Notes: The poem summarises Richardson's 1920 paper 'The supply of energy from and to Atmospheric Eddies' The LFR homepage quotes line 3 as 'Little whorls have smaller whorls'; however, practically everywhere else has it as 'lesser', and this is more faithful to DeMorgan's original. Also (and I'm being a trifle inconsistent here) the homepage has it in two lines rather than the more familiar quatrain format; this is actually the way DeMorgan had it, but the four line version is more popular and flows better IMO; I compromised by indenting the even lines. The poem is untitled; I've merely followed the popular convention of using the first line as a title. I first encountered this wonderful verselet in James Gleick's 'Chaos' (highly recommended, incidentally - a very understandable and well-written introduction to the topic), and was instantly captivated. The poem works on two levels - both as a delightfully well-done parody of DeMorgan's famous paraphrase of Swift, and as as nice a summation of the fractal nature of turbulence as any I've seen. Original: From Bartlett's Quotations, AUTHOR: Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) QUOTATION: So, naturalists observe, a flea Has smaller fleas that on him prey; And these have smaller still to bite 'em; And so proceed ad infinitum. ATTRIBUTION: Poetry, a Rhapsody. And as an addendum Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em, And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum. And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on; While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on. -- Augustus De Morgan: A Budget of Paradoxes, p. 377. Biography: Richardson, Lewis Fry b. Oct. 11, 1881, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, Eng. d. Sept. 30, 1953, Kilmun, Argyll, Scot. British physicist and psychologist who was the first to apply mathematical techniques to predict the weather accurately. Richardson made major contributions to methods of solving certain types of problems in physics, and from 1913 to 1922 he applied his ideas to meteorology. His work, published in Weather Prediction by Numerical Process (1922), was not entirely successful at first. The main drawback to his mathematical technique for systematically forecasting the weather was the time necessary to produce such a forecast. It generally took him three months to predict the weather for the next 24 hours. With the advent of electronic computers after World War II, his method of weather prediction, somewhat altered and improved, became practical. The Richardson number, a fundamental quantity involving the gradients (change over a distance) of temperature and wind velocity, is named after him. -- EB See also http://maths.paisley.ac.uk/LfR/Biography.htm for a timeline Links: The LFR homepage: http://maths.paisley.ac.uk/LfR/home.htm Some quotations by DeMorgan http://www-groups.dcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/~history/Quotations/De_Morgan.html For a nice if confusingly laid out introduction to turbulence [broken link] http://www.weizmann.ac.il/lvov/Lect/index.html And one on fractals http://math.rice.edu/~lanius/frac/ Chaos http://www.pha.jhu.edu/~ldb/seminar/index.html And so on to viscosity... http://www.susqu.edu/facstaff/b/brakke/complexity/hagey/chaos.htm The 'science poems by scientists' theme began at poem #795 Further reading: [broken link] http://newton.ex.ac.uk/aip/catagories/chaos.html -martin
(Poem #796) Death be not Proud (Holy Sonnets: X)
Death be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so, For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow, Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, Much pleasure: then from thee much more must flow, And soonest our best men with thee do go, Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery. Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell; And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then? One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Written circa 1610. Form: Petrarchan sonnet. Meter: Iambic pentameter with occasional trochaic feet (inversions). Rhyme scheme: abbaabba cddcee. Dylan Thomas explores a very similar theme in his magnificent villanelle "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" . But where Thomas is all defiance and fire in the face of a higher power, Donne is cool and restrained and, indeed, mocking; his icy logic seems almost contemptuous of Death . The conceit of Death being like a rest or a sleep is, of course, not new to Donne , but the twist he gives it: "From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, Much pleasure: then from thee much more must flow" certainly is. The idea that Death, far from being a dread tyrant, is actually at the beck and call of "fate, chance, kings, and desperate men", and indeed, of anyone who can wield a sword or a poisoned chalice, is equally fresh. "Poppy  and charms" are just as efficacious as Death in inducing sleep. And the sleep of Death is not even permanent; instead, the pure of heart wake to eternal life, where Death is banished forever. thomas.  See Minstrels poem #38.  "Fire and Ice"; see Minstrels poem #779.  See, for instance, Minstrels poem #126, an extract from "The Tempest": "... We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep." -- William Shakespeare  That is, opium. [Appraisal] Because almost none of Donne's poetry was published during his lifetime, it is difficult to date it accurately. Most of his poems were preserved in manuscript copies made by and passed among a relatively small but admiring coterie of poetry lovers. Most current scholars agree, however, that the elegies (which in Donne's case are poems of love, not of mourning), epigrams, verse letters, and satires were written in the 1590s, the Songs and Sonnets from the 1590s until 1617, and the "Holy Sonnets" and other religious lyrics from the time of Donne's marriage until his ordination in 1615. He composed the hymns late in his life, in the 1620s. Donne's Anniversaries were published in 1611-12 and were the only important poetic works by him published in his lifetime. Donne's poetry is marked by strikingly original departures from the conventions of 16th-century English verse, particularly that of Sir Philip Sidney and Edmund Spenser. Even his early satires and elegies, which derive from classical Latin models, contain versions of his experiments with genre, form, and imagery. His poems contain few descriptive passages like those in Spenser, nor do his lines follow the smooth metrics and euphonious sounds of his predecessors. Donne replaced their mellifluous lines with a speaking voice whose vocabulary and syntax reflect the emotional intensity of a confrontation and whose metrics and verbal music conform to the needs of a particular dramatic situation. One consequence of this is a directness of language that electrifies his mature poetry. "For Godsake hold your tongue, and let me love", begins his love poem "The Canonization", plunging the reader into the midst of an encounter between the speaker and an unidentified listener. Holy Sonnet XI opens with an imaginative confrontation wherein Donne, not Jesus, suffers indignities on the cross: "Spit in my face yee Jewes, and pierce my side..." From these explosive beginnings, the poems develop as closely reasoned arguments or propositions that rely heavily on the use of the conceit -- i.e., an extended metaphor that draws an ingenious parallel between apparently dissimilar situations or objects. Donne, however, transformed the conceit into a vehicle for transmitting multiple, sometimes even contradictory, feelings and ideas. And, changing again the practice of earlier poets, he drew his imagery from such diverse fields as alchemy, astronomy, medicine, politics, global exploration, and philosophical disputation. Donne's famous analogy of parting lovers to a drawing compass affords a prime example. The immediate shock of some of his conceits aroused Samuel Johnson to call them "heterogeneous ideas ... yoked by violence together". Upon reflection, however, these conceits offer brilliant and multiple insights into the subject of the metaphor and help give rise to the much-praised ambiguity of Donne's lyrics. The presence of a listener is another of Donne's modifications of the Renaissance love lyric, in which the lovers lament, hope, and dissect their feelings without facing their ladies. Donne, by contrast, speaks directly to the lady or some other listener. The latter may even determine the course of the poem, as in "The Flea", in which the speaker changes his tack once the woman crushes the insect on which he has built his argument about the innocence of lovemaking. But for all their dramatic intensity, Donne's poems still maintain the verbal music and introspective approach that define lyric poetry. His speakers may fashion an imaginary figure to whom they utter their lyric outburst, or, conversely, they may lapse into reflection in the midst of an address to a listener. "But O, selfe traytor", the forlorn lover cries in "Twickham Garden" as he transforms part of his own psyche into a listener. Donne also departs from earlier lyrics by adapting the syntax and rhythms of living speech to his poetry, as in "I wonder by my troth, what thou, and I/Did, till we lov'd?". Taken together, these features of his poetry provided an impetus for the works of such later poets as Robert Browning, William Butler Yeats, and T. S. Eliot. Donne also radically adapted some of the standard materials of love lyrics. For example, even though he continued to use such Petrarchan conceits as "parting from one's beloved is death", a staple of Renaissance love poetry, he either turned the comparisons into comedy, as when the man in "The Apparition" envisions himself as a ghost haunting his unfaithful lady, or he subsumed them into the texture of his poem, as the title "A Valediction: forbidding Mourning" exemplifies. Donne's love lyrics provide keen psychological insights about a broad range of lovers and a wide spectrum of amorous feelings. His speakers range from lustful men so sated by their numerous affairs that they denounce love as a fiction and women as objects -- food, birds of prey, mummies -- to platonic lovers who celebrate both the magnificence of their ladies and their own miraculous abstention from consummating their love. Men whose love is unrequited feel victimized and seek revenge on their ladies, only to realize the ineffectuality of their retaliation. In the poems of mutual love, however, Donne's lovers rejoice in the compatibility of their sexual and spiritual love and seek immortality for an emotion that they elevate to an almost religious plane. Donne's devotional lyrics, especially the "Holy Sonnets", "Good Friday 1613, Riding Westward", and the hymns, passionately explore his love for God, sometimes through sexual metaphors, and depict his doubts, fears, and sense of spiritual unworthiness. None of them shows him spiritually at peace. The most sustained of Donne's poems, the Anniversaries, were written to commemorate the death of Elizabeth Drury, the 14-year-old daughter of his patron, Sir Robert Drury. These poems subsume their ostensible subject into a philosophical meditation on the decay of the world. Elizabeth Drury becomes, as Donne noted, "the Idea of a woman", and a lost pattern of virtue. Through this idealized feminine figure, Donne in The First Anniversarie: An Anatomie of the World laments humanity's spiritual death, beginning with the loss of Eden and continuing in the decay of the contemporary world, in which men have lost the wisdom that connects them to God. In The Second Anniversarie: Of the Progres of the Soule, Donne, partly through a eulogy on Elizabeth Drury, ultimately regains the wisdom that directs him toward eternal life. -- EB [Minstrels Links] Poems by John Donne: Poem #330, "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" Poem #384, "Song" Poem #403, "A Lame Beggar" Poem #465, "The Sun Rising" The first of these has a generous EB article on the Metaphysical poets in general, and Donne in particular. It also happens to be one of my favourite poems of all time - read it!
This week's theme - a series of somewhat playful poems by scientists on various scientific topics
(Poem #795) The Perils of Modern Living
Well up above the tropostrata There is a region stark and stellar Where, on a streak of anti-matter Lived Dr. Edward Anti-Teller. Remote from Fusion's origin, He lived unguessed and unawares With all his antikith and kin, And kept macassars on his chairs. One morning, idling by the sea, He spied a tin of monstrous girth That bore three letters: A. E. C. Out stepped a visitor from Earth. Then, shouting gladly o'er the sands, Met two who in their alien ways Were like as lentils. Their right hands Clasped, and the rest was gamma rays.
Notes: Originally published in the New Yorker, 1956 Tropostrata: More correctly, 'troposphere', the lowest region of the atmosphere (extending to about 18km, where it gives way to the stratosphere) AEC: The US Atomic Energy Commission. [broken link] http://www.ch.doe.gov/history/AEC.htm Macassars: A pun on 'antimacassar', a chair cover Who says scientists have no sense of play? The more interesting branches of modern physics (i.e., almost all of them) have done more than capture the imaginations of several generations of scientists - they have, in several cases, moved them to quirky, whimsical and above all delightful verse. Part of the reason is, I believe, that Science itself has begun to pass beyond the scope of observational 'common sense', and present conclusions that are in their own way as counterintuitive and magical as anything out of myth or fantasy. And not just magical - in many cases, the seeming incongruities are downright amusing, from relativity, as immortalised by the 'young lady named Bright', to quantum mechanics, whose paradoxes have spawned a whole genre of jokes, the turbulent boundary between what we expect and what we are assured is permeated by the foam of creativity.  Who travelled much faster than light She went out one day In a Relative way And returned on the previous night  "Wanted, dead or alive - Schrodinger's Cat", to quote just one Today's poem stems from that most famous of equations, E=mc^2, which tells us that if matter could be converted entirely to energy, there'd be an awful lot of it. It refers to antimatter, matter composed of antiparticles which, when they encounter their normal counterparts, annihilate each other in a burst of energy. Antimatter particles exist, but there is no evidence for antimaterial worlds, way up above the tropostrata or otherwise <g>. Biography: Bit early for that :) See instead http://www.pppl.gov/Workshops/furth/furth_announcement.html And, from a summary of an article about Furth and his 'best known publication', Lois Wingerson, "Harold Furth -- Fusion's Front Man", New Scientist, 9 Sep 1982, pp.701-704, scientist who "seemed far more likely to end up as a minor poet", won poetry awards, wrote a famous poem about Edward Teller in New Yorker, 1956; -- http://www.magicdragon.com/UltimateSF/sfpo-6pt0.html And here's a biography of Teller http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?eu=73469&tocid=0 Links: The closest we've had to poetry by a scientist is Hein's 'On Problems' (Poem #668) We've had some science-themed poems, though: Poem #54: Walt Whitman, 'When I heard the Learn'd Astronomer' Poem #57: E. E. Cummings, 'pity this busy monster, manunkind' and, of course, Poem #490: Tom Lehrer, 'The Elements' Tangentially related is the Mathematics theme we ran a while ago: Poem #599 Rita Dove 'Geometry' Poem #601 E. V. Rieu 'Hall and Knight' Poem #604 Edna St. Vincent Millay 'Euclid Alone Has Looked On Beauty Bare' As usual, theme suggestions and guest poems are welcome; note the dual constraint, though - the poem must be both by a scientist and on some scientific topic. -martin
Guest poem submitted by Purnima Sreenivas:
Translated by Vikram Seth. I came across this poem years ago in Seth's volume "Three Chinese Poets" which I began reading more from a love of Seth than any great interest in Chinese poetry. What I love about this poem is its sparseness, something that Li Po shares with other Chinese poets, and which I think has to do with a culture where emotional restraint is encouraged. Yet this quatrain is an example of just how much loneliness can hide behind a facade of serenity. The poem resembles the Chinese script itself - a minutely detailed painting brought to life with a few deft strokes. Purnima. [Minstrels Links] Poems by Li Po: Poem #70, "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter" Poem #504, "About Tu Fu" Poem #683, "To Tu Fu from Shantung" Poem #749, "Parting" (Note that the first of these is credited to Ezra Pound on the Minstrels website, since it's as much Pound's work as Po's). Poems by Vikram Seth: Poem #650, "All You Who Sleep Tonight" Poem #754, "Protocols" Poem #460, "Round and Round" Seth's "Three Chinese Poets" (which, sadly, I do not have the good fortune to possess) includes translations of Wang Wei, Tu Fu (whose name Seth transliterates as Du Fu) and Li Po (ditto, Li Bai).
Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #793) No Road
Since we agreed to let the road between us Fall to disuse, And bricked our gates up, planted trees to screen us, And turned all time's eroding agents loose, Silence, and space, and strangers - our neglect Has not had much effect. Leaves drift unswept, perhaps; grass creeps unmown; No other change. So clear it stands, so little overgrown, Walking that way tonight would not seem strange, And still would be followed. A little longer, And time would be the stronger, Drafting a world where no such road will run From you to me; To watch that world come up like a cold sun, Rewarding others, is my liberty. Not to prevent it is my will's fulfillment. Willing it, my ailment.
This is not one of Larkin's best known poems, and I've always wondered why. In its quiet way it's one of the saddest and most haunting poems I know. The first two verses capture very precisely the way that even after a really deep relationship ends one has the feeling that one could just turn it on again. It's wishful thinking maybe, but it's only after things have ended that you realise how deeply the relationship has delved into you, and you feel that with no problem you could just forget all the problems and go down that road again. But then there's the last verse and this is one of the bleakest bits of verse I know. Because it acknowledges that the road will never be opened again, and the reason for that is not the many superficial reasons you ended it for, but because of you. Because you did it, and you did it because you could do it. And that is the way people behave, even though that is what is wrong with them. Vikram. [Minstrels Links] Poems by Philip Larkin: Poem #73, "I Remember, I Remember" Poem #100, "Days" Poem #178, "Water" Poem #254, "The North Ship" Poem #502, "MCMXIV" Poem #544, "Toads" Poem #756, "An Arundel Tomb" The first and fourth of these have biographies attached; the second and sixth have external critical commentary, by George Macbeth and Gary Geddes, respectively. "Deprivation is to me what daffodils are to Wordsworth." -- Philip Larkin.
Guest poem submitted by Amulya Gopalakrishnan:
(Poem #792) The Beautiful Lie
He was about four, I think... it was so long ago. In a garden; he'd done some damage behind a bright screen of sweet-peas - snapped a stalk, a stake, I don't recall, but the grandmother came and saw, and asked him: "Did you do that?" Now, if she'd said why did you do that, he'd never have denied it. She showed him he had a choice. I could see, in his face, the new sense, the possible. That word and deed need not match, that you could say the world different, to suit you. When he said "No", I swear it was as moving as the first time a baby's fist clenches on a finger, as momentous as the first taste of fruit. I could feel his eyes looking through a new window, at a world whose form and colour weren't fixed but fluid, that poured like a snake, trembled around the edges like northern lights, shape-shifted at the spell of a voice. I could sense him filling like a glass, hear the unreal sea in his ears. This is how to make songs, create men, paint pictures, tell a story. I think I made up the screen of sweet peas. Maybe they were beans; maybe there was no screen, it just felt as if there should be, somehow. And he was my - no, I don't need to tell that. I know I made up the screen. And I recall very well what he had done.
I stumbled across this poem by Sheenagh Pugh by sheer accident, in the TLS. It describes the possibilities opened by the making of fiction, of creating counter universes with imagination. I love that heady, delirious moment of discovering - "this is how..." - it's resonant, memorable. It's such a powerful affirmation of the magic of 'making it up', escaping a too-literal world. "Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there", as John Barth puts it. Despite the teasing suggestion of Sin (the snake, the garden, the "taste of fruit"), it places creativity firmly on the side of experience. It looks at imagination not as some kind of pure innocent vision, but as something that is born out of some kind of friction, contact with the outside world. I don't know much about Sheenagh Pugh, except she's Welsh and writes wonderfully. She has a website: [broken link] http://www.geocities.com/sheenaghpugh. Amulya.
(Poem #791) After
Oh, the littles that remain! Scent of mint out in the lane; Flare of window; sound of bees; -- These, but these. Three times sitting down to bread; One time climbing up to bed; Table-setting o'er and o'er; Drying herbs for winter's store; This thing; that thing; -- nothing more. But just now out in the lane, Oh, the scent of mint was plain!
A common theme in poetry - the transporting effects of memory. Indeed, today's poem says nothing particularly *new*, but it says it well. Reese's poetry has been praised for its 'intensity and concision', a summing up with which I fully agree, and which shows to very good effect in 'After'. The contrast between the dull monotony of routine and the sharp spice of a memory is beautifully evoked in a few, short words, crystallising around the very different tones of 'these, but these' and 'this thing; that thing; -- nothing more'. Biography and criticism: Reese, Lizette Woodworth 1856-1935, American poet, b. Waverly, Md. Lizette Woodworth Reese was a professional, independent woman from the time she left high school in 1873. She began her teaching career that year and published her first poem in Baltimore's Southern Magazine in 1874. She taught for 45 years in the public schools of Baltimore. Her poetry and her readings of it were particularly popular in women's groups throughout the United States. She was one of the founders of the Woman's Literary Club of Baltimore and its chairman of poetry until her death in 1935. In April, 1931 she was named Poet Laureate of the General Federation of Women's Clubs. In that same month, she was iven an honorary doctorate of literature by Goucher College which called her one of the "greatest living women in America." In her lifetime, Reese was internationally admired for her poetic genius and hailed by H.L. Mencken as one of the most distinguished poets in the United States. This volume is the first extensive collection of her poems since her Selected Poems was published in 1926. -- From the description of "In Praise of Common Things" http://info.greenwood.com/books/0313279/html In the 1920s when women in great numbers were again publishing her kind of poetry, Reese began to re-emerge as a poet. Robert Hariss claims that both Teasdale and Millay were "deeply indebted" to her. From Cheryl Walker, "The Nightingale's burden : women poets and American culture before 1900." -- [broken link] http://library.nsuok.edu/Ella/Bio/bnighten.htm [Read the whole thing - it's good] Her poetry, remarkable for its intensity and concision, has been compared to that of Emily Dickinson. She is probably best remembered for the sonnet "Years". [I think that last is a typo for 'Tears' - m.] -- [broken link] http://www.encyclopedia.com/printablenew/39250.html Links: Reiterating the essay on pre-1900 woman poets: -- [broken link] http://library.nsuok.edu/Ella/Bio/bnighten.htm Some previous poems I was reminded of (for various reasons): poem #206 poem #236 poem #323 poem #373 poem #464 poem #670 - martin
Guest poem submitted by P. Srikant:
(Poem #785) One Trick Pony
He's a one trick pony One trick is all that horse can do He does one trick only It's the principal source of his revenue And when he steps into the spotlight You can feel the heat of his heart Come rising through See how he dances See how he loops from side to side See how he prances The way his hooves just seem to glide He's just a one trick pony (that's all he is) But he turns that trick with pride He makes it look so easy He looks so clean He moves like God's Immaculate machine He makes me think about All of these extra movements I make And all of this herky-jerky motion And the bag of tricks it takes To get me through my working day One-trick pony He's a one trick pony He either fails or he succeeds He gives his testimony Then he relaxes in the weeds He's got one trick to last a lifetime But that's all a pony needs
From the soundtrack to the movie "One Trick Pony"; both soundtrack and script were written by Paul Simon. Released 1980. Douglas Adams is dead. Here's something to remember him by on the Minstrels - this album was one of the things his epic series "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" was dedicated to. A one-trick pony was something Adams didn't want to be , though the Guide is what most of the world will know him by. I really like Paul Simon's way of expressing his wish for a less complicated life in the third stanza. Srikant.  http://www.daily.umn.edu/daily/gopher-archives/1992/11/19/The_galactic_persp ective.txt [Minstrels Links] Poem #119, "A Poem on the Underground Wall", Paul Simon Poem #615, "The Philosopher's Drinking Song", Monty Python
(Poem #790) Salutation
O generation of the thoroughly smug and thoroughly uncomfortable, I have seen fishermen picnicking in the sun, I have seen them with untidy families, I have seen their smiles full of teeth and heard ungainly laughter. And I am happier than you are, And they were happier than I am; And the fish swim in the lake and do not even own clothing.
When a writer as skilled and as unrestrained as Ezra Pound applies his talent to the art of invective, the results are always fascinating. Pound's magnificent contempt for the petite bourgeoisie can be irritating at times, even offputting in its frequent self-righteousness, but equally, it can be wonderful. Today's scathing denunciation of middle-class mores is vintage Pound. The poem starts with a deliberately provocative couplet, highlighting two qualities which the poet most detests in his audience - self-satisfaction, and a blind adherence to rules even at the cost of personal freedom. Next comes a telling comparison: even lowly fishermen, "untidy" and "ungainly", are happier with their picnic baskets and their families than are those who tread the straight and narrow of society's demands. And most blessed of all are the fish, who have no property and no propriety, who "swim in the lake / and do not even own clothing". Notice how, after the initial salutation, Pound barely addresses his targets directly. Instead, he proceeds through comparison and contrast, eschewing the bombast beloved of revolutionary poets before and since. The subtlety is telling, and effective; it's what I like best about this poem. That, and the imagery: smug society folks, fisherman laughing in the sun, and the fish, always the fish. thomas. [References] "And the fish swim in the lake / and do not even own clothing" is almost certainly a reference to the Sermon on the Mount: "And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.  And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?" -- The Bible, King James Version, the Gospel of Matthew, ch.6 [Minstrels Links] Poems by Ezra Pound: Poem #70, "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter" Poem #123, "And the days are not full enough" Poem #191, "The Garden" Poem #319, "In a Station of the Metro" Poem #583, "Envoi" An extract from "The Sermon on the Mount", poem #314. [Afterthought] While selecting the poems to include in the Links section above, I found myself wondering whether there were any other pieces of verse which were as openly disdainful of their (respective) audiences as is today's poem. And then it hit me: "Salutation" is _not_ disdainful of its readers; rather, it invites its readers to _share_ in Pound's contempt for the purported addressees, the "generation of the thoroughly smug / and thoroughly uncomfortable". A skilful example of a poem saying one thing on the surface, but conveying its _real_ meaning a layer deeper.
A brief return to the Canadian theme...
(Poem #789) The Social Plan
I know a very tiresome Man Who keeps on saying, "Social Plan." At every Dinner, every Talk Where Men foregather, eat or walk, No matter where, -- this Awful Man Brings on his goddam Social Plan. The Fall in Wheat, the Rise in Bread, The social Breakers dead ahead, The Economic Paradox That drives the Nation on the rocks, The Wheels that false Abundance clogs -- And frightens us from raising Hogs, -- This dreary field, the Gloomy Man Surveys and hiccoughs, Social Plan. Till simpler Men begin to find His croaking aggravates their mind, And makes them anxious to avoid All mention of the Unemployed, And leads them even to abhor The People called Deserving Poor. For me, my sympathies now pass To the poor Plutocratic Class. The Crowd that now appeals to me Is what he calls the Bourgeoisie. So I have got a Social Plan To take him by the Neck, And lock him in a Luggage van And tie on it a check, Marked MOSCOW VIA TURKESTAN, Now, how's that for a Social Plan?
(First published 1936) In response to Lampman's "To a Millionaire", I received an interesting set of comments from Matthew Chanoff, in which he argued that the sentiments expressed therein were naive and dated by today's standards (true enough), and that that reflected badly on the poem. I personally take the opposite standpoint - that the poem deserves to be judged by the standards of its own time, and that its merits lie in the *writing*, that is, in how effectively it cast those admittedly dated socioeconomic concerns into verse. (This is something I have alluded to before, in connection with Kipling's poetry). Still, that got me thinking about the other point of view, and about extremists of all stripes, and finally about Leacock (Canada's finest humorist, IMO - I'm currently rereading his 'Literary Lapses' with much enjoyment). 'Social Plan' is far lighter in tone than 'Millionaire', and, inevitably, that lightness means that it has aged far better. Leacock's reference to the 'Gloomy Man' is particularly apposite - the reader is at once reminded of a host of caricatures and sketches involving just such a figure; the poem need go into no further detail. And after all, social setups come and go, but painful people will always be with us <g>. Constructionwise, the poem is fairly straightforward - it carries itself forward in a smoothly uninterrupted series of rhyming couplets, all the way until the last verse, where a variation of both the rhyme scheme and the metre picks up the pace in tandem with the narrator's shifting into a more vehement tone. Nice. Biography: Stephen Leacock was a shaggy, handsome, colorful, Canadian who proved to his countrymen that humour was almost respectable and certainly profitable, and delighted the world with his wit from the end of the Edwardian era until the middle of World War II. He succeeded Mark Twain in 1910 as the foremost literary Stephen Leacock lived in and is identified with two very dissimilar Canadian milieus; one a small Ontario town (Orillia), the other a cosmopolitan Quebec metropolis (Montreal). As a fluently multi-lingual academic with a brilliant mind and a great flair for teaching the essence of things, he wintered and worked in Montreal for four decades; for twenty-eight years as chairman of the Department of Economics and Political Science at McGill University. During summers in Orillia, Leacock always retired early and rose at dawn to write for several hours in a study above the boathouse. Leaving most of the day free for sailing and fishing and supervising his big garden and small farm. He wrote about both places. Indeed there was rarely a day or a dawn when he did not write. His thirty-five volumes of humour followed one another at an average rate of one a year. He also wrote twenty-seven other books of history, biography, criticism, economics and Political science humorist in North America. -- [broken link] http://www.transdata.ca/~leacock/bio.html Links: Lampman's "To a Millionaire": poem #784 The rest of the Canadian theme was summarised in poem #786 The Stephen Leacock museum: [broken link] http://www.transdata.ca/~leacock/ The National Library of Canada site on Leacock: [broken link] http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/leacock/index-e.html -martin
Guest poem submitted by Ashvin K. George:
(Poem #788) I Missed His Book, But I Read His Name
Though authors are a dreadful clan To be avoided if you can, I'd like to meet the Indian, M. Anantanarayanan. I picture him as short and tan. We'd meet, perhaps, in Hindustan. I'd say, with admirable elan , "Ah, Anantanarayanan -- I've heard of you. The Times once ran A notice on your novel, an Unusual tale of God and Man." And Anantanarayanan Would seat me on a lush divan And read his name -- that sumptuous span Of 'a's and 'n's more lovely than "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan" -- Aloud to me all day. I plan Henceforth to be an ardent fan of Anantanarayanan -- M. Anantanarayanan.
Somebody told me that John Updike had written a poem on the name Ananthanarayanan; simply because he liked the sound of it. (I found this on google: I hope it has been correctly transcribed). It's quite amusing and well constructed (if you can overlook the fact that his pronunciation of Anantanarayanan rhymes with fan rather than fun), with an appropriately comedic rhyme scheme. It's given me a new appreciation of south Indian names :). I don't know anything about the real Anantanarayanan, but you can buy his book on Amazon.com. Ashvin.  "The Silver Pilgrimage," by M. Anantanarayanan. 160 pages. Criterion. $3.95. [Minstrels Links] Coleridge's poem "Kubla Khan": poem #30
Wrapping up the rather desultory whirlwind tour through Canadian poetry...
(Poem #787) Sea-Gulls
For one carved instant as they flew, The language had no simile -- Silver, crystal, ivory Were tarnished. Etched upon the horizon blue, The frieze must go unchallenged, for the lift And carriage of the wings would stain the drift Of stars against a tropic indigo Or dull the parable of snow. Now settling one by one Within green hollows or where curled Crests caught the spectrum from the sun, A thousand wings are furled. No clay-born lilies of the world Could blow as free As those wild orchids of the sea.
From 'Many Moods' (Macmillan 1932, p. 9) There isn't really a lot I want to say about today's poem - I just love the images it evokes, the play of light, colour and motion against a backdrop of sun, sea and above all, space. It also touches explicitly upon another of my favourite topics, the connection between poetry and visual art. Pratt has been criticized for being too impersonal, as if that in some way diminshed the quality of his poetry (flying, as it does, in the face of the 'spontaneous overflow of emotion' theory). However, reading poems like Sea-gulls leaves me in little doubt that Pratt was fully responsive to, and appreciative of, the beauty of which he wrote, and that the care with which he crafts and polishes his poetry detracts not at all from its merits. To quote Froese in her essay on 'Pratt as Lyricist' Furthermore, though it may be necessary to coin a new term to describe Pratt's peculiar rendering of emotional intensity, I would agree with Robert Gibbs, who in "A True Voice: Pratt as a Lyric Poet," pointed out that Pratt is not devoid of emotion, but masks that emotion behind irony and understatement. It is precisely his impersonal, controlled prose together with the ambiguous, ironic reversals at the end of many of his shorter poems that create a sense of passion repressed, and it is his effacing of the individual specific viewpoint that allows him to evoke common agonies and dilemmas. Links: Here's a reading of the poem by Pratt himself http://www.trentu.ca/pratt/recordings/recording04/10.wav Pratt's daughter, the artist Claire Pratt, has a beautiful picture based on the poem: [broken link] http://126.96.36.199/library/exhibitions/cpratt/gulls.htm An essay on 'Pratt as Lyricist' [broken link] http://www.arts.uwo.ca/canpoetry/cpjrn/vol30/froese.htm A Pratt page: http://www.library.utoronto.ca/canpoetry/pratt/ And what will be the Complete Poems of Pratt: http://www.trentu.ca/pratt/ A reminiscent poem is Teasdale's exquisite 'Morning': poem #113 On the Theme: This was a rather hard theme to put together - I was hampered slightly both by my relative unfamiliarity with Canadian poetry, and by the sheer volume and diversity of works from which to choose. The poems chosen for the theme represent, for the most part, those poets with whose works I was already acquainted [Pratt is actually the one exception]; I did discover a lot of new poets in the course of reading up on Canadian poetry, but decided to populate the theme with familiar faces. There are, unavoidably, several glaring omissions (Bliss Carman, for example); I'll definitely be running more Canadian poets in the future, particularly some of the later ones. More Links: Theme Summary: Poem #781 Robert Service, 'The Law of the Yukon' Poem #782 F.R. Scott, 'National Identity' Poem #783 Stan Rogers, 'Northwest Passage' Poem #784 Archibald Lampman, 'To a Millionaire' Poem #785 Margaret Atwood, 'Postcard' Some essays on Canadian poetry in general: 'Canadian Poetry in its Relation to The Poetry of England and America' [broken link] http://www.arts.uwo.ca/canpoetry/cpjrn/vol03/bentrob.htm 'Wanted - Canadian criticism' [broken link] http://www.arts.uwo.ca/canpoetry/eng%20274e/smith.htm An extensive collection of Canadian poetry: [broken link] http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/canvers/ehome.htm And finally, a fascinating work-in-progress, 'History of Canadian Poetry': [broken link] http://www.poets.ca/pshstore/sidebar/sidehistorycdn.htm m.
(Poem #786) Postcard
I'm thinking of you. What else can I say? The palm trees on the reverse are a delusion; so is the pink sand. What we have are the usual fractured coke bottles and the smell of backed-up drains, too sweet, like a mango on the verge of rot, which we have also. The air clear sweat, mosquitos & their tracks; birds, blue & elusive. Time comes in waves here, a sickness, one day after the other rolling on; I move up, its called awake, then down into the uneasy nights but never forward. The roosters crow for hours before dawn, and a prodded child howls & howls on the pocked road to school. In the hold with the baggage there are two prisoners, their heads shaved by bayonets, & ten crates of queasy chicks. Each spring there's a race of cripples, from the store to the church. This is the sort of junk I carry with me; and a clipping about democracy from the local paper. Outside the window they're building the damn hotel, nail by nail, someone's crumbling dream. A universe that includes you can't be all bad, but does it? At this distance you're a mirage, a glossy image fixed in the posture of the last time i saw you. Turn you over, there's the place for the address. Wish you were here. Love comes in waves like the ocean, a sickness which goes on & on, a hollow cave in the head, filling and pounding, a kicked ear.
A vivid poem that takes the cheery, cliched, 'wish you were here' image of a postcard and turns it inside out. One of the things that makes Atwood's work a pleasure to read is her keen eye for detail, a trait very much in evidence in 'Postcard'. The appeal to several senses (sight, smell, hearing) gives the scene a visceral edge that contrasts with the static image of the Other - and highlights the point that the glossy image on the postcard is, to the sender, far more real than the person on the other side. The whole poem is threaded through with images of decay and sickness, an unsettling harmony that ties the "I'm thinking of you" in the beginning to the "Love comes in waves ... a sickness which goes on/ & on ..." in the last four lines. And though I'm not usually too fond of free verse, it works well here, the uneven rhythms of the verse carrying the poem along at precisely the right pace. What I like most about Atwood, though, is her brilliant use of language. This, combined with the aforementioned eye for detail, shows up most strongly in her prose ('Good Bones' is one of the best collections of short pieces I've read), but it is very much in evidence in today's poem, with phrases like A universe that includes you can't be all that bad, but does it? and "time comes in waves here, a sickness, one day after the other rolling on" (I know the feeling <g>). Biography: [broken link] http://www.web.net/owtoad/biog.html And a quote from Atwood on her two unauthorized biographies: I don't think biographies of living people should be written. I am not dead yet. Oddly enough, you can't stop anyone from writing a biography of you." Links: [broken link] http://www.web.net/owtoad/toc.html is an excellent resource for all things Atwood. Don't miss "On writing poetry (recent lecture)" http://www.pc-works.net/nascitur/atwood.html is another nice Atwood page Atwood's novel "The Blind Assassin" won the 2000 Booker: [broken link] http://publishing.about.com/arts/publishing/library/weekly/aa110700a.htm m.
(Poem #784) To a Millionaire
The world in gloom and splendour passes by, And thou in the midst of it with brows that gleam, A creature of that old distorted dream That makes the sound of life an evil cry. Good men perform just deeds, and brave men die, And win not honour such as gold can give, While the vain multitudes plod on, and live, And serve the curse that pins them down: But I Think only of the unnumbered broken hearts, The hunger and the mortal strife for bread, Old age and youth alike mistaught, misfed, By want and rags and homelessness made vile, The griefs and hates, and all the meaner parts That balance thy one grim misgotten pile.
Note: Written Oct 1891 A grim, mordant poem, reminiscent (as are many of Lampman's poems) of Hardy in one of his bleak moods. Lampman's poetry divides, roughly, into three main parts - a large body of excellent nature poems, many of them in the Romantic tradition, some highly atmospheric and somewhat surreal 'scene' poems that wouldn't raise eyebrows in a fantasy collection, and, especially in his later years, trenchant socialist poems like today's. Lampman handles these voices with equal facility; his poems are often haunting, usually vivid and nearly always rewarding. 'Millionaire' is a nice example - the tirade could easily have become overdone and hence off-putting; instead, Lampman treads the line between harsh criticism and ranting without ever losing control of the poem. By no means a 'great' poem, but definitely worth the read. Biography: Archibald Lampman (1861-99) http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/authors/lamp.html#notes which includes the note that 'Lampman is widely regarded as Canada's greatest poet of the nineteenth century' Links: L. R. Early has collected some of Lampman's hitherto uncollected poems [broken link] http://www.arts.uwo.ca/canpoetry/cpjrn/vol12/early.htm The Google Directory has collected an excellent set of essays on Lampman's work: [broken link] http://directory.google.com/Top/Arts/Literature/World_Literature/Canadian/Poetry/Poets/Lampman,_Archibald/Reviews/ The previous poems in the Canadian theme: Poem #781: Robert Service, 'The Law of the Yukon' Poem #782: F.R. Scott, 'National Identity' Poem #783: Stan Rogers, 'Northwest Passage' Surprisingly enough, we haven't run any of Lampman's poems yet, something I will definitely make up for. m.
Guest poem sent in by Divya Sampath So you're running a Canadian Theme? May I suggest Stan Rogers? His music was beautifully representative of Canadian folk traditions, and his original compositions always sounded like authentic, old songs. [I agree with Divya - I have only heard a few of Rogers' songs, but this was the aspect that most struck me. His songs do indeed sound traditional; a hard trick to pull off, but Rogers does it beautifully. - m.] Two of my favourites are "Northwest Passage" and "Barrett's Privateers". I first heard the former on the last episode of the TV series 'Due South'; it was an incredible a capella version that has to be heard to be truly appreciated.
(Poem #783) Northwest Passage
Chorus: Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea; Tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage And make a Northwest Passage to the sea. Westward from the Davis Strait 'tis there 'twas said to lie The sea route to the Orient for which so many died; Seeking gold and glory, leaving weathered, broken bones And a long-forgotten lonely cairn of stones. Three centuries thereafter, I take passage overland In the footsteps of brave Kelso, where his "sea of flowers" began Watching cities rise before me, then behind me sink again This tardiest explorer, driving hard across the plain. And through the night, behind the wheel, the mileage clicking west I think upon Mackenzie, David Thompson and the rest Who cracked the mountain ramparts and did show a path for me To race the roaring Fraser to the sea. How then am I so different from the first men through this way? Like them, I left a settled life, I threw it all away. To seek a Northwest Passage at the call of many men To find there but the road back home again. Unpublished additional verse: And if should be I come again to loved ones left at home, Put the journals on the mantle, shake the frost out of my bones, Making memories of the passage, only memories after all, And hardships there the hardest to recall.
** Notes: I first heard this song on the last episode of 'Due South', which also mentioned Sir John Franklin and his ill-fated expedition to find the Northwest Passage. It made me curious enough to look up the history behind it. For an excellent online resource, check out: http://www.franklintrail.com/index.htm Notice how, after the fashion of most legends, Franklin appears to be alive in this song: his hand is still 'reaching for the Beaufort Sea'. The song evokes the compelling drive to seek that 'one warm line', i.e., the Northwest Passage, through the miles of Arctic waste separating North America from the Asian land mass. One memorable evening, I listened to this song in a car driving through a lonely highway in the Pacific Northwest between Portland and Seattle; it called up irresistible mental images of following the trail of the early pioneers, who sought 'gold and 'glory', but left behind only 'weathered, broken bones.' The rhythms and vocabulary are remarkably informed by Stan Rogers extensive knowledge of traditonal sea shanties and folk songs. The result is a sort of "faux authenticity" that has many listeners confusing this with a genuinely antique trad number. ** History (condensed from various sources, including www.franklintrail.com): The list of legendary ocean routes includes the so-called "Northwest Passage", linking the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean by way of the Arctic Ocean in northern Canada. One of the most famous men to try, and the subject of legends and folklore, was Sir John Franklin, a British rear admiral. There is no evidence that he himself completed the Passage -- a letter left by his crew stated that he had died 70 miles from the end; nonetheless, he is still cited as the first man to cross the Northwest Passage. The trip had cost him his crew, his ships, and his life. His adventure was to complete the work of earlier failed explorers. Two sailing ships, the Erebus and the Terror, left England on May 19, 1845 with the dangerous goal to finish the voyage across the Northwest Passage that had yet to be completely traversed by explorers. The supply ship Baretto Junior accompanied them across the Atlantic. With 128 men and two ships, Franklin entered the icy Davis Strait in July 1845. He and his men were last seen by whalers on July 28 entering Lancaster Sound, between Devon Island and Baffin Island. Baffin Island is a large land mass bordering Hudson Bay to the north. This route would take them above the Arctic Circle, where for much of the year the waters were covered with ice. The were attempting to sail between the Queen Elizabeth Islands in the Canadian Archipelago, across 300 miles of uncharted seas. The trip all together from England to the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska and out to Asia was expected to last only three years. To that date, the expedition was the best provisioned to attempt the journey. Franklin died on June 11, 1847, and was buried on King William Island. No one is sure why he died, but nine officers and fifteen crewmen joined him on that final journey. England had no idea what was going on in the three years that they waited for Franklin's return. In 1848, three years after the Erebus and the Terror were last spotted in Lancaster Sound, search parties were organized to find the missing sailors. Over forty rescue missions were planned and executed in 6 years. Much of the previously undiscovered land was charted during the rescue missions, but few leads were found. The final rescue party was lead by Franklin's wife, Lady Jane, and Captain Leopold McLintock in 1857. Search parties uncovered the remains of a few crewmen and a boat. Their bodies lay on the last stretch of the uncharted lands; their final journey completed the map of the Great North. They had made the Northwest Passage! Sir John Franklin's remains were never found, and he slipped into legend... ** Stan Rogers Bio (from sonicnet.com): b. 1949, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, d. 2 June 1983. Singer-songwriter Rogers began as a bass player in a rock band before becoming a well-respected artist within the folk arena. In 1969, he turned professional and, the following year, released two singles for RCA Records. There followed a period of playing the coffee house circuit, with Nigel Russell (guitar), until Stan's brother, Garnet Rogers (violin/flute/vocals/ guitar), joined them. Garnet worked with Stan for nearly 10 years. Stan Rogers' low-register voice exuded a warm sensitive sound, the perfect complement to his sensitive lyrics. Remembered for songs such as "Northwest Passage" and "The Lock-keeper", he is probably best known for "The Mary Ellen Carter". Writing for films and television, and having toured a number of countries, Rogers was poised for international success but was killed in an aeroplane fire in 1983. There's a great site dedicated to Stan Rogers at [broken link] http://stevebriggs.superb.net/stanrogers/main.html For background on how Stan Rogers came to write this song, see: [broken link] http://stevebriggs.superb.net/stanrogers/songs/nwp-sng.html Cheers, Divya
Guest poem sent in by Shannon West
(Poem #782) National Identity
The Canadian Centenary Council Meeting in Le Reine Elizabeth  To seek those symbols Which will explain ourselves to ourselves Evoke unlimited responses And prove that something called Canada Really exists in the hearts of all Handed out to every delegate At the start of proceedings A portfolio of documents On the cover of which appeared In gold letters not A Mari Usque Ad Mare  not Dieu Et Mon Droit  not Je Me Souviens  not E Pluribus Unum  but COURTESY OF COCA-COLA LIMITED.
Notes:  Posh hotel in Montreal.  'From sea to sea'. The official motto of Canada  'God and my right'. Motto of the British Sovereign - on the British coat of arms  'I remember'. Motto of Quebec; it's even on their licence plates.  'Out of many, One'. American motto. I'm utterly thrilled to see a Canadian theme run in Minstrels. I've been bugging Martin for months to do this. In turn, he's been bugging me to write comments on some of my favourite poems and send them in. Well - he beat me to the punch. F.R. Scott is my favourite poet. He's a satirist through and through. I'm not sure if he's written anything without some kind of bite or sarcasm in it somewhere, usually directed at the notion of Canadian culture. His best known poem is "A Lass in Wonderland" which is about the infamous Lady Chatterley's Lover case in Quebec. (I'm going to bug Martin until he runs it). [As the man said, 'be patiently' :) - m.] There's a bit of history to this poem. The Canadian Centenary Council was established in 1960 by a large group of public-spirited citizens as a clearing house and information centre to promote ideas for 1967 (The Canadian Centennial year). Its primary goal was to persuade businessmen and others to contribute ideas, initiative and money to the centennial. (Miriam McTiernan and Jacqueline Murray (1978)) A big part of this council was to decide what was inherently Canadian. What is representative of Canadian culture? There have been dozens (if not hundreds) of poems, stories, essays and jokes written about this very topic. Some have concluded that we're a weird mishmash of American, British, and French, with some Eastern European thrown in for colour, but no one has been able to satisfactorily put their finger on what exactly Canadian culture is. Scott is particularly critical of the notion of "Canadian culture", though there are those among us that would argue that he himself became integral to it. In this poem he's particularly bitter, even for him, though, for some reason, I picture him smiling at the irony of it. Imagine, a team of bureaucrats and politicians being appointed to this council to discover and employ those symbols of Canadian identity. And in gold letters on the folder (which is probably one of those over-priced leatherette portfolios) isn't the famous Latin mottoes, isn't a Canadian flag (the British Ensign at the time) or a fleur-de-lis, but a "Courtesy of Coca-Cola Limited", the quintessential corporate symbol. He's saying that our culture is neither American, British, French or any other nationality, but corporate. And he's probably not far off. Bio: F.R.(Francis Reginald) Scott was born in Qubec City, Qubec, in 1899. He died in Montreal in 1985. He was a Rhodes scholar and went to Magdalen Coll, Oxford. After his return to Canada, Scott enrolled in the law program at McGill University. He would later return to teach law at McGill, and eventually, after giving up partisan politics, was named the Dean of Law at McGill (1961-64). As a member of the "Montreal Group" (an informal group in Montreal that included Scott's close friend, poet A.J.M. Smith) he helped to found The Canadian Mercury journal. Well reknowned for his social activism, Scott was the national chairman of the CCF from 1942 to 1950 and was involved in the transition of the CCF to the NDP. Scott won the Governor General's Literary Award in the poetry category in 1981 for his book, Collected Poems. -- http://www.ucalgary.ca/UofC/faculties/HUM/ENGL/canada/poet/f_scott.htm Shannon Links: Here's a Scott page, with some bibliographic references: http://www.ucalgary.ca/UofC/faculties/HUM/ENGL/canada/poet/f_scott.htm An essay on Scott: [broken link] http://www.arts.uwo.ca/canpoetry/cpjrn/vol27/campbell.htm Scott's father was a poet in his own right - see http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/authors/scottf.html And the previous poem in the Canadian theme: poem #781
Back from a wonderful vacation - thanks to Thomas for covering in my absence. And having just returned from that magical land north of the border, here begins the long-promised Canadian theme...
(Poem #781) The Law of the Yukon
This is the law of the Yukon, and ever she makes it plain: "Send not your foolish and feeble; send me your strong and your sane -- Strong for the red rage of battle; sane for I harry them sore; Send me men girt for the combat, men who are grit to the core; Swift as the panther in triumph, fierce as the bear in defeat, Sired of a bulldog parent, steeled in the furnace heat. Send me the best of your breeding, lend me your chosen ones; Them will I take to my bosom, them will I call my sons; Them will I gild with my treasure, them will I glut with my meat; But the others -- the misfits, the failures -- I trample under my feet. Dissolute, damned and despairful, crippled and palsied and slain, Ye would send me the spawn of your gutters -- Go! take back your spawn again. "Wild and wide are my borders, stern as death is my sway; From my ruthless throne I have ruled alone for a million years and a day; Hugging my mighty treasure, waiting for man to come, Till he swept like a turbid torrent, and after him swept -- the scum. The pallid pimp of the dead-line, the enervate of the pen, One by one I weeded them out, for all that I sought was -- Men. One by one I dismayed them, frighting them sore with my glooms; One by one I betrayed them unto my manifold dooms. Drowned them like rats in my rivers, starved them like curs on my plains, Rotted the flesh that was left them, poisoned the blood in their veins; Burst with my winter upon them, searing forever their sight, Lashed them with fungus-white faces, whimpering wild in the night; Staggering blind through the storm-whirl, stumbling mad through the snow, Frozen stiff in the ice-pack, brittle and bent like a bow; Featureless, formless, forsaken, scented by wolves in their flight, Left for the wind to make music through ribs that are glittering white; Gnawing the black crust of failure, searching the pit of despair, Crooking the toe in the trigger, trying to patter a prayer; Going outside with an escort, raving with lips all afoam, Writing a cheque for a million, driveling feebly of home; Lost like a louse in the burning. . .or else in the tented town Seeking a drunkard's solace, sinking and sinking down; Steeped in the slime at the bottom, dead to a decent world, Lost 'mid the human flotsam, far on the frontier hurled; In the camp at the bend of the river, with its dozen saloons aglare, Its gambling dens ariot, its gramophones all ablare; Crimped with the crimes of a city, sin-ridden and bridled with lies, In the hush of my mountained vastness, in the flush of my midnight skies. Plague-spots, yet tools of my purpose, so natheless I suffer them thrive, Crushing my Weak in their clutches, that only my Strong may survive. "But the others, the men of my mettle, the men who would 'stablish my fame Unto its ultimate issue, winning me honor, not shame; Searching my uttermost valleys, fighting each step as they go, Shooting the wrath of my rapids, scaling my ramparts of snow; Ripping the guts of my mountains, looting the beds of my creeks, Them will I take to my bosom, and speak as a mother speaks. I am the land that listens, I am the land that broods; Steeped in eternal beauty, crystalline waters and woods. Long have I waited lonely, shunned as a thing accurst, Monstrous, moody, pathetic, the last of the lands and the first; Visioning camp-fires at twilight, sad with a longing forlorn, Feeling my womb o'er-pregnant with the seed of cities unborn. Wild and wide are my borders, stern as death is my sway, And I wait for the men who will win me -- and I will not be won in a day; And I will not be won by weaklings, subtle, suave and mild, But by men with the hearts of Vikings, and the simple faith of a child; Desperate, strong and resistless, unthrottled by fear or defeat, Them will I gild with my treasure, them will I glut with my meat. "Lofty I stand from each sister land, patient and wearily wise, With the weight of a world of sadness in my quiet, passionless eyes; Dreaming alone of a people, dreaming alone of a day, When men shall not rape my riches, and curse me and go away; Making a bawd of my bounty, fouling the hand that gave -- Till I rise in my wrath and I sweep on their path and I stamp them into a grave. Dreaming of men who will bless me, of women esteeming me good, Of children born in my borders of radiant motherhood, Of cities leaping to stature, of fame like a flag unfurled, As I pour the tide of my riches in the eager lap of the world." This is the Law of the Yukon, that only the Strong shall thrive; That surely the Weak shall perish, and only the Fit survive. Dissolute, damned and despairful, crippled and palsied and slain, This is the Will of the Yukon, -- Lo, how she makes it plain!
Today's choice of poet was easy - few Canadian poets are as well-known, or as well-loved, as is Service. Picking out a poem was far harder - Service has written a lot, and most of it is uniformly excellent; indeed, I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours reading through some of his verse and trying to settle on a single piece. I finally chose 'The Law of the Yukon' not because it is his best work (I'd hate to have to pick one out), or even my favourite (see previous parenthetical comment), but because it is nicely representative of an aspect of his work I wanted to highlight - the way his poems are permeated by the Yukon, the land that, regardless of subject, is often the true protagonist of his work. This is, in fact, one of the things I like most about his poetry, and one of the reasons I prefer poems like today's to popular favourites like Dan McGrew. Formwise, the most striking thing about Service's poetry is the almost effortless mastery of metre and rhyme he displays. His work is not mere versification, though; the perfect, flowing lines form a natural frame for the spellbinding ballads and vivid landscapes he weaves. Comparisons with Kipling are, of course, inevitable, and indeed, Service himself has named Kipling as one of his influences (see the biogaphy link). The similarities are obvious - from the emphasis on themes like the Land and men's relationship to it, highly personal war poems from the common soldier's point of view, and enthralling narratives, to the almost obtrusive perfection of the verse form, Service's poems owe a definite debt to Kipling's. Again, like Kipling, Service wrote for the masses. This is not to say he was not a great poet - he was. But he does seem to have eschewed abstract, self-conscious literary tricks in favour of a more direct style that would appeal to the common man, and excite pleasure as much as it did admiration. The Service Home Page (see links) emphasises the above point by means of an obituary and the following quote from one of Service's poems: Ah yes, I know my brow is low And often wished it high. So that I might with rapture write An epic of the sky; A poem cast in contour vast; Of fabled gods and fays; A classic screed that few would read Yet nearly all would praise. -- 1st stanza, Prelude from Lyrics of a Low Brow Furthermore, returning briefly to Kipling, today's poem seems to be paying a direct tribute to 'The Law of the Jungle', which it echoes faintly while being by no means derivative of it. Biography: There's an excellent biography of Service at http://oh.essortment.com/klondikegoldru_rdax.htm Links: A nice collection of Service's poems, and another biography: [broken link] http://www.inch.com/~kdka/public_html/r~service.html [broken link] http://www.inch.com/~kdka/public_html/servlex.html has a lexicon of some of the unfamiliar terms used in the poem [broken link] http://www.ude.net/verse/verse.html has an extensive collection of Service's poems, as well as links to discussions and mp3s of recitations. Recommended. Kipling's 'The Law of the Jungle' is at http://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/kipling/law_of_jungle.html We've already run Service's best known poem, The Cremation of Sam McGee: poem #698 Theme and Acknowledgements: Thanks to Shannon West and Maladina for many helpful discussions on running a Canadian theme. The theme itself is highly nonspecific; I aim merely to cover a few of the more prominent Canadian poets. Suggestions and guest poems both welcome, as well as any comments on Canadian poetry in general (I'll postpone my own until I've run a few more examples). -martin
(Poem #780) The Vagabond
Give to me the life I love, Let the lave go by me, Give the jolly heaven above And the byway nigh me. Bed in the bush with stars to see, Bread I dip in the river - There's the life for a man like me, There's the life for ever. Let the blow fall soon or late, Let what will be o'er me; Give the face of earth around And the road before me. Wealth I seek not, hope nor love, Nor a friend to know me; All I seek, the heaven above And the road below me. Or let autumn fall on me Where afield I linger, Silencing the bird on tree, Biting the blue finger. White as meal the frosty field - Warm the fireside haven - Not to autumn will I yield, Not to winter even! Let the blow fall soon or late, Let what will be o'er me; Give the face of earth around, And the road before me. Wealth I ask not, hope nor love, Nor a friend to know me; All I ask, the heaven above And the road below me.
From "Songs of Travel and Other Verses", published in 1896. Meant to be sung "to an air of Schubert", though I don't know which one. Robert Louis Stevenson's verse - energetic, enthusiastic and exciting - is in many ways reminiscent of his prose, and like his prose, it's always fun to read. Readers looking for profound insight or gut-wrenching emotion are likely to be disappointed; equally, though, readers looking for metrical felicity and magical atmospherics are likely to be enchanted. I often think of Stevenson as a mixture of Walter de la Mare and John Masefield: the former for his command of atmosphere, and the latter for his wanderlust. The romance of the open road plays a significant role in Stevenson's writings, yet it's always tempered with a sense of the beauty of stillness, of silence. And while RLS cannot (in all honesty) hold a candle to either de la Mare or Masefield, in many respects he does not miss by much: his poems rarely fail to capture the imagination, and, having captured it, to take it to places it's rarely seen before. thomas. PS. A quick comment on form: note how the steady rhythm of the hexameter drives this poem on, and gives it a vigour befitting its subject. Nicely done. [Links] Stevenson poems on the Minstrels: Poem #20, "Requiem" Poem #84, "From a Railway Carriage" Poem #290, "Bed in Summer" Poem #450, "Auntie's Skirts" The first of these has a biography and some critical information. Walter de la Mare: Poem #2, "The Listeners" Poem #272, "Napoleon" Poem #484, "Brueghel's Winter" Poem #725, "Silver" John Masefield: Poem #27, "Sea Fever" Poem #74, "Cargoes" Poem #555, "Trade Winds" Poem #695, "Beauty" Poem #702, "Night is on the Downland" Poem #758, "Sea-Change" The Poet's Corner has many more poems by RLS, including the complete text of "Songs of Travel"  and of "A Child's Garden of Verses" .  [broken link] http://www.geocities.com/~spanoudi/poems/rls04.html  [broken link] http://www.geocities.com/~spanoudi/poems/rls01.html
[Somebody Else's Commentary] Initially, few readers progressed in their appreciation beyond the deceptively simple surfaces of his poems. But Frost writes symbolic poetry; to arrive at certain basic truths about life, he explores feelings and thoughts obliquely, through the use of simple bucolic incidents. Poems as immediately accessible as "Stopping by Woods", "Mending Wall" and "Birches" possess levels of meaning that are dark and profound - like subtle literary parables. Although few of his early readers ever went beyond the delight to the wisdom of Frost's poetry, the notion that he was merely the singer of a benevolent nature is no longer accepted. He was a passionate and troubled man, who sought in his poems 'a momentary stay against confusion'; and his skillfully constructed poems testify to his mastery over that confusion. -- Gary Geddes, "20th Century Poetry and Poetics" (Oxford, 1996). [My Own Commentary] Frost is a master at making simple words say profound things. Here, he takes an idle daydream, a whimsical (albeit slightly dark) musing, and converts it into a telling insight into the destructive power of desire and hate, fire and ice respectively. The metaphor is apt, and powerful: just as fire and ice may one day destroy the external, physical world, desire and hate destroy the internal, spiritual one. Very gnomic, and very Frost. thomas. [Minstrels Links] Other poems by Robert Frost: Poem #730, "Mending Wall" Poem #681, "The Secret Sits" Poem #336, "A Patch of Old Snow" Poem #170, "The Need of Being Versed in Country Things" Poem #155, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" Poem #51, "The Road Not Taken " The last of these has a biography and lots of critical notes.
(Poem #778) Incident of the French Camp
You know, we French stormed Ratisbon: A mile or so away On a little mound, Napoleon Stood on our storming-day; With neck out-thrust, you fancy how, Legs wide, arms locked behind, As if to balance the prone brow Oppressive with its mind. Just as perhaps he mused, "My plans That soar, to earth may fall, Let once my army-leader Lannes Waver a yonder wall," -- Out 'twixt the battery-smokes there flew A rider, bound on bound Full-galloping; nor bridle drew Until he reached the mound. Then off there flung in smiling joy, And held himself erect By just his horse's mane, a boy: You hardly could suspect -- (So tight he kept his lips compressed, Scarce any blood came through) You looked twice ere you saw his breast Was all but shot in two. "Well," cried he, "Emperor, by God's grace We've got you Ratisbon! The Marshal's in the market-place, And you'll be there anon To see your flag-bird flap his vans Where I, to heart's desire, Perched him!" The chief's eye flashed; his plans Soared up again like fire. The chief's eye flashed; but presently Softened itself, as sheathes A film the mother-eagle's eye When her bruised eaglet breathes: "You're wounded!" "Nay", the soldier's pride Touched to quick, he said: "I'm killed, Sire!" And his chief beside, Smiling the boy fell dead.
A rather straightforward tale of adventure, but one that's given additional strength by the vigour of its verse. Browning's metrical skill and command of the spoken voice save the poem from mediocrity, though some of the passages do seem a bit strained (especially the eagle metaphor, which, though it might be apt, I do not much care for). Pay special attention to the first and last lines: the former converts what would ordinarily have been a common-or-garden variety ballad into the form so beloved of Browning, the dramatic monologue, while the latter is (though predictable) justly celebrated for its portrayal of courage and dedication to duty. A bit dated, perhaps, but enjoyable nonetheless. thomas. [On the events described] Regensburg: also called Ratisbon, city, Bavaria Land (state), southeastern Germany, on the right bank of the Danube River at its most northerly course, where it is joined by the Regen River. In the area of the old city was a Celtic settlement (Radasbona), which later became the site of a Roman stronghold and legionary camp, Castra Regina (founded AD 179). The Roman north gate (Porta Praetoria) and parts of the walls survive. The capital of the dukes of Bavaria from 530, it was made a bishopric in 739 and shortly afterward became a capital of the Carolingians. The only imperial free city in the Duchy of Bavaria from 1245, Regensburg was exceedingly prosperous in the 12th-13th century. It was taken by the Swedes and later by imperial troops in the Thirty Years' War (17th century) and was destroyed by the French in 1809. It passed to Bavaria in 1810. The astronomer Johannes Kepler died there (1630), and the painter Albrecht Altdorfer (d. 1538) was both a city architect and counselor. -- EB It was during the artillery bombardment at Ratisbon that Napoleon was wounded for the first and only time in his military career: a bullet struck the Emperor on the right heel as he was giving instructions to Marshal Lannes. Word of the wounding spread rapidly, and the French army is said to have been on the verge of panic until the Emperor showed himself on horseback. -- [broken link] http://www.miniatures.de/html/int/campaigns/1809Regensburg.html Google[Napoleon Ratisbon 1809] has more. [Minstrels Links] Browning poems: Poem #65, "Home Thoughts From Abroad" Poem #104, "My Last Duchess" Poem #130, "The Lost Leader" Poem #133, "Song, from Pippa Passes" Poem #242, "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" Poem #352, "My Star" Poem #364, "The Patriot" Poem #425, "Memorabilia" Poem #526, "A Toccata of Galuppi's" Poem #635, "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister" Napoleon poems: Poem #272, "Napoleon", Walter de la Mare Poem #258, "Macavity: The Mystery Cat", T. S. Eliot