Short, sweet and to the point. The four line poem is one that particularly lends itself to humorous effect - it allows a little more buildup than a couplet, while preserving the added impact that comes from having the punchline coincide with the first rhyme. Examples abound, including several by Nash, Belloc, Bierce, Bentley etc,some of which have been run on Minstrels. And, of course, some lovely ones by Parker herself, of which the one above is probably my favourite - partly for the fine tone of irony, and partly for the ingenuity of the rhyme. And partly, too, for Parker's particular talent of combining a light, pattering surface, with the bitter undercurrent that runs through nearly all her work.  technically the second rhyme here, but the point is that the quatrain, especially the short-lined one, is often just an extension of a couplet, with the 1/3 rhyme either assuming a secondary position, or omitted altogether, so that it isn't associated with any sense of closure.  another very common element of humorous verse m. Notes: See poem #150
Many thanks to Kuldeep Amarnath for suggesting this poem, which I hadn't read before:
(Poem #191) The Garden
Like a skein of loose silk blown against a wall She walks by the railing of a path in Kensington Gardens, And she is dying piece-meal of a sort of emotional anaemia. And round about there is a rabble Of the filthy, sturdy, unkillable infants of the very poor. They shall inherit the earth. In her is the end of breeding. Her boredom is exquisite and excessive. She would like some one to speak to her, And is almost afraid that I will commit that indiscretion.
Another lovely little Ezra Pound vignette - though not as moving as The River Merchant's Wife, nor as elegant and concise as And The Days Are Not Full Enough , it nevertheless captures Pound's poetic ethos to a nicety. What I find most interesting about this poem is the fact that while it's clearly an imagist poem, there's an almost complete absence of traditional poetic images in it. Indeed, after the (beautiful) first line, the words are matter-of-fact, direct, and not a little harsh . And yet... the overall effect is delicate, clean, and wonderfully perceptive. If The River Merchant's Wife is a romantic  canvas, The Garden is a silhouette or a thumbnail sketch - a few vivid strokes of the artist's brush/pen, and the portrait is complete. thomas.  Both of which have been featured on this mailing list in the past - see http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/  Over-eager critics (and there are always plenty of them around) may find hints of incipient Fascism in the second stanza; me, I think that's reading too much into a line which (imho) merely serves as a contrasting backdrop for the central portrait.  Once again, do note the absence of capitalization - the poem may be romantic, but Romantic it certainly is not.
(trans. by Miller Williams) Today's poem - or, rather, antipoem - is surely the final word on the 'prescriptive poetry' front. I don't think I need say very much about it, except that the last line is a beautifully and slyly unexpected conclusion, with which I agree wholeheartedly. A quick note on form - I've gone into the difference between free verse and unstrutured verse before (see, for example the comments at poem #54), but the antipoem is by its very nature unstructured - the form here is a deliberate formlessness that, while not my favourite poetic style, can be refreshingly original if done well.  The biography describes the concept nicely, so I won't repeat it here. Biographical Note: Parra, Nicanor b. Sept. 5, 1914, San Fabian, Chile one of the most important Latin-American poets of his time, the originator of so-called antipoetry (poetry that opposes traditional poetic techniques or styles). Parra studied mathematics and physics at the University of Chile in Santiago, at Brown University, Providence, R.I., U.S. (1943-45), and at the University of Oxford. From 1952 he taught theoretical physics at the University of Chile. Although Parra later renounced his first book of poetry, Cancionero sin nombre (1937; "Songbook Without a Name"), his use of colloquial, often irreverent language, the light treatment of classical forms, and his humorous tone in that volume presage his later antipoetry. With Poemas y antipoemas (1954; Poems and Antipoems), Parra's attempts at making poetry more accessible to the masses gained him national and international fame. These verses treat common, everyday problems of a grotesque and often absurd world in clear, direct language and with black humour and ironic vision. After experimenting with the local speech and humour of the Chilean lower classes in La cueca larga (1958; "The Long Cueca [Dance]"), Parra published Versos de salón (1962; "Verses of the Salon"), which continued the antipoetic techniques of his earlier works. Obra gruesa (1969; "Big Work") is a collection of Parra's poems, excluding his first book. Its tone of dissatisfaction is intensified by the use of prosaic language, cliché, and ironic wordplay. In 1967 Parra began to write experimental short poems that he later published as a collection of postcards entitled Artefactos (1972; "Artifacts"). In these he attempted to reduce language to its simplest form without destroying its social and philosophical impact. Later collections include Sermones y prédicas del Cristo de Elqui (1977; Sermons and Homilies of the Christ of Elqui) and Hojas de Parra (1985; "Leaves [Pages] of Parra"). -- EB And finally, a bonus poem that delivers a rather trenchant comment on antipoetry: Antipoetry Like Nicanor Parra I write antipoetry antipoems for antipeople in antibooks antipoems for anticritics for antireaders antipoetry for antiassholes in the antimatter antielectrons in the antiatoms for antideaf in my antiadaptation to the literary world in the antigroup of the antiliterature antipoetry for antieditors for antiprizes for antilectors for anticorrectors for antipublishers and it is not because I don't like poetry or because I don't like critics, it is because, like any other antipoet I only know how to write antipoetry. -- Moshe Benarroch m.
Not sure if this is as a poem about poetry, a poem about poets, or a poem about love (and various approximations thereof). Maybe it's all the above. Or none. Whatever. I like it anyway, so here goes...
(Poem #189) dear Captain Poetry
dear Captain Poetry, your poetry is trite. you cannot write a sonnet tho you've tried to every night since i've known you. we're thru!! Madame X dear Madame X Look how the sun leaps now upon our faces Stomps & boots our eyes into our skulls Drives all thot to weird & foreign places Till the world reels & the kicked mind dulls, Drags our hands up across our eyes Sends all white hurling into black Makes the inner cranium our skies And turns all looks sent forward burning back. And you, my lady, who should be gentler, kind, Have yet the fiery aspect of the sun Sending words to burn into my mind Destroying all my feelings one by one; You who should have tiptoed thru my halls Have slammed my doors & smashed me into walls. love Cap Poetry
from 'The Captain Poetry Poems', 1971. Note that the occasional misspellings are intentional. Before embarking on a dissection of this poem, you might want to read this brief [Biographical Note] bpNichol [real name: Barrie Phillip Nichol - t.] was one of Canada's most challenging and innovative poets. His writing spans a remarkable range -- from concise allegories on a single letter, on through to sound poetry, fiction, theoretical investigations and culminating in his nine-volume poem The Martyrology. Nichol's curiosity and his care of language provoke his readers to embark on their own explorations into the language frontier. Nichol died in 1988. [Deep Analysis Begins Here] Before anything else, I have to say that I just love the concept of Captain Poetry - defender of the weak, protector of the poor, and guardian of our poetic frontiers - the world needs more superheroes like him. This is actually a rather mild poem for Nichol - not as outre as some of his work, nor as overtly experimental. Perhaps that's the reason why it's also one of his more popular ones - innovators constantly have to tread the thin line between accessibility (and public acclaim; after all, even poets have to eat) and originality. But I digress. Back to the poem, folks, back to the poem. The surface of today's poem is obvious enough; what's interesting (and what I like about it, and about Nichol's poems in general ) is the host of self- and meta-referential questions it raises about the Nature Of Poetry. I'm not going to go into detail about every little hint or teaser he's thrown in, but do note in passing the echoes of Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas and Thom Gunn. Understated, but nice. thomas.  though again, how can you _not_ like a poet who populates his world with characters named St. Orm and St. Ranglehold ? Or who titles a book 'Not what the Siren sang, but what the Frag ment'?  both from 'The Martyrology', Nichol's greatest work. [Links] Check out some examples of Nichol's visual poetry at [broken link] http://www.thing.net/~grist/l&d/bpnichol [Trivia] In the late 1960s, Nichol was part of a performance poetry group called the Four Horsemen. A documentary about this group, titled 'The Sons of Captain Poetry', was made in 1971 by no less a personage than Michael Ondaatje. So now you know.
Continuing what is fast becoming a joint theme...
(Poem #188) Ars Poetica
A poem should be palpable and mute As a globed fruit Dumb As old medallions to the thumb Silent as the sleeve-worn stone Of casement ledges where the moss has grown - A poem should be wordless As the flight of birds A poem should be motionless in time As the moon climbs Leaving, as the moon releases Twig by twig the night-entangled trees, Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves, Memory by memory the mind - A poem should be motionless in time As the moon climbs A poem should be equal to: Not true For all the history of grief An empty doorway and a maple leaf For love The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea - A poem should not mean But be
In the code language of criticism when a poem is said to be about poetry the word "poetry" is often used to mean: how people construct an intelligibility out of the randomness they experience; how people choose what they love; how people integrate loss and gain; how they distort experience by wish and dream; how they perceive and consolidate flashes of harmony; how they (to end a list otherwise endless) achieve what Keats called a "Soul or Intelligence destined to possess the sense of Identity." -- Helen Vendler, poetry critic Rather unsurprisingly, if you think about it, a number of poets have taken a break from mirroring reality, and turned their gaze inwards, whether upon other poets, other poems, the nature and role of the Poet, or, most reflexively, the nature and role of Poetry. Today's poem is a beautiful example. Titled Ars Poetica - 'the Art of Poetry' - it attempts to prescribe the nature of poetry, and - in a move Hofstadter would have loved - does so in the form of a poem. Furthermore, it does not seek to sidestep the possible pitfalls and inconsistencies this approach leaves it open to - rather it meets them head on, using words like 'mute', 'dumb' and 'wordless' to set up a paradox culminating in the wonderful last stanza, 'a poem should not mean / but be'. En route, the main thread is woven through with several exquisite images, speaking to the reader even as it advocates silence, progressing even as it advocates motionlessness. And yet, at the end, it does resolve itself into a seamless, integrated whole, as perfectly self-contained as the globed fruit, or the timeless, frozen stillness of a winter's night. The reader is free to pick it apart, to tease meaning from the tapestry of contradictions and images. As for the poem, it simply is.  and not, as several overingenious students have suggested, 'poetry my a**e' <g> Links: A nice serial analysis of the poem can be found at <http://www.newwinds.com/poethome/stuart06.htm> - I don't agree with every one of his points, but overall he's done a nice job. Biography: MacLeish, Archibald b. May 7, 1892, Glencoe, Ill., U.S. d. April 20, 1982, Boston U.S. poet, playwright, teacher, and public official, whose concern for liberal democracy figured in much of his work, although his most memorable lyrics are of a more private nature. There's an online biography at <[broken link] http://www.poets.org/lit/poet/amacleis.htm> and another at <[broken link] http://www.rothpoem.com/duk_am.html> m.
Taking my cue from Martin...
(Poem #187) Poetry for Supper
'Listen, now, verse should be as natural As the small tuber that feeds on muck And grows slowly from obtuse soil To the white flower of immortal beauty.' 'Natural, hell! What was it Chaucer Said once about the long toil That goes like blood to the poem's making? Leave it to nature and the verse sprawls, Limp as bindweed, if it break at all Life's iron crust. Man, you must sweat And rhyme your guts taut, if you'd build Your verse a ladder.' 'You speak as though No sunlight ever surprised the mind Groping on its cloudy path.' 'Sunlight's a thing that needs a window Before it enters a dark room. Windows don't happen.' So two old poets, Hunched at their beer in the low haze Of an inn parlour, while the talk ran Noisily by them, glib with prose.
Another slightly more explicit take on the divide between 'natural' and 'constructed' poems . "This is the nearest Thomas comes to a comic poem. He has an ear for Welsh dialogue, which he seems to use relatively rarely. Despite the imagery, one gets a real sense of the two old poets' voices in the poem as they talk over the nature of their art in a country pub. Thomas, one may suppose, is ultimately on the side of the second poet who believes that inspiration needs the vehicle of craftsmanship before it can fully come through." -- George MacBeth I tend to agree with Thomas' point of view - I've always felt that much of what is passed off as 'natural' these days is just laziness or shoddy workmanship. That said, I would be the first to admit that there are contexts in which free verse is far more apt than verse constrained by metre and rhyme; conversely, there are contexts which cry out for the use of specific forms of prosody. The true skill lies in knowing when to use which. thomas. PS. I should add (before anyone points out my obtuseness) (Hi Martin!) that the last line suddenly puts the whole poem into a new perspective - that poets, by concentrating on the how and what of writing poetry, often ignore the why .  See yesterday's poem, 'By-the-way', poem #186 for the source of my inspiration.  Isn't it amazing how so many poems stand and fall on the strength of their last lines? Browse through the Minstrels archives for more examples - http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/
(Poem #186) By-the-Way
These be the little verses, rough and uncultured, which I've written in hut and model, deep in the dirty ditch, On the upturned hod by the palace made for the idle rich. Out on the happy highway, or lines where the engines go, Which fact you may hardly credit, still for your doubts 'tis so, For I am the person who wrote them, and surely to God, I know! Wrote them beside the hot-plate, or under the chilling skies, Some of them true as death is, some of them merely lies, Some of them very foolish, some of them otherwise. Little sorrows and hopings, little and rugged rhymes, Some of them maybe distasteful to the moral men of our times, Some of them marked against me in the Book of the Many Crimes. These, the Songs of a Navvy, bearing the taint of the brute, Unasked, uncouth, unworthy out to the world I put, Stamped with the brand of labor, the heel of a navvy's boot.
A recurring theme in poetry is the 'voice of the common man'; poetry purportedly written by the uneducated, the poor man, the rough, uncultured worker. And the attraction of such poetry is undoubtedly that it cuts straight to the heart of the matter, eschewing the 'poetic' trappings that many do feel get in the way of the 'real poetry'. Of course this is untrue, and it is likewise the reason that most of the oeuvre is simply bad verse disguised as rough verse. The good poems fall into two categories - poetry actually written by the rough, uncultured man, which may by its sheer unaffectedness contain the rare gem, or poetry written by good poets, with careful attention paid to every word in an attempt to reproduce the rhythms of semieducated speech and avoid them jarring against the more stylized rhythms of verse. There have been many excellent examples of the latter - Kipling comes to mind, as does Frost. Today's poem, while I wouldn't call it brilliant, does a pretty good job - it doesn't quite capture the 'common-man' effect, but it is a nice poem in its own right. Of course, it then remains debatable whether it failed in sounding 'rough and uncultured', or it succeeded in that we would 'hardly credit' the fact. On the whole, I'd call it a good poem, and leave it at that.  it is to this that I attribute the growing popularity of free verse - the feeling that any attention whatsoever to form stifles and compromises content. Needless to say, I disagree.  and you need to be _very_ good to simulate this Biographical Note: Patrick MacGill was born in Donegal in 1890. He was the son of poverty- -stricken peasants and, between the ages of 12 and 19, he worked as farm- -servant, drainer, potato-digger, and navvy, becoming one of the thousands of stray "tramp-laborers" who cross each summer from Ireland to Scotland to help gather in the crops. Out of his bitter experiences and the evils of modern industrial life, he wrote several vivid novels (The Rat Pit is an unforgettable document) and the tragedy-crammed Songs of the Dead End. He joined the editorial staff of The Daily Express in 1911; was in the British army during the war; was wounded at Loos in 1915; and wrote his Soldier Songs during the conflict. -- Louis Untermeyer Links: The Great Push: <[broken link] http://raven.cc.ukans.edu/~libsite/wwi-www/MacGill/push1.htm#TC> Soldier Songs: <[broken link] http://raven.cc.ukans.edu/~kansite/ww_one/memoir/macgill.html> m.
(Poem #185) A Glass of Beer
The lanky hank of a she in the inn over there Nearly killed me for asking the loan of a glass of beer; May the devil grip the whey-faced slut by the hair, And beat bad manners out of her skin for a year. That parboiled ape, with the toughest jaw you will see On virtue's path, and a voice that would rasp the dead, Came roaring and raging the minute she looked at me, And threw me out of the house on the back of my head! If I asked her master he'd give me a cask a day; But she, with the beer at hand, not a gill would arrange! May she marry a ghost and bear him a kitten, and may The High King of Glory permit her to get the mange.
Irish, 17th century. Translated by James Stephens. Some of the best invective I've ever seen... the last couplet is simply inspired :-) thomas. PS. You didn't _really_ expect me to add a commentary to this poem, did you?
Guest poem sent in by Sameer Siruguri
(Poem #184) Chief Seattle's Reply
How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? That idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memory of the red man. The white man's dead forget the country of their birth when they go to walk among the stars. Our dead never forget this beautiful earth, for it is the mother of the red man. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters, the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and man - all belong to the same family. So, when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land, he asks much of us. The Great Chief sends word he will reserve us a place so that we can live comfortably to ourselves. He will be our father and we will be his children. So we will consider your offer to buy our land. But it will not be easy. For this land is sacred to us. This shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you land, you must remember that it is sacred, and you must teach your children that it is sacred and that the ghostly reflection in the clear water of the lakes tells us events and memories in the life of my people. The water's murmur is the voice of my father's father. The rivers are our brothers, they quench our thirst. The rivers carry our cannoes, feed our children. If we sell our land, you must learn, and teach your children, that the rivers are our brothers, and yours, and you must henceforth give the rivers the kindness you would give any brother. We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of the land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs. The earth is not his brother, but his enemy, and when he has conquered it, he moves on. He leaves his father's grave behind, and he does not care. He kidnaps the earth from his children, and he does not care. His father's grave and his children's birthright are forgotten. He treats his mother, the earth, and his brother, the sky, as things to be bought, plundered, sold like sheep or bright beads. His appetite will devour the earth and leave behind only a desert. I do not know. Our ways are different than yours. The sight of your cities pains the eyes of the red man. But perhaps because the red man is a savage and does not understand. There is no quiet place in the white man's cities. No place to hear the unfurling leaves in spring, or the rustle of an insects wings. But perhaps it is because I am a savage and do not understand. The clatter only seems to insult the ears. And what is there to life if man cannot hear the lonely cry of the whippoorwill or the arguments of the frogs around a pond at night ? I am red man and do not understand. The Indian prefers the soft sound of the wind darting over the face of a pond, and the smell of the wind itself, cleaned by a mid-day rain, or scented by the pinon pine. The air is precious to the red man, for all things share the same breath - the beast, the tree, the man, they all share the same breath. The white man does not seem to notice the air he breaths. Like a man dying for many days is numb to the stench. But if we sell you our land, you must remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also receives his last sigh. And if we sell you our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where even the white man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadows flowers. So we will consider your offer to buy our land. If we decide to accept, I'll make one condition, the white man must treat the beasts of this land as his brothers. I am a savage and I do not understand any other way. I have seen a thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairie, left by the white man who shot them from a passing train. I am a savage and I do not understand how the smoking iron horse can be more important than the buffalo that we kill only to stay alive. What is man without the beasts ? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected. You must teach the children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of your grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves. This we know, the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We shall see. One thing we know, which the white man may discover one day - our God is the same God. You may think you know that you own Him as you wish to own our land, but you cannot. He is the God of man, and His compassion is equal for the red man and the white. This earth is precious to him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its Creator. The whites too shall pass, perhaps sooner than all other tribes. Contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste. But in your perishing you will shine brightly, fired by the strength of the God who brought you to this land and for some special purpose gave you dominion over this land and over the red man. That destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand when the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses are tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with the scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires. Where is the thicket ? Gone. Where is the eagle ? Gone. The end of living and beginning of survival.
There is really nothing left to say after that barrage of eloquence, except to quote a very interesting account of this "poem", at: [broken link] http://www.thehistorynet.com/WildWest/articles/02965_text.htm Given the elaborate ancestry of this poem, I thought it quite within my rights to do my own bit and created the line breaks and spacing that you see above. Most of it is to accomodate the stuff within 80 columns for people reading this on Unix terminals. The above-mentioned article follows. It is a trifle long, but definitely readable. Skim Chief Sealth's biodata in the middle to get through it faster. ------------------------ DID CHIEF SEATTLE REALLY SAY, 'THE EARTH DOES NOT BELONG TO MAN; MAN BELONGS TO THE EARTH'? BY PETER STEKEL AMONG THE Indians of the Pacific Northwest, perhaps none is as well known as Chief Seattle, who left the earth 130 years ago. Called Sealth by his native Suquamish tribe, the chief's fame largely rests upon a speech made popular during the heady days of the 1970s. It includes such inspiring lines as: "Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself." As early as 1975, the authenticity of these words was questioned. Although Sealth was an eloquent speaker, could his famous words belong to someone else? What we know of Sealth (pronounced SEE-elth, with a guttural stop at the end) and his life is mostly conjecture based upon myth with a little bit of extrapolated fact. That he was a was expected to share his largess with the rest of the tribe during a potlatch. In 1792, Captain George Vancouver anchored off Restoration Point on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound. Sealth, according to the recollections of various old-timers, often spoke of seeing the ship and being impressed with the guns, steel and other goods. Judging from these accounts, he must have been about 6 at the time. Vancouver was not impressed, writing in his log that the village was "the most lowly and meanest of its kind. The best of the huts were poor and miserable," and the people were "busily engaged like swine, rooting up this beautiful meadow." As a young adult, Sealth made his mark as a warrior, orator and diplomat. He worked to increase cooperation within the 42 recognized divisions of Salish people occupying Puget Sound, including his own Suquamish. In later years it was remembered that the old chief had a resonant voice that carried "half a mile" and that "eloquent sentences rolled from his lips like the ceaseless thunders of cataracts flowing from exhaustless fountains." In 1832, he impressed the Hudson's Bay factor at Nisqually, Dr. Fraser Tolmie. "The handsomest Indian I have ever seen," said Tolmie. In 1838, Sealth was baptized "Noah" by Father Modest Demers. One wonders if the saw this as one practical way to ascend to the white man's affluence. When the Denny-Boren party landed in 1851 to found their town on Puget Sound, Sealth was there to encourage the construction of a trading post. The post failed, but then Dr. David ("Doc") Maynard entered the picture in 1855. Maynard had left his wife of 20 years in Ohio to come west and make his fortune. Doc was a dreamer, and he saw dollar signs on the shores of Puget Sound. No sooner had he filed on a large piece of property, next to the Dennys and Borens, than he began to give it away to encourage growth. He opened a trading post along the shores of the Duwamish River, and one of his best customers was Sealth. They became such good friends that Doc named the new "city" after him, "Seattle" being as close a pronunciation as most white tongues would allow. The was less than pleased with the distinction, convinced as he was that, after dying, every time "Seattle" was spoken he would turn in his grave. The 1850s were a turning point for the Salish peoples in and around Puget Sound. As more and more settlers moved into the country, aggressively displacing the Salish, discontent rose within the various tribes. With the discontent came acts of violence on both sides, with the Salish increasingly on the losing end. In 1853, Washington Territorial Governor Issac Stevens, a man who believed in the late 19th-century philosophy of "the only good Indian is a dead Indian," began buying up or seizing Salish lands and removing the tribes to reservations. In December 1854, the governor visited Seattle, and Sealth made a speech lamenting that the day of the Indian had passed and the future belonged to the white man. On hand to take notes was Dr. Henry J. Smith, a surgeon with a penchant for florid Victorian poetry (his pen name was Paul Garland). In 1855, Sealth spoke again, briefly, at the formal signing of the Port Madison Treaty, which settled the Suquamish on their reservation across the sound from Seattle. His brief remarks have none of the elaborate pretensions of most speeches recorded during that era. As historian Bernard DeVoto noted, Indian speeches tended to reflect the literary aspirations of the recorder more than the orator. Three years later, an old and impoverished Sealth spoke one last time for the record, wondering why the treaty had not been signed by the Congress of the United States, leaving the Indians to languish in poverty: "I have been very poor and hungry all winter and am very sick now. In a little while I will die. When I do, my people will be very poor; they will have no property, no chief and no one to talk for them." This entire text, as well as Sealth's 1855 comments, are preserved in the National Archives. Until the 1970s, the story of Chief Seattle belonged to the city that bears his name. Then, with the environmental movement in full swing, the speech Sealth made to Governor Stevens in 1854 was resurrected into the consciousness of Americans. It is not difficult to find people who consider the speech to be on almost the same level as the Gospel. The modern versions of the speech, which has been called the embodiment of all environmental ideas, have references to things Sealth would have never seen or known about, such as trains, whippoorwills, and the slaughter of the buffalo (which occurred long after the 's death) are included. Comparisons between known versions of the text have turned up four main variants, each with its own phrasing, wording and sometimes contradictory content. The first version of the speech has been traced to a transcription made by Dr. Henry Smith more than 30 years after the actual event. Smith's is the original on which all others are based; it appeared in the October 29, 1887, issue of the said, based upon notes Smith had made at the time. Smith concludes with the comment, "The above is but a fragment of his speech, and lacks all the charm lent by the grace and earnestness of the sable old orator, and the occasion." Dr. Smith's diary cannot be found, so it is impossible to know just how closely his notes followed what Sealth had to say. Moreover, Sealth was a prideful man, and though he embraced the white man's commercial products, he refused to learn his ways or speak his language. Hence, it is safe to say that what Smith heard was a translation. It was probably made from Sealth's Lushotseed language into the Chinook jargon and then into English, with each transliteration losing or embellishing something of the original. In 1931, Clarence B. Bagley published an article and reproduced the Chief Seattle speech with his own additions. In 1932, John M. Rich published a booklet called is essentially the same as these two. The third major revision of the speech was done in 1969 by poet William Arrowsmith, who "translated from the Victorian English of Dr. Henry Smith" an interpretation that retains the 's meaning, if not the wording and phrasing. A fourth version displayed at the 1974 Spokane Expo, a shorter "Letter to President Franklin Pierce," and many other variations at about that time have a familial resemblance to the Smith text but begin to adopt an ecological view. In Smith's 1887 version, the natural world is the canvas upon which Chief Seattle's words are drawn. In the 1970s, the environment is the entire painting. The differences between the Smith version and the fourth version are striking, including the line, "Your God loves your people and hates mine," vs. "Our God is the same God." There are inspiring phrases, in the newer version, that the Smith transcription lacks: "How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us....The rivers are our brothers....The air is precious...for all things share the same breath" and "This we know. The earth does not belong to man. Man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family." For many years this fourth variant has been the accepted version of Chief Seattle's speech. So it came as some surprise when this last rendering was traced to a screenwriter, Ted Perry, for the 1972 movie a production of the Southern Baptist Radio and Television Commission. Perry heard Arrowsmith read his 1969 version and with permission, used the text as the basis for a new, fictitious speech for a film on pollution and ecology. The film's producers revised Perry's script without his knowledge, removed his name from the film credits, sent off 18,000 posters with the speech to viewers who requested it, and glibly began the confusion we have today. Perry was not pleased. Ted Perry is now a professor at Middlebury College in Vermont and has tried to set the record straight, but with little result. In a article in 1992, Perry mused, "Why are we so willing to accept a text like this if it's attributed to a Native American," and not to a Caucasian? Over the years, he has been embarrassed by his role in putting words in the mouth of Chief Seattle. "I would never have allowed anyone to believe that it was anything but a fictitious item written by me," he has said. Yet, Perry has also been pleased that his words have served as a powerful inspiration for so many others. "Would that this stimulus had not come at the expense of more distancing and romanticizing the Native American," he adds. The legend of Chief Seattle's speech may never die. Undoubtedly there will be many who refuse to believe that such fine and noble words and sentiments could have been made by a non-Indian during the 20th century--and for a television show at that. To allow any version of the speech to pass away would be to deny the magic and power of the words and their meaning. If something is true, it shouldn't matter who said it and when it was said as long as we recognize the source. What matters most is that the "Chief Seattle Speech" has something to teach us all: "So if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it as we have cared for it. We may be brothers after all." The chief died in 1866. His grave lies in a little cemetery behind the historic St. Peter's Catholic Church in the hamlet of Suquamish on Washington's Kitsap Peninsula. Through tall Douglas-fir trees toward the west, visitors can gaze across mist-covered Puget Sound on warm summer days. With the snow-clad Cascade Mountains on the far horizon as background, the tiny bumps of downtown Seattle rise like headstones.
(Poem #183) Sorrows of Werther
Werther had a love for Charlotte Such as words could never utter; Would you know how first he met her? She was cutting bread and butter. Charlotte was a married lady, And a moral man was Werther, And, for all the wealth of Indies, Would do nothing for to hurt her. So he sighed and pined and ogled, And his passion boiled and bubbled, Till he blew his silly brains out, And no more was by it troubled. Charlotte, having seen his body Borne before her on a shutter, Like a well-conducted person, Went on cutting bread and butter.
As a poem, this doesn't really need much said about it. The reference is to Goethe's 'The Sorrows of Young Werther', a work that apparently inspired a lot of poems, though it's a pretty safe bet none of them took quite the tone of Thackeray's piece.  see <[broken link] http://www.engl.virginia.edu/~enec981/dictionary/16smithM1.html> for example. Note: I couldn't find a synopsis of 'The Sorrows of Young Werther' anywhere, but the following is a synopsis of Massenet's opera based on the novel: <[broken link] http://www.laopera.org/98-99/werthersynopsis.htm>. The poem is a nicer if not as accurate summary, though <g>. Biography: Thackeray, William Makepeace b. July 18, 1811, Calcutta, India d. Dec. 24, 1863, London, Eng. English novelist whose reputation rests chiefly on Vanity Fair (1847-48), a novel of the Napoleonic period in England, and The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. (1852), set in the early 18th century. See <http://www.infoplease.com/ce5/CE051388.html> for a full biography. Assessment: In his own time Thackeray was regarded as the only possible rival to Dickens. His pictures of contemporary life were obviously real and were accepted as such by the middle classes. A great professional, he provided novels, stories, essays, and verses for his audience, and he toured as a nationally known lecturer. He wrote to be read aloud in the long Victorian family evenings, and his prose has the lucidity, spontaneity, and pace of good reading material. Throughout his works, Thackeray analyzed and deplored snobbery and frequently gave his opinions on human behaviour and the shortcomings of society, though usually prompted by his narrative to do so. He examined such subjects as hypocrisy, secret emotions, the sorrows sometimes attendant on love, remembrance of things past, and the vanity of much of life--such moralizing being, in his opinion, an important function of the novelist. He had little time for such favourite devices of Victorian novelists as exaggerated characterization and melodramatic plots, preferring in his own work to be more true to life, subtly depicting various moods and plunging the reader into a stream of entertaining narrative, description, dialogue, and comment. Thackeray's high reputation as a novelist continued unchallenged to the end of the 19th century but then began to decline. Vanity Fair is still his most interesting and readable work and has retained its place among the great historical novels in the English language. -- EB
It's been far too long since we did a Keats...
(Poem #182) La Belle Dame Sans Merci
O, what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, Alone and palely loitering? The sedge is wither'd from the lake, And no birds sing. O, what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, So haggard and so woe-begone? The squirrel's granary is full, And the harvest's done. I see a lily on thy brow, With anguish moist and fever dew; And on thy cheek a fading rose Fast withereth too. I met a lady in the meads Full beautiful --- a faery's child; Her hair was long, her foot was light, And her eyes were wild. I made a garland for her head, And bracelets too, and fragrant zone; She look'd at me as she did love, And made sweet moan. I set her on my pacing steed, And nothing else saw all day long; For sideways would she lean, and sing A faery's song. She found me roots of relish sweet, And honey wild, and manna dew; And sure in language strange she said, 'I love thee true.' She took me to her elfin grot, And there she wept and sighed full sore, And there I shut her wild sad eyes With kisses four. And there she lulled me asleep, And there I dream'd --- ah! woe betide! --- The latest dream I ever dreamt On the cold hill side. I saw pale kings, and princes too, Pale warriors, death-pale were they all; They cried --- 'La Belle Dame sans Merci Hath thee in thrall!' I saw their starved lips in the gloam With horrid warning gaped wide, And I awoke, and found me here On the cold hill side. And this is why I sojourn here, Alone and palely loitering; Though the sedge is wither'd from the lake, And no birds sing.
from Life, Letters and Literary Remains, 1848. ... not that I'm a great fan of 19th century poetry in general, but I've always liked Keats. And 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' is my second favouritest poem by him (the bestest, of course, is the incomparable 'On First Looking into Chapman's Homer', Minstrels poem #12) (yes, it's been some time). If I had to name one poet of sheer unadulterated natural genius (as opposed to skill or craftsmanship it would probably be Keats. Perhaps more than any other writer before or since , he had the ability to distil in its purest form that quality called 'poetry' in his verse. He doesn't use ornate or flowery language; his rhymes and rhythms are often less than perfect; his themes can be ordinary. And yet his words are just magical - pure music. thomas.  always excepting Shakespeare [Links] Of course, poem #12
(Poem #181) The Guards Came Through
Men of the Twenty-first Up by the Chalk Pit Wood, Weak with our wounds and our thirst, Wanting our sleep and our food, After a day and a night -- God, shall we ever forget! Beaten and broke in the fight, But sticking it -- sticking it yet. Trying to hold the line, Fainting and spent and done, Always the thud and the whine, Always the yell of the Hun! Northumberland, Lancaster, York, Durham and Somerset, Fighting alone, worn to the bone, But sticking it -- sticking it yet. Never a message of hope! Never a word of cheer! Fronting Hill 70's shell-swept slope, With the dull dead plain in our rear. Always the whine of the shell, Always the roar of its burst, Always the tortures of hell, As waiting and wincing we cursed Our luck and the guns and the Boche, When our Corporal shouted, "Stand to!" And I heard some one cry, "Clear the front for the Guards!" And the Guards came through. Our throats they were parched and hot, But Lord, if you'd heard the cheers! Irish and Welsh and Scot, Coldstream and Grenadiers. Two brigades, if you please, Dressing as straight as a hem, We -- we were down on our knees, Praying for us and for them! Lord, I could speak for a week, But how could you understand! How should your cheeks be wet, Such feelin's don't come to you. But when can me or my mates forget, When the Guards came through? "Five yards left extend!" If passed from rank to rank. Line after line with never a bend, And a touch of the London swank. A trifle of swank and dash, Cool as a home parade, Twinkle and glitter and flash, Flinching never a shade, With the shrapnel right in their face Doing their Hyde Park stunt, Keeping their swing at an easy pace, Arms at the trail, eyes front! Man, it was great to see! Man, it was fine to do! It's a cot and a hospital ward for me, But I'll tell'em in Blighty, wherever I be, How the Guards came through.
This poem reminds me strongly of Kipling's, and I like it for many of the same reasons. While not one of the graphic, hyperrealistic war poems that flourished during and after WW1, it nonetheless does a pretty good job of capturing the scene, and makes effective use of the 'first person' voice. What I really like about it are the rhythms; the basic metre has 3 feet per line, and the natural tendency towards a four beat line induces a pause at the end of each line, lending the poem a rather slow and deliberate progression. (This is most noticeable in the breach, when the occasional four-foot line moves noticeably faster.) Note, also, the way the rhyme scheme changes in the last verse, when the two consecutive rhyming lines and the shift to both triple feet and tetrameter stretch out the tension, giving the final line an air of conclusion and finality.  most metred English verse, as I have noted before, tries to fit itself to a 4x4 pattern; i.e. four lines of four feet each. The only exception is pentameter, which explains its popularity in poems wishing to avoid the air of 'commonness'. Notes: The war in question is WW1. Doyle was so little known as a poet that just one of the online biographies I could find bothered mentioning it - the bibliography, however, lists four books of verse: 1898 Songs of Action 1911 Songs of the Road 1919 The Guards Came Through and Other Poems 1922 The Poems of Arthur Conan Doyle. Collected edition Glossary: Boche: [Fr. slang, = rascal, German, said to be shortened from caboche head, or from Alboche, modification of Allemand German.] The (French) soldiers' name for a German. -- OED (For an interesting perspective on this see the prefatory note at <[broken link] http://raven.cc.ukans.edu/~libsite/wwi-www/Panama/PanamaTC.htm>) Biography: Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan b. May 22, 1859, Edinburgh d. July 7, 1930, Crowborough, Sussex, Eng. writer best known for his creation of the detective Sherlock Holmes--one of the most vivid characters in English fiction. Holmes's friend, the good-hearted but comparatively obtuse Dr. Watson, and the detective's principal enemy, the archcriminal Professor Moriarty, also have taken on an uncanny life that persists beyond the page. In New York the Baker Street Irregulars and in London the Sherlock Holmes Society peruse Holmesiana with a cultist fervour, and similar groups exist on the Continent. The brilliantly eccentric hero, in deerstalker or dressing gown, has been portrayed in a variety of media and has put the author's other works--chiefly historical romances--somewhat in the shade. Conan Doyle practiced medicine until 1891 after graduating from the University of Edinburgh, and the character of Holmes, who first appeared in A Study in Scarlet (1887), partly derives from a teacher at Edinburgh noted for his deductive reasoning. Short stories about Holmes began to appear regularly in the Strand Magazine in 1891 and later made up several collections, including The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892), The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893), The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905), and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927). Conan Doyle wearied of him and devised his death in 1893--only to be forced by public demand to restore him ingeniously to life. The other Holmes novels include The Mystery of Cloomber (1889), The Sign of Four (1890), The Doings of Raffles Haw (1892), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902), and The Valley of Fear (1915). [This is wrong - Cloomber and Raffles Haw weren't Holmes novels - m.] Conan Doyle was knighted in 1902 for his work with a field hospital in Bloemfontein, S.Af., and for other activities concerning the South African (Boer) War. After the death of his son from wounds incurred in World War I, he dedicated himself to the cause of spiritualism. -- EB Author of more than 50 books, including historical novels (most famous The White Company), science fiction (The Lost World and other novels of Professor Challenger), domestic comedy, seafaring adventure, the supernatural, poetry, military history, many other subjects. -- <[broken link] http://www.fortunecity.com/bally/skull/193/sacd.htm>, the only place I found that mentioned poetry even in passing. A more complete biography is linked to from the Doyle page at <[broken link] http://www.bol.ucla.edu/~ryoder/mystery/doyle.html>
(Poem #180) The Emperor of Ice-Cream
Call the roller of big cigars, The muscular one, and bid him whip In kitchen cups concupiscent curds. Let the wenches dawdle in such dress As they are used to wear, and let the boys Bring flowers in last month's newspapers. Let be be finale of seem. The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream. Take from the dresser of deal, Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet On which she embroidered fantails once And spread it so as to cover her face. If her horny feet protrude, they come To show how cold she is, and dumb. Let the lamp affix its beam. The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
"A poem need not have a meaning and, like most things in nature, often does not have." - Wallace Stevens, from Opus Posthumous, "Adagia" (1959) A line like that should absolve me of all critical responsiblities :-) Actually, though, this poem (one of Stevens' most famous) is hardly nonsensical. Rather, it describes (with great clarity, I might add) a funeral scene, while commenting on the very human fallibilities of those attending the wake. Not much more to say, I'm afraid; I'll leave it to you to come up with your own interpretations of each line (especially the most controversial of them all, 'let be be finale of seem'). Good luck :-). thomas. [Links] Lots and lots of lovely links for you today. A good introductory essay to the meaning of this poem can be found at [broken link] http://www.arches.uga.edu/~lizkelly/eng4.htm while a more in-depth analysis lurks at [broken link] http://www.wmich.edu/english/tchg/640/Mark.Emperor.html [broken link] http://www.thebrothers.com/eraaz/poets.html#The Emperor of Ice Cream is part of a larger article on Stevens and Theodore Roethke. And of course there's the Minstrels biography at poem #154 Read all our prevous poems at http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/
This week I'll be running a series of poems by writers far better known for their prose.
(Poem #179) Missed
The sun in the heavens was beaming, The breeze bore an odour of hay, My flannels were spotless and gleaming, My heart was unclouded and gay; The ladies, all gaily apparelled, Sat round looking on at the match, In the tree-tops the dicky-birds carolled, All was peace -- till I bungled that catch. My attention the magic of summer Had lured from the game -- which was wrong. The bee (that inveterate hummer) Was droning its favourite song. I was tenderly dreaming of Clara (On her not a girl is a patch), When, ah, horror! there soared through the air a Decidedly possible catch. I heard in a stupor the bowler Emit a self-satisfied 'Ah!' The small boys who sat on the roller Set up an expectant 'Hurrah!' The batsman with grief from the wicket Himself had begun to detach -- And I uttered a groan and turned sick. It Was over. I'd buttered the catch. O, ne'er, if I live to a million, Shall I feel such a terrible pang. From the seats on the far-off pavilion A loud yell of ecstasy rang. By the handful my hair (which is auburn) I tore with a wrench from my thatch, And my heart was seared deep with a raw burn At the thought that I'd foozled that catch. Ah, the bowler's low, querulous mutter Points loud, unforgettable scoff! Oh, give me my driver and putter! Henceforward my game shall be golf. If I'm asked to play cricket hereafter, I am wholly determined to scratch. Life's void of all pleasure and laughter; I bungled the easiest catch.
Wodehouse, I hope, needs little introduction; however he is not very well known as a poet. And not without reason - his poetry, while beautifully crafted, lacks a certain something. I think part of the problem is that it is crafted; unlike some poets, Wodehouse doesn't really have the knack of making contrived rhymes and complicated constructions work. Somewhat surprising, actually, given the sheer unadulterated genius of his prose, though it may very well be that the selfsame prose has led me to judge this little piece too harshly. Still, it is a pretty enough poem, if not a 'great' one, and well worth the read.  and if he does, do yourself a favour and read some of his sublime and ridiculous novels - I recommend 'Joy in the Morning'. Biography: Wodehouse, Sir P.G. b. Oct. 15, 1881, Guildford, Surrey, Eng. d. Feb. 14, 1975, Southampton, N.Y., U.S. in full PELHAM GRENVILLE WODEHOUSE, English-born comic novelist, short-story writer, lyricist, and playwright, best known as the creator of Jeeves, the supreme "gentleman's gentleman." He wrote more than 90 books and more than 20 film scripts and collaborated on more than 30 plays and musical comedies. Wodehouse was educated at Dulwich College, London, and, after a period in a bank, took a job as a humorous columnist on the London Globe (1902) and wrote freelance for many other publications. After 1909 he lived and worked for long periods in the United States and in France. He was captured in France by the Germans in 1940 and spent much of the war interned in Berlin. In 1941 he made five radio broadcasts from there to the United States in which he humorously described his experiences as a prisoner and subtly ridiculed his captors. His use of enemy broadcasting facilities evoked deep and lasting resentment in Britain, however, which was then practically under siege by Germany. After the war Wodehouse settled in the United States, becoming a citizen in 1955. He was knighted in 1975. Wodehouse began by writing public-school stories and then light romances. It was not until 1913 (in Something New; published in England as Something Fresh, 1915) that he turned to the farce, which became his special strength. He had a scholar's command of the English sentence. He delighted in vivid, far-fetched imagery and in slang. His plots are highly complicated and carefully planned. Whatever the dates of publication of his books, Wodehouse's English social atmosphere is of the late Edwardian era. The young bachelor Bertie Wooster and his effortlessly superior manservant, Jeeves, were still together, their ages unadvanced, in Much Obliged, Jeeves (1971), though they first appeared in a story in The Man with Two Left Feet (1917). -- EB Links: There's a P.G.Wodehouse appreciation page at <[broken link] http://www.smart.net/~tak/wodehouse.html> with a lot of other nice links hanging off it. A few more of his poems can be found at <[broken link] http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/2012/poems/wodeh01.html>
(Poem #178) Water
If I were called in To construct a religion I should make use of water. Going to church Would entail a fording To dry, different clothes; My litany would employ Images of sousing, A furious devout drench, And I should raise in the east A glass of water Where any-angled light Would congregate endlessly.
Yesterday was O-bon, one of several Shinto festivals that grace the Japanese calendar. That, in itself, is not a particularly interesting fact, except insofar as it motivated my choice of today's poem. You see, one of the motifs of the O-bon celebration is the purity and power of water, and I got to thinking about how so many religions do, in fact, use water as part of their litany, as a 'furious devout drench'. From Holi in India to O-bon to the Christian baptism ceremony, water (with all its attendant symbolism) has a central role in many rituals and beliefs. Interesting and thought-provoking, but what does it have to do with poetry? Not much, I'm afraid :-) thomas. PS. In case you thought this was free verse, do note the rhythm of the stressesthe effect is to build up to a quiet yet definite conclusion with wonderfully restrained elegance.
Guest poem sent in by Sameer Siruguri
(Poem #177) Where The Mind is Without Fear
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free; Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls; Where words come out from the depth of truth; Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection; Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit; Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action-- Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
If you have been schooled in India, you couldn't possibly have not read this in some English textbook or the other. I have always been captivated by the simplicity and economy of this poem; how, through exquisite imagery, Tagore expresses such profound thoughts. If you find that it reads more like a prayer chant from a religious book, you won't be far from the truth: the original Bengali poem which Tagore himself translated as above, was titled "Prayer". Though this poem was chosen because today is the 52nd anniversary of India's independence, it is really a plea, not for the political independence that was being sought early this century when it was written, but for freedom from parochialness and dogma, a prayer that is perhaps as relevant today as it was then. Maybe human nature itself is such that it always turns once-refreshing paradigms into stale tradition, forcing a Tagore in every generation to thus complain. This poem is from Gitanjali, lit. Offering of Songs, published in English in 1910. Biography: Tagore, Rabindranath (1861-1941), Indian poet, philosopher, and Nobel laureate, was born in Calcutta, into a wealthy family. He began to write poetry as a child; his first book appeared when he was 17 years old. After a brief stay in England (1878) to study law, he returned to India, where he rapidly became the most important and popular author of the colonial era, writing poetry, short stories, novels, and plays. He composed several hundred popular songs and in 1929 also began painting. Tagore wrote primarily in Bengali, but translated many of his works into English himself. He was awarded the 1913 Nobel Prize in literature, and in 1915 he was knighted by the British king George V. Tagore renounced his knighthood in 1919 following the Amritsar massacre of 400 Indian demonstrators by British troops. Some of his more famous works are 'Balaka', 'Sonar Tari', 'Chitali', and 'Gitanjali'. His selected poems 'Sanchaita', and selected short stories 'Galpagucha' were published in India 1966. Two of his songs are national anthem of India and Bangladesh. In 1901 Rabindranath Tagore founded a school at Santiniketan, West Bengal, India, which later developed into an international institution called Visva Bharati, where he tried to revive the spirit of education of ancient India, the famed "Gurukula" system, when students spent their childhood at their teacher's house and studied there. More resources: 1. The poem in Bengali: [broken link] http://www.itihaas.com/wheremind.gif 2. A more detailed bio: [broken link] http://www.itihaas.com/modern/tagore-profile.html [broken link] http://www.pathfinder.com/asiaweek/96/0712/feat6.html
While I had mentioned, in passing, that Belloc had written more than the children's verse he is famous for, I was surprised to discover the sheer quantity and versatility of his work. Today's poem is a beautiful example. Like most of Belloc's work, it shows a strong Christian influence, and is vaguely reminiscent of some of the metaphysical poets (particularly Herbert), but lacking the heaviness that so many of them possess, and injecting, instead, a refreshingly ironical tone. Belloc has, IMO, that quality that distinguishes a good poet - the ability to take a timeworn theme and write a poem that in no way sounds cliched or stale. Note the intriguing conflict of moods in today's piece - the underlying seriousness, the overlay of irony ('Reassure me, Good Lord...') and the almost nursery-rhyme effect, with a tinge of despair, created by the short lines (2 feet), simple rhymes and repetition. All intended, no doubt, as a commentary on Man's relationship with God; our old friends form and content engaged in their usual interplay. Biography etc: See the previous poem, poem #124 And for a nice collection of Belloc's poems, see <http://rcatholic-l.freeservers.com/belloc.html> m.
The archetype of the Wandering Minstrel...
(Poem #175) I am Taliesin. I sing perfect metre
I am Taliesin. I sing perfect metre, Which will last to the end of the world. My patron is Elphin... I know why there is an echo in a hollow; Why silver gleams; why breath is black; why liver is bloody; Why a cow has horns; why a woman is affectionate; Why milk is white; why holly is green; Why a kid is bearded; why the cow-parsnip is hollow; Why brine is salt; why ale is bitter; Why the linnet is green and berries red; Why a cuckoo complains; why it sings; I know where the cuckoos of summer are in winter. I know what beasts there are at the bottom of the sea; How many spears in battle; how may drops in a shower; Why a river drowned Pharaoh's people; Why fishes have scales. Why a white swan has black feet... I have been a blue salmon, I have been a dog, a stag, a roebuck on the mountain, A stock, a spade, an axe in the hand, A stallion, a bull, a buck, I was reaped and placed in an oven; I fell to the ground when I was being roasted And a hen swallowed me. For nine nights was I in her crop. I have been dead, I have been alive. I am Taliesin.
From the Mabinogion. Translated by Ifor Williams. Taliesin, by the way, means 'radiant brow'. [About the Mabinogion] The tales of the Mabinogion are not the product of any single hand; rather, they evolved over the centuries, passing from storyteller to storyteller, until some master bard put them together around the twelfth century. Its contents draw upon the myths and history of Celtic Britain: four branches of a storyline set largely within the confines of Wales and the otherworld. The tales create a dreamlike atmosphere and preserve much of the primitive, fascinating world of Celtic myth. They exemplify the heroic and idealistic world of Celtic literature. The Mabinogion does not seem to have been very well known until its translation into English in 1849 when Lady Charlotte Guest's version appeared. The tales comprise an ensemble of parts, the first four "Pwyll", "Branwen", "Manawydan", and "Math" comprising the Four Branches of the Mabinogi. It was Lady Charlotte who supplied the title Mabinogion. Previously, the tales were simply identified as part of this or that manuscript. Each of the Four Branches ends with the term 'So ends this Branch of the Mabinogi.' The Welsh word 'mab' means 'son'. Lady Charlotte concluded that 'mabinogi' was a noun meaning 'a story for children' and that the word 'mabinogion' was its plural. Another interpretation is that the word mabinog refers to "a student in the bardic class" and mabinogi (pl. mabinogion) therefore being "a tale belonging to the mabinog's repertoire". The Mabinogion are found in the "Red Book of Hergest", a large fourteenth-century manuscript kept at Jesus College, Oxford. An earlier manuscript called 'The White Book of Rhydderch' (c. 1325) is incomplete but more than likely contained all the tales when it was whole. Fragments of these tales appear elsewhere, the earliest of which is believed to be 'Peniarth 6' which dates to c. 1225. The stories were probably drawn up in their present shape towards the end of the twelfth century, but the stories are of much greater antiquity, some belonging even to the more distant past of Celtic paganism and to the period of Gallo-Breton unity. Welsh scholars tend to favour an earlier amalgamation, wanting to maximize the extent of their ancestors' contribution to The Mabinogion, while French scholars argue for 1200 - 1250 CE with the same thing in mind. Ifor Williams proposed 1060 CE as a likely date and gives a number of arguments: the occurrence of outdated word forms in the text, the scarcity of French words, references to extinct customs, and the peaceful period 1055-63 which was a time of bards from north and south to exchange and tell their tales. It is interesting to note that in the main "Four Branches" there is no mention of Arthur. Besides these four tales, the Mabinogion includes two from romantic British history ("The Dream of Maxen Wledig" and "Lludd and Llevelys"), two more interesting ones ("Rhonabwy's Dream" and "Kilhwch and Olwen"), "Taliesin", and, finally, three tales ("Owain or The Lady of the Fountain", "Gereint the Son of Erbin", "Peredur ab Evrawc") which show a marked kinship with certain medieval French tales. The three-volume edition with English translation by Lady Charlotte Guest was printed by Llandovery in 1849 with the English translation alone appearing in an edition of 1879. The Welsh text has been printed in a diplomatic edition, "The Red Book of Hergest", by J. Rhys and J. Gwenogfryn Evans (Oxford, 1887). Lady Guest's translation has been re-edited with valuable notes by Alfred Nutt (London, 1902). -- from an Arthurian sources page, http://www.gorddcymru.com/ [Links] The complete text of the Mabinogion (including the tale of Taliesin) can be found online at [broken link] http://www.gorddcymru.com/mabinogion/ This is the original Charlotte Guest translation, and not the Ifor Williams version that appears in today's poem. There are lots of sites related to Celtic mythology (I suppose because it's a very New Age sort of thingy). The most comprehensive links I could find are at http://www.cyberphile.co.uk/~taff/taffnet/mabinogion/mabinogion.htm Another goodly set of links can be had at [broken link] http://www.ancientsites.com/~Torrey_Philemon/calliope/mabinogion.htm Finally, here's a prose summary of Taliesin's life: http://www.employees.org/~pcorless/pendragon/taliesin.txt The context of this last is... interesting, to say the least :-). thomas.
Like a minimalist painting, today's poem captures the essence of a scene with a few, well chosen images. The fleeting blur of a train rushing by is beautifully evoked by the almost fragmentary snapshots, gradually building up into more complete images. There's not really that much to say about it - you might like to compare it to Stevenson's 'From a Railway Carriage', a rather more detailed treatment of the same theme.  poem #84 Glossary: evanescence: The quality of being evanescent; tendency to vanish away. cochineal: The colour of cochineal-dye, scarlet. Dickinson-related stuff: poem #92
From a modern-day minstrel...
(Poem #173) Hoochie Coochie Man
Gypsy woman told my mother Before I was born She said "You got a boy-child coming, Gonna be a son-of-a-gun He gonna make pretty women Jump and shout And the world's gonna know What's it all about Don't you know what I'm saying! Yeah, everybody knows I'm him I said I'm your hoochie coochie man You'd better believe I'm him! I've got a black cat bone I've got a mojo too I've got a little bottle of Johnny confidence I'm gonna mess with you Hey! I'll pick you up Lead you by the hand And the world's gonna know I'm your hoochie coochie man Don't you know what I'm saying! Yeah! Every body knows I'm him! Said I'm your hoochie coochie man You'd better believe I'm him! On the seventh hour Of the seventh day Of the seventh month Seven black girls say He was born for good luck And you will see I got seven hundred dollars, baby, Don't you mess with me! Don't you know what I'm saying! Yeah! Every body knows I'm him! Said I'm your hoochie coochie man You'd better believe I'm him!
Go to a music store and pick up virtually _any_ blues compilation; chances are, you'll find that half the songs were written by Willie Dixon. Classics such as today's, errm, 'poem' (Ok, so I'm stretching definitions a little bit. I still think the blues is poetry, though), "Little Red Rooster", "Spoonful", "Back-door Man", "Evil"... the list of wonderful songs penned by the bass player from Chicago just goes on and on. Only a handful of people (in the history of popular music) have been as influential as Dixon; only a handful have been as _good_. thomas. As usual, the All-Music Guide has the most comprehensive info on the net, including this [Biographical essay] Willie Dixon's life and work was virtually an embodiment of the progress of the blues, from an accidental creation of the descendants of freed slaves to a recognized and vital part of America's musical heritage. That Dixon was one of the first professional blues songwriters to benefit in a serious, material way -- and that he had to fight to do it -- from his work also made him an important symbol of the injustice that still informs the music industry, even at the end of this century. A producer, songwriter, bassist and singer, he helped Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter and others find their most commercially successful voices... ... Dixon's real recognition as a songwriter began with Muddy Waters' recording of "Hoochie Coochie Man." The success of that single, "Evil" by Howlin' Wolf, and "My Babe" by Little Walter saw Dixon established as Chess's most reliable tunesmith, and the Chess brothers continually pushed Dixon's songs on their artists. In addition to writing songs, Dixon continued as bassist and recording manager of many of the Chess label's recording sessions, including those by Lowell Fulson, Bo Diddley and Otis Rush... ... During the mid-'60s, [Dixon] began to see a growing interest in his songwriting from the British rock bands that he saw while in London -- his music was getting covered regularly by artists like the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds, and when he visited England, he even found himself cajoled into presenting his newest songs to their managements. Back at Chess, Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters continued to perform Dixon's songs, as did newer artists such as Koko Taylor, who had her own hit with "Wang Dang Doodle."... ... By [the 1980s]Dixon was regarded as something of an elder statesman, composer, and spokesperson of American blues. Dixon had suffered from increasingly poor health in recent years, and lost a leg to diabetes several years earlier, which didn't slow him down very much. He died peacefully in his sleep early in 1992. -- Bruce Eder, All-Music Guide and this piece of [Critical Acclaim] Willie Dixon will go down in blues history as, if not its most famous composer, certainly one of its most notable and most popular. While more lip service is certainly paid to the song catalogs of Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters (both great, but both only a drop in the bucket when compared to Willie's voluminous output), Dixon holds another unique place, that of a songwriter who was also a performer, but a songwriter first and foremost. In this regard, Dixon had a lot closer kinship with the Tin Pan Alley way of doing things, where singers were singers only and songwriters furnished the commercial ammunition. That Willie not only a) had the inclination to apply this same working system to the blues and b) find a workplace in Chess Records that allowed him to pitch the songs but arrange and produce these sessions to final fruition is one of those blues as a commercial force equations that supposedly never come to bear in a music so noble and raw in its emotions. But that was, and still is, the beauty of Dixons work. He helped popularize and mainstream the blues from a back porch, back alley, fairly disreputable form of music to something acceptable and welcomed on concert stages worldwide. It may have taken several liberal adaptions of his songs by various White musicians for them to become the standards that we now know them to be, but the musical fabric of the blues would be unimaginable without songs like "Back Door Man," "Hoochie Coochie Man," "Spoonful," "Wang Dang Doodle," "I Just Want To Make Love To You," and "Little Red Rooster." The structures and subject matter to his songs are exactly what gives them their universality; they are both the blues and about the blues. They draw on strong universal themes yet keep their playlets in the African-American community with their colloquialisms and slang terminology; certainly the party revelers in "Wang Dang Doodle" are like few parties held in most Caucasian neighborhoods. Yet Dixons description of the party in that song makes it one thats accessible to everyone from all over the world; everybody can pitch a wang dang doodle all night long. Willie Dixon's songs live inside the voices of a million singers, of all colors and races, simply because his music speaks to everybody who hears his basic, homespun message. -- Cub Koda, All-Music Guide [Trivia] Dixon once won the Illinois State Golden Gloves Heavyweight Championship. He might've been a successful boxer, but he turned to music instead, thanks to Leonard "Baby Doo" Caston, a guitarist who had seen Dixon at the gym where he worked out and occasionally sang with him. [Links] Lots of them. Lots and lots and lots. Rather than wasting your time surfing the net, I suggest you go out and buy some of the man's music.
Fixing a rather startling omission in the poet list...
(Poem #172) Paul Revere's Ride
Listen my children and you shall hear Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five; Hardly a man is now alive Who remembers that famous day and year. He said to his friend, "If the British march By land or sea from the town to-night, Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch Of the North Church tower as a signal light,-- One if by land, and two if by sea; And I on the opposite shore will be, Ready to ride and spread the alarm Through every Middlesex village and farm, For the country folk to be up and to arm." Then he said "Good-night!" and with muffled oar Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore, Just as the moon rose over the bay, Where swinging wide at her moorings lay The Somerset, British man-of-war; A phantom ship, with each mast and spar Across the moon like a prison bar, And a huge black hulk, that was magnified By its own reflection in the tide. Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street Wanders and watches, with eager ears, Till in the silence around him he hears The muster of men at the barrack door, The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet, And the measured tread of the grenadiers, Marching down to their boats on the shore. Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church, By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread, To the belfry chamber overhead, And startled the pigeons from their perch On the sombre rafters, that round him made Masses and moving shapes of shade,-- By the trembling ladder, steep and tall, To the highest window in the wall, Where he paused to listen and look down A moment on the roofs of the town And the moonlight flowing over all. Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead, In their night encampment on the hill, Wrapped in silence so deep and still That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread, The watchful night-wind, as it went Creeping along from tent to tent, And seeming to whisper, "All is well!" A moment only he feels the spell Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread Of the lonely belfry and the dead; For suddenly all his thoughts are bent On a shadowy something far away, Where the river widens to meet the bay,-- A line of black that bends and floats On the rising tide like a bridge of boats. Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride, Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere. Now he patted his horse's side, Now he gazed at the landscape far and near, Then, impetuous, stamped the earth, And turned and tightened his saddle girth; But mostly he watched with eager search The belfry tower of the Old North Church, As it rose above the graves on the hill, Lonely and spectral and sombre and still. And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height A glimmer, and then a gleam of light! He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns, But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight A second lamp in the belfry burns. A hurry of hoofs in a village street, A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark, And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet; That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light, The fate of a nation was riding that night; And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight, Kindled the land into flame with its heat. He has left the village and mounted the steep, And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep, Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides; And under the alders that skirt its edge, Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge, Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides. It was twelve by the village clock When he crossed the bridge into Medford town. He heard the crowing of the cock, And the barking of the farmer's dog, And felt the damp of the river fog, That rises after the sun goes down. It was one by the village clock, When he galloped into Lexington. He saw the gilded weathercock Swim in the moonlight as he passed, And the meeting-house windows, black and bare, Gaze at him with a spectral glare, As if they already stood aghast At the bloody work they would look upon. It was two by the village clock, When he came to the bridge in Concord town. He heard the bleating of the flock, And the twitter of birds among the trees, And felt the breath of the morning breeze Blowing over the meadow brown. And one was safe and asleep in his bed Who at the bridge would be first to fall, Who that day would be lying dead, Pierced by a British musket ball. You know the rest. In the books you have read How the British Regulars fired and fled,--- How the farmers gave them ball for ball, From behind each fence and farmyard wall, Chasing the redcoats down the lane, Then crossing the fields to emerge again Under the trees at the turn of the road, And only pausing to fire and load. So through the night rode Paul Revere; And so through the night went his cry of alarm To every Middlesex village and farm,--- A cry of defiance, and not of fear, A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door, And a word that shall echo for evermore! For, borne on the night-wind of the Past, Through all our history, to the last, In the hour of darkness and peril and need, The people will waken and listen to hear The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed, And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
I have no idea why it took so long to get around to Longfellow, since I do enjoy his work. You'll definitely see more of him, but I thought I'd start here with one of his most famous pieces. This beautifully-written poem has all the elements that characterize good narrative verse - a flowing metre, some excellent and evocative descriptive bits and above all a good story. Ironically enough, the very thoroughness with which it has ingrained itself into the public consciousness have given the lie to the opening verse - nearly every American now alive, and a good part of the rest of the English speaking world, 'remember that famous day and year', or at least the events that took place thereupon.  By far the main reason I like the poem - every passing scene is vividly described, yet so skilfully that nowhere is the momentum of the narrative broken. Description and action blend together in a smoothly unfolding tapestry of images that perfectly parallels the course of the ride. m. Biography and Assessment: There's an online biography at <[broken link] http://ikarus.pclab-phil.uni-kiel.de/daten/anglist/PoetryProject/longfellow.htm> A few relevant passages from the EB: Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth b. Feb. 27, 1807, Portland, Mass. [now in Maine], U.S. d. March 24, 1882, Cambridge, Mass. the most popular American poet in the 19th century. [..] The Tales of a Wayside Inn, modeled roughly on Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and published in 1863, reveals his narrative gift. The first poem, "Paul Revere's Ride," became a national favourite. Written in anapestic tetrameter meant to suggest the galloping of a horse, this folk ballad recalls a hero of the American Revolution and his famous "midnight ride" to warn the Americans about the impending British raid on Concord, Mass. Though its account of Revere's ride is historically inaccurate, the poem created an American legend. Longfellow published in 1872 what he intended to be his masterpiece, Christus: A Mystery, a trilogy dealing with Christianity from its beginning. He followed this work with two fragmentary dramatic poems, "Judas Maccabaeus" and "Michael Angelo." But his genius was not dramatic, as he had demonstrated earlier in The Spanish Student (1843). Long after his death in 1882, however, these neglected later works were seen to contain some of his most effective writing. During his lifetime Longfellow was loved and admired both at home and abroad. In 1884 he was honoured by the placing of a memorial bust in Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey in London, the first American to be so recognized. Sweetness, gentleness, simplicity, and a romantic vision shaded by melancholy are the characteristic features of Longfellow's poetry. He possessed great metrical skill, but he failed to capture the American spirit like his great contemporary Walt Whitman, and his work generally lacks emotional depth and imaginative power. Some years after Longfellow's death a violent reaction set in against his verse as critics dismissed his conventional high-minded sentiments and the gentle strain of Romanticism that he had made so popular. This harsh critical assessment, which tried to reduce him to the status of a mere hearthside rhymer, was perhaps as unbalanced as the adulation he had received during his lifetime. Some of Longfellow's sonnets and other lyrics are still among the finest in American poetry, and Hiawatha, "The Wreck of the Hesperus," Evangeline, and "Paul Revere's Ride" have become inseparable parts of the American heritage. Longfellow's immense popularity helped raise the status of poetry in his country, and he played an important part in bringing European cultural traditions to American audiences.