Poetry Corner

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IF

If you can keep your head when all about you 
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you; 
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, 
But make allowance for their doubting too: 

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, 
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies, 
Or being hated don't give way to hating, 
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise; 

If you can dream -- and not make dreams your master; 
If you can think -- and not make thoughts your aim, 
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster 
And treat those two impostors just the same: 

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken 
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, 
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools; 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings 
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, 
And lose, and start again at your beginnings, 
And never breathe a word about your loss: 

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew 
To serve your turn long after they are gone, 
And so hold on when there is nothing in you 
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!" 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, 
Or walk with Kings -- nor lose the common touch, 
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, 
If all men count with you, but none too much: 

If you can fill the unforgiving minute 
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run, 
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, 
And -- which is more -- you'll be a Man, my son! 

Rudyard Kipling 

I rather disapproved of Kipling in general and this in particular when I was young. I associated Kipling with Empire and Jingoism and dismissed this as an example of same. But I got better. I doubt if there's a thinking and creative person alive that doesn't wish that they could write something this erudite, rhetorical, concise and inspirational. Hats off to Rudyard.


To Whom It May Concern

I was run over by the truth one day.
Ever since the accident I've walked this way
So stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Heard the alarm clock screaming with pain,
Couldn't find myself so I went back to sleep again
So fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Every time I shut my eyes all I see is flames.
Made a marble phone book and I carved out all the names
So coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

I smell something burning, hope it's just my brains.
They're only dropping peppermints and daisy-chains
So stuff my nose with garlic
Coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Where were you at the time of the crime?
Down by the Cenotaph drinking slime
So chain my tongue with whisky
Stuff my nose with garlic
Coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

You put your bombers in,
you put your conscience out,
You take the human being and you twist it all about
So scrub my skin with women
Chain my tongue with whisky
Stuff my nose with garlic
Coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam. 

Adrian Mitchell 1932 -

Thanks again to the Minstrels for the text. As is the case for several of the correspondents on their site, I first became aware of this one through a TV program in November 2000 about a poetry reading which took place at the Albert Hall in the 60s with Ginsberg and all the names of those days. I must have heard the poem before, but it makes a significant difference to hear Mitchell read it. I think the first two lines of each verse are unarresting, the much stronger text and the development of the middle section is great, but what really gives in bite is the rhythm with which he reads the last line of each verse, Tell me lies about Vietnam. He performed it as a sort of arythmical throw-away line. You probably have to hear it to understand - seeing the film would be even better.


Warning

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Jenny Joseph

This isn't really a poem, rather a small article with fierce punctuation. But it is funny, and Jan likes it and it balances the McGough, so in it goes. I gather it is remarkably popular


John Betjeman next. Another poet I had to grow into. I have long been attracted to Slough as we pass through there on visits to our Mam in Sunny Wales and "come bombs" has always resonated. I read the full text in WH Smiths today and it is wonderful. Now to find a copy. I gather from the JohnBetjeman web site that the estate is pretty chintzy about copyright. What these penpushers don't realise is that you should attract new readers into poetry by making some available then the punters will buy the books and the IPR owners will coin it. End of sermon.

Slough

Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough
It isn't fit for humans now,
There isn't grass to graze a cow
    Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs, and blow to smithereens 
Those air-conditioned, bright canteens, 
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans 
    Tinned minds, tinned breath 

Mess up the mess they call a town - 
A house for ninety-seven down
And once a week a half a crown
    For twenty years

And get that man with double chin
Who'll always cheat and always win,
Who washes his repulsive skin
    In women's tears

And smash his desk of polished oak
And smash his hands so used to stroke
and stop his boring dirty joke
    And make him yell.

But spare the bald young clerks who add
The profits of the stinking cad;
It's not their fault that they are made, (should that be mad?) 
    They've tasted Hell.

It's not their fault they do not know
The birdsong from the radio,
It's not their fault they often go
    To Maidenhead

And talk of sports and makes of cars
In various bogus Tudor bars
And daren't look up and see the stars
    But belch instead.

In labour-saving homes, with care
Their wives frizz out peroxide hair
And dry it in synthetic air
    And paint their nails.

Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough
To get it ready for the plough.
The cabbages are coming now;
    The earth exhales. 

John Betjeman 1906-1984 

JB is going to be the first poet to get two entries. I cannot resist this (from the WMs again).


A Subaltern's Love Song

Miss J. Hunter Dunn, Miss J. Hunter Dunn,
Furnish'd and burnish'd by Aldershot sun,
What strenuous singles we played after tea,
We in the tournament - you against me!

Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy,
The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy,
With carefullest carelessness, gaily you won,
I am weak from your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn.

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
How mad I am, sad I am, glad that you won,
The warm-handled racket is back in its press,
But my shock-headed victor, she loves me no less.

Her father's euonymus shines as we walk,
And swing past the summer-house, buried in talk,
And cool the verandah that welcomes us in
To the six-o'clock news and a lime-juice and gin.

The scent of the conifers, sound of the bath,
The view from my bedroom of moss-dappled path,
As I struggle with double-end evening tie,
For we dance at the Golf Club, my victor and I.

On the floor of her bedroom lie blazer and shorts,
And the cream-coloured walls are be-trophied with sports,
And westering, questioning settles the sun,
On your low-leaded window, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

The Hillman is waiting, the light's in the hall,
The pictures of Egypt are bright on the wall,
My sweet, I am standing beside the oak stair
And there on the landing's the light on your hair.

By roads "not adopted", by woodlanded ways,
She drove to the club in the late summer haze,
Into nine-o'clock Camberley, heavy with bells
And mushroomy, pine-woody, evergreen smells.

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
I can hear from the car park the dance has begun,
Oh! Surrey twilight! importunate band!
Oh! strongly adorable tennis-girl's hand!

Around us are Rovers and Austins afar,
Above us the intimate roof of the car,
And here on my right is the girl of my choice,
With the tilt of her nose and the chime of her voice.

And the scent of her wrap, and the words never said,
And the ominous, ominous dancing ahead.
We sat in the car park till twenty to one
And now I'm engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

There is a grant to be earned for a study of Cars in Poetry. I love the Hillman is waiting , but you probably have to be British and 40+ for it to mean much. JB's subjects are so ordinary (if you are of a certain birth and vintage) and his vocabulary so perfectly judged, with the occasional surprise.


17th June 2001 I've been struggling to find anything new to add to the site, but prompted by an enquiry on an I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue discussion board, here's a classic from Flanders and Swann. Several of their songs are worth considering and so there may be more to come. First, The Gasman Cometh which takes me back to Children's Favourites with Uncle Mac, Saturday mornings on the BBC Home Service in the late 50's and early 60's. It is as true an evaluation of much British workmanship today.


10th January 2002 I have received some complaints that the next work is not great poetry. Fair enough, I agree, but it is good, and better than 98.63% of poems written in the 18th and 19th centuries. You can keep your seas of daffodils and your watching the flowers and bowers for hours. For my money, it encapsulates an age, both in terms of the British Working Man and the British Radio Listening Child. It's staying in.


The Gas Man Cometh

'Twas on the Monday morning, the Gas man came to call.
The gas tap wouldn't turn - I wasn't getting gas at all.
He tore out all the skirting boards to try and find the main,
And I had to call the carpenter to put them back again.
Oh, it all makes work for the working men to do.

'Twas on the Tuesday morning. the Carpenter came round.
He hammered, and he chiselled, and he said "Look what I've found:
Your joists are full of dry rot, but I'll put them all to rights".
Then he nailed right through a cable and out went all the lights.
Oh, it all makes work for the working men to do.

'Twas on the Wednesday morning the Electrician came.
He called me 'Mister Sanderson', which isn't quite my name.
He couldn't reach the fuse box without standing on the bin,
And his boot went thru a window, so I called a glazier in.
Oh, it all makes work for the working men to do.

'Twas on the Thursday morning the Glazier came round,
With his blowtorch and his putty and his merry glazier sound.
He put another pane in - it took no time at all -
Then I had to get a painter in to come and paint the wall.
Oh, it all makes work for the working men to do.

'Twas on the Friday morning the Painter made a start.
With undercoats, and overcoats, he painted every part,
Every nook and cranny, but I found when he had gone
He'd painted over the gas tap, and I couldn't turn it on!
Oh, it all makes work for the working men to do.

On Saturday and Sunday they do no work at all,
So it was on the Monday morning that the Gas man came to call.

Michael Flanders

This brings to mind that great song, There's a Hole in my Bucket. Who wrote that?


The English

The rottenest bits of these islands of ours
We've left in the hands of three unfriendly powers
Examine the Irishman, Welshman or Scot
You'll find he's a stinker as likely as not
	The English the English the English are best
	I wouldn't give tuppence for all of the rest
The Scotsman is mean as we're all well aware
He's boney and blotchy and covered with hair
He eats salty porridge, he works all the day
And hasn't got bishops to show him the way
	The English the English the English are best
	I wouldn't give tuppence for all of the rest
The Irishman now our contempt is beneath
He sleeps in his boots and he lies through his teeth
He blows up policemen or so I have heard
And blames it on Cromwell and William the Third
	The English are moral the English are good
	And clever and modest and misunderstood
The Welshman's dishonest, he cheats when he can
He's little and dark more like monkey than man
He works underground with a lamp on his hat
And sings far too loud, far too often and flat
	The English the English the English are best
	I wouldn't give tuppence for all of the rest
And crossing the channel one cannot say much
For the French or the Spanish, the Danish or Dutch
The Germans are German, the Russians are red
And the Greeks and Italians eat garlic in bed
	The English are noble, the English are nice
	And worth any other at double the price
And all the world over each nation's the same
They've simply no notion of playing the game
They argue with umpires, they cheer when they've won
And they practice before hand which spoils all the fun
	The English the English the English are best
	I wouldn't give tuppence for all of the rest
It's not that they're wicked or naturally bad
It's just that they're foreign that makes them so mad
The English are all that a nation should be
And the pride of the English are Donald and me
	The English the English the English are best
	I wouldn't give tuppence for all of the rest

A second for the lamented Michael Flanders, written in the 1950s and like the rest, best heard sung and accompanied by Donald Swan


Very Like a Whale

One thing that literature would be greatly the better for
Would be a more restricted employment by the authors of simile and
    metaphor.
Authors of all races, be they Greeks, Romans, Teutons or Celts,
Can't seem just to say that anything is the thing it is but have to
    go out of their way to say that it is like something else.
What does it mean when we are told
That that Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold?
In the first place, George Gordon Byron had enough experience
To know that it probably wasn't just one Assyrian, it was a lot of
    Assyrians.
However, as too many arguments are apt to induce apoplexy and
    thus hinder longevity.
We'll let it pass as one Assyrian for the sake of brevity.
Now then, this particular Assyrian, the one whose cohorts were
    gleaming in purple and gold,
Just what does the poet mean when he says he came down like a
    wold on the fold?
In heaven and earth more than is dreamed of in our philosophy
    there are great many things.
But I don't imagine that among them there is a wolf with purple
    and gold cohorts or purple and gold anythings.
No, no, Lord Byron, before I'll believe that this Assyrian was
    actually like a wolf I must have some kind of proof;
Did he run on all fours and did he have a hairy tail and a big red
    mouth and big white teeth and did he say Woof Woof?
Frankly I think it is very unlikely, and all you were entitled to say,
    at the very most,
Was that the Assyrian cohorts came down like a lot of Assyrian
    cohorts about to destroy the Hebrew host.
But that wasn't fancy enough for Lord Byron, oh dear me no, he
    had to invent a lot of figures of speech and then interpolate them,
With the result that whenever you mention Old Testament soldiers
    to people they say Oh yes, they're the ones that a lot of
    wolves dressed up in gold and purple ate them.
That's the kind of thing that's being done all the time by poets,
    from Homer to Tennyson;
They're always comparing ladies to lilies and veal to venison,
And they always say things like that the snow is a white blanket
    after a winter storm.
Oh it is, is it, all right then, you sleep under a six-inch blanket of
    snow and I'll sleep under a half-inch blanket of unpoetical
    blanket material and we'll see which one keeps warm,
And after that maybe you'll begin to comprehend dimly
What I mean by too much metaphor and simile.


Ogden Nash

Added 3rd August 2001. Quite a wait. I have had five books of ON's poems since the 1970's. I remembered this one when it popped up on Wondering Minstrels. It is a thorough-going exercise in demystification (see Shakespeare above). Great arhythmic sense too. Others may follow.


What We Heard About the Japanese

We heard they would jump from buildings
at the slightest provocation: low marks

On an exam, a lovers' spat
or an excess of shame.

We heard they were incited by shame,
not guilt. That they

Loved all things American.
Mistrusted anything foreign.

We heard their men liked to buy
schoolgirls' underwear

And their women
did not experience menopause or other

Western hysterias. We heard
they still preferred to breastfeed,

Carry handkerchiefs, ride bicycles
and dress their young like Victorian

Pupils. We heard that theirs
was a feminine culture. We heard

That theirs was an example of extreme
patriarchy. That rape

Didn't exist on these islands. We heard
their marriages were arranged, that

They didn't believe in love. We heard
they were experts in this art above all others.

That frequent earthquakes inspired insecurity
and lack of faith. That they had no sense of irony.

We heard even faith was an American invention.
We heard they were just like us under the skin.

Rachel Rose


What the Japanese Perhaps Heard

Perhaps they heard we don't understand them
very well. Perhaps this made them

Pleased. Perhaps they heard we shoot
Japanese students who ring the wrong

Bell at Hallowe'en. That we shoot
at the slightest provocation: a low mark

On an exam, a lovers' spat, an excess
of guilt. Perhaps they wondered

If it was guilt we felt at the sight of that student
bleeding out among our lawn flamingos,

Or something recognizable to them,
something like grief. Perhaps

They heard that our culture
has its roots in desperate immigration

And lone men. Perhaps they observed
our skill at raising serial killers,

That we value good teeth above
good minds and have no festivals

To remember the dead. Perhaps they heard
that our grey lakes are deep enough to swallow cities,

That our landscape is vast wheat and loneliness.
Perhaps they ask themselves if, when grief

Wraps its wet arms around Montana, we would not prefer
the community of archipelagos

Upon which persimmons are harvested
and black fingers of rock uncurl their digits

In the mist. Perhaps their abacus echoes
the shape that grief takes,

One island
bleeding into the next,

And for us grief is an endless cornfield,
silken and ripe with poison.

Rachel Rose

An excellent pair. Minstrels again, of course.


Meeting the British

We met the British in the dead of winter.
The sky was lavender

and the snow lavender-blue.
I could hear, far below,

the sound of two streams coming together
(both were frozen over)

and, no less strange,
myself calling out in French

across that forest-
clearing. Neither General Jeffrey Amherst

nor Colonel Henry Bouquet
could stomach our willow-tobacco.

As for the unusual
scent when the Colonel shook out his hand-

kerchief: C'est la lavande,
une fleur mauve comme le ciel.

They gave us six fishhooks
and two blankets embroidered with smallpox.

Paul Muldoon

It's six months since the last addition. This came through on Minstrels in Jan 03 and, while I have deleted many since, I have always kept and admired this one. Not sure what it means, but it reads well and ends surreally. I gather it relates to "native A merican Canadians" meeting British colonisers. The Minstrels review refers to "full use of hindsight and poetic device to create a poem sinister yet political".


Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

maya angelou

Added 23rd July 2002. The first half seems to work better than the second which I think rather clumsy, but certainly worth a read. Thanks to a new source, natasha jones' focus on poetry.


Everything Changes

after Brecht, 'Alles wandelt sich'

Everything changes. We plant 
trees for those born later 
but what's happened has happened,
and poisons poured into the seas 
cannot be drained out again. 

What's happened has happened 
poisons poured into the seas 
cannot be drained out again, but 
everything changes. We plant 
trees for those born later.

Cicely Herbert 

I'm not sure how much I like this one - it compliments the Thribb, nicely, but does it mean anything? From the Minstrels again.


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