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Cats -- A S J Tessimond

Guest poem submitted twice in quick succession, by Gerry Roweand Leoni Burke :
(Poem #1010) Cats
 Cats no less liquid than their shadows
 Offer no angles to the wind.
 They slip, diminished, neat through loopholes
 Less than themselves; will not be pinned

 To rules or routes for journeys; counter
 Attack with non-resistance; twist
 Enticing through the curving fingers
 And leave an angered empty fist.

 They wait obsequious as darkness
 Quick to retire, quick to return;
 Admit no aim or ethics; flatter
 With reservations; will not learn

 To answer to their names; are seldom
 Truly owned till shot or skinned.
 Cats no less liquid than their shadows
 Offer no angles to the wind.
-- A S J Tessimond
[Leoni's comments]

I learnt this poem when I was a child for my elocution class.  You should
really read it aloud as the words slither and twist just like a cat in
motion. It's one of the best descriptive poems about cats that I've ever

[Gerry's comments]

The couplet with which this poem opens and closes contains a pair of images
beautifully contrived to convey the morally, emotionally and physically
elusive feline nature. The lines that fall between the opening and closing
are slightly more down-to-earth but have two great virtues: firstly they
scan and rhyme very pleasingly; secondly they consist of a list of terse
descriptive statements of such evident or near-as-dammit truth that you read
each one off with growing admiration for the poet's powers of observation
and expression.

This is my favourite cat poem because, apart from being beautifully written,
it is unsentimental and relatively free of the anthropomorphic tendency,
just full of shrewd respect for an animal that appears incapable of losing
its dignity and right to self determination in any relationship with a human
even, perhaps especially, with a person claiming to be its 'owner'.

I'm afraid I know nothing of A.S.J. Tessimond. I came across another of his
or her cat poems that wasn't as good but for me this one stands alone above
all others on the theme.

Care-charmer Sleep, son of the sable Night (Delia LIV) -- Samuel Daniel

Guest poem submitted by David Nothnagle:
This is my favourite poem by my favourite poet, who is sadly
under-represented on your site:
(Poem #1009) Care-charmer Sleep, son of the sable Night (Delia LIV)
     Care-charmer Sleep, son of the sable Night,
 Brother to death, in silent darkness born:
 Relieve my languish, and restore the light,
 With dark forgetting of my cares' return
     And let the day be time enough to mourn,
 The shipwrack of my ill-adventur'd youth:
 Let waking eyes suffice to wail their scorn,
 Without the torment of the night's untruth.
     Cease Dreams, th'imagery of our day desires,
 To model forth the passions of the morrow:
 Never let the rising Sun approve you liars,
 To add more grief to aggravate my sorrow.
       Still let me sleep, embracing clouds in vain;
       And never wake, to feel the day's disdain.
-- Samuel Daniel
I have always really loved short poems--poems of which it is possible to
experience every word, every line, with more intensity than is really
possible (for me anyway) in a longer poem.  Of course, this means that every
word, every line, is really important, and makes a short poem very difficult
to write well.  However, a good short poem will always have a certain
special intensity.  This sonnet by Samuel Daniel approaches perfection of

It is, of course, a sonnet, of the English variety; made up of three
quatrains and a couplet, in iambic pentameter.  A good sonnet will build up
feeling in the quatrains, each delving a little deeper, and reachng a climax
and resolution, a summing-up, or sometimes an ironic "turn," in the final
couplet.  In this particular sonnet, the "turn" reveals that the true,
subconscious desire of the poet is for the oblivion of death.  Sonnet form
is a particularly good medium for delving ever deeper into feelings, and it
is no fluke that it remained a form of choice, in its various varieties,
throughout England and Western Europe, for hundreds of years.

In the last couple of centuries, however, this kind of strictness of meter
and rhyme has slowly fallen out of favour, as the Romantic hatred of
classical forms, and wild lust for "originality" has become ever more
extreme.  Mark Twain famously ridiculed poems in which the only image evoked
is a dried-up little man sitting in a dusty chamber, counting off on his
fingers as he writes.  However, there is a certain special kind of
originality, which is only possible within constraints and conventions.  For
me, and I suspect for many, it is easier to have a more focused grasp of a
poem, and appreciation its unique virtues, if it is written in a form we
understand, rather than something which is altogether alien to us.

As for this poem itself, I have nothing to add to it, and don't know what to
say.  Anyone who has ever felt depressed for any reason, will understand it.
Most of the sonnets in Delia are about the Lady's cruelty to her unrequited
lover; and this sonnet can be read with that in mind, but I think it
achieves a kind of universality which transcends this context.  Never has
depression--the sort of depression that causes you to lie in bed late into
the day, calling in sick to work, dreading the inevitable time when you must
leave your bedroom and face whatever it is that has caused you such
anguish--never has depression been more perfectly captured in poetic form.

I should add that there is a great musical setting of this poem in the
twentieth-century composer Dominick Argento's song-cycle, "Six Elizabethan

Dave Nothnagle.

Cat -- J R R Tolkien

Guest poem submitted by Suresh Ramasubramanian:
(Poem #1008) Cat
 The fat cat on the mat
   may seem to dream
 of nice mice that suffice
   for him, or cream;
 but he free, maybe,
   walks in thought
 unbowed, proud, where loud
   roared and fought
 his kin, lean and slim,
   or deep in den
 in the East feasted on beasts
   and tender men.
 The giant lion with iron
   claw in paw,
 and huge ruthless tooth
   in gory jaw;
 the pard dark-starred,
   fleet upon feet,
 that oft soft from aloft
   leaps upon his meat
 where woods loom in gloom --
   far now they be,
   fierce and free,
   and tamed is he;
 but fat cat on the mat
   kept as a pet
   he does not forget.
-- J R R Tolkien
A beautiful poem that's a bit more than it seems.  The Red Book has several
verses, some of which figure in the Lord of the Rings, or in the attached
stories / preludes / interludes and such.  Others are just scrawled in the
margins, for possible inclusion. JRR had scribbled "SG" in the margin when
he wrote the poem, suggesting that he meant to attribute it to Sam Gamgee.
The poem is also fairly traditional hobbit poetry (which deals a lot with
birds and beasts): rhythmic, with frequent alliteration and assonance,
making for an excellent nursery-rhyme sort of singalong song.

Still, it makes you think. Contrast a cute cat sleeping in front of a fire
with a wild, roaring and dangerous lion - and then have Tolkien solemnly
inform you in the last line that the cat hasn't forgotten her wild


[thomas adds]

Just a word on prosody: "Cat" may seem on first reading to be merely a
'hobbit nursery-rhyme', but the technical mastery it displays is nothing
short of staggering. The even-numbered lines rhyme with each other and also
internally; the odd-numbered ones have internal _triple_ rhymes. And all
this is done in lines of two and three feet respectively, leaving barely any
room for error; every single word (other than the placeholders -
prepositions conjunctions and auxiliaries) seems to be part of the rhyme
scheme. Incredible.

[Minstrels Links]

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien:
Poem #4, The Road Goes Ever On
Poem #46, Lament for Boromir
Poem #93, Eärendil was a mariner
Poem #142, He chanted a song of wizardry
Poem #220, Lament for Eorl the Young
Poem #257, Three Rings for the Elven Kings
Poem #318, Tall ships and tall kings
Poem #370, Troll sat alone on his seat of stone
Poem #440, Bregalad's Lament
Poem #643, The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon
Poem #736, The world was young, the mountains green

Cats, practical and otherwise:
Poem #165, The Owl and the Pussy-Cat  -- Edward Lear
Poem #167, Pangur Ban  -- Anon. (Irish, 8th century)
Poem #258, Macavity: The Mystery Cat -- T. S. Eliot
Poem #273, How a Cat Was Annoyed and a Poet Was Booted  -- Guy Wetmore
Poem #282, Fog  -- Carl Sandburg
Poem #401, To a Cat  -- Jorge Luis Borges
Poem #572, Mort aux Chats -- Peter Porter
Poem #574, Growltiger's Last Stand -- T. S. Eliot
Poem #575, To Mrs Reynolds' Cat -- John Keats
Poem #577, The Cat and the Moon -- William Butler Yeats
Poem #659, Poem -- William Carlos Williams
Poem #660, On a Night of Snow -- Elizabeth Coatsworth
Poem #661, Jubilate Agno -- Christopher Smart
Poem #662, Cat -- Jibanananda Das
Poem #663, A Child's Nightmare -- Robert Graves
Poem #674, Aunt Jennifer's Tigers -- Adrienne Rich
Poem #727, Milk for the Cat -- Harold Monro
Poem #955, Gus: The Theatre Cat -- T. S. Eliot

Abide with me -- Henry F Lyte

Guest poem submitted by Ira Cooper:
(Poem #1007) Abide with me
 Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
 The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
 When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
 Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

 Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
 Earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
 Change and decay in all around I see;
 O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

 Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word;
 But as Thou dwell'st with Thy disciples, Lord,
 Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
 Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.

 Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
 But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings,
 Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea-
 Come, Friend of sinners, and thus bide with me.

 Thou on my head in early youth didst smile;
 And, though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
 Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee,
 On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.

 I need Thy presence every passing hour.
 What but Thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
 Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
 Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

 I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
 Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
 Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
 I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

 Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
 Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
 Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
 In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
-- Henry F Lyte

Since adolescence, this poem always has been a comfort to me. Years later,
it is especially so in these traumatic times.



Lyte was inspired to write this hymn as he was dying of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis; he
fin­ished it the Sun­day he gave his fare­well ser­mon in the par­ish he
served so ma­ny years. The next day, he left for Italy to re­gain his
health. He didn't make it, though -- he died in Nice, France, three weeks
af­ter writ­ing these words. For more than a century, the bells of his
church at All Saints in in Lower Brix­ham, Devon­shire, have rung out "Abide
with Me" daily. The hymn was sung at the wed­ding of King George VI of
Britain, and at the wed­ding of his daugh­ter, the fu­ture Queen Elizabeth


Dream Deferred -- Langston Hughes

Guest poem submitted by Garret M. Lee:
(Poem #1006) Dream Deferred
 What happens to a dream deferred?

 Does it dry up
 like a raisin in the sun?
 Or fester like a sore--
 And then run?
 Does it stink like rotten meat?
 Or crust and sugar over--
 like a syrupy sweet?

 Maybe it just sags
 like a heavy load.

 Or does it explode?
-- Langston Hughes
Not sure what exactly to say about this poem. It's great, sad, and it seems
to give me goose bumps every time I read it. It makes me ask "What is the
American Dream, exactly?" and has it changed since the 1950's when this poem
was written?

Some of you may notice that the play "Raisin in the Sun" got its title from
this poem and the two themes go hand in hand as well. I would suggest that
anyone who hasn't read or seen the play do so, it really is great.


[Minstrels Links]

Langston Hughes:
Poem #410, The Negro Speaks of Rivers
Poem #990, Sea Calm
Poem #1006, Dream Deferred

Big Yellow Taxi -- Joni Mitchell

Guest poem submitted by Arun Simha:
(Poem #1005) Big Yellow Taxi
 They paved paradise
 And put up a parking lot
 With a pink hotel, a boutique
 And a swinging hot spot


   Don't it always seem to go
   That you don't know what you've got
   Till it's gone
   They paved paradise
   And put up a parking lot

 They took all the trees
 Put 'em in a tree museum
 And they charged the people
 A dollar and a half just to see 'em


 Hey farmer farmer
 Put away that DDT now
 Give me spots on my apples
 But leave me the birds and the bees


 Late last night
 I heard the screen door slam
 And a big yellow taxi
 Took away my old man

       [Chorus etc.]
-- Joni Mitchell
Legendary songwriter/singer, Joni Mitchell wrote the lyrics of this song in
the late 60s. It is popularly believed that the 'paradise' mentioned in this
song refers to Hawaii.

I can quite relate to the angst felt by the poet, for I had the very same
experience recently. I live in Sunnyvale, CA, which is a part of the area
known as Silicon Valley. Three decades ago, Sunnyvale had an idyllic farming
community. I have heard long time residents of California state that they
used to travel to Sunnyvale to buy fruits from its famous orchards.

When I came here in the early 90's from India, it still had a few remnants
of those famous orchards. Alas, the last one has had its curtain call.
Olson's cherry farm which is right at the intersection between El Camino
Real and Mathilda, had been laid to rest after a glorious innings lasting
103 years. A few months ago, the farm seemed like an incongrous oasis
hanging on to life by a thread amidst the mighty gale of industrialization.
Today, they've actually paved the farm and made it into a parking lot. A
shopping mall looks with arrogant disdain at the small "Olson's fruit stand"
which is but a temporary stall for the people who sold the farm. The heart
of the farm, where cherries once blossomed, is where a retail bookstore has
found its bearings. Mr. Olson has recently written a book about his farm,
which has nostalgic pictures of the past and to top the irony, he is going
to sign these books at the very same bookstore.

I moved to Sunnyvale from Bangalore, India which has had its share of
unhindered urban growth in the last two decades. It does seem that
everywhere you look, they're paving paradise to build parking lots.



Joni Mitchell Discussion list:
Joni Mitchell page:
San Jose Mercury News (
 [Article, January 22, 2002: Cherry Stand Ends An Era]

Finding a Long Gray Hair -- Jane Kenyon

Guest poem submitted by Hemant Mohapatra:
(Poem #1004) Finding a Long Gray Hair
 I scrub the long floorboards
 in the kitchen, repeating
 the motions of other women
 who have lived in this house.
 And when I find a long gray hair
 floating in the pail,
 I feel my life added to theirs.
-- Jane Kenyon
The first thing that struck me about this piece was the title. It held so
much more than what was apparent at first look. Memories, emotions,
sadness... The touching simplicity of the poem and the matter-of-fact way a
daily chore has been discussed and an ensuing thought process followed is
amazing. Being a regular trekker I usually encounter quite a few memoirs of
the past - sometimes an old dilapidated abandoned fort or a temple of ages
ago in the deep forest and some other times rocks that bear the marks of the
times they've been through. Each pebble has a story to tell and if you are
patient enough you eventually manage to get it out of them. Touching those
stones, you can easily feel that you are not the only one to have done that.
You know that once life had flourished where there's nothing more than
wilderness now. Sometimes it scares you - the fact that you are not alone
where you stand at the moment - but nevertheless, connecting to the past has
always been a humbling experience for me. Sometimes a piece of old rock can
teach you more about life than a dozen philosophers. Sometimes a single gray
hair can be the part of a thread of the most remarkable story you'd ever
come across.


[Biographical notes]

Jane Kenyon (1947-1995) was a well-known contemporary American writer. Born
in Ann Arbor, Michigan, she published four collections of poetry and a
translation of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova before her untimely death
from leukemia in 1995. She was the recipient of numerous awards for her
poetry, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and the PEN Voelcker Award. She
was featured with her husband, poet Donald Hall, on the Emmy-Award winning
Bill Moyers special, "A Life Together."

[Minstrels link]

Poem #474, Otherwise  -- Jane Kenyon

The Connoisseuse of Slugs -- Sharon Olds

Guest poem submitted by Juan:
(Poem #1003) The Connoisseuse of Slugs
 When I was a connoisseuse of slugs
 I would part the ivy leaves, and look for the
 naked jelly of those gold bodies,
 translucent strangers glistening along the
 stones, slowly, their gelatinous bodies
 at my mercy.  Made mostly of water, they would shrivel
 to nothing if they were sprinkled with salt,
 but I was not interested in that.  What I liked
 was to draw aside the ivy, breathe the
 odor of the wall, and stand there in silence
 until the slug forgot I was there
 and sent its antennae up out of its
 head, the glimmering umber horns
 rising like telescopes, until finally the
 sensitive knobs would pop out the
 ends, delicate and intimate.  Years later,
 when I first saw a naked man,
 I gasped with pleasure to see that quiet
 mystery reenacted, the slow
 elegant being coming out of hiding and
 gleaming in the dark air, eager and so
 trusting you could weep.
-- Sharon Olds
This is one of my favorite "love" poems. I like the mystery and sense of
discovery, "delicate and intimate", with not a note of eroticism or
lubriciousness. The emphasis lies in the sense of surprise and wonder at the
end, on the delicious naivete of the narrative voice. And what a trope! It
reminds me of the eloquent conceits of the Metaphysical poets, especially
John Donne. (cf. "The Flea", which is another love poem that might itself be
appropriate this week!).


[Minstrels Links]

Love poems:
Poem #997, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love -- Christopher Marlowe
Poem #998, A Blade of Grass -- Brian Patten
Poem #999, Casabianca -- Elizabeth Bishop
Poem #1001, The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd -- Sir Walter Raleigh
Poem #1002, The Bait -- John Donne
Poem #1003, The Connoisseuse of Slugs -- Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds:
Poem #812, Sex Without Love
Poem #1003, The Connoisseuse of Slugs


Some of you may have received two copies of yesterday's poem, "The Bait" by
John Donne, by mistake. Our apologies.

The Bait -- John Donne

Guest poem submitted by David Wright:
(Poem #1002) The Bait
 Come live with me, and be my love,
 And we will some new pleasures prove
 Of golden sands, and crystal brooks,
 With silken lines, and silver hooks.

 There will the river whispering run
 Warm'd by thy eyes, more than the sun;
 And there th'enamour'd fish will stay,
 Begging themselves they may betray.

 When thou wilt swim in that live bath,
 Each fish, which every channel hath,
 Will amorously to thee swim,
 Gladder to catch thee, than thou him.

 If thou, to be so seen, be'st loth,
 By sun or moon, thou darken'st both,
 And if myself have leave to see,
 I need not their light, having thee.

 Let others freeze with angling reeds,
 And cut their legs with shells and weeds,
 Or treacherously poor fish beset,
 With strangling snare, or windowy net.

 Let coarse bold hands from slimy nest
 The bedded fish in banks out-wrest;
 Or curious traitors, sleave-silk flies,
 Bewitch poor fishes' wand'ring eyes.

 For thee, thou need'st no such deceit,
 For thou thyself art thine own bait:
 That fish, that is not catch'd thereby,
 Alas, is wiser far than I.
-- John Donne
 John Donne takes the conceit in an entirely different direction  - this
fast & loose & frisky invitation to go skinny-dipping in the river, etc., -
a much more enticing invitation than that of Marlowe's shepherd, if you ask
me. I've always thought Donne, or the early Donne anyway, is the sexiest of
poets. The juiciest of all is that poem on his mistress going to bed, the
one with the lines -

 License my roving hands, and let them go
 Before, behind, between, above, below.
 O, my America, my new found land,
 My kingdom, safeliest when with one man manned,
 My mine of precious stones, my empery;
 How blest am I in this discovering thee!
 To enter in these bonds, is to be free;
 Then, where my hand is set, my seal shall be.
   Full nakedness! All joys are due to thee;
 As souls unbodied, bodies unclothed must be
 To taste whole joys.

 Mercy! 'The Bait' is pretty sexy too, all that scintillating stuff about
enamoured fish making love to her underwater - like that memorable old
Japanese erotic print/netsuke of a woman in the clasp of an octopus - is
both titillating and charmingly silly. Once again, clever Donne worships a
woman out of her petticoats, and the appeal is not subject to Raleigh's
critique, for he promises nothing more than a really fun day of loving and
playing on the bank. (Donne's too clever for the lot of them - I expect
anyone writing a response to or a parody of Donne would find himself
anatomized in one of his wonderfully scathing satires).

 The big metaphor of her as a baited hook is proverbial, but Donne seems to
think he can get the bait off that hook and get away, or else that he will
be happily caught.


[thomas adds]

 "The Bait" was going to be the third poem in a series, following
Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" and Sir Walter
Raleigh's "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd" on the Minstrels. But David's
excellent commentary has left with me little to add, so I'll content myself
with a few expository notes. Most of these, incidentally, are based on the
annotations provided by A. J. Smith to the Penguin edition of Donne's
complete poems.


 Several manuscripts describe this poem as being written to match a melody
that pre-dated Donne; sadly, no contemporary musical setting of "The Bait"
has survived. (Though do check out Minstrels Poem #565, Thomas Campion's
"Now Winter Nights Enlarge", a poem/song written around the same time as
"The Bait"; a version for lute is available at
[broken link]

 "The Bait" varies Marlowe's "Passionate Shepherd" (1599) and Raleigh's
"Nymph's Reply" (1600) (see links below). In "The Compleat Angler" (1655),
Izaak Walton has a milkmaid sing Marlowe's lines, her mother sing Raleigh's
reply, and Venator gives Donne's poem as 'a copy of verses thet were made by
Doctor Donne, and made to show the world that he could make soft and smooth
verses, when he though fit and worth his labour'. It's worth keeping in mind
that Walton's parish pastor was none other than John Donne...

 "When thou wilt swim in that live bath
  Each fish, which every channel hath,
  Will amorously to thee swim"
The lady's power to attract the fish when she bathed was a common conceit in
the erotic poetry of the time; witness the following:
 "Then quickly strip thyself! Lay fear aside!
  For of this dainty prey, which thou shalt take;
  Both sea, fish, and thyself, thou glad shalt make."
        -- R. Tofte, "Laura" (1597), II, 37

 "If thou, to be so seen, be'st loth,
  By sun or moon, thou darken'st both,
i.e., you outshine both sun and moon in your beauty.

 "curious" - artfully made.

 "sleave-silk flies" - artificial flies made out of the threads of sleaved
(unravelled) silk.

[Minstrels Links]

 This week's theme is Love Poetry:
Poem #997, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love -- Christopher Marlowe
Poem #998, A Blade of Grass -- Brian Patten
Poem #999, Casabianca -- Elizabeth Bishop
Poem #1001, The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd -- Sir Walter Raleigh
Poem #1002, The Bait -- John Donne
 There is of course no shortage of love poetry in the Minstrels archives;
see for a full list.

 John Donne, one of my favourite poets:
Poem #330, A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
Poem #384, Song
Poem #403, A Lame Beggar
Poem #465, The Sun Rising
Poem #796, Death Be Not Proud (Holy Sonnets: X)
Poem #866, The Canonization
Poem #1002, The Bait

The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd -- Sir Walter Raleigh

(Poem #1001) The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd
 If all the world and love were young,
 And truth in every shepherd's tongue,
 These pretty pleasures might me move
 To live with thee and be thy love.

 Time drives the flocks from field to fold
 When rivers rage and rocks grow cold,
 And Philomel becometh dumb;
 The rest complains of cares to come.

 The flowers do fade, and wanton fields
 To wayward winter reckoning yields;
 A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
 Is fancy's spring, but sorrow's fall,

 Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of roses,
 Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies
 Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten--
 In folly ripe, in reason rotten.

 Thy belt of straw and ivy buds,
 Thy coral claps and somber studs,
 All these in me no means can move
 To come to thee and be thy love.

 But could youth last and love still breed,
 Had joys no date nor age no need,
 Then these delights my mind might move
 To live with thee and be thy love.
-- Sir Walter Raleigh
It seems ironic. Sir Walter Raleigh was the romantic favourite of Queen
Elizabeth I, famed in legend for (among other things) spreading his cloak
over a puddle so that Her Majesty might not get her feet wet. Christopher
Marlowe, on the other hand, was a spy whose intrigues led him to a nasty
end, stabbed to death in a tavern brawl in one of the seamier parts of
London. And yet it's the latter who wrote "The Passionate Shepherd", a
cheerfully optimistic piece that charms and delights in its seeming naivete;
it's the former who responded with "The Nymph's Reply", a cynical rejoinder
that is nonetheless more worldly-wise, more cognizant of the wisdom of
experience and disappointment.

I'm not sure which of the two poems I like better. On balance, I think



"And Philomel becometh dumb" - the name Philomel is often used in poetry to
refer to the nightingale, after the legend of Philomel:

"In Greek legend, Tereus was a king of Thrace who married Procne, daughter
of Pandion, king of Athens. Tereus seduced Procne's sister Philomela,
pretending that Procne was dead. In order to hide his guilt, he cut out
Philomela's tongue. But she revealed the crime to her sister by working the
details in embroidery. Procne sought revenge by serving up her son Itys for
Tereus' supper. On learning what Procne had done, Tereus pursued the two
sisters with an ax. But the gods took pity and changed them all into birds,
Tereus into a hoopoe (or hawk), Procne into a nightingale (or swallow), and
Philomela into a swallow (or nightingale)."
        -- EB

The themes of betrayal, faithlessness and deception in the Philomel story
jibe nicely with today's poem; they are used to similar effect in Eliot's
masterpiece "The Waste Land".

[Minstrels Links]

Poem #997, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love -- Christopher Marlowe
Poem #354, (an excerpt from) The Waste Land  -- T. S. Eliot
Poem #858, (another excerpt from) The Waste Land  -- T. S. Eliot
Poem #859, Waste Land Limericks -- Wendy Cope

Casabianca -- Felicia Hemans

Guest poem submitted by Gregory Marton:

Yesterday's poem, "Casabianca" by Elizabeth Bishop written in 1946, is
somewhat out of place without its predecessor below, written in 1829:
(Poem #1000) Casabianca
 The boy stod on the burning deck,
 Whence all but him had fled;
 The flame that lit the battle's wreck
 shone round him o'er the dead.

 Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
 As born to rule the storm;
 A creature of heroic blood,
 A proud, though child-like form.

 The flames rolled on - he would not go
 Without his father's word;
 That father, faint in death below,
 His voice no longer heard.

 He called aloud - "Say, father, say
 If yet my task is done?"
 He knew not that the chieftain lay
 Unconscious of his son.

 "Speak, father!" once again he cried,
 "If I may yet be gone!"
 And but the booming shots replied,
 And fast the flames rolled on.

 Upon his brow he felt their breath,
 And in his waving hair;
 And looked from that lone post of death
 In still, yet brave despair:

 And shouted but once more aloud,
 "My father! must I stay?"
 While o'er him fast, through sail and shroud,
 The wreathing fires made way.

 There came a burst of thunder sound -
 The boy - oh! where was he?
 Ask of the winds that far around
 With fragments strewed the sea!

 With mast, and helm, and pennon fair,
 That well had borne their part -
 But the noblest thing that perished there
 Was that young, faithful heart.
-- Felicia Hemans
 This was better known as "The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck", and is the
poem Bishop's boy recites in Poem #999.

 From [broken link] :

     Hemans's poem commemorates the death of Young Casabianca, a boy
     about thirteen years old, son to the Admiral of the "Orient", who
     remained at his post in the Battle of the Nile after the ship had
     taken fire, and all the guns had been abandoned; and perished in
     the explosion of the vessel, when the flames had reached the
     powder. The Battle of the Nile, in which Nelson captured and
     destroyed the French fleet in Aboukir Bay, took place on August
     1, 1798.

 Hemans's "Casabianca" came to me through one of the most inspiring pieces
of text I've ever read. Alan Turing, in his famous 1950 paper "Computing
Machinery and Intelligence", describes the famous Turing Test. He asserts
that machines will someday "think" in the sense of  that word that we use
for ourselves, and was the first to describe, by his imitation game, a means
to tell whether a machine was doing so.

 In the paper Turing also describes constructing an intelligent machine by
constructing first a child machine, then training it as one would a child.
In describing why Skinnerian operant conditioning, a series of rewards for
good behavior and punishments for bad, would not be the best training
approach, Turing says:

     Roughly speaking, if the teacher has no other means of
     communicating to the pupil, the amount of information which can
     reach him does not exceed the total number of rewards and
     punishments applied.  By the time a child has learnt to repeat
     "Casabianca" he would probably feel very sore indeed, if the text
     could only be discovered by a "Twenty Questions" technique, every
     "NO" taking the form of a blow.

 At first I thought Turing had mistyped "Casablanca" but looked and found
otherwise!  Indeed the metaphor is most apt, especially in light of Bishop's
version (1946): the child machine, the only sort of boy designed not to run
or fight back, reciting in "stammering elocution" the poem until by blows he
gets it right.  The machine, the most obstinate of little boys -- it's this
boy that I as an AI grad student love, even if he'll not for some time yet
pass Turing's test or run from burning flames.  We'll get there.  :-)


Casabianca -- Elizabeth Bishop

Guest poem submitted by Ben Morrison,
whose birthday it is today. Happy Birthday, Ben!
(Poem #999) Casabianca
 Love's the boy stood on the burning deck
 trying to recite "The boy stood on
 the burning deck". Love's the son
        stood stammering elocution
        while the poor ship in flames went down.

 Love's the obstinate boy, the ship,
 even the swimming sailors, who
 would like a schoolroom platform, too
        or an excuse to stay
        on deck. And love's the burning boy.
-- Elizabeth Bishop
This Bishop poem isn't one that typically makes it in the anthologies, but
it is perhaps my favorite, and since it is love poetry week, it's entirely

It's so simple: four sentences all with the same noun/verb
contraction--"love's".  The image of "burning" love is a cliché, but the
build from the poor boy trying to talk to the ship and all the other sailors
and then back to the burning boy is what makes this poem work. The lens
widens from the poor boy to everything else and then, finally, back to the
boy. This is the enviable boy who gets to stay on deck and burn.

It's not pretty. It's sacrificial. It's about being powerless, not being
able to say ("trying to recite") what you are and where you are. It's not
pastoral. If you actually imagine someone burning, it's downright
horrifying, but I guess that's the point. Even when reading it, the reader
envies the boy and wishes that he/she too was on the deck and burning.


[Minstrels Links]

Elizabeth Bishop:
Poem #639, One Art
Poem #734, In the Waiting Room

Love poetry, the week so far:
Poem #997, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love -- Christopher Marlowe
Poem #998, A Blade of Grass -- Brian Patten
Poem #999, Casabianca -- Elizabeth Bishop

A blade of grass -- Brian Patten

Guest poem submitted by Sam Dent:
(Poem #998) A blade of grass
 You ask for a poem.
 I offer you a blade of grass.
 You say it is not good enough.
 You ask for a poem.

 I say this blade of grass will do.
 It has dressed itself in frost,
 It is more immediate
 Than any image of my making.

 You say it is not a poem,
 It is a blade of grass and grass
 Is not quite good enough.
 I offer you a blade of grass.

 You are indignant.
 You say it is too easy to offer grass.
 It is absurd.
 Anyone can offer a blade of grass.

 You ask for a poem.
 And so I write you a tragedy about
 How a blade of grass
 Becomes more and more difficult to offer,

 And about how as you grow older
 A blade of grass
 Becomes more difficult to accept.
-- Brian Patten
Since you are now on the theme of love poetry, I must send you this one.  I
can't believe you have no Brian Patten yet, I hope this will encourage a few
people to track down his work.  He and Adrian Mitchell are, in my opinion,
the finest modern poets.  The beauty of this poem is in its simplicity, and
how the images seem to stay with you.


[Minstrels Links]

Comparison to Adrian Mitchell is high praise indeed; check out the following
poems on the Minstrels website to see what I mean:
Poem #28, To Whom It May Concern
Poem #95, Nostalgia - Now Threepence Off
Poem #211, The Oxford Hysteria of English Poetry
Poem #337, Jimmy Giuffre Plays 'The Easy Way'
Poem #397, Ancestors
Poem #623, Ten Ways to Avoid Lending Your Wheelbarrow to Anybody
Poem #810, Beatrix is Three
Poem #894, Watch Your Step - I'm Drenched

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love -- Christopher Marlowe

This week's theme: obviously, love poetry:
(Poem #997) The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
 Come live with me and be my love,
 And we will all the pleasures prove
 That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
 Woods or steepy mountain yields.

 And we will sit upon the rocks,
 Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
 By shallow rivers to whose falls
 Melodious birds sing madrigals.

 And I will make thee beds of roses
 And a thousand fragrant posies,
 A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
 Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;

 A gown made of the finest wool
 Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
 Fair lined slippers for the cold,
 With buckles of th purest gold;

 A belt of straw and ivy buds,
 With coral clasps and amber studs:
 And if these pleasures may thee move,
 Come live with me and be my love.

 The shepherds' swains shall dance and sing
 For thy delight each May morning:
 If these delights thy mind may move,
 Then live with me and be my love,
-- Christopher Marlowe
The first pastoral verse in English was written during the reign of Queen
Elizabeth the First. Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe and their
contemporaries at court discarded the elaborate framework of convention that
governed the masques and morality plays of medieval times to create a new
genre that was light-hearted, direct and unpretentious. "The Passionate
Shepherd" is an excellent example of the type: it's not a poem that demands
a great deal of analysis or explication, yet that very simplicity is its
strength, and the source of its lasting popularity.


[Minstrels Links]

Marlowe is capable of both beauty and bombast, often in quick succession. I
have to confess that I prefer the energy of his plays to the often vapid
sentiments of his poetry (but then, I'm not a big fan of pastoral verse in
the first place; give me the metaphysicals any day :)). By way of contrast
to today's poem, check out:
        Poem #75, The face that launch'd a thousand ships
        Poem #506, Lament for Zenocrate
both of which are actually verse extracts from his plays (Faustus and
Tamerlane, respectively).

[Britannica on the Pastoral]

Pastoral literature: a class of literature that presents the society of
shepherds as free from the complexity and corruption of city life. Many of
the idylls written in its name are far remote from the realities of any
life, rustic or urban. Among the writers who have used the pastoral
convention with striking success and vitality are the classical poets
Theocritus and Virgil and the English poets Edmund Spenser, Robert Herrick,
John Milton, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Matthew Arnold.

The pastoral convention sometimes uses the device of "singing matches"
between two or more shepherds, and it often presents the poet and his
friends in the (usually thin) disguises of shepherds and shepherdesses.
Themes include, notably, love and death. Both tradition and themes were
largely established by Theocritus, whose Bucolics are the first examples of
pastoral poetry. The tradition was passed on, through Bion, Moschus, and
Longus, from Greece to Rome, where Virgil (who transferred the setting from
Sicily to Arcadia, in the Greek Peloponnese, now the symbol of a pastoral
paradise) used the device of alluding to contemporary problems--agrarian,
political, and personal--in the rustic society he portrayed. His Eclogues
exerted a powerful effect on poets of the Renaissance, including Dante,
Petrarch, and Giovanni Boccaccio in Italy; Pierre de Ronsard in France; and
Garcilaso de la Vega in Spain. These were further influenced by medieval
Christian commentators on Virgil and by the pastoral scenes of the Old and
New Testaments (Cain and Abel, David, the Bethlehem shepherds, and the
figure of Christ the good shepherd). During the 16th and 17th centuries,
too, pastoral romance novels (by Jacopo Sannazzaro, Jorge de Montemayor,
Miguel de Cervantes, and Honoré d'Urfé) appeared, as did in the 15th and
16th centuries the pastoral drama (by Torquato Tasso and Battista Guarini).

In English poetry there had been some examples of pastoral literature in the
earlier 16th century, but the appearance in 1579 of Edmund Spenser's
Shepheardes Calender, which imitated not only classical models but also the
Renaissance poets of France and Italy, brought about a vogue for the
pastoral. Sir Philip Sidney, Robert Greene, Thomas Nash, Christopher
Marlowe, Michael Drayton, Thomas Dekker, John Donne, Sir Walter Raleigh,
Thomas Heywood, Thomas Campion, William Browne, William Drummond, and
Phineas Fletcher all wrote pastoral poetry. (This vogue was subjected to
some satirical comment in William Shakespeare's As You Like It--itself a
pastoral play.) The first English novels, by Robert Greene and Thomas Lodge,
were written in the pastoral mode. Apart from Shakespeare, playwrights who
attempted pastoral drama included John Lyly, George Peele, John Fletcher,
Ben Jonson, John Day, and James Shirley.

The climax of this phase of the pastoral tradition was reached in the unique
blend of freshness and learned imitation achieved by the poetry of Herrick
and of Andrew Marvell. Later 17th-century work, apart from that of Milton,
was more pedantic. The 18th-century revival of the pastoral mode is chiefly
remarkable for its place in a larger quarrel between those Neoclassical
critics who preferred "ancient" poetry and those others who supported the
"modern." This dispute raged in France, where the "ancient" sympathy was
represented in the pastoral convention by René Rapin, whose shepherds were
figures of uncomplicated virtue in a simple scene. The "modern" pastoral,
deriving from Bernard de Fontenelle, dwelled on the innocence of the
contemporary rustic (though not on his miseries). In England the controversy
was reflected in a quarrel between Alexander Pope and Ambrose Philips,
though the liveliest pastorals of the period were by John Gay, whose mode
was burlesque (and whose Beggar's Opera is ironically subtitled "A Newgate
Pastoral"--Newgate being one of London's prisons).

A growing reaction against the artificialities of the genre, combined with
new attitudes to the natural man and the natural scene, resulted in a
sometimes bitter injection of reality into the rustic scenes of such poets
and novelists as Robert Burns, George Crabbe, William Wordsworth, John
Clare, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, George Sand, Émile Zola, B.M. Bjørnson,
and Knut Hamsun. Only the pastoral elegy survived, through Shelley and
Matthew Arnold.

In the time since Wordsworth, poets have sometimes revived the pastoral
mode, though usually for some special purpose of their own--often ironic, as
in the eclogues of Louis MacNeice, or obscure, as when W.H. Auden called his
long poem The Age of Anxiety "a baroque eclogue."

        -- EB

The Little Boy and the Old Man -- Shel Silverstein

Guest poem submitted by Priscilla Jebaraj:
(Poem #996) The Little Boy and the Old Man
 Said the little boy, "Sometimes I drop my spoon."
 Said the old man, "I do that, too."
 The little boy whispered, "I wet my pants."
 "I do that too," laughed the little old man.
 Said the little boy, "I often cry."
 The old man nodded, "So do I."
 "But worst of all," said the boy, "it seems
 Grown-ups don't pay attention to me."
 And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
 "I know what you mean," said the little old man.
-- Shel Silverstein
   This is the only Shel Silverstein poem I'd read till the one on the
pencil maker appeared on the Minstrels a couple of days ago [Make that a
couple of months ago - ed.]. I guess the special thing about this poem is
that when I first read it, I was still a child who understood what it felt
like when grown-ups didn't pay attention to me. And it had never really
struck me till then that very often the very old are also treated like the
very young. It helped me understand an aging grandfather. And ever since
then, I've tried to pay attention - to both the little boys and the little
old men around me.


[Minstrels Links]

Shel Silverstein:
Poem #845, Recipe for a Hippopotamus Sandwich
Poem #892, Stupid Pencil Maker

Come Together -- John Lennon

Guest poem submitted by Matthew Chanoff:
I know you already did your song lyric theme, but I've got to propose you
run this anyway.
(Poem #995) Come Together
 Here come old flattop he come grooving up slowly
 He got Joo-Joo eyeball he one holy roller
 He got hair down to his knee
 Got to be a joker he just do what he please

 He wear no shoeshine he got toe-jam football
 He got monkey finger he shoot coca-cola
 He say "I know you, you know me"
 One thing I can tell you is you got to be free
 Come together right now over me

 He bag production he got walrus gumboot
 He got Ono sideboard he one spinal cracker
 He got feet down below his knee
 Hold you in his armchair you can feel his disease
 Come together right now over me

 He roller-coaster he got early warning
 He got muddy water he one mojo filter
 He say "One and one and one is three"
 Got to be good-looking 'cause he's so hard to see
 Come together right now over me

 Come together, come together, come together, come together, yeah.
-- John Lennon
This is my all time favorite obscure poem.  What could they have had in
mind? Maybe it's a poem about a street person with a personality disorder
who needs to come together.  Maybe it's a parody of John "he got Ono
sideboard."  Maybe it's just a stream of imagery.

One thing I love about it is the rhythm.  Everyone over 30 has that rhythm
somewhere in their brain cells. You can tell you have it if you try reading
the thing aloud.  Try saying "He say "One and one and one is three" without
stretching and syncopating on "one."  The poem is also very heavy on
trochees (stress-unstressed feet) like slowly, roller, football, cola,
gumboot, cracker, warning, filter. Very often they're used as a signal for
indecisiveness, passivity, etcetera. cf, the "To be or not to be" soliloquey
in Hamlet.

Maybe it's about recognizing mentally distrurbed street people as not so
different from you and me.

I'm not sure who wrote it. At this stage in their development, Lennon and
McCartney pretty much wrote separately, though they continued to put both
names on all songs. [It was Lennon, actually - ed.]

For a bio of the band, check out
[broken link]

For a complete Beatles lyric archive, check out
[broken link]


The Gift Outright -- Robert Frost

Guest poem submitted by Sara G:
(Poem #994) The Gift Outright
 The land was ours before we were the land's.
 She was our land more than a hundred years
 Before we were her people. She was ours
 In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
 But we were England's, still colonials,
 Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
 Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
 Something we were withholding made us weak
 Until we found out that it was ourselves
 We were withholding from our land of living,
 And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
 Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
 (The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
 To the land vaguely realizing westward,
 But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
 Such as she was, such as she would become.
-- Robert Frost
 Written in 1942, recited at JFK's inauguration in 1961.

 How can you not have this poem yet? Frost wrote a longer poem, "Dedication"
for the inauguration, but the glare of the sun on the snow blinded him (he
was 86 years old) and he recited this, which he knew by heart. The
inaguration was on a freezing day, the whole northeastern coast was snowed
in. As an 11 year old living in New England, we didn't have school that day
because of the snow, and I remember watching the inauguration on TV.


[Minstrels Links]

Robert Frost:
Poem #51, The Road Not Taken
Poem #155, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Poem #170, The Need of Being Versed in Country Things
Poem #336, A Patch of Old Snow
Poem #681, The Secret Sits
Poem #730, Mending Wall
Poem #779, Fire and Ice
Poem #917, A Considerable Speck
Poem #985, Once by the Pacific

Midsummer, Tobago -- Derek Walcott

(Poem #993) Midsummer, Tobago
 Broad sun-stoned beaches.

 White heat.
 A green river.

 A bridge,
 scorched yellow palms

 from the summer-sleeping house
 drowsing through August.

 Days I have held,
 days I have lost,

 days that outgrow, like daughters,
 my harbouring arms.
-- Derek Walcott
This is the first Derek Walcott poem to feature on the Minstrels, a
situation for which you can blame my abject lack of familiarity with
post-colonial poetry in general and Walcott's work in particular. This will
not do; I really do need to read more Walcott. It's not just that he's an
"important" poet [1], he's also a very good one. Caught between European
culture and Caribbean experience, he has spent a lifetime seeking to resolve
the post-colonial paradox; in a poetic career spanning half a dozen decades,
his work has been of a consistently high standard.

Walcott's poems are about voyages. Not necessarily physical ones; he's
equally concerned with the links that connect past and present, and the
journeys of the mind between them. He fills his verse with ruminations on
the nature of memory and the creative imagination, the history, politics and
landscape of the West Indies, his own life and loves, and his enduring
awareness of time and death. These themes are explored with insight and
tact; they are also, in Walcott's hands, infused with the rarest of
qualities, a sense of _place_.

Walcott's poems are excellent proof of the fact that it is possible to write
"poetically" using free verse. His language is elegant and evocative and
never forced; his merging of various linguistic influences (the vibrant
Creole of his native Caribbean, the stately Latin and Greek of the classics,
the workaday English of his Boston years) gives his poetry a richness and
texture lost to many more traditional poets, while the absence of formal
structure gives it a suppleness equal to the demands of his themes.

Today's poem is short, but astonishingly vivid, and deceptively subtle.
Walcott uses the stillness and uniformity of summer days to highlight the
inexorable passage of time; one day follows another, "drowsing through
August", until suddenly years have gone by, years which can never be
reclaimed. A resolution that might easily have slipped into pathos in the
hands of a lesser poet is handled here with delicacy and care, so that we
are left with a sense of poignancy and loss, yes, but also of nostalgia and
quietude. Notice the skill with which Walcott paints his landscape in the
opening lines: he uses less than a dozen words, but they are enough. Notice,
also, the sheer perfection of the analogy that concludes the poem: the
phrase "like daughters" adds layers of depth and meaning and feeling to the
whole. Wonderfully done.


[1] I'd be the last to consider "importance" to be any sort of criterion for
the appreciation of poetry.

[Nobel Committee announcement]

Derek Walcott won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992. Here is the text
of the statement made by the Nobel Committee, announcing the award:

"This year the Swedish Academy has decided to award the Nobel Prize for
Literature to Derek Walcott. Walcott, who is 62 was born in Saint Lucia but
now lives in Trinidad. He has both African and European blood in his veins.
In him West Indian culture has found its great poet. He also has a chair in
English at Boston University.

Walcott showed his mettle early on. As the title of his substantial volume
of "Collected Poems 1948-1984" shows, he was already writing poetry of
lasting value at the end of his teens. Like Brodsky and Paz he has an
intense belief in poetry and poets and he has made this one of his themes.

Otherwise it is the complexity of his own situation that has provided one of
the most fruitful sources of inspiration. Three loyalties are central for
him - the Caribbean where he lives, the English language, and his African
origin. In the poem "A Far Cry from Africa", he says "How choose / Between
this Africa and the English tongue I love?" One of his major works, the long
poem "Another Life" (1973), is devoted to his development and the course of
his education in this environment.

In his collection of poems "The Arkansas Testament" (1987) he continues the
broadening of perspective which is also a characteristic of his oeuvre.
Among these poems can be found works dedicated to Marina Tsvetaeva and W.H.
Auden ("Strict as Psalm or Lesson, / I learnt your poetry").

Walcott's latest poetic work is "Omeros" (1990), a majestic Caribbean epos
in 64 chapters - "I sang our wide country, the Caribbean Sea". This is a
work of incomparable ambitiousness, in which Walcott weaves his many strands
into a whole. Its weft is a rich one, deriving from the poet's wide-ranging
contacts with literature, history and reality. We find Homer, Poe,
Mayakovsky and Melville, allusions are made to Brodsky (" the parentheses of
palms / shielding a candle's tongue"), and he quotes the Beatles'
"Yesterday". Walcott's metaphors and images are numerous, and often striking
- "And beyond them, like dominoes / with lights for holes, the black
skyscrapers of Boston". He captures white seagulls against a blue sky in the
image "Gulls chalk the blue enamel". His poetry acquires at one and the same
time singular lustre and great force.

Walcott is in the first place a poet but he has also produced interesting
work for the theatre. His masterstroke was "Dream on Monkey Mountain"
(1970), a striking but scenographically demanding Caribbean fresco. The same
dream-like atmosphere can be found in several of his plays, such as "Ti-Jean
and His Brothers" (1958) and, to a certain extent, in "The Last Carnival"
(in "Three Plays" (1986), which deals with two important decades in the
recent history of Trinidad. A significant feature of his plays is the skill
with which the author plays on his own complex range of voices. It is
impossible, however, to reproduce this in the totally different language
situation of Sweden.

Walcott's style is melodious and sensitive. It seems to issue principally
from a prolific inspiration. In his literary works Walcott has laid a course
for his own cultural environment, but through them he speaks to each and
every one of us."