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Quiquern (Chapter Heading) -- Rudyard Kipling

(Poem #1685) Quiquern (Chapter Heading)
 The People of the Eastern Ice, they are melting like the snow --
 They beg for coffee and sugar; they go where the white men go.
 The People of the Western Ice, they learn to steal and fight;
 They sell their furs to the trading-post; they sell their souls to the white.
 The People of the Southern Ice, they trade with the whaler's crew;
 Their women have many ribbons, but their tents are torn and few.
 But the People of the Elder Ice, beyond the white man's ken --
 Their spears are made of the narwhal-horn, and they are the last of the Men!
-- Rudyard Kipling
Note: From the Second Jungle Book

Kipling's Jungle Books are famous, and deservedly so. Stories of Mowgli and
his friends have enthralled generations of children, and are usually what
people think of when they think of the books - but Kipling also included
several other stories in the two books, at least one of which (Rikki Tikki
Tavi) has achieved a fame rivalling the "main" stories, and several others
of which foreshadowed later masterpieces like "Puck of Pook's Hill" and

When rereading the books, one of the things that always stands out is the
sheer brilliance of the chapter headings. They work very well as stand-alone
poems (indeed, we've run several here on Minstrels), but to truly appreciate
Kipling's work, I'd strongly advise putting aside a couple of evenings and
reading the Jungle Books through at a stretch - the interplay of story and
verse is wonderfully immersive. (That said, I'll admit that Quiquern was one
of the rare instances where the poem was a lot more memorable than the

Incidentally, has anyone else done something similar, by way of chapter
headings? Several authors have embedded verse within their stories (Tolkien
is a notable example, as is Carroll), but right now I can't think of anyone
who's done it in quite the way Kipling has.



The Jungle Books are freely available online; here's today's story:

All the chapter heading verses:

The Bravery Of Being Out Of Range -- Roger Waters

Guest poem sent in by Anyesha Mookherjee
(Poem #1684) The Bravery Of Being Out Of Range
 You have a natural tendency
 To squeeze off a shot
 You're good fun at parties
 You wear the right masks
 You're old but you still
 Like a laugh in the locker room
 You can't abide change
 And you're home on the range
 You opened the suitcase
 Behind the old workings
 To show off the magnum
 You deafened the canyon
 A comfort a friend
 Only upstaged in the end
 By the Uzi machine gun
 Does the recoil remind you
 Remind you of sex
 Old man what the hell you gonna kill next
 Old timer, who you gonna kill next

 I looked over Jordan and what did I see
 Saw a U.S. Marine in a pile of debris
 I swam in your pools
 And lay under your palm trees
 I looked in the eyes of the Indian
 Who lay on the Federal Building steps
 And through the range finder over the hill
 I saw the front line boys popping their pills
 Sick of the mess they find on their desert stage
 And the bravery of being out of range
 Yeah the question is vexed
 Old man what the hell you gonna kill next
 Old timer who you gonna kill next

 Hey bartender, over here
 Two more shots
 And two more beers
 Sir, turn up the TV sound
 The war has started on the ground
 Just love those laser guided bombs
 They're really great for righting wrongs
 You hit the target, win the game
 From bars 3,000 miles away
 3,000 miles away
 We play the game
 With the bravery of being out of range
 We zap and maim
 With the bravery of being out of range
 We strafe the train
 With the bravery of being out of range
 We gain terrain
 With the bravery of being out of range
 We play the game
 With the bravery of being out of range
-- Roger Waters
Note: From the album "Amused to Death"

A friend of mine once send me the lyrics to this song after a heated
discusssion on modern day war. It has remained with me and it seems more
relevant now than it did six years back when I read it for the first time.
The vivid imagery of modern war which is fought with an invisible enemy
juxtaposed with the complex psychology of those who fight it is truly



Biography: (I like the disclaimer!)

Portrait of a Lady -- T S Eliot

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1683) Portrait of a Lady
                Thou hast committed --
        Fornication: but that was in another country,
        And besides, the wench is dead.
                        (The Jew of Malta)


 Among the smoke and fog of a December afternoon
 You have the scene arrange itself -- as it will seem to do --
 With "I have saved this afternoon for you";
 And four wax candles in the darkened room,
 Four rings of light upon the ceiling overhead,
 An atmosphere of Juliet's tomb
 Prepared for all the things to be said, or left unsaid.
 We have been, let us say, to hear the latest Pole
 Transmit the Preludes, through his hair and fingertips.
 "So intimate, this Chopin, that I think his soul
 Should be resurrected only among friends
 Some two or three, who will not touch the bloom
 That is rubbed and questioned in the concert room."
 - And so the conversation slips
 Among velleities and carefully caught regrets
 Through attenuated tones of violins
 Mingled with remote cornets
 And begins.

 "You do not know how much they mean to me, my friends,
 And how, how rare and strange it is, to find
 In a life composed so much, so much of odds and ends,
 [For indeed I do not love it ... you knew? you are not blind!
 How keen you are!]
 To find a friend who has these qualities,
 Who has, and gives
 Those qualities upon which friendship lives.
 How much it means that I say this to you --
 Without these friendships -- life, what cauchemar!"

 Among the windings of the violins
 And the ariettes
 Of cracked cornets
 Inside my brain a dull tom-tom begins
 Absurdly hammering a prelude of its own,
 Capricious monotone
 That is at least one definite "false note."
 - Let us take the air, in a tobacco trance,
 Admire the monuments,
 Discuss the late events,
 Correct our watches by the public clocks.
 Then sit for half an hour and drink our bocks.


 Now that lilacs are in bloom
 She has a bowl of lilacs in her room
 And twists one in his fingers while she talks.
 "Ah, my friend, you do not know, you do not know
 What life is, you who hold it in your hands";
 (Slowly twisting the lilac stalks)
 "You let it flow from you, you let it flow,
 And youth is cruel, and has no remorse
 And smiles at situations which it cannot see."
 I smile, of course,
 And go on drinking tea.
 "Yet with these April sunsets, that somehow recall
 My buried life, and Paris in the Spring,
 I feel immeasurably at peace, and find the world
 To be wonderful and youthful, after all."

 The voice returns like the insistent out-of-tune
 Of a broken violin on an August afternoon:
 "I am always sure that you understand
 My feelings, always sure that you feel,
 Sure that across the gulf you reach your hand.

 You are invulnerable, you have no Achilles' heel.
 You will go on, and when you have prevailed
 You can say: at this point many a one has failed.

 But what have I, but what have I, my friend,
 To give you, what can you receive from me?
 Only the friendship and the sympathy
 Of one about to reach her journey's end.

 I shall sit here, serving tea to friends..."

 I take my hat: how can I make a cowardly amends
 For what she has said to me?
 You will see me any morning in the park
 Reading the comics and the sporting page.
 Particularly I remark
 An English countess goes upon the stage.
 A Greek was murdered at a Polish dance,
 Another bank defaulter has confessed.
 I keep my countenance,
 I remain self-possessed
 Except when a street piano, mechanical and tired
 Reiterates some worn-out common song
 With the smell of hyacinths across the garden
 Recalling things that other people have desired.
 Are these ideas right or wrong?


 The October night comes down; returning as before
 Except for a slight sensation of being ill at ease
 I mount the stairs and turn the handle of the door
 And feel as if I had mounted on my hands and knees.
 "And so you are going abroad; and when do you return?
 But that's a useless question.
 You hardly know when you are coming back,
 You will find so much to learn."
 My smile falls heavily among the bric-à-brac.

 "Perhaps you can write to me."
 My self-possession flares up for a second;
 This is as I had reckoned.
 "I have been wondering frequently of late
 (But our beginnings never know our ends!)
 Why we have not developed into friends."
 I feel like one who smiles, and turning shall remark
 Suddenly, his expression in a glass.
 My self-possession gutters; we are really in the dark.

 "For everybody said so, all our friends,
 They all were sure our feelings would relate
 So closely! I myself can hardly understand.
 We must leave it now to fate.
 You will write, at any rate.
 Perhaps it is not too late.
 I shall sit here, serving tea to friends."

 And I must borrow every changing shape
 To find expression ... dance, dance
 Like a dancing bear,
 Cry like a parrot, chatter like an ape.
 Let us take the air, in a tobacco trance --

 Well! and what if she should die some afternoon,
 Afternoon grey and smoky, evening yellow and rose;
 Should die and leave me sitting pen in hand
 With the smoke coming down above the housetops;
 Doubtful, for a while
 Not knowing what to feel or if I understand
 Or whether wise or foolish, tardy or too soon...
 Would she not have the advantage, after all?
 This music is successful with a "dying fall"
 Now that we talk of dying --
 And should I have the right to smile?
-- T S Eliot
When I was 16 I was in love with Prufrock [Poem #193 on the Minstrels].
Something about that poem's heady, singing combination of wit, imagery,
eloquence, insight, insecurity and despair spoke to me like nothing else in
my young life had ever done before. In those restless years, I identified
completely with Prufrock's confusion, with the delicate balance he tries to
strike between intellectual cynicism and deep-rooted yearning, with his
fundamentally adolescent struggle to force the self into a single, coherent
picture. As I wandered about muttering "No, I am not Prince Hamlet" under my
breath, the poem became for me a celebration of my own identity, a statement
of my own life more lucid than any I could have made myself.

At the time, I was relatively unimpressed with Portrait of a Lady. Oh, I
liked it well enough - but coming straight after Prufrock, I could not help
comparing the two, and Portrait seemed to pale in comparison.

As I have grown older, however, I have come to realise the true depth, the
incredible genius of the poem that follows Prufrock. The ten years that have
passed have made Prufrock seem a little too strident, a little too high
pitched while at the same time deepening my appreciation of Portrait. I
still love Prufrock, but love it as one loves the adventures of one's youth
- with an awe for its courage that is mingled with bemusement with its
ideas. In Prufrock, Eliot is still struggling with the demons of self-worth
- he is a young man who believes, but pretends to laugh at his own beliefs.
That struggle continues in Portrait, but by now Eliot has really learned to
laugh at himself in a way he never could in Prufrock. There is more
resignation in Portrait, but less despair; rather there is an profound
recognition of the fundamental ridiculousness of our lives and loves. Even
at its most frenzied ("And I must borrow every changing shape / to find
expression") Eliot cannot escape the knowledge that all our fine poetics are
little better than the circus tricks of animals, all our most heartfelt
feelings as trivial in the larger world as headlines from some distant land
("A greek was murdered at a Polish dance")

Where Prufrock is a landscape, Portrait is, precisely, a portrait. It is a
deeply intimate poem, one "that should be resurrected only among friends /
Some two or three, who will not touch the bloom / that is rubbed and
questioned in the concert room". Where Prufrock is grand and symphonic,
Portrait is a delicate etude filled with the softest of touches - line after
memorable line, Eliot delivers the most exquisite images - fingers twisting
a lilac blossom, the smell of hyacinths across the garden, the bric a brac
on a dressing table. This is Eliot at his most musical - the perfection of
the rhythm, the easy, unobtrusive flow of the most intricate rhymes, the ebb
and stress of the words exactly what it should be. And, through it all, a
speaking voice that is extraordinarily true and clear.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of the poem, however, is the essential
duality of the whole thing - the almost magical way that Eliot makes you see
(so simply, with such easy deftness) both the external world of manners and
the internal world of the narrator's consciousness - showing them to you not
as two seperate identities, but as two halves of the same continuum,
inextricably connected ("I feel like one who smiles, and turning shall
remark / suddenly, his expression in a glass"). This duality informs
Prufrock as well, but there is less irony in Prufrock, and the inner voice
is more a combatant than an amused, impartial observer.

In the end, I can praise this poem no higher than to say that of all the
poems in 'Prufrock and other observations' (a collection that includes The
Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock [Poem # 193], La Figlia Che Piange [Poem #
9], Preludes [Poem # 107] and Rhapsody on a Windy Night [Poem # 466] not to
mention the delightful Conversation Galante and the incredible imagery of
Morning at the Window) Portrait of a Lady is my


P.S. It may seem strange to speak of one poem (this one) almost entirely in
terms of another (Prufrock), but I believe that the contrast between the two
(and the linkages between them) are key to understanding both.

The Ocean -- Dar Williams

Guest poem sent in by J. Goard ()
(Poem #1682) The Ocean
 When I went to your town on the wide open shore,
 Oh, I must confess, I was drawn, I was drawn to the ocean.
       I thought it spoke to me.
 It said, "Look at us: we're not churches, not schools,
       Not skating ponds, swimming pools,
 But we've lost people, haven't we though?"
 Oh, that's what the ocean can know of a body,
 And that's when I came back to town.
 This town is a song about you.
 You don't know how lucky you are.
 You don't know how much I adore you.
 You are a welcoming back from the ocean.

 I went back to the ocean today,
 With my books and my papers, I went to the rocks by the ocean.
       But the weather changed quickly.
 The ocean said, "What are you trying to find?
       I don't care, I'm not kind,
 I have bludgeoned your sailors, I have spat out their keepsakes.
 Oh, it's ashes to ashes, but always the ocean."
 But the ocean can't come to this town.
 This town is a song about you.
 You don't know how lucky you are.
 You don't know how much I adore you.
 You are a welcoming back from the ocean.

 For the ones that can know you so well
 Are the ones that can swallow you whole.
 I have a good, and I have an evil.
 I thought the ocean, the ocean thought nothing.
 You are a welcoming back from the ocean.

 I didn't go back today.
 I wanted to show you that I was more land than water.
       I went to pick flowers.
 Oh, I brought them to you – "Look at me, look at them,
       With their salt up the stem."
 But you frowned, and I smiled, as I tried to arrange them.
 You said, "Let me tell you the song of this town."
 You said, "Everything closes at five.
 After that, well, you've just got the bars.
 You don't know how precious you are,
 Walking around with your little shoes dangling.
 I am the one who lives with the ocean.
 It's where we came from, you know,
 And sometimes, I just want to go back.
 After a day, we'll drink till we're drowning,
 Walk to the ocean, wade in in our work boots,
 Wade in our work boots, try to finish the job.
 You don't know how precious you are.
 I am the one who lives with the ocean.
 You don't know how I am the one.
 You don't know how I am the one.
-- Dar Williams
Dar Williams is a singer-songwriter whose work is typically classified as
folk-pop.  Her songs range from the simple and melodic to the richly
orchestrated to the rather "talky", but her writing presents a consistently
high standard of poetic craft.  (Some other outstanding examples of musical
poetry include "When Sal's Burned Down", "February", "The End of the
Summer", and "Southern California Wants to be Western New York".)  I have
heard second-hand that she has referred to "The Ocean" as her "only rock
song"; this assertion seems somewhat more plausible up to the time of the
song's release (her second of five albums) then it does today, but even so,
it strikes me that its consistently anapestic verse speaks to a greater
connection with folk or blues.

In "The Ocean", we are presented with a narrator and an interlocutor (most
likely a lover but possibly a close friend or relative); the narrator's
perspective is developed until the third full verse, in which a presumably
taciturn interlocutor is moved to challenge this perspective as highly
presumptuous.  In general terms, the narrator is revealed as an artsy or
intellectual type ("my books and my papers"; "little shoes dangling") with
volatile emotions, while the interlocutor is more of a stolid, reliable

Irony abounds in this work.  Take, for example, the contrast between the
narrator's plea, "I wanted to show you that I was more land than water", and
her revealed preference for drawing attention to "the salt up the stem",
i.e., the visible effects of the ocean.  Similarly, the insistence that "the
ocean can't come to this town" is belied by the actions of the very person
who asserts it, in essence bringing the ocean into the town by incessantly
expressing her despair.

Yet we can pursue this analysis a step further: an analogy seems warranted
between the distressing effect of the ocean on the narrator, and the effect
of the narrator on people close to her.  From this vantage point, the song
takes on a more sinister tone.  (Do you like my mixed metaphor? :-> )  Given
the narrator's clear identification with the ocean in the first verse, and
her revealed condescension ("You don't know how lucky you are...") and
carelessness toward a loved one, the frightening description of the ocean in
the second verse might be seen as a (wholly unaware) self- description of a
person with sociopathic tendencies, who believes that she is uniquely
attuned to despair and angst, and who has a generally draining effect on

"The Ocean" is among Williams' most profound work, and likely her most
intricate.  In its literary structure, my first comparisons would be to the
dramatic monologues of Robert Browning ("My Last Duchess"; "Soliloquy of the
Spanish Cloister"), and to Nabokov novels such as "Lolita" and "Pale Fire",
with disturbed and delusional narrators bouncing their heavily filtered
worldviews against much more balanced, sympathetic, and curious characters.

One final point: punctuation of the final line (okay, the final two
identical lines) is difficult, and any choice risks misleading.  The rhythm
of this line, as with the earlier "You don't know how..." lines, has the
expected two-syllable pause in its anapestic rhythm ( ' - - ' / ' - - ' ),
so that it could be interpreted either as two sentences (i.e., "You don't
know how to live with the ocean.  I am the one who knows.") or as one (i.e,
"You're not aware of the fact that (or the way that) I live with the
ocean.")  I personally prefer the latter sense, but it's probably even
better that there's a lasting ambiguity.

J Goard


There's an official Dar Williams site at

The Piano Has Been Drinking -- Tom Waits

Guest poem submitted by Pradeep Sarin:
(Poem #1681) The Piano Has Been Drinking
 The piano has been drinking, my necktie is asleep
 And the combo went back to New York, the jukebox has to take a leak
 And the carpet needs a haircut, and the spotlight looks like a prison break
 And the telephone's out of cigarettes, and the balcony is on the make
 And the piano has been drinking, the piano has been drinking...

 And the menus are all freezing, and the light man's blind in one eye
 And he can't see out of the other
 And the piano-tuner's got a hearing aid, and he showed up with his mother
 And the piano has been drinking, the piano has been drinking
 As the bouncer is a sumo wrestler cream-puff casper milktoast
 And the owner is a mental midget with the IQ of a fence post
 'cause the piano has been drinking, the piano has been drinking...

 And you can't find your waitress with a Geiger counter
 And she hates you and your friends and you just can't get served without
 And the box-office is drooling, and the bar stools are on fire
 And the newspapers were fooling, and the ash-trays have retired
 because the piano has been drinking, the piano has been drinking
 The piano has been drinking, not me, not me, not me, not me, not me...
-- Tom Waits
        From the album "Small Change", 1976.

Background Sketch:

Through most of his musical career, Tom Waits has combined a lyrical focus
on desperate, lowlife characters with a persona that seems to embody the
same lifestyle, which he sings about in a raspy, gravelly voice. This song
is track #5 on one of his earlier albums "Small Change" (1976). I find its
bitter-sweet combination of a down-and-out mood with a tumbling series of
humorous metaphors particularly picturesque. As he tumbles through the
lines, the poetry arises almost by accident - brought to life by the image
of a piano player singing in a run down bar.

There is underlying structure to his imagery: he brings you in to the room
with playful metaphors on physical objects that you would normally encounter
in a bar. The middle of the poem first turns introspective - the piano
players' crib with his mistuned piano, and then reaches out to grasp at lost
friendship. The persitent complaint of the drunk piano hangs the whole thing

Having been born twenty years after 'Howl' was published, when growing up I
always felt envious of my elders for having missed out on the whole Beat
poetry phenomenon. To a lot of people my age, Tom Waits represents the
'post-Beat' experience - we are not directly connected to the events and
social conditions that inspired much of the beat generation. We arrived on
the scene when the Grateful Dead were just exiting - but the basic human
needs that Beat poetry spoke to still exist, and Tom Waits has managed, in
my opinion, to find a voice that speaks to those needs.

I was first introduced to Tom Waits through a documentary on Beat poetry
made by Ron Mann, called 'Poetry in Motion'. It's a somewhat iconoclastic
work, juxtaposing the likes of Allen Ginsberg with William S Burroughs, John
Cage, Micheal Ondaatje and Tom Waits. It brings home the message that as
much as we can appreciate poetry in written form, to hear a poet orating his
or her poem - often extempore, is an experience of an entirely different
kind. To me, the songs of Tom Waits epitomize poetry as an oral art form.
Some of his earlier songs were indeed recorded extempore - singing into a
ratty tape recorder sitting in his car driving across the california desert.

Of course, not all his songs are as dark - check out the playful 'Step Right
Up' on the same album "Small Change" or the laugh-out-loud funny 'Filipino
Box Spring Hog' on his recent album "Mule Variations". The latter is
especially funny given the story behind the song: it's a recounting of a
tradition he and his friends had of cooking up a hog strung on a trashed
box-spring in their penny-less youth.

Some informational links:
Ron Mann's documentary 'Poetry in Motion':
There's also a 'Poetry in Motion II', which covers the poets that were
filmed for the first documentary, but not included in it.

Ron Mann's filmography (I like a lot of his work):
and his production company
  [broken link]

Pradeep Sarin.

If Gray Had Had to Write His Elegy in the Cemetery of Spoon River Instead of in That of Stoke Poges -- Sir John Collings Squire

Guest poem sent in by Alan Pearmain
(Poem #1680) If Gray Had Had to Write His Elegy in the Cemetery of Spoon River Instead of in That of Stoke Poges
 The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
 The whippoorwill salutes the rising moon,
 And wanly glimmer in her gentle ray,
 The sinuous windings of the turbid Spoon.

 Here where the flattering and mendacious swarm
 Of lying epitaphs their secrets keep,
 At last incapable of further harm
 The lewd forefathers of the village sleep.

 The earliest drug of half-awakened morn,
 Cocaine or hashish, strychnine; poppy-seeds
 Or fiery produce of fermented corn
 No more shall start them on the day's misdeeds.

 For them no more the whetstone's cheerful noise,
 No more the sun upon his daily course
 Shall watch them savouring the genial joys,
 Of murder, bigamy, arson and divorce.

 Here they all lie; and, as the hour is late,
 O stranger, o'er their tombstones cease to stoop,
 But bow thine ear to me and contemplate
 The unexpurgated annals of the group.

 There are two hundred only: yet of these
 Some thirty died of drowning in the river,
 Sixteen went mad, ten others had D.T.s,
 And twenty-eight cirrhosis of the liver.

 Several by absent-minded friends were shot,
 Still more blew out their own exhausted brains,
 One died of a mysterious inward rot,
 Three fell off roofs, and five were hit by trains.

 One was harpooned, one gored by a bull-moose,
 Four on the Fourth fell victims to lock-jaw,
 Ten in electric chair or hempen noose
 Suffered the last exaction of the law.

 Stranger, you quail, and seem inclined to run;
 But, timid stranger, do not be unnerved;
 I can assure you that there was not one
 Who got a tithe of what he had deserved.

 Full many a vice is born to thrive unseen,
 Full many a crime the world does not discuss,
 Full many a pervert lives to reach a green
 Replete old age, and so it was with us.

 Here lies a parson who would often make
 Clandestine rendezvous with Claflin's Moll,
 And 'neath the druggist's counter creep to take
 A sip of surreptitious alcohol.

 And here a doctor, who had seven wives,
 And, fearing this ménage might seem grotesque,
 Persuaded six of them to spend their lives
 Locked in a drawer of his private desk.

 And others here there sleep who, given scope,
 Had writ their names large on the Scrolls of Crime,
 Men who, with half a chance, might haply cope
 With the first miscreants of recorded time.

 Doubtless in this neglected spot is laid
 Some village Nero who has missed his due,
 Some Bluebeard who dissected many a maid,
 And all for naught, since no one ever knew.

 Some poor bucolic Borgia here may rest,
 Whose poisons sent whole families to their doom
 Some hayseed Herod who, within his breast,
 Concealed the sites of many an infant's tomb.

 Types that the Muse of Masefield might have stirred,
 Or waked to ecstasy Gaboriau,
 Each in his narrow cell at last interred,
 All, all are sleeping peacefully below.

 ·    ·    ·    ·    ·    ·

 Enough, enough!  But stranger, ere we part,
 Glancing farewell to each nefarious bier,
 This warning I would beg you take to heart,
 'There is an end to even the worst career!'
-- Sir John Collings Squire
I first encountered this delightful if macabre parody of Gray's Elegy in Verse
and Worse, an anthology given to me my my girlfriend in 1972.  The mood pivots
from humour to dark reality; I have never visited a graveyard since without
looking at the stones, thinking of Bluebeard and the hayseed Herod and

[Hilarious poem, and it ties with Poem #691 for the longest title in the
archive -- martin]



Gray's Original: Poem #1091

Ariadne auf Naxos -- Hugo von Hofmannsthal

Guest poem submitted by Mark Penney, an excerpt
(Poem #1679) Ariadne auf Naxos
 There is a land where all is pure,
 And this land is called
 The land of death.
 Here nothing is pure.
 All things suffer corruption.
 But soon a herald will come.
 Hermes is his name,
 his winged wand rules all souls.
 Like birds affrighted,
 like withered leaves before him they fly.
 O beautiful, peaceful god,
 See, Ariadne waits.
 Ah, from all pains and miseries
 must my heart be purified;
 then you will nod to me,
 your steps will reach my cave,
 on my eyes there falls a darkness,
 on my heart you'll lay your hand.
 In the regal festal garments
 that my mother wove for me,
 I will wrap my weary body,
 and this cave will be my tomb.
 But my soul in solemn silence
 follows its new-made lord,
 like a leaf by winds driven
 downward falling, gladly following.
 On my eyes there falls a darkness,
 darkness too will fill my heart,
 and within this cave my body
 richly robed alone will lie.
 It is you who will save me,
 my captive soul freed of
 this burden of being.
 Lift it from me.
 To you I will lose all myself
 with you will Ariadne dwell.
-- Hugo von Hofmannsthal
This requires quite a bit of explanation.  It's Ariadne's "Es gibt ein
Reich" aria, from what is in many ways one of the strangest operas ever
written, Ariadne auf Naxos.  (More on how it's strange in a minute.)
Hofmannsthal (1874-1929) was an Austrian poet, responsible in his early
career for some fascinating and truly beautiful lyric poetry.  He abandoned
poetry, despairing of the power of language in a crumbling world, and turned
to drama, and ultimately opera, after he met Richard Strauss.  With Strauss
he wrote six operas, including at least four true masterpieces (Elektra, Der
Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos, and Die Frau ohne Schatten), making this
one of the most productive artistic collaborations ever.  Without doubt,
Hofmannsthal's libretti are among the most poetic ever written, and can
stand alone in their own right.

Pre-First World War Viennese art has a certain unique flavor to it; this is
a background in which you have to read this poem (which was written in 1911
or 1912).  Vienna was becoming ever more illiberal, ever more reactionary.
Moreover, there was a sense of values being lost, of the society decaying
all around.  How do you react?  Do you wallow in it, becoming a champion of
the decadent and amoral?  Do you pine for the lost world?  Do you just
decide you want to die?  Do you instead try to shock the world around you
into seeing its failures?  Do you create an artistic fantasyland of
escapism?  Or can art even matter at all?  (Here I'm parroting (and probably
making a travesty of) the ideas in Carl Schorske's fascinating book
"Fin-de-Siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture.")

This indecision about how to react to a dying world is captured pretty well
by Ariadne auf Naxos.  So anyway we have Ariadne, stranded by Theseus on
Naxos, waiting to die.  She's surrounded by three nymphs who do their best
to make her comfortable, but also by five commedia dell'arte characters
prancing around trying to cheer her up.  The commedia dell'arte characters
seem like they're from another play, and that's because they are.  In the
Prologue, we're told that the crotchety old fart who has commanded these
performances at his salon has decided that, in order to be over in time for
the fireworks at 9:00 sharp, the opera seria and the improv comedy are going
to have to be performed at the same time on the same stage. Anyway,
ultimately it's not Hermes who shows up to get Ariadne, but Bacchus.  Love
conquers all, Ariadne winds up sailing off into the sunset with the God of
Partying, and the commedia guys get the last laugh.  (It's not nearly as
funny as it sounds, unfortunately, but by golly is it beautiful.)

The translation above is (mostly) an unattributed public domain translation.
Like a lot of translations of opera libretti, it's designed to be sung to
the original music, so the main goal of the translator was to reproduce
Hofmannsthal's rhythm, not his meaning.  This results in some sort of
dubious readings of a few lines.  I've "fixed" a few of the most egregious
departures from the sense of the original, since I know no one is going to
be singing this version.  In German, it's very beautiful, almost
heartbreakingly so, though in context it's impossible to take Ariadne 100%
seriously.  Auf Deutsch:

 Es gibt ein Reich, wo alles rein ist
 Es hat auch einen Namen:
 Hier ist nichts rein!
 Hier kam alles zu allem!
 Bald aber naht ein Bote,
 Hermies heissen sie hin.
 Du schoener, stiller Gott!
 Sieh! Ariadne wartet!
 Ach, von allen wilden Schemrzen
 muss das Herz gereinigt sein,
 dann wird dein Gesicht mir nicken,
 wird dein Schritt vor meiner Hoehle,
 Dunkel wird auf meinen augen,
 deine Hand auf meinem Herzen sein.
 In den schoenen Feierkleidern,
 die mir meine Mutter gab,
 diese Glieder werden bleiben,
 stille Hoehle wird mein Grab.
 Aber lautlos meine Seele
 folget ihrem neuen Herrn,
 wie ein leichtes Blatt im Winde
 folgt hinunter, folgt so gern.
 Dunkel wird auf meinen Augen,
 und in meinem Herzen sein.
 Diese Glieder werden bleiben,
 schoen geschmueckt und ganz allein.
 Du wirst mich befreien,
 mir selber mich geben,
 dies lastende Leben,
 du nimm es von mir.
 An dich werd' ich mich ganz verlieren,
 bei dir wird Ariadne sein.

 -- Mark

Summer -- Mary Oliver

Guest poem sent in by Arunasri Nishtala
(Poem #1678) Summer
 Leaving the house,
 I went out to see

 The frog, for example,
 in her satiny skin;

 and her eggs
 like a slippery veil;

 and her eyes
 with their golden rims;

 and the pond
 with its risen lilies;

 and its warmed shores
 dotted with pink flowers;

 and the long, windless afternoons;
 and the white heron

 like a dropped cloud,
 taking one slow step

 then standing awhile then taking
 another, writing

 her own soft-footed poem
 through the still waters.
-- Mary Oliver
This poem says it all. Delightfully vivid and the last lines dive deep,
where poetry is a hobby of frogs...

I guess it is our attempt in understanding and appreciating art, poetry
and nature that that can lift us human beings up to the high standards
of the other members of nature: the plant kingdom and the animal kingdom.


Wisdom -- Sara Teasdale

Guest poem submitted by Lieven Marchand :
(Poem #1677) Wisdom
 When I have ceased to break my wings
 Against the faultiness of things,
 And learned that compromises wait
 Behind each hardly opened gate,
 When I have looked Life in the eyes,
 Grown calm and very coldly wise,
 Life will have given me the Truth,
 And taken in exchange -- my youth.
-- Sara Teasdale
Here's another one from Sara Teasdale. It's very simple and expresses
beautifully the involuntary bargain most of us make when growing up.

Lieven Marchand.

The Fiddle and the Drum -- Joni Mitchell

Guest poem submitted by Mac Robb:
(Poem #1676) The Fiddle and the Drum
 And so once again
 My dear Johnny my dear friend
 And so once again you are fightin' us all
 And when I ask you why
 You raise your sticks and cry, and I fall
 Oh, my friend
 How did you come
 To trade the fiddle for the drum

 You say I have turned
 Like the enemies you've earned
 But I can remember
 All the good things you are
 And so I ask you please
 Can I help you find the peace and the star
 Oh, my friend
 What time is this
 To trade the handshake for the fist

 And so once again
 Oh, America my friend
 And so once again
 You are fighting us all
 And when we ask you why
 You raise your sticks and cry and we fall
 Oh, my friend
 How did you come
 To trade the fiddle for the drum

 You say we have turned
 Like the enemies you've earned
 But we can remember
 All the good things you are
 And so we ask you please
 Can we help you find the peace and the star
 Oh my friend
 We have all come
 To fear the beating of your drum
-- Joni Mitchell
The posting of Ogden Nash's "Custard the Dragon" took me back for the first
time in many years to the grade 3 classroom at Queen Elizabeth II public
school in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where I first heard that delightful
doggerel. And that recollection in turn sent me searching in the Minstrels
archive for songs by that famous alumna of my school, Joni Mitchell (Joan
Anderson, as she was in Saskatoon).

"Both Sides Now," I discover, was posted on 5 November 2004 and is Poem
#1556 in the archive but other songs from "Clouds" (1969) haven't yet made
it. "The Fiddle and the Drum" jumps out as being, alas, again very timely.

Joni Mitchell arrived on the American -- and international -- music scene at
the height of the Vietnam war; this song takes us back to that
politics-charged era and the mutual perplexity of those who were pro- and
anti-war. (That War in particular, at least.) Then as now hawks perceived
both domestic and foreign opposition as betrayal: criticism was met with
belligerance; foreign friends of America found it a tricky business
affirming their continuing admiration for the fiddle while tactfully
disdaining the drum.

The song, like many of Joni Mitchell's (and of her co-nationals Ian Tyson,
Gordon Lightfood and kd lang) is not unmistakably in any one contemporary
genre -- it is neither folk nor rock nor country-and-western. Perhaps
actually it's a little old fashioned and hearkens back to the roots of
country-and-western music in the Scottish and Scotch-Irish secular folk
music and Protestant hymnody of both Appalachia and rural Canada. Think of
the Scotch-Gaelic Ceilidh, the plangent part-sung hymn sung by Donald
Sutherland's congregation in the movie "Cold Mountain" and the Scotch-Gaelic
Christmas carol "Child in the manger" popularised on the hit parade some
years ago by Cat Stevens to the words of the Eleanor Farjeon's
Congregationalist hymn "Morning has broken."

Mac Robb
Brisbane, Australia

Spring Wedding -- Andrew Motion

Guest poem sent in by Sally Canzoneri
(Poem #1675) Spring Wedding
 I took your news outdoors, and strolled a while
 In silence on my square of garden-ground
 Where I could dim the roar of arguments,
 Ignore the scandal-flywheel whirring round,
 And hear instead the green fuse in the flower
 Ignite, the breeze stretch out a shadow-hand
 To ruffle blossom on its sticking points,
 The blackbirds sing, and singing take their stand.
 I took your news outdoors, and found the Spring
 Had honored all its promises to start
 Disclosing how the principles of earth
 Can make a common purpose with the heart.
 The heart which slips and sidles like a stream
 Weighed down by winter-wreckage near its source -
 But given time, and come the clearing rain,
 Breaks loose to revel in its proper course.
-- Andrew Motion
Note: By Andrew Motion, Britain's Poet Laureate, on the occasion of Prince
Charles's marriage to Camilla Parker-Bowles.

I heard a commentator on the radio this week say that if, as Samuel Johnson
said, second marriages are "the triumph of hope over experience," then
Prince Charles' and Camilla Parker Bowles' union is the exception, as this
is clearly a case of experience triumphing over hope.  Charles' wedding to
Princess Diana was the stuff of fairy tales, with a fairy tale vision of
glittering, easily won love.  This time the wedding is the stuff of real
life -- two rather homely, middle aged people who have made the kind of
mistakes that most people have made by the time they are middle aged.  At
the same time, there is a wonderful romance to this wedding in the way these
two seem to have been meant for one another all along, in the way their love
has endured through the years, and in Charles' determination to overcome
obstacles to finally make Camilla his wife.

The poet laureate is responsible for producing verse to mark events of
national significance.  I think Motion has done his job wonderfully in this
instance.  This is an intimate poem that has a tone of being spoken very
directly to the happy couple. It is more a lovely gift to the bride and
groom than a celebration of a state occasion. That, and the emphasis on
nature, seems appropriate for a wedding that was meant to be quiet and
private and a couple who, apparently, are happiest in the countryside. Yet,
this poem isn't only about Charles and Camilla. It could as easily have been
written for an ordinary, unfamous couple. In this poem, Motion has captures
and celebrates the special beauty of hard-won, real world love -- love that
is private and personal to each couple, whatever their social status.

Andrew Motion was appointed Poet Laureate in 1999 upon the death of Ted

Sally Canzoneri

[Martin adds]

When we ran Motion's "Regime Change" [Poem #1215], Brian Probert commented that

  I feel he has rather wasted what could have been a brilliant poem about
  the eternal violent nature of man to make a partisan statement about
  what, in historical terms is just a transient affair.

It is interesting, I think, to contrast the essentially universal nature of
today's poem with the slightly[1] more immediate tinge of "Regime Change" -
perhaps it is that loving couples are all alike, but each war torn nation is
war torn in its own way.

[1] but only slightly - I don't fully agree with Brian, though I see his point


The Lion For Real -- Allen Ginsberg

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1674) The Lion For Real
 'Soyez muette pour moi, Idole contemplative...'

 I came home and found a lion in my living room
 Rushed out on the fire escape screaming Lion! Lion!
 Two stenographers pulled their brunnette hair and banged the window shut
 I hurried home to Paterson and stayed two days

 Called up old Reichian analyst
 who'd kicked me out of therapy for smoking marijuana
 'It's happened' I panted 'There's a Lion in my living room'
 'I'm afraid any discussion would have no value' he hung up

 I went to my old boyfriend we got drunk with his girlfriend
 I kissed him and announced I had a lion with a mad gleam in my eye
 We wound up fighting on the floor I bit his eyebrow & he kicked me out
 I ended up masturbating in his jeep parked in the street moaning 'Lion.'

 Found Joey my novelist friend and roared at him 'Lion!'
 He looked at me interested and read me his spontaneous ignu high poetries
 I listened for lions all I heard was Elephant Tiglon Hippogriff Unicorn
 But figured he really understood me when we made it in Ignaz Wisdom's

 But next day he sent me a leaf from his Smoky Mountain retreat
 'I love you little Bo-Bo with your delicate golden lions
 But there being no Self and No Bars therefore the Zoo of your dear Father
hath no lion
 You said your mother was mad don't expect me to produce the Monster for
your Bridegroom.'

 Confused dazed and exalted bethought me of real lion starved in his stink
in Harlem
 Opened the door the room was filled with the bomb blast of his anger
 He roaring hungrily at the plaster walls but nobody could hear outside thru
the window
 My eye caught the edge of the red neighbor apartment building standing in
deafening stillness
 We gazed at each other his implacable yellow eye in the red halo of fur
 Waxed rhuemy on my own but he stopped roaring and bared a fang greeting.
 I turned my back and cooked broccoli for supper on an iron gas stove
 Boilt water and took a hot bath in the old tub under the sink board.

 He didn't eat me, tho I regretted him starving in my presence.
 Next week he wasted away a sick rug full of bones wheaten hair falling out
 enraged and reddening eye as he lay aching huge hairy head on his paws
 by the egg-crate bookcase filled up with thin volumes of Plato, & Buddha.

 Sat by his side every night averting my eyes from his hungry motheaten face
 stopped eating myself he got weaker and roared at night while I had
 Eaten by lion in bookstore on Cosmic Campus, a lion myself starved by
Professor Kandisky, dying in a lion's flophouse circus,
 I woke up mornings the lion still added dying on the floor -- 'Terrible
Presence!' I cried 'Eat me or die!'

 It got up that afternoon -- walked to the door with its paw on the wall to
steady its trembling body
 Let out a soul-rending creak from the bottomless roof of his mouth
thundering from my floor to heaven heavier than a volcano at night in Mexico
 Pushed the door open and said in a gravelly voice "Not this time Baby --
but I will be back again."

 Lion that eats my mind now for a decade knowing only your hunger
 Not the bliss of your satisfaction O roar of the universe how am I chosen
 In this life I have heard your promise I am ready to die I have served
 Your starved and ancient Presence O Lord I wait in my room at your
-- Allen Ginsberg
        Paris, March 1958.

As long as we are doing poems about Poets and Lions....

This is easily one of my favourite Ginsberg poems - largely because I think
it captures so well the entire spirit of Ginsberg's poetic enterprise. It
has everything - a visionary idea worthy of Blake; sly touches of humour;
references to sex and drugs; references to Plato and the Buddha; a finely
crafted image of the raw power of a lion trapped in a small apartment; a
marvellously accurate description that brings out so clearly the sights and
smells of the beast's presence (sick rug full of bones wheaten hair falling
out); a metaphysical, almost mystic engagement with the world and to end it
all, a stanza of breathtaking, almost biblical proportion. A large part of
the brilliance of this poem is in the development - what starts off as a
clever gag turns into an intensely physical experience before finally
becoming a spiritual epiphany.

As an evocation of the Muse this is an almost unparalleled poem - combining
a sense of wonderous disbelief  and whimsy with a feeling of trapped
frustration and pathos mingled with majesty (just writing this sense makes
me review the many different emotions the poem not only conjures up but
manages to balance so perfectly). In Preludes, Eliot speaks of "the notion
of some infinitely gentle / infinitely suffering thing" - Ginsberg's muse is
more savage than that, but for all that no less exquisite.


P.S. I'm not really sure where the epigraph for this poem comes from.

Ode On the Death of Pius the Twelfth -- A D Hope

Guest poem sent in by Eloise Wright

I came across this poem yesterday and though it was an appropriate one to
share, given recent events:
(Poem #1673) Ode On the Death of Pius the Twelfth
  To every season its proper act of joy,
  To every age its natural mode of grace,
  Each vision its hour, each talent we employ
          Its destined time and place.

  I was at Amherst when this great pope died;
  The northern year was wearing towards the cold;
  The ancient trees were in their autumn pride
           Of russet, flame and gold.

  Amherst in Massachusetts in the Fall:
  I ranged the college campus to admire
  Maple and beech, poplar and ash in all
           Their panoply of fire.

  Something that since a child I longed to see,
  This miracle of the other hemisphere:
  Whole forests in their annual ecstasty
           Waked by the dying year.

  Not budding Spring, not Summer's green parade
  Clothed in such glory these resplendant trees;
  The lilies of the field were not arrayed
            In riches such as these.

  Nature evolves their colours as a call,
  A lure which serves to fertilise the seed;
  How strange then that the splendour of the Fall
           Should serve no natural need

  And, having no end in nature, yet can yield
  Such exquisite natural pleasure to the eye!
  Who could have guessed in summer's green concealed
            The leaf's resolve to die?

  Yet from the first spring shoots through all the year,
  Masked in the chlorophyll's intenser green,
  The feast of crimson was already there,
            These yellows blazed unseen.

  Now in the bright October sun the clear
  Translucent colours trembled overhead
  And as I walked, a voice I chanced to hear
           Announced: The Pope is dead!

  A human voice, yet there the place became
  Bethel: each bough with pentecost was crowned;
  The great trunks rapt in unconusming flame
            Stood as on holy ground.

  I thought of this old man whose life was past,
  Who in himself and his great office stood
  Against the secular tempest as a vast
            Oak spans the underwood;

  Who in the age of Armageddon found
  A voice that caused all men to hear it plain,
  The blood of Abel crying from the ground
            To stay the hand of Cain;

  Who found from that great task small time to spare:
  - For him and for mankind the hour was late -
  So much to snatch, to save, so much to bear
           That Mary's part must wait,

  Until in his last years the change began:
  A strange illumination of the heart,
  Voices and visions such as mark the man
           Chosen and set apart.

  His death, they said, was slow, grotesque and hard,
  Yet in that gross decay, until the end
  Untroubled in his joy, he saw the Word
           Made spirit and ascend.

  Those glorious woods and that triumphant death
  Prompted me there to join their mysteries:
  This Brother Albert, this great oak of faith,
           Those fire-enchanted trees.

  Seven years have passed, and still, at times I ask
  Whether in man, as in those plants, may be
  A splendour, which his human virtues mask,
           Not given to us to see?

  If to some lives at least comes a stage
  When, all active man now left behind,
  They enter on the treasure of old age,
           This autumn of the mind.

  Then, while the heart stands still, beyond desire
  The dying animal knows a strange serene:
  Emerging in its ecstasy of fire
           The burning soul is seen.

  Who sees it? Since old age appears to men
  Senility, decreptitude, disease,
  What Spririt walks among us, past our ken,
           As we among these trees,

  Whose unknown nature, blessed with keener sense
  Catches its breath in wonder at the sight
  And feels its being flood with that immense
           Epiphany of light?
-- A D Hope
It is autumn in the southern hemisphere at the moment, and here in Canberra
(where Hope spent much of his life) the autumn leaves are out in force. The
similarity of the careers of Pius XII and John Paul II - a long and highly
active reign followed by a gradual decline into ill-health - completes the

Two things I wanted to pull out: the Mary in stanza 13 is, I think, the
sister of Martha and Lazarus (whose 'part' was contemplation rather than
Martha's activity). I was also wondering whether the use of 'Fall' for
autumn, which seems odd to me, given Hope's nationality, might be a
reference to the biblical Fall, said to have introduced death into the

I found this poem a nice contrast to the media merry-go-round which has
seemed almost unavoidable these past days.



Bio of A. D. Hope:

Bio of Pope Pius XII:

The Tale of Custard the Dragon -- Ogden Nash

Guest poem submitted by Vivian Eden:
(Poem #1672) The Tale of Custard the Dragon
 Belinda lived in a little white house,
 With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
 And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
 And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

 Now the name of the little black kitten was Ink,
 And the little gray mouse, she called her Blink,
 And the little yellow dog was sharp as Mustard,
 But the dragon was a coward, and she called him Custard.

 Custard the dragon had big sharp teeth,
 And spikes on top of him and scales underneath,
 Mouth like a fireplace, chimney for a nose,
 And realio, trulio, daggers on his toes.

 Belinda was as brave as a barrel full of bears,
 And Ink and Blink chased lions down the stairs,
 Mustard was as brave as a tiger in a rage,
 But Custard cried for a nice safe cage.

 Belinda tickled him, she tickled him unmerciful,
 Ink, Blink and Mustard, they rudely called him Percival,
 They all sat laughing in the little red wagon
 At the realio, trulio, cowardly dragon.

 Belinda giggled till she shook the house,
 And Blink said Week!, which is giggling for a mouse,
 Ink and Mustard rudely asked his age,
 When Custard cried for a nice safe cage.

 Suddenly, suddenly they heard a nasty sound,
 And Mustard growled, and they all looked around.
 Meowch! cried Ink, and Ooh! cried Belinda,
 For there was a pirate, climbing in the winda.

 Pistol in his left hand, pistol in his right,
 And he held in his teeth a cutlass bright,
 His beard was black, one leg was wood;
 It was clear that the pirate meant no good.

 Belinda paled, and she cried, Help! Help!
 But Mustard fled with a terrified yelp,
 Ink trickled down to the bottom of the household,
 And little mouse Blink strategically mouseholed.

 But up jumped Custard, snorting like an engine,
 Clashed his tail like irons in a dungeon,
 With a clatter and a clank and a jangling squirm
 He went at the pirate like a robin at a worm.

 The pirate gaped at Belinda's dragon,
 And gulped some grog from his pocket flagon,
 He fired two bullets but they didn't hit,
 And Custard gobbled him, every bit.

 Belinda embraced him, Mustard licked him,
 No one mourned for his pirate victim
 Ink and Blink in glee did gyrate
 Around the dragon that ate the pyrate.

 Belinda still lives in her little white house,
 With her little black kitten and her little gray mouse,
 And her little yellow dog and her little red wagon,
 And her realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

 Belinda is as brave as a barrel full of bears,
 And Ink and Blink chase lions down the stairs,
 Mustard is as brave as a tiger in a rage,
 But Custard keeps crying for a nice safe cage.
-- Ogden Nash
If the theme is beasts gobbling people, then Custard is essential. I think
chidren love this poem so much because it ends with everything satisfyingly
back to normal after all the excitement and they can fall asleep free of
fears of dragons and pirates, and grownups love it because it is very acute
in its psychology -- Doesn't everyone know people like all the characters in
this poem, including Custard? -- and because it is so much fun to read
aloud. And of course keeping a cowardly pet dragon around is an excellent
way to tame fears and at the same time to get rid of unwanted intruders,
especially if you are a brave little girl like Belinda. As for the poetry,
my favorite lines are: "Ink trickled down to the bottom of the household,  /
And little mouse Blink strategically mouseholed." The verb for Ink is
brilliant, and the rhyme is priceless, with "mouseholed" a wink at the habit
that American English at least has of taking a noun and making a verb of it
-- "to backpack," "to party."

On the Internet, an Ogden Nash site  with good links is at


The Lion and Albert -- Marriott Edgar

Martin Alexander sends in a followup to yestarday's
(Poem #1671) The Lion and Albert
 There's a famous seaside place called Blackpool,
 That's noted for fresh-air and fun,
 And Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom
 Went there with young Albert, their son.

 A grand little lad was their Albert
 All dressed in his best; quite a swell
 'E'd a stick with an 'orse's 'ead 'andle
 The finest that Woolworth's could sell.

 They didn't think much to the ocean
 The waves, they was fiddlin' and small
 There was no wrecks... nobody drownded
 'Fact, nothing to laugh at, at all.

 So, seeking for further amusement
 They paid and went into the zoo
 Where they'd lions and tigers and cam-els
 And old ale and sandwiches too.

 There were one great big lion called Wallace
 His nose were all covered with scars
 He lay in a som-no-lent posture
 With the side of his face to the bars.

 Now Albert had heard about lions
 How they were ferocious and wild
 And to see Wallace lying so peaceful
 Well... it didn't seem right to the child.

 So straight 'way the brave little feller
 Not showing a morsel of fear
 Took 'is stick with the'orse's 'ead 'andle
 And pushed it in Wallace's ear!

 You could see that the lion didn't like it
 For giving a kind of a roll
 He pulled Albert inside the cage with 'im
 And swallowed the little lad... whole!

 Then Pa, who had seen the occurrence
 And didn't know what to do next
 Said, "Mother! Yon lions 'et Albert"
 And Mother said "Eeh, I am vexed!"

 So Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom
 Quite rightly, when all's said and done
 Complained to the Animal Keeper
 That the lion had eaten their son.

 The keeper was quite nice about it
 He said, "What a nasty mishap
 Are you sure that it's your lad he's eaten?"
 Pa said, "Am I sure? There's his cap!"

 So the manager had to be sent for
 He came and he said, "What's to do?"
 Pa said, "Yon lion's 'eaten our Albert
 And 'im in his Sunday clothes, too."

 Then Mother said, "Right's right, young feller
 I think it's a shame and a sin
 For a lion to go and eat Albert
 And after we've paid to come in!"

 The manager wanted no trouble
 He took out his purse right away
 And said, "How much to settle the matter?"
 And Pa said "What do you usually pay?"

 But Mother had turned a bit awkward
 When she thought where her Albert had gone
 She said, "No! someone's got to be summonsed"
 So that were decided upon.

 Round they went to the Police Station
 In front of a Magistrate chap
 They told 'im what happened to Albert
 And proved it by showing his cap.

 The Magistrate gave his o-pinion
 That no-one was really to blame
 He said that he hoped the Ramsbottoms
 Would have further sons to their name.

 At that Mother got proper blazing
 "And thank you, sir, kindly," said she
 "What waste all our lives raising children
 To feed ruddy lions? Not me!"
-- Marriott Edgar

Great poem [Poem #1671] and wonderful introduction to Trelease, which has
delayed coffee and toast this Hong Kong Sunday morning....

My first thought was of Edgar Marriot's famous monologue, The Lion and
Albert (in spite of the word order below, the Lion is clearly neither a
secondary character nor the villain of the tale):

[broken link]

The site includes the poem below and a (currently broken) link to the
original 'Marriott Edgar' recording... I had a quick look on the Minstrels
site, and to my consternation found that the poem isn't yet included.
Perhaps it should be - and perhaps Silverstein's poem is a natural (and
deliberate?) appendix.

(Your glaring omission is, of course, evidence only of the huge, growing and
generally benevolent beast that poetry is - not a reflection of any poverty
of content in the Magnificent Minstrels!)



There's a very brief biography up at

Edgar appears to have been fairly prolific - check out some of his other
monologues at [broken link]

[I don't believe this piece directly inspired Silverstein, since lions as a
whole are a ravenous lot, and Death of Being Eaten By a Lion makes its
appearance in several children's stories and poems. It's still a charming poem,
though, and I'm delighted to be introduced to Marriott Edgar. -- martin (the
other one)]

It's Dark in Here -- Shel Silverstein

(Poem #1670) It's Dark in Here
 I am writing these poems
 From inside a lion,
 And it's rather dark in here.
 So please excuse the handwriting
 Which may not be too clear.
 But this afternoon by the lion's cage
 I'm afraid I got too near.
 And I'm writing these lines
 From inside a lion,
 And it's rather dark in here.
-- Shel Silverstein
A bit of nostalgia attached to today's piece - it's the first Silverstein
poem I ever read, thanks to it being included in one of my school poetry
books. This was way back in my early childhood, when I had no idea who
Silverstein was, but my siblings and I all adored the poem and can, to this
day, quote it with much glee and amusement.

It appears to have started life as a song - you can see the lyrics at
[broken link] - and there's a charming
illustration alongside, though not the one I remember from my textbook.

And speaking of Silverstein and textbooks, I'd like to quote a marvellous
excerpt from Jim Trelease's "Read Aloud Handbook" that I discovered when
searching for today's poem:

    'Where the Sidewalk Ends', by Shel Silverstein, is so popular with
    children, librarians and teachers insist it is the book most frequently
    stolen from their schools and libraries. Over the last eight years I've
    asked eighty thousand teachers if they know 'Where the Sidewalk Ends'
    (two million copies in print), and three-quarters of the teachers raise
    their hands. "Wonderful!" I say. "Now, who has enough copies of this
    book for every child in your room?" Nobody raises a hand. In eight
    years, only eighteen teachers out of eighty thousand had enough copies
    in their rooms for every child.

    I continue, "Do each of you know the books in your classroom no child
    would ever consider stealing?" They nod in recognition. "Do you have
    enough copies of those books for every child in the room?" Reluctantly,
    they nod agreement. Here we've got a book kids love to read so much
    they'll steal it right and left and we haven't got enough copies; but
    every year we've got twenty-eight copies of a book they hate.

       -- Jim Trelease, "What's Right or Wrong With Poetry"
                         [broken link]

Check Trelease's website [] out - I think
he's just become one of my heroes.


Shawondasee -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Guest poem submitted by Lisa:
(Poem #1669) Shawondasee
 Shawondasee, fat and lazy,
 Had his dwelling far to southward
 In the drowsy, dreamy sunshine,
 In the never-ending Summer.
 He it was who sent the wood-birds,
 Sent the robin, the Opechee,
 Sent the bluebird, the Owaissa,
 Sent the Shawshaw, sent the swallow,
 Sent the wild-goose, Wawa, northward,
 Sent the melons and tobacco,
 And the grapes in purple clusters.

 From his pipe the smoke ascending
 Filled the sky with haze and vapor,
 Filled the air with dreamy softness,
 Gave a twinkle to the water,
 Touched the rugged hills with smoothness,
 Brought the tender Indian Summer
 To the melancholy north-land,
 In the dreary Mood of Snow-shoes.

 Listless, careless Shawondasee!
 In his life he had one shadow,
 In his heart one sorrow had he.
 Once, as he was gazing northward,
 Far away upon a prairie
 He beheld a maiden standing,
 Saw a tall and slender maiden
 All alone upon a prairie ;
 Brightest green were all her garments,
 And her hair was like the sunshine.

 Day by day he gazed upon her,
 Day by day he sighed with passion,
 Day by day his heart within him
 Grew more hot with love and longing
 For the maid with yellow tresses.
 But he was too fat and lazy
 To bestir himself and woo her.
 Yes, too indolent and easy
 To pursue her and persuade her;
 So he only gazed upon her,
 Only sat and sighed with passion
 For the maiden of the prairie.

 Till one morning, looking northward,
 He beheld her yellow tresses
 Changed and covered o'er with whiteness,
 Covered as with whitest snow-flakes.
 "Ah! my brother from the North-land,
 From the kingdom of Wabasso,
 From the land of the White Rabbit!
 You have stolen the maiden from me,
 You have laid your hand upon her,
 You have wooed and won my maiden,
 With your stories of the North-land!"

 Thus the wretched Shawondasee
 Breathed into the air his sorrow;
 And the South-Wind o'er the prairie
 Wandered warm with sighs of passion,
 With the sighs of Shawondasee,
 Till the air seemed full of snow-flakes,
 Full of thistle-down the prairie,
 And the maid with hair like sunshine
 Vanished from his sight forever;
 Never more did Shawondasee
 See the maid with yellow tresses!

 Poor, deluded Shawondasee!
 'Twas no woman that you gazed at,
 'Twas no maiden that you sighed for,
 'Twas the prairie dandelion
 That through all the dreamy Summer
 You had gazed at with such longing,
 You had sighed for with such passion,
 And had puffed away forever,
 Blown into the air with sighing.
 Ah! deluded Shawondasee!
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Other exerpts from the epic poem "The Song of Hiawatha" have appeared here
before.  But I adore this little vignette about the South Wind.  Such a
wonderful description, and such a tragic (yet humorous) romance too!  Plus,
the meter is amazing.  This poem begs to be read aloud.  I've read this
particular passage to my husband three times this evening.

Okay, I admit, I was led here by the reference to it in Spiderman 2.  But it
fits well with my latest interest in epic poetry, and now I'm in the middle
of Hiawatha, enjoying every syllable.


Aedh Laments the Loss of Love -- William Butler Yeats

Guest poem sent in by Kamalika Chowdhury
(Poem #1668) Aedh Laments the Loss of Love
(or The Lover Mourns for the Loss of Love)

 Pale brows, still hands and dim hair,
 I had a beautiful friend
 And dreamed that the old despair
 Would end in love in the end:
 She looked in my heart one day
 And saw your image was there;
 She has gone weeping away.
-- William Butler Yeats
On reading the recent Yeats poem (Poem #1657 - "The Rose of the World"), I
was reminded that the minstrels does not yet have two of my favourite poems
by Yeats.  This gem of a poem, from "The Wind Among the Reeds" (1899), is
one of them.

The poignancy of loss of love has seldom been better expressed in the
English language. Yet the spell of this poem goes beyond that perfect
execution, and into the intriguingly complex play of time and emotion
captured in these few short, heart-stopping lines. No words are wasted here.
Even as the gentle, patient cadence of the opening lines sets the scene, the
powerful simplicity of the final image brings a sudden and immense sense of
permanence. In the end one is left with a picture far wider than the title
promised. Which was the real loss? Whence the haunting despair, and how deep
love's lament? Beautiful.


[Martin adds]

I also love the way the closing "she has gone weeping away" plays against the
incompleteness of the "missing" eighth line. The poem ends on a brief,
expectant  pause, a held breath, perhaps a hope that this is not then end of
the story. And then the realisation that the poem has indeed come to an end
surges back, and the reader is almost compelled to silently reread the last
line, both to lay to rest the feeling that the poem should continue a line
more, and by the very repetition perhaps to supply that closure. (And yet, in
the end, I am unable to read finality into the last line; the more I look at
it, the more I feel the promise of a second chance. And that, too, is perhaps
as it should be.)


Love Over Gold -- Mark Knopfler

Guest poem submitted by Sachin Desai:
(Poem #1667) Love Over Gold
 You walk out on the high wire
 you're a dancer on thin ice
 you pay no heed to the danger
 and less to advice
 your footsteps are forbidden
 but with a knowledge of your sin
 you throw your love to all the strangers
 and caution to the wind

 And you go dancing through doorways
 just to see what you will find
 leaving nothing to interfere
 with the crazy balance of your mind
 and when you finally reappear
 at the place where you came in
 you've thrown your love to all the strangers
 and caution to the wind

 It takes love over gold
 and mind over matter
 to do what you do that you must
 when the things that you hold
 can fall and be shattered
 or run through your fingers like dust
-- Mark Knopfler
Seeing the Suzzane Vega poem/song set me thinking about various artists
whose work falls in the twilight zone between poetry and music. I am
submitting a rather well known song by Dire Straits. I love the simplicity
of their songs - straightforward (but meaningful) lyrics, hummable tunes,
and above all the lovely voice and chords of Mark Knopfler. Dire Straits
songs, in my opinion, fall into two categories - the racy rock songs like
Sultans of Swing /Money for Nothing and the softer ones like Love Over
Gold/Brothers In Arms. I think some of the latter songs come close to
qualifying as poetry (or almost poetry with due apologies to all the

This song expresses a beautiful sentiment.The essence of the human spirit is
intense curiosity. The desire to explore, to experience, to understand is
what sets us apart from other species and is resposible for our current
state of affairs. (For better or for worse). :-) To really appreciate this
song, of course, one has to listen to it.

There have been no previous postings of Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler on the
Minstrels website so here is a short bio - Mark Knopfler, a singer,
songwriter, guitarist formed the group in 1977. The group was immensely
popular during the 70s and 80s. The distinctive feature of the group was the
meaningful songs, excellent guitaring (which seems to be 'singing' along
with Knopfler) and the gravelly voice of Knopfler. They have had many hit
songs among which the best loved song is arguably 'Romeo and Juliet'. Dire
Straits disbanded in 1995 after which Knopfler has pursued a solo career.

Sachin Desai.

Selecting A Reader -- Ted Kooser

Guest poem sent in by Rukmini Kumar
(Poem #1666) Selecting A Reader
 First, I would have her be beautiful,
 and walking carefully up on my poetry
 at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
 her hair still damp at the neck
 from washing it. She should be wearing
 a raincoat, an old one, dirty
 from not having money enough for the cleaners.
 She will take out her glasses, and there
 in the bookstore, she will thumb
 over my poems, then put the book back
 up on its shelf. She will say to herself,
 "For that kind of money, I can get
 my raincoat cleaned." And she will.
-- Ted Kooser
I heard Ted Kooser interviewed on the show Fresh Air on NPR. Ted Kooser is
America's first poet laureate from the great plains (He was born in Iowa and
lived in Nebraska,check [broken link] I loved this poem
for its simple sensousness combined with an unaffected practicality
(Interestingly, Kooser was an insurance representative for most of his
professional life).

Rukmini Kumar.

[Martin adds]

I was enjoying this poem in a lazy sort of way until I came to the ending,
which jolted me awake, metaphorically speaking, and put this poem firmly on my
"highly memorable" list. Perhaps I am overly enamoured with endings
(particularly ones that are both powerful and unexpected), but in my opinion,
they have a disproportionately large impact on the reader, and can easily be
responsible for the net effect of the poem. This is not to say that I did not
appreciate the rest of the poem, but it was definitely the last two lines that
made it for me.



Repeating the link to the biography:
 [broken link]

The Rain -- Robert Creeley

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1665) The Rain
 All night the sound had
 come back again,
 and again falls
 this quiet, persistent rain.

 What am I to myself
 that must be remembered,
 insisted upon
 so often? Is it

 the never the ease,
 even the hardness,
 of rain falling
 will have for me

 something other than this,
 something not so insistent -
 am I to be locked in this
 final uneasiness.

 Love, if you love me,
 lie next to me.
 Be, for me, like rain,
 the getting out

 of the tiredness, the fatuousness, the semi-
 lust of intentional indifference.
 Be wet
 with a decent happiness.
-- Robert Creeley
Every time I sit in my room watching the rain falling against the window,
letting my mind wander, this is the poem I'm most reminded of. I can't think
of a poem that captures more accurately that sense of floating restlessness
- the feeling that there is something deeply important to be deciphered out
of the gentle patter of the rain and the sight of the little droplets
trickling down the pane. How, in some way that you can't quite explain, the
rain is a metaphor for your life, the secret key to an uncertain happiness.
An emotion that is at once an overwhelming longing and the intuition of

It's a truly exquisite poem - every line, every word sounds exactly right,
yet the overall thought is fragmented, barely hinted at. There's a sense of
earnest questioning here ("what am I to myself / that must be remembered /
insisted upon / so often?") but also an instinctive knowledge of what
happiness would feel like or how it could be brought about ("Love, if you
love me / lie next to me").

Robert Creeley died last Wednesday (30th March 2005). As I think about his
legacy, there's much in the write-ups that accompany his other poems on
Minstrels (Poem #552, Poem #1400) that I find myself agreeing with. What
will always make Creeley special to me, though, is his ability to "be, for
me, like rain / the getting out // of the tiredness, the fatuousness, the
semi-/ lust of intentional indifference.". His ability, in short, to "be wet
/ with a decent happiness."


The Distracted Centipede -- Anonymous

Guest poem submitted by Gregory Marton:
(Poem #1664) The Distracted Centipede
 A centipede was happy quite,
 Until a frog in fun
 Said, "Pray, which leg comes after which?"
     This raised her mind to such a pitch,
          She lay distracted in the ditch
 Considering how to run.
-- Anonymous
I took a friend back home to Hungary this past week, and in teaching her
Hungarian, and in the simultaneous translation, I oft forgot for a few
moments how to speak either language!  She appraised my predicament with
this apt and catchy limerick, and I am the richer for it.

I have seen several titles " The Puzzled Centipede", "The Frog and the
Centipede", "The Poor Worm", "The Centipede Poem", and several minor
variants: "figuring how to run", "Pray tell which leg...", a/the in several
places, his/her mind and so on. The indentation is mine, and feel free to
quash it.  I was unable to find attribution, as were the editors of the
Oxford Book of Verse for Children, according to one second-hand source:
        [broken link]

[And a few minutes after sending us the original submission, Gremio adds:]
In fact, I find some more variants and titles, when I search without "frog".
The antagonist is often a toad and sometimes a bird.  I hadn't realized how
devious it is of either predator to distract its prey until I read it with a
bird.  This page emphasizes the point, by cleverly (I'm giving benefit of
the doubt) substituting "Prey" for "Pray":
        [broken link]

I also read in several places:
        This raised his doubts to such a pitch
        He fell distracted in the ditch
        Not knowing how to run.

This has been (probably mis-)attributed to Marion Quinlan Davis here:
and to Allan Watts here:


The Echoing Green -- William Blake

Guest poem submitted by Vinod Krishna :
(Poem #1663) The Echoing Green
 The sun does arise,
 And make happy the skies.
 The merry bells ring
 To welcome the spring.
 The skylark and thrush,
 The birds of the bush,
 Sing louder around,
 To the bells' cheerful sound,
 While our sports shall be seen
 On the echoing green.

 Old John with white hair
 Does laugh away care,
 Sitting under the oak,
 Among the old folk.
 They laugh at our play,
 And soon they all say:
 'Such, such were the joys
 When we all, girls and boys,
 In our youth-time were seen
 On the echoing green.'

 Till the little ones weary
 No more can be merry;
 The sun does descend,
 And our sports have an end.
 Round the laps of their mother
 Many sisters and brothers,
 Like birds in their nest,
 Are ready for rest;
 And sport no more seen
 On the darkening green.
-- William Blake

I noticed that the Minstrels archive does not have this poem by William

This is a poem that was in one of my high school English textbooks in India.
There is a certain melancholy about this poem, which I remember from the
time I first read it. I thought it would be a nice addition to the
collection of Blake's poems on Minstrels.