', i say, 'why is that'
 wondering if coloured immigration
 has affected the seasons...
 'they've been fooling around
 with the weather',
 he says.
 [his wife nods]
 'ever since they sent a man
 to the moon
 it hasn't been right'

 oh, i say,
 breathing out
 'yeah, i know what you mean'
-- Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta

I recently came across this poem and what struck me most about it is that
although it's been over twenty years since this poem was written, there are
many new immigrants in Canada that continue to feel some discomfort and
unease with their status as immigrants. I'm not sure if that is because
there continues to be a lot of racism or if it's something else.

I'd like to believe that actual instances of racism are much fewer now than
what may have prevailed two decades ago. I was born and raised in India and
have been in Canada for less than a decade but I've never really experienced
any racism. That said, my parents who recently moved here (about three years
ago) from India, go to great lengths to avoid eye contact/conversations with
anyone that speaks different or, in their view, is "very Canadian". They
feel unequipped to engage in casual conversations with white folks and so
all their interaction with them is typically on a "as needed" basis. And so,
if, as it sometimes happens, they're approached by a friendly neighbour who
knocks on the door to inform them about a missed fedex delivery or something
similar, their first reaction, much like Bhaggiyadatta, is always unease and
anxiety. Mum will wonder if her cooking is emanating unpleasant odours or if
her blaring music (of Nusrat or Bollywood tunes) is causing a nuisance.
When they find that it's something to do with fedex and that the "white"
neighbour is actually quite a harmless and friendly guy - they're pleasantly
surprised and quite relieved.


There is a lot of information about Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta scattered
over the web but I was unable to find a single page that gave me a
comprehensive bio about the author. So, I have taken the liberty to put
together the information I discovered and compile a bio (of sorts) for him.
Any errors and omissions are entirely mine.

Bhaggiyadatta is a Sri Lankan-Canadian and a prolific writer. He has
authored several books and articles that tackle the issues of racism and
marginalization. He's also a playwright and  one of his popular plays is
called "The D.M.O. (Dishwashing Machine Operators)", which refers to the
jobs held by many Sri Lankan immigrants to Toronto. Bhaggiyadatta has
published five books of poetry: Domestic Bliss, The Only Minority is the
Bourgeoisie, Mothers and Generals, 52nd State of Amnesia, & Aay Wha' Kinda
Indian Arr U. His works have also appeared in other publications such as in
Passport Photos by Amitava Kumar.


Poem I -- Sappho

Guest poem sent in by Emlen Smith

I just realized there was no Sappho on the Minstrels site, and I think that
needs to be fixed. (I couldn't find a translation I liked online, so this is
mine; I tried to stay as close to the literal meaning as possible, in
something vaguely resembling the original meter):
(Poem #1791) Poem I
 Immortal Aphrodite of the beautiful throne,
 Guile-weaving child of Zeus, I pray you,
 Do not oppress with pain and sorrow
 (O queen) my heart.

 But come here, if ever another time,
 Noticing my prayers from far away,
 You heard, and leaving your father's house
 Of gold, you came,

 Your chariot under you, driven by fair
 Swift doves flying over the black earth,
 With their strong wings, fluttering down
 Straight from the sky,

 And soon they arrived; and you, o blessed one,
 A smile upon your immortal face,
 Asked what was wrong this time, and why
 I called you this time,

 And what I wanted most of all to happen,
 In my mad heart; "Who shall I persuade this time
 To bring you back into her favor? Who, O
 Sappho, has hurt you?

 And if now she flees, she soon will chase you;
 If now she refuses gifts, she will give them;
 If now she does not love, soon she will love,
 Though against her will."

 Come to me now, too, and set me free
 From bitter cares, and do everything
 That my heart wishes done; and you yourself
 Become my ally.
-- Sappho
This is one of the only complete poems of Sappho that we have; another was
dug up recently, and there's a chance that 31 is complete (but it's probably
missing at least a full stanza), but the rest are all fragments, quoted
(like this one) by other authors, or found on scraps of papyrus in ancient
garbage heaps. You can go crazy thinking either about what treasures are
lost forever, or how lucky we are that Dionysius of Halicarnassus happened
to use this one as an example of something.

The poem starts off sounding like a traditional hymn, with several names of
the goddess, and then a request for help. Recalling help given in the past
is also traditional in Greek prayer. But the tone of intimacy, and
Aphrodite's (the goddess of love) indulgent attitude, as if toward a
favorite child, are just about unique. The changes in perspective are
wonderful, too: For the first few stanzas, Aphrodite seems to be constantly
coming closer, until we get her own words spoken in her own person.

Sappho lived on the Greek island of Lesbos (whence the word "Lesbian")
around the end of the 7th century BC. We know very little about her life,
though since antiquity people have eagerly made things up (there's a famous,
and utterly unfounded, story of her throwing herself off a cliff after an
unhappy love affair). Her poetry, like all Greek poetry until long after
Sappho, would have been performed to some sort of musical accompaniment, but
the exact circumstances of the performance are a matter for speculation: did
she sing her poems herself? Were some or all of them accompanied by a
dancing chorus? Did she run some sort of pre-marriage school for young
women? Were her poems performed at religious festivals (some, at least, seem
designed for weddings)? At small gatherings of women? Of men? We know so
little, and we've lost so much context (and so much actual poetry), that
it's really incredible how clearly Sappho can speak to us.

-Emlen Smith


Greek text, and a recording of someone reading it (I don't have Real Player,
so I couldn't listen to it, but how bad could it be?) at:

And if you don't read Greek, but want to know how this should sound, there's
a transliteration (and another translation) at:

Some translations of Sappho's poems:

Broken Hearts -- Jeremy Reed

Guest poem submitted by Anne McGrath:
(Poem #1790) Broken Hearts
 There should be heart-shaped rooms in which we sit
 as a collective to repair
 the damage done by love, and half the night
 we'd exchange stories, share a common pain
 that's always different, but never less
 in how the ruin's total, like a house
 slipped off a cliff edge to the sea
 or like a turtle that has lost its shell
 but keeps on going, making tracks on sand
 to find a refuge up beyond the surf.
 We're all suddenly disinherited
 from little ways, familiar dialogue,
 security of someone there to share
 bad news, rejection, a red letter day,
 a downmood's tumble of blue dice,
 or someone there to celebrate a quiet
 in which the meaning is in being two
 without a need to speak. But out of love
 we seem to be falling down stairs
 that never terminate. He left or she
 took off with someone else, it's like the blow
 will never stop arriving in the heart
 as an impacted fist. We'd call the place
 Heartbreak Hotel, and hope to patch the scars
 of unrequited love and leave
 a little less in tatters, disrepair.
 I'll find the place one day, and book a room
 and talk amongst the losers of a face
 I can't forget, and of a special hurt
 bleeding like footprints scattered over snow.
-- Jeremy Reed
Jeremy Reed is one of my favourite contemporary poets. As a commentator and
guide to contemporary life there is none more penetrating and in matters of
the heart none more sensitive. There is always such incisiveness and balance
in his poems, and always such striking and apt imagery - '...but never less,
in how the ruin's total, like a house slipped off a cliff edge to the sea.'
Yes! Isn't that exactly what its like? - and, as in this one, there is often
consolation in his pointing up shared experience. In reading this one I
always run in my own head my own experiences, remembering that one 'special
hurt' above the rest - that we all have - and so, as is often the case with
him, the silence at the end of his poems becomes more like a space in which
your own poems are whispered back to him, and as in any sharing of pain
there is a lessening. His output is quite phenomenal, and there is no
'typical' Reed poem, but this is a good one to start with. As a poetic guide
on the journey he is worth taking along.

Anne McGrath.

The General -- Siegfried Sassoon

Guest poem submitted by Bill Whiteford:
(Poem #1789) The General
 "Good-morning, good-morning!" the General said
 When we met him last week on our way to the line.
 Now the men that he smiled at are most of 'em dead,
 And we're cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
 "He's a cheery old card," grunted Harry to Jack
 As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

 But he did for them both by his plan of attack.
-- Siegfried Sassoon
I'm suggesting this on November 11, Armistice Day here in Britain (and
presumably in many other countries). We're often taught the first world war
poets at school, and I remember being struck by the power of this short poem
then. I've never been very good at memorising long screeds of verse, but I
could usually remember the last three lines of this. Interestingly, I
thought there were two stanzas, of four and three lines. But I see most
sources render it as above.  Again , there's a lot you could do in the way
of analysis (the very strict rhythm of lines 1-6, the stutter-step in 7),
but I will leave that to others.

Bill Whiteford.

The Leader -- Roger McGough

(Poem #1788) The Leader
 I wanna be the leader
 I wanna be the leader
 Can I be the leader?
 Can I? I can?
 Promise? Promise?
 Yippee I'm the leader
 I'm the leader

 OK what shall we do?
-- Roger McGough
This skirts perilously close to my "why is this even a poem?" line, but for
all that, I enjoyed it. McGough has a fine feel for the rhythms and patterns
of colloquial speech, which makes his poetry a delight to read. Also, he has
perfectly captured a common behaviour pattern in a few well-chosen lines -
the image made me laugh, and I can imagine several of my famous cartoonists
doing a great job illustrating the verse.

This is the sort of poem that, while not precisely epigrammatic, I
nonetheless find myself quoting when events or discussions take a
predictable turn. If nothing else, poems like this provide an entertaining
way of recognising and commenting (even if only to myself) upon life's
little, commonplace absurdities.


Diving into the Wreck -- Adrienne Rich

Guest poem submitted by Janice:
(Poem #1787) Diving into the Wreck
 First having read the book of myths,
 and loaded the camera,
 and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
 I put on
 the body-armor of black rubber
 the absurd flippers
 the grave and awkward mask.
 I am having to do this
 not like Cousteau with his
 assiduous team
 aboard the sun-flooded schooner
 but here alone.

 There is a ladder.
 The ladder is always there
 hanging innocently
 close to the side of the schooner.
 We know what it is for,
 we who have used it.
 it is a piece of maritime floss
 some sundry equipment.

 I go down.
 Rung after rung and still
 the oxygen immerses me
 the blue light
 the clear atoms
 of our human air.
 I go down.
 My flippers cripple me,
 I crawl like an insect down the ladder
 and there is no one
 to tell me when the ocean
 will begin.

 First the air is blue and then
 it is bluer and then green and then
 black I am blacking out and yet
 my mask is powerful
 it pumps my blood with power
 the sea is another story
 the sea is not a question of power
 I have to learn alone
 to turn my body without force
 in the deep element.

 And now: it is easy to forget
 what I came for
 among so many who have always
 lived here
 swaying their crenellated fans
 between the reefs
 and besides
 you breathe differently down here.

 I came to explore the wreck.
 The words are purposes.
 The words are maps.
 I came to see the damage that was done
 and the treasures that prevail.
 I stroke the beam of my lamp
 slowly along the flank
 of something more permanent
 than fish or weed

 the thing I came for:
 the wreck and not the story of the wreck
 the thing itself and not the myth
 the drowned face always staring
 toward the sun
 the evidence of damage
 worn by salt and away into this threadbare beauty
 the ribs of the disaster
 curving their assertion
 among the tentative haunters.

 This is the place.
 And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
 streams black, the merman in his armored body.
 We circle silently
 about the wreck
 we dive into the hold.
 I am she: I am he

 whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
 whose breasts still bear the stress
 whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
 obscurely inside barrels
 half-wedged and left to rot
 we are the half-destroyed instruments
 that once held to a course
 the water-eaten log
 the fouled compass

 We are, I am, you are
 by cowardice or courage
 the one who find our way
 back to this scene
 carrying a knife, a camera
 a book of myths
 in which
 our names do not appear.
-- Adrienne Rich
I remember studying this in college and loving the way the poem draws the
reader in... just as the poet is diving so are you. There have been many
interpretaions of what the diver is looking for; the wreck has been called
the bulk of sexual definitions of the past, the treasure has been seen to be
knowledge, the book of myths patriarchy itself.

But I like to see the peom as one of transformation: the diver almost
'becomes' an androgyne, land is transformed into ocean, even breathing is
different there... the ocean changes from blue, green to black and the
shipwreck takes on mythical connotations. It is a journey of self-discovery
in more ways than one. There is a quest, a treasure and the journey she/he
makes is into the past, to look beyond myths and discover the truth behind
the wreckage.

Hope you enjoy the poem.


The Moon is Distant from the Sea -- Emily Dickinson

Guest poem sent in by Rachel Rein
(Poem #1786) The Moon is Distant from the Sea
 The moon is distant from the sea,
 And yet with amber hands
 She leads him, docile as a boy,
 Along appointed sands.

 He never misses a degree;
 Obedient to her eye,
 He comes just so far toward the town,
 Just so far goes away.

 Oh, Signor, thine the amber hand,
 And mine the distant sea, --
 Obedient to the least command
 Thine eyes impose on me.
-- Emily Dickinson
As the 22nd Dickinson poem on Minstrels, there isn't much left to say about
the formidable woman herself, though I will touch upon the text for a
moment. I was introduced to it while singing an arrangement by David Childs
in a woman's chorale.

I've seen the poem written with a dash in nearly every phrase instead of
commas or periods, though I do not know which version, if either, is the
"correct" one.  I've also heard some say Dickinson was writing about God. I
would broaden the scope to say I believe this poem to be about any strong
male figure, be that father, brother, or a deity. Strong, though, to a
fault; we cannot tell whether the sea wishes to be so conforming, does not
have a choice, or does not know the difference. It is also interesting to
note the gender of the moon and the sea, then the seeming reversal in the
last stanza: the man becomes the formerly feminine moon while Dickinson
becomes the manchild sea. While I do not know what to make of this, I hope
someone will comment and illuminate.

In all, this is one of my favorite Dickinson poems and I'm proud to add it
to the Minstrel archive.

-Rae Rein

Stray Birds -- Rabindranath Tagore

Guest poem sent in by Sarah Korah

I was reminded of this poem when I recently read Keats 'To Autumn' on
(Poem #1785) Stray Birds
 Stray birds of summer come to my
   window to sing and fly away.
 And yellow leaves of autumn, which
   have no songs, flutter and fall
   there with a sigh.
-- Rabindranath Tagore
In this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, when night comes early and
remains long, this poem reminds me of summer days which fly away all too
soon. It also made me realise that while there is beauty in fall colors and
a certain poignancy in falling leaves, there's little music in them.

Tagore through and through, simple and beautiful.

Sarah Korah

Thinking of Russia -- Harold Harwell (H H) Lewis

(Poem #1784) Thinking of Russia
 I'm always thinking of Russia
 I can't keep her out of my head.
 I don't give a damn for Uncle Sham.
 I'm a left wing radical Red.
-- Harold Harwell (H H) Lewis
     (c. 1932)

I first read this amusing little ditty over a decade ago, quoted (without
attribution) in a newspaper opinion piece. I've been searching for it on and
off ever since, and finally found a reference to it via google (I love the
internet!). As an unexpected bonus, I found it embedded in an excellent
review (see links) of Harold Bloom's "The Best Poems of the English
Language", where the reviewer, Cary Nelson, has this to say:

  And, finally, like many steeped in high literary traditions, I have some
  favorite pieces of doggerel whose capacity to burlesque literary ambition
  and bring it down to earth is a necessary cultural and personal antidote.
  My all-time favorite remains H. H. Lewis's "Thinking of Russia".

I agree with Nelson - this is indeed a brilliant piece of verse. It has that
indefinable quality called "catchiness", which is sadly missing from most
classroom discussions of literary theory, but which is nonetheless a very
real measure of a poem's merits (witness the fact that I remembered it
fifteen years after seeing it quoted). Some combination of the easy metre,
the deliciously irreverent tone and the wonderfully rhythmic phrase "left
wing radical red" make this a poem far more timeless than its overtly
political content would suggest. It might never make the pages of Bloom's
august tome, but I'm more than happy to run it here.



The Bloom review:

Moses' Poem -- Anonymous

Guest poem sent in by Dale Rosenberg
(Poem #1783) Moses' Poem
 Give ear, O heavens, let me speak;
 Let the earth hear the words I utter!
 May my discourse come down as the rain,
 My speech distill as the dew,
 Like showers on young growth,
 Like droplets on the grass.
 For the name of the Lord I proclaim;
 Give glory to our God!

 The Rock! -- His deeds are perfect,
 Yea, all His ways are just;
 A faithful God, never false,
 True and upright is He.
 Children unworthy of Him --
 That crooked, perverse generation --
 Their baseness has played Him false.
 Do you thus requite the Lord,
 O dull and witless people?
 Is not He the Father who created you,
 Fashioned you and made you endure!

 Remember the days of old,
 Consider the years of ages past;
 Ask your father, he will inform you,
 Your elders, they will tell you:
 When the Most High gave nations their homes
 And set the divisions of man,
 He fixed the boundaries of peoples
 In relation to Israel's numbers.
 For the Lord's portion is His people,
 Jacob His own allotment.

 He found him in a desert region,
 In an empty howling waste.
 He engirded him, watched over him,
 Guarded him as the pupil of His eye.
 Like an eagle who rouses his nestlings,
 Gliding down to his young,
 So did He spread His wings and take him,
 Bear him along on His pinions;
 The Lord alone did guide him,
 No alien god at His side.

 He set him atop the highlands,
 To feast on the yield of the earth;
 He fed him honey from the crag,
 And oil from the flinty rock,
 Curd of kine and milk of flocks;
 With the best of lambs,
 And rams of Bashan, and he-goats;
 With the very finest wheat --
 And foaming grape-blood was your drink.

 So Jeshurun grew fat and kicked --
 You grew fat and gross and coarse --
 He forsook the God who made him
 And spurned the Rock of his support.
 They incensed Him with alien things,
 Vexed Him with abominations.
 They sacrificed to demons, no-gods,
 Gods they had never known,
 New ones, who came but lately,
 Who stirred not your fathers' fears.
 You neglected the Rock that begot you,
 Forgot the God who brought you forth.

 The Lord saw and was vexed
 And spurned His sons and His daughters.
 He said:
 I will hide My countenance from them,
 And see how they fare in the end.
 For they are a treacherous breed,
 Children with no loyalty in them.
 They incensed Me with no-gods,
 Vexed Me with their futilities;
 I'll incense them with a no-folk,
 Vex them with a nation of fools.
 For a fire has flared in My wrath
 And burned to the bottom of Sheol,
 Has consumed the earth and its increase,
 Eaten down to the base of the hills.
 I will sweep misfortunes on them,
 Use up My arrows on them:
 Wasting famine, ravaging plague,
 Dedly pestilence, nd fanged beasts
 Will I let loose against them,
 With venomous creepers in dust.

 The sword shall deal death without,
 As shall the terror within,
 To youth and maiden alike,
 The suckling as well as the aged.
 I might have reduced them to naught,
 Made their memory cease among men,
 But for fear of the taunts of the foe,
 Their enemies who might misjudge
 And say, "Our own hand has prevailed;
 None of this was wrought by the Lord!"
 For they are a folk void of sense,
 Lacking in all discernment.
 Were they wise, they would think upon this,
 Gain insight into their future:
 "How could one have routed a thousand,
 Or two put ten thousand to flight,
 Unless their Rock had sold them,
 The Lord had given them up?"
 For their rock is not like our Rock,
 In our enemies' own estimation.

 Ah! The vine for them is from Sodom,
 From the vineyards of Gomorrah;
 The grapes for them are poison,
 A bitter growth their clusters.
 Their wine is the venom of asps,
 The pitiless poison of vipers.
 Lo, I have it all put away,
 Sealed up in My storehouses,
 To be My vengeance and recompense,
 At the time that their foot falters.
 Yea, their day of disaster is near,
 And destiny rushes upon them.

 For the Lord will vindicate His people
 And take revenge for His servants,
 When He sees that their might is gone,
 And neither bond nor free is left.
 He will say: Where are their gods,
 The rock in whom they sought refuge,
 Who ate the fat of their offerings
 And drank their libation wine?
 Let them rise up to your help,
 And let them be a shield unto you!
 See, then, that I, I am He;
 There is no god beside Me.
 I deal death and give life;
 I wounded and I will heal:
 None can deliver from My hand.
 Lo, I raise My hand to heaven
 And say: As I live forever,
 When I whet My flashing blade
 And My hand lays hold on judgment,
 Vengeance will I wreak on My foes,
 Will I deal to those who reject Me.
 I will make My arrows drunk with blood --
 As My sword devours flesh --
 Blood of the slain and the captive
 From the long-haired enemy chiefs.

 O nations, acclaim His people!
 For He'll avenge the blood of His servants,
 Wreak vengeance on His foes,
 And cleanse the land of His people.
-- Anonymous
(translation provided by the Jewish Theological Seminary)

Much of the Torah (Jewish bible) is poetic, but very little is explicitly
identified as poetry and laid out on the page or scroll as such.  Moses'
poem is one of those exceptions.  I love the vividness of the imagery, even
as I cringe at the vindictiveness of this view of G-d.  G-d is often
portrayed as a parent, but the kind of parenting shown in the middle of the
poem is what I and I believe most loving parents try never to fall into. The
poem does, at least, end with some hope.

I'm fifty years old and will be leyning (chanting in Hebrew directly from
the Torah) for the first time on this coming Saturday on the occasion of my
daughter's bat mitzvah.  It's not easy to do, since the Torah scroll has no
vowels, no punctuation and no musical notes in it, and you're not allowed to
use cheat sheets.  Kendra, my daughter, has been studying for a long time
for her bat mitzvah.  She will also be leyning for the first time this
Saturday, as well as chanting haftarah, leading a service and giving a Dvar
Torah (speech about Torah).

When I was Kendra's age girls were not allowed to leyn, so I never learned,
but I always wanted to.  I decided I'd learn to leyn in time to be part of
her celebration.

I love that my first time I got poetry to read! I also luckily got the first
6 verses of the poem, with the beautiful words but before the


A Place To Be -- Nick Drake

Guest poem sent in by Janice
(Poem #1782) A Place To Be
  When I was younger, younger than before
  I never saw the truth hanging from the door
  And now I'm older see it face to face
  And now I'm older gotta get up clean the place.

  And I was green, greener than the hill
  Where the flowers grew and the sun shone still
  Now I'm darker than the deepest sea
  Just hand me down, give me a place to be.

  And I was strong, strong in the sun
  I thought I'd see when day is done
  Now I'm weaker than the palest blue
  Oh, so weak in this need for you.
-- Nick Drake
All of Drake's songs have this touch of melancholy, a very strong sense of
loss and beauty all at the same time. With this poem, simple yet powerful,
there is a feeling that the poet/songwriter is seeking yet looking back, of
knowing where he is and being lost at the same time.  'Now I'm darker that
the deepest sea' much better can anyone else put it.

Nick Drake was a artist in the late 60's, often called England's Best Kept
Secret, he produced only three albums before dying at the age of 26 from an
accidental(?) overdose of sleeping pills. Suffering from clinical
depression, he was a Keatsian figure who never found a wide audience during
his lifetime. He is known for his gentle, lyrical songs and great plucking
on the guitar. He was depressed because he thought he could not write well

I do hope you enjoy this poem...and if you do please do listen to his




To Autumn -- John Keats

Guest poem submitted by Bill Whiteford
(Poem #1781) To Autumn
 Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
 Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
 Conspiring with him how to load and bless
 With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
 To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
 And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
 To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
 With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
 And still more, later flowers for the bees,
 Until they think warm days will never cease,
 For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

 Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
 Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
 Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
 Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
 Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
 Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
 Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
 And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
 Steady thy laden head across a brook;
 Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
 Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

 Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
 Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,--
 While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
 And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
 Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
 Among the river sallows, borne aloft
 Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
 And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
 Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
 The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
 And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
-- John Keats
I'm not a great fan of the romantic poets, but was struck that colleagues
didn't know where the phrase "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" came
from . I think quite a lot of Keats is not great, but some of the images
here are memorable. Here in Scotland the twittering swallows are long gone,
but the barred clouds sometimes bloom the soft-dying day. There's lots of
other analysis you could do here (the erotic language of the second verse,
the sense of impending loss of the third), but mainly I would just enjoy the
turn of phrase and the images.

Bill Whiteford.

The Fish -- Elizabeth Bishop

Guest poem sent in by Melanie Albrecht
(Poem #1780) The Fish
 I caught a tremendous fish
 and held him beside the boat
 half out of water, with my hook
 fast in a corner of its mouth.
 He didn't fight.
 He hadn't fought at all.
 He hung a grunting weight,
 battered and venerable
 and homely. Here and there
 his brown skin hung in strips
 like ancient wallpaper,
 and its pattern of darker brown
 was like wallpaper:
 shapes like full-blown roses
 stained and lost through age.
 He was speckled with barnacles,
 fine rosettes of lime,
 and infested
 with tiny white sea-lice,
 and underneath two or three
 rags of green weed hung down.
 While his gills were breathing in
 the terrible oxygen
 --- the frightening gills,
 fresh and crisp with blood,
 that can cut so badly ---
 I thought of the coarse white flesh
 packed in like feathers,
 the big bones and the little bones,
 the dramatic reds and blacks
 of his shiny entrails,
 and the pink swim-bladder
 like a big peony.
 I looked into his eyes
 which were far larger than mine
 but shallower, and yellowed,
 the irises backed and packed
 with tarnished tinfoil
 seen through the lenses
 of old scratched isinglass.
 They shifted a little, but not
 to return my stare.
 --- It was more like the tipping
 of an object toward the light.
 I admired his sullen face,
 the mechanism of his jaw,
 and then I saw
 that from his lower lip
 --- if you could call it a lip ---
 grim, wet, and weaponlike,
 hung five old pieces of fish-line,
 or four and a wire leader
 with the swivel still attached,
 with all their five big hooks
 grown firmly in his mouth.
 A green line, frayed at the end
 where he broke it, two heavier lines,
 and a fine black thread
 still crimped from the strain and snap
 when it broke and he got away.
 Like medals with their ribbons
 frayed and wavering,
 a five-haired beard of wisdom
 trailing from his aching jaw.
 I stared and stared
 and victory filled up
 the little rented boat,
 from the pool of bilge
 where oil had spread a rainbow
 around the rusted engine
 to the bailer rusted orange,
 the sun-cracked thwarts,
 the oarlocks on their strings,
 the gunnels --- until everything
 was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
 And I let the fish go.
-- Elizabeth Bishop
I just love this poem. I love how she describes the fish without overt
romanticism, but it comes across as beautiful anyway. The fish is homely,
his skin hangs in strips, and he is infested with sea-lice. His eyes turn
towards her, but she doesn't anthropomorphise it: it's just like tipping an
"object toward the light". But still, his ugly skin is like wallpaper with
roses, and his eyes are backed with tinfoil! Lovely.

Through the poem, she moves from describing the fish's physical presence to
seeing human-like virtues in him. The fish is venerable, sullen, grim, wise,
and victorious. His victory over circumstance fills the nasty rented boat
with rainbow - how can she *not* let him go?

Regards, Melanie

You -- Carol Ann Duffy

Guest poem submitted by Jennifer Cushion :
(Poem #1779) You
 Uninvited, the thought of you stayed too late in my head,
 so I went to bed, dreaming you hard, hard, woke with your name,
 like tears, soft, salt, on my lips, the sound of its bright syllables
 like a charm, like a spell.

                                    Falling in love
 is glamorous hell; the crouched, parched heart
 like a tiger ready to kill; a flame's fierce licks under the skin.
 Into my life, larger than life, beautiful, you strolled in.
 I hid in my ordinary days, in the long grass of routine,
 in my camouflage rooms. You sprawled in my gaze,
 staring back from anyone's face, from the shape of a cloud,
 from the pining, earth-struck moon which gapes at me

 and I open the bedroom door. The curtains stir. There you are
 on the bed, like a gift, like a touchable dream.
-- Carol Ann Duffy
I feel this poem captures the initial stages of resistance people go through
when they fall in love.  It is so much easier to pretend it isn't happening,
to immerse yourself in "ordinary days".  Yet, despite all the efforts, the
person invades your every thought.  The first verse in particular conveys

Jennifer Cushion.

When First We Faced -- Philip Larkin

Guest poem submitted by Amulya Gopalakrishnan:
(Poem #1778) When First We Faced
 When first we faced, and touching showed
 How well we knew the early moves,
 Behind the moonlight and the frost,
 The excitement and the gratitude,
 There stood how much our meeting owed
 To other meetings, other loves.

 The decades of a different life
 That opened past your inch-close eyes
 Belonged to others, lavished, lost;
 Nor could I hold you hard enough
 To call my years of hunger-strife
 Back for your mouth to colonise.

 Admitted: and the pain is real.
 But when did love not try to change
 The world back to itself--no cost,
 No past, no people else at all--
 Only what meeting made us feel,
 So new, and gentle-sharp, and strange?
-- Philip Larkin
In evaluating this poem, all I have to say that it feels exactly true to the
scraped clean and hopeful beginnings of things. 'When did love not try to
change the world back to itself'?


Vacana #105 -- Basavanna

Guest poem submitted by Deepak Ramachandran:
(Poem #1777) Vacana #105
 A snake-charmer and his noseless wife,
 snake in hand, walk carefully
 trying to read omens
 for a son's wedding,

 but they meet head-on
 a noseless woman
 and her snake-charming husband,
 and cry 'The omens are bad!'

 His own wife has no nose;
 there's a snake in his hand.
 What shall I call such fools
 who do not know themselves

 and see only the others,

             O lord
             of the meeting
-- Basavanna
      (Translated from Kannada by A. K. Ramanujan)


1. Vacana: A religous lyric in Kannada free verse; vacana literally means
"saying, thing said". Kannada is a Dravidian language, spoken today in the
south indian state of Karnataka by nearly 20 million people.
2. Snake-charmers are bad omens if met on the way. The noseless wife may
either mean a dumb woman or a deformed one, another bad omen.
3. Lord of the meeting rivers: Kudalasangamadeva, an appellation for Shiva.


This delightful poem is from "Speaking of Shiva", A. K. Ramanujan's book of
Vacanas  by the four major Virasaiva saints of the 11th and 12th century:
Dasimayya, Basavanna, Allama, and Mahadeviyakka.  They are a part of what
the anthropologist Milton Singer calls the 'little tradition' in Indian
civilization: the panoply of regional cultures and languages that stand
opposed to the 'great' tradition that is inter-regional and has Sanskrit as
its vehicle.

The Virasaivas rejected many of the conventions of their time such as the
caste system and the complex rituals and religous ceremonies governing daily
life. Religion was a personal matter for them. The vacanas are verses of
devotion to a god, often a particular form of the god. (like the 'lord of
the meeting rivers' above). In Ramanujan's words "the incandescence of
Virasaiva poetry is the white heat of truth-seeing and truth saying in a
dark deluded world."


Basavanna was born in AD 1106 in the village of Manigavalli. By the age of
16 he decided to spend his life in the worship and service of Shiva. Finding
the caste-system of his society and the ritualism of his home shackling and
senseless he tore off the sacred thread that binds a Brahmin to his past
life's deeds.  Travelling to Kudalasangama, he studied the Vedas and other
religious texts. He soon became a trusted friend of King Bijjala and rose in
his court. As his devotion grew from strength to strength, he managed to
convert many to Siva-worship by the fire of his zeal. He founded a new
egalitarian Virasaiva community that began to raise the ire of
traditionalists and sparked a political crisis in the kingdom. Unable to
prevent the ensuing violent conflict, he left the court of King Bijjala,
returning to his hometown where he died soon after in 1167.


Talk -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Guest poem submitted by Rama Rao:
(Poem #1776) Talk
 You're a brave man they tell me.
                                     I'm not.
 Courage has never been my quality.
 Only I thought it disproportionate
 so to degrade myself as others did.
 No foundations trembled. My voice
 no more than laughed at pompous falsity;
 I did no more than write, never denounced,
 I left out nothing I had thought about,
 defended who deserved it, put a brand
 on the untalented, the ersatz writers
 (doing what anyhow had to be done).
 And now they press to tell me that I'm brave.
 How sharply our children will be ashamed
 taking at last their vengeance for these horrors
 remembering how in so strange a time
 common integrity could look like courage.
-- Yevgeny Yevtushenko
        Translated by Robin Milner-Galland and Peter Levi.

What can be more representative of the times we live in than these lines?
Although perhaps referring to the pre-Khruschev times of the Soviet Union,
the poem is equally valid when we face the distortion and humbug prevalent
in so many places. And nothing is more powerful than the last line:
 "common integrity could look like courage".

Yevtushenko is already on the Minstrels and profiled also [see Poem #850,
Poem #1532, Poem #1561 for examples -ed.].

Rama Rao.

The Wasp -- John Kendall

Guest poem submitted by Philip Watson:
(Poem #1775) The Wasp
 Of those uncertain creatures
   Who take a simple joy
 In swelling up one's features
   On purpose to annoy,
 Things void of natural sweetness,
   Aggressive and inhosp.
 (Pardon the incompleteness)
   You are the first, O wasp.

 There is no place we visit
   In England's pleasant land
 (It isn't your place, is it?)
   But you must take a hand;
 You set the nerves a-jangle,
   You turn the tan to chalk
 Of anglers when they angle,
   Of walkers when they walk.

 In no uncertain manner
   You bid the bather flee;
 You foil the caravanner
   Who merely wants his tea;
 You raid the earnest hopper,
   You break upon our sports,
 And are, I'm told, improper
   To river girls in shorts.

 We slap at you and swat you;
   We fell you as we may
 (The rapture when we've got you
   Is more than words can say);
 One may see great deeds daily
   When men unused to strife
 Brave you, albeit palely,
   For screaming child or wife.

 And we have learnt to fashion
   A lure that cannot fail,
 Born of a lasting passion
   That you confess for ale;
 An artful jar that cozens
   You in and, when you're tight,
 Drowns you in drink by dozens,
   A most immoral sight.

 But when the day is sinking
   And you retire to rest
 That, to my private thinking,
   Is where man comes out best;
 Armed with his apparatus
   He tracks you to the comb
 Whence you come forth to bait us;
   Then, when the last wasp's home,

 Bring forth, O man, your funnel;
   With oil and poison come;
 Take heed lest haply one'll
   Pass down a warning hum;
 Insert with care the former;
   Pour down the latter thick;
 That should have made things warmer;
   That will have done the trick.

 Thus with discreet defiance
   We tackle you, and yet,
 For all the arts of science,
   You don't seem much upset;
 Alert and undiminished
   You still appear to prosp.;
 I leave the word unfinished
   To rhyme with you, O wasp.
-- John Kendall
Listening to the wireless the other day, I heard an item wherein the BBC
told us that this had been 'a bad year for wasps'.

I thought this a somewhat ambiguous statement.  For instance, if one were to
hear that it had been a 'bad year for cholera', it would be logical to
assume that there was a lot of it about lately, to the detriment of
humanity.  This was not, it transpired, what they meant.  Instead, after a
cold snap in the springtime, the wasps themselves has suffered a serious
decline in numbers.  To my way of thinking (which I grant may be criticised
as selfish), that made it an entirely splendid year for wasps.

Lest any of your English readers fail to appreciate the alleviation of our
torment this year, I thought that the following would be apposite.  The poem
was written by Captain John Kendall under the pen name Dum-Dum.  It appears
in an anthology of his work entitled 'Short Doses', published in London by
Constable & Co Ltd in 1932: it may have appeared previously in the
periodical 'Punch'.

I believe that you have only one other of Kendall's works posted on your
site, which drought I hope the above may help to remedy.

A critical reviewer must, I think, question whether such material would
still amuse a contemporary audience.  Given that humour is so very much
embedded in its original cultural context, it frequently neither travels nor
ages well.  For, if 'the past is another country', then the England of 1932
must seem to today's English reader, as altogether another planet.  The more
humour is culturally specific, the more ephemeral its appeal; and I suppose
vice versa (whence the continuing popularity of a large body of execrable

With kind regards, and much appreciation of your excellent work,
Philip Watson.
Luppitt, Devonshire, England

The Invaders -- A D Hope

Guest poem sent in by William Grey
(Poem #1774) The Invaders
 Coming by night, furtively, one by one
 They infiltrate according to the Plan,
 Their orders memorized and their disguise
 Impenetrable. With the rising sun
 Our citizens welcome them. Nobody can
 Think that such charming creatures might be spies.

 So feeble, so helpless, no one could suspect
 They come to make this commonwealth their prey;
 So few, they pose no threat; their cohort grows
 So imperceptibly that we neglect
 To notice how it musters day by day
 And, unalarmed, we watch as they impose

 Themselves, make friends in all directions, take
 Impressions of all keys. They gain access
 To all our secrets; learn to speak our tongue
 Like natives; profit by each false move we make;
 Work on our weaknesses; observe and guess
 The sources of power and study them to be strong.

 And when it happens, there will be no fuss,
 No streets running with blood, no barricade.
 We shall simply wake one morning to discover,
 As those who ruled this city before us
 Found by each door a headstone and a spade,
 That a new generation has taken over.
-- A D Hope
This poem by Australian poet A.D. Hope (1907-2000) is based on an utterly
simple idea, with an underlying tension (even menace) beautifully developed,
and brilliantly resolved in the final line. Like Hope's "Ode on the Death of
Pius the Twelfth" [1] this poem deals with the issue of age and death, which
are recurrent themes for Hope (see also [2]) -- as they are, of course, for
many poets.

The poem is from A.D. Hope, A Late Picking: Poems 1965-1974. (Sydney: Angus
& Robertson, 1975)

William Grey

[1] Poem #1764, Ode on the Death of Pius the Twelfth -- A.D. Hope
[2] Poem #571, The Death of the Bird -- A.D. Hope

Introduction To Poetry -- Billy Collins

Guest poem submitted by Carl Beck:
(Poem #1773) Introduction To Poetry
 I ask them to take a poem
 and hold it up to the light
 like a color slide

 or press an ear against its hive.

 I say drop a mouse into a poem
 and watch him probe his way out,

 or walk inside the poem's room
 and feel the walls for a light switch.

 I want them to waterski
 across the surface of a poem
 waving at the author's name on the shore.

 But all they want to do
 is tie the poem to a chair with rope
 and torture a confession out of it.

 They begin beating it with a hose
 to find out what it really means.
-- Billy Collins
This poem makes me smile, only because it wasn't until I stopped trying to
understand poetry that I was able to open the gate to the wonderful
playground that poetry can be.

Gitanjali (excerpt) -- Rabindranath Tagore

Guest poem sent in by Firdaus Janoos
(Poem #1772) Gitanjali (excerpt)
 The song that I came to sing remains unsung to this day.
 I have spent my days in stringing and unstringing my instrument.
 The time has not come true, the words have not been rightly set;
 only there is the agony of wishing in my heart.
 The blossom has not opened; only the wind is sighing by.
 I have not seen his face, nor have I listened to his voice; only I have
 heard his gentle footsteps on the road before my house.
 The livelong day has passed in spreading his seat on the floor; but the lamp
 has not been lit and I cannot ask him into my house.
 I live in the hope of meeting with him; but this meeting is not yet.
-- Rabindranath Tagore
       from the Gitanjali (1923)

Cloying is not the first epithet that springs to mind when reading
Tagore.[1] Re-reading the Gitanjali (song offerings), one begins to realize
an intriguing profundity underlying its apparent simplicity. It is not
without good reason that this work won the 1923 Nobel prize for literature.
This poem is just an example of the textured, layered quality that permeates
the Gitanjali. At first it seems like the pensive song sung by a lover
cleaving for her beloved. But one becomes aware of an ineffable mysticism to
it - a yearning for a re-uniting with God, but without the morbidity that is
the usual adjunct of fatalism.


Doggerel by a Senior Citizen -- W H Auden

Guest poem submitted by William Grey:
(Poem #1771) Doggerel by a Senior Citizen
 Our earth in 1969
 Is not the planet I call mine,
 The world, I mean, that gives me strength
 To hold off chaos at arm's length.

 My Eden landscapes and their climes
 Are constructs from Edwardian times,
 When bath-rooms took up lots of space,
 And, before eating, one said Grace.

 The automobile, the aeroplane,
 Are useful gadgets, but profane:
 The enginry of which I dream
 Is moved by water or by steam.

 Reason requires that I approve
 The light-bulb which I cannot love:
 To me more reverence-commanding
 A fish-tail burner on the landing.

 My family ghosts I fought and routed,
 Their values, though, I never doubted:
 I thought the Protestant Work-Ethic
 Both practical and sympathetic.

 When couples played or sang duets,
 It was immoral to have debts:
 I shall continue till I die
 To pay in cash for what I buy.

 The Book of Common Prayer we knew
 Was that of 1662:
 Though with-it sermons may be well,
 Liturgical reforms are hell.

 Sex was of course -- it always is --
 The most enticing of mysteries,
 But news-stands did not then supply
 Manichean pornography.

 Then Speech was mannerly, an Art,
 Like learning not to belch or fart:
 I cannot settle which is worse,
 The Anti-Novel or Free Verse.

 Nor are those Ph.D's my kith,
 Who dig the symbol and the myth:
 I count myself a man of letters
 Who writes, or hopes to, for his betters.

 Dare any call Permissiveness
 An educational success?
 Saner those class-rooms which I sat in,
 Compelled to study Greek and Latin.

 Though I suspect the term is crap,
 There is a Generation Gap,
 Who is to blame? Those, old or young,
 Who will not learn their Mother-Tongue.

 But Love, at least, is not a state
 Either en vogue or out-of-date,
 And I've true friends, I will allow,
 To talk and eat with here and now.

 Me alienated? Bosh! It's just
 As a sworn citizen who must
 Skirmish with it that I feel
 Most at home with what is Real.
-- W H Auden
This poem is a lot of fun. It was written by Auden (1907-1973), for Robert
Lederer, when he was getting old and curmudgeonly, and it's about getting
old and curmudgeonly. Writing engaging doggerel is more challenging than it
seems. Auden often expresses his values by dialectical opposition --
Arcadian versus Utopian ('Vespers'), or Hermetic versus Apollonian ('Under
Which Lyre', Poem #1082) -- in this one his prejudices are articulated
simply and directly.

William Grey.

A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall -- Bob Dylan

Guest poem sent in by "Aseem"
(Poem #1770) A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
 Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
 Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?
 I've stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains,
 I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways,
 I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests,
 I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans,
 I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard,
 And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard,
 And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

 Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son?
 Oh, what did you see, my darling young one?
 I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
 I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it,
 I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin',
 I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin',
 I saw a white ladder all covered with water,
 I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken,
 I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children,
 And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard,
 And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

 And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
 And what did you hear, my darling young one?
 I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin',
 Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world,
 Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin',
 Heard ten thousand whisperin' and nobody listenin',
 Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin',
 Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter,
 Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley,
 And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard,
 And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

 Oh, who did you meet, my blue-eyed son?
 Who did you meet, my darling young one?
 I met a young child beside a dead pony,
 I met a white man who walked a black dog,
 I met a young woman whose body was burning,
 I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow,
 I met one man who was wounded in love,
 I met another man who was wounded with hatred,
 And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard,
 It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

 Oh, what'll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
 Oh, what'll you do now, my darling young one?
 I'm a-goin' back out 'fore the rain starts a-fallin',
 I'll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest,
 Where the people are many and their hands are all empty,
 Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters,
 Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison,
 Where the executioner's face is always well hidden,
 Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten,
 Where black is the color, where none is the number,
 And I'll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it,
 And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it,
 Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin',
 But I'll know my song well before I start singin',
 And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard,
 It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.
-- Bob Dylan
As the death toll from the recent flooding of Bombay climbed higher each
day, and I sat half way across the world, surfing the images of tragedy and
despair (feeling strangely guilty, somehow, for not being there) this is the
song that kept playing in my head.

There are many stories that came out of that fateful day - indeed, as
someone said, everyone has a story to tell. There are many different
emotions in these stories - some are filled with hope, others with despair;
some speak of small miracles, others of senseless misfortune; some allow us
to celebrate the brotherhood, the fundamental decency of man towards man,
others highlight the world's indifference to the plight of the victims.

Dylan's song captures perfectly that sense of a fractured world, the
reduction of the truth into a series of images, the impossibility of taking
in exactly what has happened. At one level this is a confused, restless
song. It moves from phrase to phrase, vision to vision, leaving you with the
sense of some sweeping, momentous message, combined with a sense of dread.
But it is also a song of great courage - a song that grits its jaw and braces
itself for the devastation it knows is coming. There are some beautiful phrases

here - lines that demonstrate how true, how fine a poet the young Dylan really
was - but the overall message of this song is that we shall face the whole of
our sorrow and not be defeated by it.