Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Poetry Session – August 13, 2015

Our second monsoon session of poetry featured no poems about rain, but we welcomed a young visitor in Nikita Cherian, the niece of Talitha, and a new member, Saraswathy Rajendran.

KumKum, Shoba, Priya, Sunil, Kavita, Nikita, Talitha, Pamela, Saraswathy

 We also created a record of sorts for the hard copy size of a handout (10cm x 10 cm) and font size (9pt) so that an A4 page could be arranged to produce 6 copies! This was Priya's feat. She also displayed a degree of loyalty to our reading group worthy of emulation.


A poet whose name rhymes with love came to the rescue of Sunil (see http://kochiread.blogspot.in/2015/06/poetry-reading-jun-26-2015.html) and we have a video of her performing the poem Sunil chose at the White House, introduced by the President of America.

Nikita, Talitha, Pamela, Saraswathy

Since August is the month when we recall the horror of the atom bomb, on this 70th anniversary of Hiroshima we got to hear the poetic voice of a hibakusha (atom bomb survivor).

Cakes for KumKum's Birthday: Gopa, Kavita, Nikita, Talitha, Pamela, KumKum

We also had poems by a major poet in Indian English in the twentieth century, Nissim Ezekiel. The session wound up with a poet of Bengal dear to people on both sides of the border, in a fine translation of two short poems.

Cakes for KumKum's Birthday: Saraswathy & Shoba

Here we stand at the end of the session, which included a brief cake distribution and singing for KumKum on her birthday, two days prior to the meeting.

Joe, Sunil, KumKum, Gopa, Talitha, Pamela, Kavita, Saraswathy, Shoba, Nikita (Priya had to leave early)

Full Account of the Poetry Session at KRG – Aug 13, 2015

We had 11 readers participating at this session.
Present: Joe, Sunil, KumKum, Gopa, Talitha, Pamela, Kavita, Shoba, Priya
Guest: Nikita Cherian
New member: Saraswathy Rajendran
Absent: Thommo (in Europe on world safari), Preeti (failed to show up after confirming), CJ (Mumbai deputation), Ankush (Shipboard incognito?), Zakia (in Coimbatore)

Our next session is fiction, the novel My Ántonia by Willa Cather on Fri, Sep 18, 2015.

Diligent Reader Exercises
1. Mention is made in the full account below of ‘famous’ being rhymed with ‘Seamus’ by Seamus Heaney, and ‘great’ with ‘Seth’ by Vikram Seth. In which sonnet number of The Golden Gate does the latter rhyme occur, and give a few lines surrounding it.

2. Name another poet, also recited at at the session, who stooped to rhyme hiser name in a poem. What was the opening line? And with what words does shee rhyme hiser name in the poem?

3. Give your solution to the enigma of MacLeish’s lines:
A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.

4. Name the readers who chose poets for this session whose poems have never been read before at KRG.

Solutions to DRE by readers:
Q1. Mention is made in the full account below of ‘famous’ being rhymed with ‘Seamus’ by Seamus Heaney, and ‘great’ with ‘Seth’ by Vikram Seth. In which sonnet number of The Golden Gate does the latter rhyme occur, and give a few lines surrounding it.
In The Golden Gate, Sonnet 5.1 (Chapter 5, sonnet 1), lines 10 and 11, Seth rhymes himself with 'great.' Here is the whole sonnet:
A week ago, when I had finished 
Writing the chapter you've just read. 
And with avidity undiminished 
Was charting out the course ahead. 
An editor—at a plush party
(Well-wined, provisioned, speechy, hearty).
Hosted by (long live!) Thomas Cook 
Where my Tibetan travel book 
Was honored—seized my arm: “Dear fellow, 
What's your next work?” “A novel...” “Great! 
We hope that you, dear Mr. Seth—” 
...In verse,” I added. He turned yellow 
How marvelously quaint,” he said, 
And subsequently cut me dead.

Q2. Name another poet, also recited at at the session, who stooped to rhyme hiser name in a poem. What was the opening line? And with what words does shee rhyme hiser name in the poem? (Gender neutral pronouns)
Ans: The poet recited at this session who rhymed his name in a poem is William Shakespeare, in the bawdy Sonnet 135 
He rhymed his name 'Will' with 'still' and 'kill'. Joe referred to this sonnet in his talk at the 450th Birth Anniversary of Shakespeare in April 2014:

Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy 'Will,'
And 'Will' to boot, and 'Will' in overplus;
More than enough am I that vex thee still,
To thy sweet will making addition thus.
Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious,
Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?
Shall will in others seem right gracious,
And in my will no fair acceptance shine?
The sea all water, yet receives rain still
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in 'Will,' add to thy 'Will'
One will of mine, to make thy large 'Will' more.
Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill;
Think all but one, and me in that one 'Will.'

Q3. Give your solution, a reasonable solution, to the enigma of MacLeish’s lines:
A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.
Ans: (a)
MacLeish is treading on risky ground, saying something paradoxical to make a point trenchantly. What is that point?
Here is my idea, taking off from the image on offer. When you look up at a flight of birds high in the sky, say, geese migrating, you hear nothing but can observe a majestic procession making its way across your vision, and the sight holds your gaze for long minutes. The pattern moves, the wings churn the air, you can't hear it, but it registers, and holds your attention, appealing aesthetically to something inside you. It strikes a chord, in silence. In like manner a poem can act on the reader, who even without moving hiser lips to voice the words, can hear it inwardly, and rejoice in the pattern that sets up a resonance with the reader's spirit.
Ans: (b)
MacLeish proposes something that is not only contradictory in terms ('wordless poetry') but strikes at the root of poetry, which must perforce be constructed with words. Hence, no poem can be wordless, any more than a song can be tuneless, or music soundless.
Reinforcing that elemental nature of poetry Stéphane Mallarmé replied to the painter Degas, who claimed he was never short of ideas yet could not come up with poems: Mais, Degas, ce n'est point avec des idées que l'on fait des vers. . . . C'est avec des mots (But Degas, it is not with ideas at all that one makes a poem, ... it is with words.)
Not only words, but words in patterns, striking and original. Not words that are clichéd, neutral and harmless, but words full of poetic vigour that hammer on the senses like a church bell. Words that convey the even higher art of music.
MacLeish was therefore stretching a point until the simile became absurd as a characterisation of poetry. Perhaps, he meant that a certain kind of poetry can become so ethereal that it speaks only to the mind's silent inward eye, and not at all to the voiced sense of sound. 
No word, ergo no sound, is a syllogism of poetry we cannot escape. And whereas words meant to convey ideas may be read silently by eye, and digested in the mind, the words of poetry if they be poetry at all must first convey the quality of being poetry, and not mere ideation, to the ear.
So what could a poet of MacLeish's stature imply by likening poetry to the flight of birds? Consider this image: there is a visible pattern, it moves, it is soundless, it excites a yearning to partake of the same pattern. All this is true and good. But could it come about without the agency of words to set the process in motion? Perhaps MacLeish is saying poems begin in words and are capable of exhilarating a reader so that shee escapes from the word-bound realm to the wordless realm, much as a fakir might levitate by the mystic power of hiser meditation. The weight of the words falls away after the reader has extracted their essence, and now shee floats at the higher altitude of the flight of birds.
In this sense poems always begin in words, but a few may be liberated from that encapsulation and be lifted into wordlessness, a state in which the sound of the words drops off, even the shape of the words fades, and only an abstract pattern remains in the reader's mind. Is this what MacLeish was adumbrating?

Q4. Name the readers who chose poets for this session whose poems have never been read before at KRG.
Talitha – MacLeish, 
KumKum – Armitage, 
Joe – Sankichi Tōge
Exercise no. 3
Ans to Q1. 
Sonnet 5.1 of The Golden Gate,

We hope that you, dear Mr. Seth--"
"In verse," I added. He turned yellow.

Ans to Q2
Give up.
Q3. A poem should be as wordless
As the flight of birds
A poem should embody the image to be conveyed just as a flight of birds is seen  -  its beauty, grace and quiddity are perceived and do not have to be explained. Words are the medium, of course, but they should be transparent and self-effacing, letting meaning pass effortlessly from the poet to the reader.
As Arundhathi Roy said once in another context, "Language is the skin of my thought."
And as St Francis of Assissi is supposed to have said (perhaps apocryphal): Preach Christ constantly: if necessary, use words.

Q4. About the poets not read before:
Archibald Macleish; Simon Armitage.

Ans to Q 3:
I do not quite agree with MacLeish; Not all poems should be "wordless".
Any episodic or illustrative poems has to be conveyed by meaningful, even weighty words. When a poet is describing something (an event, a scene from present, past or in future) he is actually limning. A limn cannot evaporate in the smoky textures of some words.
Then again, there are some poems which is meant to be ethereal, these can be "wordless". In these poems words are used for hints, only for implied meaning. 

Ans to Q 4.
MacLeish, the Japanese poet and Simon Armitage.
I cannot answer the first two question. No time.

Ans to Q 3:

Wordless as the flight of birds conveys weightlessness.A bird on the ground has weight, sound. Up in the sky it is a silent moving picture. Poetry is a painting. Words are the colours that the poet uses to paint. When finished the picture remains in the readers mind.the words are lost. Akin to the birds shedding their weight in flight.

1. Priya

Priya had another appointment but such is her loyalty and attachment to the Kochi Reading Group that she came to read a poem by her favourite poet, T. S. Eliot, and spend 15 minutes before going off to her honorary assignment with the Kerala History Museum. Aunt Helen is a poem in a humorous vein mocking the upper class who are neither loved nor respected by their servants. The aunt's life, probably lived in isolation and self-regard, may only have affected her parrot when it was extinguished. The servants were kept in place while the aunt was alive, but she'd hardly gone before the servants were at play:
    …. footman sat upon the dining-table
    Holding the second housemaid on his knees

Perhaps the readers appreciated, even more than the humour and brevity of the poem, Priya's sensitivity to the environment in printing copies of her poem for readers on 10 cm x 10 cm little squares of paper in 10-point font.

Briefly recalling the life of T.S. Eliot Priya mentioned his great poems like The Waste Land, and The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock. A good biography of Eliot is at

He valued tradition and thought poets should be aware of the poets who went before them and how they achieved what they did. He wrote a great deal of criticism, perhaps some of the best argued critical essays in English literature. He was willing to reverse positions. He launched a great many poets both as an editor at Faber and Faber, and at The Criterion, a magazine he launched. He was married to Vivienne Haigh-Wood, who was fine at first but went into decline mentally and had to be institutionalised. 

Vivienne Haigh-Wood married TS Eliot in June 1915 against the wishes of her family. Their marriage was disastrous from the start.

Eliot in later life married his secretary, Esmé Valerie Fletcher, in 1957 and she became the jealous guardian of his reputation, and his papers. 

Valerie Eliot, Wife and Editor of T.S. Eliot

His collected correspondence amounts to several volumes. Talitha noted that Eliot wrote plays too, in verse, such as Murder in the Cathedral. Joe questioned why the poet needed to annotate his poems upon publication so extensively. In general, if a poet makes a literary allusion, some readers will get it and others won't; surely a poem should stand on its own legs, so that a reader who has not appreciated some abstruse point can still get most of the pleasure. Otherwise, where is the poetry? Eliot laid out copious notes in The Waste Land, so if you don't get the lines
    Frisch weht der Wind
    Der Heimat zu
    Mein Irisch Kind,
    Wo weilest du?
which is a German quotation from the opera Tristan und Isolde, does it really matter? Later he has a French quote from the opera Parsifal from Verlaine. He ends with Sanskrit:
    Datta, dayadhvam, damyata
    (Give, sympathise, control)

Okay, Mr Eliot, we care only for the English you wrote and if that's poetry we'll applaud you, and if not, readers will not be duped by the far-fetched allusions in multiple languages, into thinking the higher art of poetry as practiced by Eliot is to be envied, even if the allusions are beyond the comprehension of the average lover of poetry.

For a review of a biography of the young Eliot, see:

Here's a letter from Groucho Marx to Eliot urging him to confide, for he wanted Eliot's views on sex:

2. Sunil
A fairly good biography of Rita Dove is at the wikipedia site:

Rita Dove  U.S. Poet Laureate, 1993-95

She was born inAkron Ohio in 1952 and graduated summa cum laude from Miami University in 1973. On a Fulbright she went to the Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen in 1974 to spend a year and later did an MFA at the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1977. This qualified her to teach creative writing at Arizona State University from 1981 to 1989. In 1987 she won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry which led to her being named Poet Laureate by the Librarian of Congress from 1993 to 1995. She wrote a famous work Thomas and Beulah in 1986 based on the lives of her grandparents. She has published nine volumes of poetry. The most recent ambitious collection of her poetry in 2009 has the title Sonata Mulattica. Her talents are various: she has composed songs, published plays, and performed in ball-room dancing shows. The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry was edited by her in 2011. Her choices of whom to select, and which poets to leave out met with spirited criticism from Helen Vendler, the grande dame of American literary criticism.

Sunil noted that as a person she is fairly abnormal for a poet, not being afflicted with consumption, not gay, married to the same person for a long time (husband Fred Viebahn, a German, is her husband of 36 years), mentally balanced, not suicidal, etc. This brought on some laughter.

Two good biographies are at

In the poem Heart to Heart the narrator tells her partner she may not show her love outwardly, but she does love, and insists her lover should take her whole, as she is. You can hear Rita Dove recite this poem at the White House in this video:

The power of poetry is that everybody experiences it differently, said President Obama at the White House on May 11, 2011, introducing her. Heart to Heart begins at 7m 45s; Dove calls it a traditional love poem. 

It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing, the title of a famous jazz composition by Duke Ellington, is a trope used by the President to convey the notion that poetry has to affect the reader if it is poetry – which we can add to the qualities of poetry adduced by MacLeish in the poem Ars Poetica chosen by Talitha (see below). Listen to the great Ellington in 1943 sing the number:

Here's Ella Fitzgerald with more vocal improvisations in 1957:

Sunil took up the second poem, Cozy Apologia, in which the poet is probably writing for her husband Fred who is acknowledged; she says while she can't think of words, everything reminds her of him. 

The lines
    There you'll be, with furrowed brow
    And chain mail glinting, to set me free:
    One eye smiling, the other firm upon the enemy.

provoked Sunil to say was Fred must have been cock-eyed therefore; as always he sees the lighter side and raises a laugh! One running theme of this poem is that romance is over-rated. The last lines show that contentment comes with age,
    And yet, because nothing else will do
    To keep me from melancholy (call it blues),
    I fill this stolen time with you.

Further analysis of this poem may be found at
Dove makes a reference to Hurricane Floyd, which was a large, powerful storm that happened along the Atlantic coast in 1999, just four years before this poem was written. This storm could be a comparison to her memories of crushes on teenage boys in middle school: drastic, but not enough to make a huge difference. The metaphor explains that just like a hurricane brings bad weather, it is also bringing back bad, awkward memories of teenage boys. A hurricane has a huge front then a calm center, the eye of the storm. Those boys came off charming and pleasant, but proved to have nothing but a hollow center. Dove is pushing away those boys to try to focus on her love right now.”

3. Joe
Joe introduced poems from the Hiroshima atomic bombing because it was the 70th anniversary on August 6 of the Hiroshima atom bomb drop. He chose a few poems from Sankichi Tōge's collection, Poems of the Atomic Bomb, translated by Karen Thorber.

Hiroshima after the bomb

Sankichi Tōge was born in 1917 as Mitsuyoshi Tōge. He was sickly and thought to be suffering from TB but it was much later discovered after the war, in 1948, to be a severe bronchial ailment for which surgery was the only cure.

He composed poems even in middle school. By the age of 21 he had definite leftist leanings. At age 25 he was received into the Catholic faith, probably by his elder sister's example. By 1945 he had composed thousands of haiku and tanka in Japanese. People knew him before the war as a lyric poet.

Sankichi, an inveterate diarist, wrote: “On the morning of Aug 6, 1945, at home in a part of town more than 3 kilometers from Ground Zero, I was just about to set out for downtown Hiroshima when the bomb fell, and I survived merely with cuts from splinters of glass and atomic bomb sickness (radiation sickness).”

In the years 1945 to 1953 he came to prominence as a poet who changed direction radically. He was disillusioned by the war and joined the Communist Party and became an activist in the labour movement in Hiroshima. He was involved with several women in mild affairs, and then settled down with Harada Yoshiko, three years older than him, a widow.

The 1950 Stockholm Appeal, by the World Peace Council approved the calling for an absolute ban on nuclear weapons. Millions signed the appeal, which inspired Sankichi to write the poem Appeal, his first poem concerning the atomic bomb for May Day 1950. In June the Korean war started and it figures in a number of his poems. On Nov 30, 1950 President Truman threatened to use atomic weapons again, in Korea. Sankichi noted in his diary that “there ought to be some quick expression of opinion from the people of Hiroshima.” He was in bad health, but composed the 24 poems of the book Poems of the Atomic Bomb (Genbaku shishu) in a tremendous rush. By 1951 he was famous and people rushed to donate money and blood when he collapsed in Apr 1952 and needed surgery. He died on March 10, 1953 on the operating table, and even in the hospital he spent time polishing his poems.

There is a marble monument in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial with the words of his poem, Give Back the Human.

Give back my father, give back my mother, 
Give grandpa back, grandma back, 
Give me my sons and daughters back. 
Give me back myself. 
Give back the human race. 
As long as this life lasts, this life, 
Give back peace 
That will never end.

Introducing the collection, Poems of the Atomic Bomb, he wrote:
Dedicated to those stripped of their lives by the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima on August 6 and on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, to those who even now continue to be tormented by pain and by the fear of death, to those whose anguish and sorrow will remain with them forever, and lastly, to those the world over who loathe atomic bombs.”

Joe read the first poem he chose, At a Field-Dressing Station, which describes what happened to the limbs, bodies and skin of the school girls found dead. It was distressing to read and Joe could not continue with the two other poems he had selected.

Joe mentioned that the atom bombing of Hiroshima was preceded by the carpet bombing of Japanese civilian populations in major cities all across Japan. The US military had already been de-sensitised to the targeting of civilian populations. Hiroshima had been spared because the military wanted it as a clean experiment of the damage an atom bomb could do by the fateful explosion, 500 m above the ground at 8:15 am on Aug 6, 1945. The American public accepted President Truman's explanation that the atom bomb shortened the war, and prevented the need to invade Japan with American soldiers. Historians have given evidence that Japan had already approached the US with the offer to surrender and only the terms were in debate – unconditional surrender, or military surrender only and keeping their emperor as titular head? Furthermore, why should Nagasaki have been bombed after Hiroshima? What experiment was that? Was it to test the efficacy of the plutonium bomb, so different in its principle of construction and operation from the uranium bomb dropped on Hiroshima?

Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki (right) mushroom clouds

The most cruel fact of the atom bomb was that the fateful letter of Einstein to President Roosevelt, which had triggered the Manhattan Project to manufacture the atom bomb, had been motivated by the war in Europe and the danger Einstein and fellow scientists apprehended that the German scientists who knew of nuclear fission may develop the bomb before the Allies. But though Germany was defeated, by conventional warfare, primarily by the Soviet forces of the Red Army, and it was clear the Germans never went anywhere with the atom bomb – yet it was on an all-but-defeated Japan the United States chose to use the bomb. Naturally, Einstein was horrified.
My action concerning the atomic bomb and Roosevelt consisted merely in the fact that, because of the danger that Hitler might be the first to have the bomb, I signed a letter to the President which had been drafted by Szilard. Had I known that that fear was not justified, I, no more than Szilard, would not have participated in opening this Pandora's box. For my distrust of governments was not limited to Germany. Unfortunately, I had no share in the warning made against using the bomb against Japan. Credit for this must go to James Franck. If they only had listened to him!” (p. 61 Einstein and Oppenheimer: The Meaning of Genius by Silvan S. Schweber, Harvard University Press, 2010)

To read about the history of the terror foisted on civilian Japan during WWII go to:


Japan's atomic bomb survivors (hibakusha) continue in their fight against nuclear weapons, educating the younger generation. As Japan prepares to mark the 70th anniversary of the world’s first nuclear attack, survivors ponder how to continue warning of the horrors of nuclear war:

One survivor, Setsuko, campaigns still in old age against nuclear weapons:
This is what I saw': Hiroshima survivor recounts ‘hell on Earth’ sixty-nine years later.

4. Kavita
Pablo Neruda
The poem, Your Laughter, is the tribute by a man to the laughter of the woman he cherishes. It is a laughter that has entered his spirit and become symbolic of her for
    it opens for me all
    the doors of life.

Even if he dies she should continue laughing. His greatest need is her laughter.. The poet says
    deny me bread, air,
    light, spring,
    but never your laughter
    for I would die.

He compares the laughter to many things: the rose she plucked, the wave of joy on her face when she laughs, and so on.

A biography of Pablo Neruda is at the Nobel site:

A more literary biography can be read at the Poetry Foundation site:

He was born in 1904 in a mall town in Chile with the real name Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto. In his youth he got to know the senior poet Gabriela Mistral who took a liking to him. 

Gabriela Mistral

He contributed poems to a journal Selva Austral under the pen name Pablo Neruda, recalling the Czech poet Jan Neruda. At the age of twenty he published Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada (Twenty poems of love a song of despair), one of his best-known and most translated works, still in print with millions of copies sold. Joe recited a couple of poems from that slim volume in Feb 2015 at KRG

with these lines that Sunil found unforgettable:
    Es tan corto el amor, y es tan largo el olvido.
    Love’s so brief, forgetting so prolonged.

and this which Joe can't forget:
    Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.
    Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

For eight years Neruda served as honorary consul at various cities in the world. The Spanish Civil War affected him deeply, with the murder of a poet friend of his, Garcia Lorca, and he became sympathetic to the Republican movement against the fascist forces of Franco.

After the war he was elected senator in Chile and joined the Communist Party. He became actively political and took part in protests against the repressive policies of the Government in Chile. He went into exile and produced some of the lasting love poetry of his life in Cien Sonetos de Amor (One Hundred Sonnets of Love). His careful poems about nature, turning and examining common objects with the observant eye of a poet in his later works, endear him to many. In 1971 he was nominated for President by the Communist Party but deferred to Salvador Allende, the socialist candidate who was elected and appointed him ambassador to France. He was given the Nobel Prize in 1971. Accepting the prize he said:
I did not learn from books any recipe for writing a poem, and I, in my turn, will avoid giving any advice on mode or style which might give the new poets even a drop of supposed insight.

In 1973 he returned to his country where a military coup fomented by the United States CIA overthrew the legal elected government of Allende and installed Col. Pinochet, known for a long, cruel, and despotic regime. It was in that mayhem that Neruda lost his life.

5. Talitha
The first poem Talitha took up to read was Not Marble Nor The Gilded Monuments by Archibald MacLeish. You can hear the poet reading this poem at
It is the 7th of 21 tracks in the album.

MacLeish takes off on the Shakespeare's Sonnet 55 which begins with those lines. The chief boast of WS was that while monuments decay his lover will live forever in the 'powerful rhyme' of his sonnet and he declares at the end
    Even in the eyes of all posterity
    You live in this, and dwell in lover's eyes.

It is this conceit MacLeish is at pains to deflate. The poem decries praisers of women who
    Boasted those they loved should be forever remembered:
    These were lies

But are they? We still recall the lines of WS 450 years later, vividly (will someone remember MacLeish's lines in the year 2400?) The poet continues his denigration of the vanity of poets who write
    Telling you men shall remember your name as long-standing
    As lips move or breath is spent or the iron of English
    Rings from the tongue.

Just as WS gave the lie to common sophistries in Sonnet 130:

    My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
    Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
    If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
    If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
    I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
    But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
    And in some perfumes is there more delight
    Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
    I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
    That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
    I grant I never saw a goddess go;
    My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
       And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare

       As any she belied with false compare.

MacLeish in his own way resets the false notion of poets endowing immortality on women by their verse:
    I shall say you will die and none will remember you
    Your arms change and none remember the swish of your garments
    Nor the click of your shoe.

In the concluding lines
    I will not speak of the famous beauty of dead women
    I will say the shape of a leaf lay once on your hair

MacLeish invokes the image of Botticelli's famous painting, Primavera, in which one of the three Graces of Greek mythology, Flora, goddess of springtime and flowers, is depicted with leaves in her hair, immediately to the left of Venus, the central figure of the painting.

Botticelli's 'Primavera', painting of the Three Graces done to commemorate a wedding of the three graces - Flora is the one with dead leaves in her hair

This is a good example of a veiled allusion to a classical painting which needs no footnote, because whether you get it or not, there is embedded in the poem the image of a dead woman and of a leaf lying in her hair, to convey decay. The image stands on its own, and gains little from the classical allusion – which may give a thrill to one has visited the Uffizi gallery in Florence and stood in that room with two magnificent paintings, neither of which bespeaks decay, by the way, quite the opposite. See

There is an extensive biography at

MacLeish was born in Illinois in 1892 and attended Yale University from 1911 to 1915 and later studied at Harvard Law School. He moved abroad, returning only in the 1930s. “During these years, MacLeish's work was made up of nine longer poems or sequences of poems, accompanied by lyric meditations and statements in various forms on diverse but characteristic themes: doubt, loss, alienation, art, aging, the quest.” His first collection was Poems, 1924 – 1933.

In Ars Poetica, the second of the poems Talitha read, MacLeish conveys conveys by various images his conviction that a poem should both mean and be. It may be read as a catalogue of qualities good poems should possess in varying degrees, said Joe:
    A poem should be equal to:
    Not true.
    A poem should not mean
    But be.

Most paradoxical of all is
    A poem should be wordless
    As the flight of birds.

How could a poem ever be wordless? This enigma is for the reader to contemplate.

Talitha referred to Report to Greco by Nikos Kazantzakis who imagines he has to report on his life as a soldier would to his commanding officer. MacLeish writes in an essay, “... there is only one Report to Greco, but no true book... was ever anything else than a report. ... A true book is a report upon the mystery of existence... it speaks of the world, of our life in the world.”

MacLeish was also a public intellectual. He described the late 1940s as an era in American life when fear of Communism and of the Soviet Union had eroded the United States’ democratic culture and outlook. “The great traditional objectives of American life,” he wrote, were “subordinated to the accomplishment of the task of containment” of Communism, even “sacrificed to it.” Calling this state of affairs a “crisis in civilization, a crisis in culture, a crisis in the condition of man,” MacLeish called instead for “the redeclaration of the revolution of the individual.” (The Conquest of America, published in The Atlantic Monthly, Aug 1949). MacLeish also wrote many plays.

One of his public service offices was as Librarian of Congress, when President Roosevelt appointed him. Not posing as a professional librarian, he undertook many innovations in that organisation, inviting scientists and students to do research there. He invited poets also. Regarding this aspect of his public service consult the Library of Congress document at

6. Nikita
William Shakespeare Sonnet 55
Nikita, Talitha's niece who goes to school in Dubai, came to Kochi on a holiday. She tagged along with Talitha and recited the sonnet of William Shakespeare which has the same opening lines as the title of the poem by MacLeish read by her aunt. How grand a way to open an argument:
    Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
    Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
    But you shall shine more bright in these contents
    Than unswept stone, besmear'd with sluttish time.

And in the ending line WS promises his friend or beloved’s
    You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes.

'This,' of course, meaning his immortal lines. Note the parallel to Sonnet 65, the even more tender sonnet on the same theme where the poet asks rhetorically
    How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
    Whose action is no stronger than a flower?

and himself answers:
    That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

How supremely confident WS was of his powers to confer immortality on anything by his ink!

7. Pamela
Pamela read one of Seamus Heaney's most famous poems about the Northern Irish 'troubles', Whatever You Say, Say Nothing. You can listen to the poet reading it during a BBC Channel 4 News programme

The poem demonstrates the delicate situation of people whose every word can be parsed to yield partisanship for one side or the other in that devastating terror conflict between Protestants and Catholics inhabiting Norther Ireland. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) undertook a terror war to reunite NI with the rest of Ireland. Britain stood firm and employed its own troops, often in a repressive manner. The resulting violence rocked NI for decades until finally Prime Minister Blair, who had sworn never to talk to the IRA, decided that gaining peace was impossible without bringing them to the negotiating table, and they would not come at all if it entailed surrendering all their weapons beforehand.

Heaney, nominally a Catholic, but not a practicising one, watched the conflict as an observer, disapproving of both sides. A lot of the clichés used by journalists to describe the daily scenes are scattered in the poem to show how hackneyed the phrases became after years of insane violence. Names were giveaways, Seamus, surely a Catholic.

Seamus Deane, the writer, says (The New Yorker, March 2000):
The early poems are like an acoustic autobiography Heaney dwells on the names of places and people, their formal and official titles, their informal and demotic variants. Like any Irish countryman, Heaney has to lock a personal name into a place-name so that he can get a fix on the whole history and geography with which each is freighted. Names, titles, accents, nicknames, pronunciations are like a syrup in which a complex politics is suspended; they indicate class, sectarian divisions, family lineage, belongingness, even degrees of intelligence.

Joe noted that if a poet is excessively topical with the subject of a poem, as Heaney is here, then he limits the understanding of the poem in geography and time to a narrow audience, who are familiar with the history of the subject. Else like Eliot one would have to annotate the poem with references to all the matters from newspaper reports and articles, and what interest would that hold for a reader from Kochi, say?

Someone mentioned that Joe occasionally gives 'homework' to KRG readers of his blog, which attracts a few faithful respondents always.

A staunch nationalist, Heaney was no friend to the Provisional IRA: its strident fanaticism ran counter to his instinct for sympathy. His eye couldn’t miss the IRA’s horrors, and his 1995 Nobel lecture dealt profoundly with the stultifying effect of political violence.

Pamela drew attention to the oxymorons in the poem, e.g,
    And whatever you say, you say nothing.
    open as a trap
    Besieged within the siege

About the first line the saying of Robert Frost is to the point. He said: Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can't, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.

Joe said 'open as a trap' is not an oxymoron, for a trap is a binary object with two states, one open, and the other shut. A trap with one state would be useless. He also remarked that the poet rhymes 'famous' with his name 'Seamus' (which stuck as an adjective to his name thereafter)
    To dam the dangerous tide that followed Seamus.
    Yet for all this art and sedentary trade
    I am incapable. The famous

After he became famous and popular, he gathered a following dubbed the 'Heaney-Boppers', poetry fanatics who populated the venues where he read, according to Pamela.

Seamus had begun to be famous after the publication of his first volume, Death of a Naturalist. This reminded Joe of Vikram Seth rhyming 'great' with 'Seth' in the verse novel, The Golden Gate.

One of the poet's classmates, Seamus Deane, fellow man of letters, writes of Heaney's early years in an article in The New Yorker, March 20, 2000, titled 'The Famous Seamus':
Heaney stayed in Belfast, teaching in a secondary school [after graduating in 1961]. In the next five years Belfast, and Queen's University in particular, became the site of a new literary energy. An English poet Philip Hobsbaum, arrived to start a series of workshops. Henaye, Michael Longley, and other Belfast poets participated in them. A Belfast festival was inaugurated; it published several pamphlets of poems by these two, their friend, Derek Mahon, and others. Heaney wrote to me in Cambridge and inveigled a sequence of poems from me which, unfortunately, was also published in that series. An exchange of letters on these poems was the first intimation I had that there was a new sense of excitement in the literary world of Belfast. It was also the first solid indication to me that Heaney was turning to a career as a poet. We lost contact after that for about two years. The Northern Revival, effectively the literary predecessor of, and then companion to, the Northern Troubles, initially passed me by – and then I had a surprise visit from Heaney in Cambridge. 
He had just been married, and he arrived with his wife, Marie, bearing a copy of his first book, 'Death of a Naturalist,' news of a prize that went with it, and, wonder of wonders, a bottle of whiskey. Heaney the teetotaller had gone. Heaney the poet had arrived.”

Michio Kakutani of the NY Times assesses Seamus Heaney's contribution after his death:

The London Economist too remembered Heaney on his death:

8. Saraswathy
We welcomed our new reader, Saraswathy, to KRG. At this session, her first, she read a poem of Nissim Ezekiel titled Night of the Scorpion. Saraswathy mentioned that when she encountered NE for the first time she realised poems need not have rhyme to be poetry. It opened up poetry to her in a new way. NE is a well-known Indian poet from Mumbai, born in 1924; he died in 2004. He graduated in 1947 with a BA in Literature from Wilson College. He studied philosophy in Birkbeck College, London, for three years before returning to India. 

He is Jewish by extraction, secular by nurture, hailing from the Bene-Israel Marathi community. He is very much a self-made poet. He published his first collection, Bad Day in 1952. You can read a good obit of his by Lawrence Joffe at
“He acted as a mentor to younger poets, such as Dom Moraes, Adil Jussawalla and Gieve Patel. Many of his poems, such as The Night Of The Scorpion, and that supreme antidote to jingoism, The Patriot, are set-works in Indian and British schools.”

NE works often in the ironic mood as this article spells out:
As a story teller Ezekiel creates poems out of ordinary incidents, situations and events that one encounters in day to day life. He picks out a situation, analyses it and describes it in such a way that it immediately assumes a kind of social significance because he views the ordinariness of most of the events with sense of detachment.”

NE is also not beyond poking fun at Indians speaking a stilted form of English as in this poem, Goodbye Party for Miss Pushpa T.S.

A franker account of Nissim Ezekiel is given here by Trivikrama Kumari Jamwal:

I recall Nissim Ezekiel mentioning somewhere that a poet should never rest from his craft and even when the Muse deserts him he should write something shorter, crisper, just to keep in trim. Such were his 'Poster Poems' first exhibited at the Gallery Chemould in Bombay in Aug 1973 with the artwork by Urmila Rao and R.K. Joshi. The entire exhibition was devoted to poems by NE written for display on posters. (The Poetry of Nissim Ezekiel by A. Raghu, Atlantic Publishers, New Delhi)

Here's one:
    My father talked too loudly
    and too much,
    but just before he died
    his voice became soft and sad
    as though whispering secrets
    he had learnt too late.
    He drew me close to him
    and spoke his truths to me.
    I felt the breath of his love
    But could not hear a word

And two more:
        You arrived 
        with sari clinging
        to your breasts and hips.
        No part of you
        could hide
        as you dried.
On Giving Reasons
         She gave me
         six good reasons
         for saying, No,
         and then
         for no reason at all
         dropped all her reasons
         with her clothes.

NE conducted several more experiments in such poster poem exhibitions. It has been observed by Parthasarathy that “Only Ezekiel handles both metre and rhyme as well as free verse with skill.” Ezekiel himself does not discount the value of rhyme: “I would hate to think of myself as an artist who can't use rhyme properly. That’s like an artist who can’t draw: it’s absurd,” citing the
opening stanza of his poem, Philosophy:
    There is a place to which I often go,
    Not by planning to, but by a flow
    Away from all existence, to a cold
    Lucidity, whose will is uncontrolled.
    Here, the mills of God are never slow.

The poem Saraswathy chose exhibits a plain tale from an Indian village, captured in all its simplicity, unsparing in its description of superstition:
    buzzed the name of God a hundred times
        to paralyse the Evil One.

The culmination of the poem, as KumKum remarked, is typically maternal:
    My mother only said    
    Thank God the scorpion picked on me    
    And spared my children.

For further reference please read Form and Value in the Poetry of Nissim Ezekiel by Anisur Rahman (Abhinav Publications, New Delhi).

9. KumKum
Simon Armitage is among the best known of Britain's living poets
In June 2015 he was honoured by being elected Oxford Professor of Poetry. He is also a professor of Literature at Sheffield University.

Simon Armitage

Simon Armitage was born in 1963 in the village of Marsden, Yorkshire. His parents, grandparents lived there, and so did many other members of his family. Simon Armitage himself lived most of his life not far from his birthplace. He graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a degree in Geography, but could not find a job after graduation, and so he returned home to live in Marsden with his parents. During this time he rediscovered the beauty of his hometown and its surroundings. The moors, streets, the landscapes and the people around him entered into his poems, of course. Armitage once wrote: "It's probably Margaret Thatcher's fault I'm a poet" – a backhanded compliment to the late Prime Minister's failed job-creation policies.

But, it was definitely a remarkable gain for English poetry. Armitage's poems are 'celebration of real life.' His style is also simple. Some of his poems are now included in the school syllabus in Britain; he visits schools to read his poems and he is popular with the young folk.

Apart from being a renowned poet, Simon Armitage is also a playwright, essayist, and a successful novelist too.

Simon Armitage was one of the invited authors of the The Week Hay Festival held in Thiruvananthapuram in Dec 2011. KumKum was fortunate to attend his session at the festival and Joe has blogged about it in an extensive post with a fair number of his poems and commentary:

KumKum said the beauty of his poems is that each is almost a story, as in I Am Very Bothered and Gooseberry Season. There are no recondite references, no Greek mythological allusions, no quotes from Scandinavian operas, or anything smacking of high culture.

10. Shoba

Continuing in her didactic manner Shoba attempted to teach the readers yet another French poem by the same poet she chose for her first reading, Jacques Prévert. This time it was the poem, L'accent grave; it was untranslatable because the whole point of the joke in the poem falls on the pun between the words 'ou' (or) and 'où' (where) in French. It would be a challenge for a translator to discover a pun in English based on a single diacritical mark; add the task of translating a poem's meaning in the process and it would render the task impossible. Since none can learn French with the best of teachers in ten minutes, the poem did not have any of the desired effects of poetry described by MacLeish in Ars Poetica, at least on the poor Anglophone readers of KRG.

Shoba said it is a poem on the verb être (to be) and a professor is teaching an impudent student the conjugation of être employing Hamlet's soliloquy, To be or not to be, in French, of course.

11. Gopa
Gopa chose two poems of Jibanananda Das, the modernist poet of Bengal, born in 1899 in Barisal, now in Bangladesh. She was not familiar with the poet until KumKum gave her a slim volume of English translations of selected poems of his by Chidananda Das Gupta (Penguin). Short biographies of the poet appear on wikipedia.
“My work has been described as difficult, solitary, withdrawn. I have been labelled variously: a nature poet, a poet socially and historically conscious, even a poet unconscious! I am a symbolist, a surrealist, a whatnot. These are all partially correct, I suppose. But they do not explain the total fabric.”http://archive.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/jibanananda-das/

In Barisal there is an annual festival held in the poet's honour. Bangladesh with its population of 156m sees itself as the custodian of Bengali language and culture, even more so than West Bengal with a population of 90m.  “Jibanananda does not belong either to the East or the West, he belongs to the eternal Bengal” (Purbo-paschim by Sunil Gangopadhyaya, Sahitya Akademi, 2000). Joe mentioned that a standardisation of accents, which has been tending toward the West Bengal educated norm, has erased, at least in official media, the varied dialects that are heard in the districts of Bangladesh, such as Barisal, Chittagong, Dhaka and Sylhet. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bengali_dialects

KumKum mentioned the indignation with which she replied upon being told by a Bangladeshi umbrella-seller in the streets of Rome, all smiles, that she spoke Bengali without any accent!

Gopa mentioned that Jibanananda was emotionally tied to the land he left behind to come to Calcutta. For a true poet the land of his birth is a store for all his connections with the past, with growing up, with childhood experiences and sensuous memories. It is that which the poet has to mine repeatedly to discover the images with which to clothe the ideas in the poems; the words well up in the poet's mind from that ancient connection with a unique tradition.

Though living in Calcutta, a city that abounded in literary people and gatherings,  Jibanananda was not part of any collective or movement. His ability to remain alone in the midst of a crowded urban setting was the source of his strength as a poet. He mined his mind, and paid no mind to other people's enthusiasms. Nobody knew until after his death that he had written novels too.

His marriage did not click, Gopa said, but that did not prevent two children from being born, Manjushree and Samarananda. He devoted his first anthology of poems (Jhora Palok, or Fallen Feathers) to Shovona, his uncle’s daughter whom he fell in love with. However, he did not attempt to marry her, as marriage among cousins was socially taboo. Jibanananda denoted her name with Y in his literary notes. (http://archive.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/jibanananda-das/ )

There is a scholarly biography of the poet by Clinton Seely, the American professor who has lived in Barisal. He takes great interest in Bengali literature and teaches at the University of Chicago:

Everyone knows how the poet died – he was hit by a tramcar in Calcutta and died in hospital of the injuries sustained. There is a buzz that this was an attempted suicide, and it draws inspiration from the often expressed longing for death in his poems, by various characters, and even by inanimate objects, for example the orange in the poem Gopa read:
    Once I am dead,
    Shall I ever come back to earth again?

    If so be it that I do,
    Let me come back, on a wintry night,
    As the frail cold flesh of a half-eaten orange
    Set on a table, by the dying one's bed.

But this has to be seen alongside the thought that recurs in his poems, which as Joe told Gopa, is there in the very opening stanza of his famous nature poem, Abar ashibo phire (I shall return) – one may recall the PM, Narendra Modi, used this as his parting line when leaving Bangladesh after his recent visit. Here is that stanza:
    To the Dhanshiri’s banks I shall return
    – Not in human form maybe,
    But as crested kite or shalik, possibly …
    To the Bengal for which I yearn.

The poet often mentions the idea of rebirth after death as some other creature, and in this other-worldly poem he offers half a dozen images of what form he might take upon his return to Rupasha Bangla (Beauteous Bengal, the title of one of his five volumes of poetry – he means of course, the Barisal he left behind): 
… As a crow in the misty morning 
… Or a girl, languidly floating (in a pond)
… A buzzard soaring in the evening,
… A little boy is strewing (rice)
… A heron riding the crimson cloud

Therefore the association of these images of exiting, only to return in some other form, is a deeply held feeling for Jibanananda. But he was a secular poet, not given to religious observance. Nevertheless commentators continue to analyse his 'death wish', as in this academic article:
“The process of living is conceived of by Jībanānanda to be a recurrent and repetitive one, moving in circles and alternating between the states of living and dying, but not of declining productivity in either state.” [How's that for academic gibberish?]

Gopa also mentioned the concept of time in Jibanananda's poems, about which Faizul Latif Chowdhury has written an essay:

In the same essay on 'Temporality' in the poetry of Jibanananda there is also this remark on his observation of the unusual things around him: “When Jibanananda looks at Nature, he discovers that the crow which shows up on the wood-apple tree everyday has a broken beak;  he notices the shyness of an owl, the mists adhering to the wings of bats and ducks at dusk that seem to be smelling sleep by the pond.”


1. Priya

T. S. Eliot (1888 – 1965)

Aunt Helen
Miss Helen Slingsby was my maiden aunt,
And lived in a small house near a fashionable square
Cared for by servants to the number of four.
Now when she died there was silence in heaven
And silence at her end of the street.
The shutters were drawn and the undertaker wiped his feet —
He was aware that this sort of thing had occurred before.
The dogs were handsomely provided for,
But shortly afterwards the parrot died too.
The Dresden clock continued ticking on the mantelpiece,
And the footman sat upon the dining-table
Holding the second housemaid on his knees —
Who had always been so careful while her mistress lived.

2. Sunil

Rita Dove (1952 – )

Heart to Heart
It's neither red
nor sweet.
It doesn't melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can't feel

It doesn't have
a tip to spin on,
it isn't even
just a thick clutch
of muscle,
mute. Still,
I feel it inside
its cage sounding
a dull tattoo:
I want, I want—
but I can't open it:
there's no key.
I can't wear it
on my sleeve,
or tell you from
the bottom of it
how I feel. Here,
it's all yours, now—
but you'll have
to take me,

Cozy Apologia
For Fred

I could pick anything and think of you—
This lamp, the wind-still rain, the glossy blue
My pen exudes, drying matte, upon the page.
I could choose any hero, any cause or age
And, sure as shooting arrows to the heart,
Astride a dappled mare, legs braced as far apart
As standing in silver stirrups will allow—
There you'll be, with furrowed brow
And chain mail glinting, to set me free:
One eye smiling, the other firm upon the enemy.

This post-postmodern age is all business: compact disks
And faxes, a do-it-now-and-take-no-risks
Event. Today a hurricane is nudging up the coast,
Oddly male: Big Bad Floyd, who brings a host
Of daydreams: awkward reminiscences
Of teenage crushes on worthless boys
Whose only talent was to kiss you senseless.
They all had sissy names—Marcel, Percy, Dewey;
Were thin as licorice and as chewy,
Sweet with a dark and hollow center. Floyd's

Cussing up a storm. You're bunkered in your
Aerie, I'm perched in mine
(Twin desks, computers, hardwood floors):
We're content, but fall short of the Divine.
Still, it's embarrassing, this happiness—
Who's satisfied simply with what's good for us,
When has the ordinary ever been news?
And yet, because nothing else will do
To keep me from melancholy (call it blues),
I fill this stolen time with you.

3. Joe

Sankichi Tōge (1917 – 1953)

At a Field-Dressing Station
you cry, but there is no outlet for your tears
you scream, but there are no lips to become words
you try to struggle, but your fingers have no skin to grasp

who let flutter your limbs, covered with blood, greasy sweat, and lymph
and who let eyes shut like a thread shine white
your underwear’s elastic, all that remains on your swollen stomachs
and you, who no longer feel shame, even when exposed
oh! that until a little while ago you all
were lovely schoolgirls
who can believe it?

from the dimly flickering flames
of a burnt and festering Hiroshima
you who are no longer you
fly and crawl out one by one
and struggling along to this meadow
you bury your heads, nearly bald, in the dust of anguish

why have you had to suffer like this?
why have you had to suffer like this?
for what purpose?
for what purpose?
and you children
do not know
already what form you’ve become
how far from the human you’ve been taken

only thinking
you’re thinking
of those who until this morning were fathers, mothers, little brothers, little sisters
(meeting them now, who would recognize you?)
and of the houses where you slept, got up, ate meals
(suddenly, the flowers along the fence were torn to pieces, and now not even a
trace of their ashes remains)

thinking thinking
sandwiched between classmates who stop moving one by one
of before, of the day you were girls
human girls

Plea – for Pictures of the Atomic Bomb

before these monstrous shapes let me stand
before this severity let my steps be exposed

the voices that close in on me as I follow the pages are something of the deepest
the shower of tears that falls as I go from picture to picture is so heavy it will never
within this book I see vividly
the faces of those I knew who fled, of the loved ones who died
shudders consume my heart
at the incalculable agony of the swarms of naked bodies in these pictures
beyond the flames, stretched out, staring fixedly on me
I dare say, my own eyes!

Alas! who would be able to arrest the need
to make bent legs straight
to cover naked loins
to unravel one by one clenched fingers covered in blood

who would be able to restrain deep, awakening anger
toward the fact that above a perishing Japan, as the threat of a new war
the light of the atomic bomb was released
and that in an instant the lives of 200,000 of our people were snatched away

before these pictures let me pledge my steps
and before this history I will make sure the future will not need to be repented


it’s not too late, even now
it’s not too late to summon your true strength
just as long as the tears continue to trickle from the wound
caused that day when the flash that struck your retinas penetrated your heart
provided that you carry with you the brand of Hiroshima
that today too
makes the bloody pus that curses war trickle out steadily from those fissures

the true you
who abandoned your little sister, reaching out both her hands
from beneath the main house, where flames were closing in
who, covering not even your privates with scraps of charred clothing
both arms of raw flesh, hanging down in front of your chest
falteringly, on burnt and bare feet
wandered off through a desert of self-reflecting rubble
on a journey with no solace

to extend high those deformed arms
and together with the many similar arms
to support the cursed sun
that is soon to fall again
it is not too late, even starting now

to cover up with your back that carries the brand of death
the tears of all the gentle people
who although loathing war simply loiter about
to take up and grip firmly
in both your palms, raw and red
these trembling and drooping hands
it is not too late, even now

4. Kavita

Pablo Neruda (1904 – 1973)
Your Laughter

Take bread away from me, if you wish,
take air away, but
do not take from me your laughter.

Do not take away the rose,
the lance flower that you pluck,
the water that suddenly
bursts forth in joy,
the sudden wave
of silver born in you.

My struggle is harsh and I come back
with eyes tired
at times from having seen
the unchanging earth,
but when your laughter enters
it rises to the sky seeking me
and it opens for me all
the doors of life.

My love, in the darkest
hour your laughter
opens, and if suddenly
you see my blood staining
the stones of the street,
laugh, because your laughter
will be for my hands
like a fresh sword.

Next to the sea in the autumn,
your laughter must raise
its foamy cascade,
and in the spring, love,
I want your laughter like
the flower I was waiting for,
the blue flower, the rose
of my echoing country.

Laugh at the night,
at the day, at the moon,
laugh at the twisted
streets of the island,
laugh at this clumsy
boy who loves you,
but when I open
my eyes and close them,
when my steps go,
when my steps return,
deny me bread, air,
light, spring,
but never your laughter
for I would die.

5. Talitha

Archibald MacLeish (1892 – 1982)

the sun was a shadow of leaves on your shoulders And a leaf on your hair

Not Marble Nor The Gilded Monuments
THE praisers of women in their proud and beautiful poems
Naming the grave mouth and the hair and the eyes
Boasted those they loved should be forever remembered
These were lies
The words sound but the face in the Istrian sun is forgotten
The poet speaks but to her dead ears no more
The sleek throat is gone -and the breast that was troubled to listen
Shadow from door
Therefore I will not praise your knees nor your fine walking
Telling you men shall remember your name as long
As lips move or breath is spent or the iron of English
Rings from a tongue
I shall say you were young and your arms straight and you!
mouth scarlet
I shall say you will die and none will remember you
Your arms change and none remember the swish of your garments
Nor the click of your shoe
Not with my hand's strength not with difficult labor
Springing the obstinate words to the bones of your breast
And the stubborn line to your young stride and the breath to your breathing
And the beat to your haste
Shall I prevail on the hearts of unborn men to remember
(What is a dead girl but a shadowy ghost
Or a dead man's voice but a distant and vain affirmation
Like dream words most)
Therefore I will not speak of the undying glory of women
I will say you were young and straight and your skin fair
And you stood in the door and the sun was a shadow of leaves on your shoulders
And a leaf on your hair
I will not speak of the famous beauty of dead women
I will say the shape of a leaf lay once on your hair
Till the world ends and the eyes are out and the mouths broken
Look! It is there!

And learn O voyager to walk
The roll of earth, the pitch and fall
That swings across these trees those stars:
That swings the sunlight up the wall.

And learn upon these narrow beds
To sleep in spite of sea, in spite
Of sound the rushing planet makes:
And learn to sleep against this ground.

Ars Poetica
A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.


A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind—

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.


A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—

A poem should not mean
But be.

Dr. Sigmund Freud Discovers The Sea Shell
Science, that simple saint, cannot be bothered
Figuring what anything is for:
Enough for her devotions that things are
And can be contemplated soon as gathered.

She knows how every living thing was fathered,
She calculates the climate of each star,
She counts the fish at sea, but cannot care
Why any one of them exists, fish, fire or feathered.

Why should she? Her religion is to tell
By rote her rosary of perfect answers.
Metaphysics she can leave to man:
She never wakes at night in heaven or hell

Staring at darkness. In her holy cell
There is no darkness ever: the pure candle
Burns, the beads drop briskly from her hand.

Who dares to offer Her the curled sea shell!
She will not touch it!--knows the world she sees
Is all the world there is! Her faith is perfect!

And still he offers the sea shell . . .

What surf
Of what far sea upon what unknown ground
Troubles forever with that asking sound?
What surge is this whose question never ceases?

6. Nikita

William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

Sonnet 55
Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear'd with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
'Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes.

7. Pamela

Seamus Heaney (1939 – 2013)

"Whatever You Say, Say Nothing" (1975)
I'm writing just after an encounter
With an English journalist in search of 'views
On the Irish thing'. I'm back in winter
Quarters where bad news is no longer news,
Where media-men and stringers sniff and point,
Where zoom lenses, recorders and coiled leads
Litter the hotels. The times are out of joint
But I incline as much to rosary beads

As to the jottings and analyses
Of politicians and newspapermen
Who've scribbled down the long campaign from gas
And protest to gelignite and Sten,

Who proved upon their pulses 'escalate',
'Backlash' and 'crack down', 'the provisional wing',
'Polarization' and 'long-standing hate'.
Yet I live here, I live here too, I sing,

Expertly civil-tongued with civil neighbours
On the high wires of first wireless reports,
Sucking the fake taste, the stony flavours
Of those sanctioned, old, elaborate retorts:

'Oh, it's disgraceful, surely, I agree.'
'Where's it going to end?' 'It's getting worse.'
'They're murderers.' 'Internment, understandably ...'
The 'voice of sanity' is getting hoarse.

"Religion's never mentioned here", of course.
"You know them by their eyes," and hold your tongue.
"One side's as bad as the other," never worse.
Christ, it's near time that some small leak was sprung

In the great dykes the Dutchman made
To dam the dangerous tide that followed Seamus.
Yet for all this art and sedentary trade
I am incapable. The famous

Northern reticence, the tight gag of place
And times: yes, yes. Of the "wee six" I sing
Where to be saved you only must save face
And whatever you say, you say nothing.

Smoke-signals are loud-mouthed compared with us:
Manoeuvrings to find out name and school,
Subtle discrimination by addresses
With hardly an exception to the rule

That Norman, Ken and Sidney signalled Prod
And Seamus (call me Sean) was sure-fire Pape.
O land of password, handgrip, wink and nod,
Of open minds as open as a trap,

Where tongues lie coiled, as under flames lie wicks,
Where half of us, as in a wooden horse
Were cabin'd and confined like wily Greeks,
Besieged within the siege, whispering morse.

This morning from a dewy motorway
I saw the new camp for the internees:
A bomb had left a crater of fresh clay
In the roadside, and over in the trees

Machine-gun posts defined a real stockade.
There was that white mist you get on a low ground
And it was déjà-vu, some film made
Of Stalag 17, a bad dream with no sound.

Is there a life before death? That's chalked up
In Ballymurphy. Competence with pain,
Coherent miseries, a bite and sup,
We hug our little destiny again.

8. Saraswathy

Nissim Ezekiel (1924 – 2004)

Night of the Scorpion

I remember the night my mother
was stung by a scorpion. Ten hours
of steady rain had driven him
to crawl beneath a sack of rice.

Parting with his poison - flash
of diabolic tail in the dark room -
he risked the rain again.

The peasants came like swarms of flies
and buzzed the name of God a hundred times
to paralyse the Evil One.

With candles and with lanterns
throwing giant scorpion shadows
on the mud-baked walls
they searched for him: he was not found.
They clicked their tongues.
With every movement that the scorpion made his poison moved in Mother's blood, they said.

May he sit still, they said
May the sins of your previous birth
be burned away tonight, they said.
May your suffering decrease
the misfortunes of your next birth, they said.
May the sum of all evil
balanced in this unreal world

against the sum of good
become diminished by your pain.
May the poison purify your flesh

of desire, and your spirit of ambition,
they said, and they sat around
on the floor with my mother in the centre,
the peace of understanding on each face.
More candles, more lanterns, more neighbours,
more insects, and the endless rain.
My mother twisted through and through,
groaning on a mat.
My father, sceptic, rationalist,
trying every curse and blessing,
powder, mixture, herb and hybrid.
He even poured a little paraffin
upon the bitten toe and put a match to it.
I watched the flame feeding on my mother.
I watched the holy man perform his rites to tame the poison with an incantation.
After twenty hours
it lost its sting.

My mother only said
Thank God the scorpion picked on me
And spared my children.

Minority Poem
In my room, I talk
to my invisible guests:
they do not argue, but wait

Till I am exhausted,
then they slip away
with inscrutable faces.

I lack the means to change
their amiable ways,
although I love their gods.

It's the language really
separates, whatever else
is shared. On the other hand,

Everyone understands
Mother Theresa; her guests
die visibly in her arms.

It's not the mythology
or the marriage customs
that you need to know,

It's the will to pass
through the eye of a needle
to self-forgetfulness.

The guests depart, dissatisfied;
they will never give up
their mantras, old or new.

And you, uneasy
orphan of their racial
memories, merely

Polish up your alien
techniques of observation,
while the city burns.

9. KumKum

Simon Armitage (1963 – )

I Am Very Bothered
I am very bothered when I think
of the bad things I have done in my life.
Not least that time in the chemistry lab
when I held a pair of scissors by the blades
and played the handles
in the naked lilac flame of the Bunsen burner;
then called your name, and handed them over.

O the unrivalled stench of branded skin
as you slipped your thumb and middle finger in,
then couldn't shake off the two burning rings. Marked,
the doctor said, for eternity.

Don't believe me, please, if I say
that was just my butterfingered way, at thirteen,
of asking you if you would marry me.

It Ain'T What You Do, It's What It does To You
I have not bummed across America
with only a dollar to spare, one pair
of busted Levi's and a bowie knife.
I have lived with thieves in Manchester.

I have not padded through the Taj Mahal,
barefoot, listening to the space between
each footfall picking up and putting down
its print against the marble floor. But I

skimmed flat stones across Black Moss on a day
so still I could hear each set of ripples
as they crossed. I felt each stone's inertia
spend itself against the water; then sink.

I have not toyed with a parachute cord
while perched on the lip of a light-aircraft;
but I held the wobbly head of a boy
at the day centre, and stroked his fat hands.

And I guess that the tightness in the throat
and the tiny cascading sensation
somewhere inside us are both part of that
sense of something else. That feeling, I mean.

Gooseberry Season
Which reminds me. He appeared
at noon, asking for water. He’d walked from town
after losing his job, leaving me a note for his wife and his brother
and locking his dog in the coal bunker.
We made him a bed

and he slept till Monday.
A week went by and he hung up his coat.
Then a month, and not a stroke of work, a word of thanks,
a farthing of rent or a sign of him leaving.
One evening he mentioned a recipe

for smooth, seedless gooseberry sorbet
but by then I was tired of him: taking pocket money
from my boy at cards, sucking up to my wife and on his last night
sizing up my daughter. He was smoking my pipe
as we stirred his supper.

Where does the hand become the wrist?
Where does the neck become the shoulder? The watershed
and then the weight, whatever turns up and tips us over that
razor’s edge
between something and nothing, between
one and the other.

I could have told him this
but didn’t bother. We ran him a bath
and held him under, dried him off and dressed him
and loaded him into the back of the pick-up.
Then we drove without headlights

to the county boundary,
dropped the tailgate, and after my boy
had been through his pockets we dragged him like a mattress
across the meadow and on the count of four
threw him over the border.

This is not general knowledge, except
in gooseberry season, which reminds me, and at the table
I have been known to raise an eyebrow, or scoop the sorbet
into five equal portions, for the hell of it.
I mention this for a good reason.

10. Shoba

Jacques Prévert (1900 – 1977)

L'accent grave
Le professeur
Élève Hamlet!
L'élève Hamlet (sursautant
... Hein... Quoi... Pardon.... Qu'est-ce qui se passe... Qu'est-ce qu'il y a... Qu'est-ce que c'est?...
Le professeur (mécontent)
Vous ne pouvez pas répondre "présent" comme tout le monde? Pas possible, vous êtes encore dans les nuages.
L'élève Hamlet
Être ou ne pas être dans les nuages!
Le professeur
. Pas tant de manières. Et conjuguez-moi le verbe être, comme tout le monde, c'est tout ce que je vous demande.
L'élève Hamlet
To be...
Le professeur
En Français, s'il vous plaît, comme tout le monde.
L'élève Hamlet
Bien, monsieur. (Il conjugue:)
Je suis ou je ne suis pas
Tu es ou tu n'es pas
Il est ou il n'est pas
Nous sommes ou nous ne sommes pas...
Le professeur
excessivement mécontent)
Mais c'est vous qui n'y êtes pas
, mon pauvre ami!
L'élève Hamlet
C'est exact, monsieur le professeur,
Je suis "où" je ne suis pas
Et, dans le fond
, hein, à la réflexion,
Être "où" ne pas être
C'est peut-être aussi la question.
1: startling; 2: don't be silly; 3: you aren't with it; 4: I'm sorry to say; 5: at the end. 
The Professor
Student Hamlet!
Hamlet the Student (startled)
Huh… What… Sorry… What is going on…
What is the matter… What is it?
The Professor (displeased)
You cannot answer “Present” like everybody else?
Of course not, you still have your head in the clouds.
Hamlet the Student
To be or not to be in the clouds!
The Professor
Don’t be silly. Do not put on airs. And conjugate for me
the verb “to be” like everyone else; that’s all I ask you.
Hamlet the Student
The Professor
In English, please, like everyone else.
Hamlet the Student
Fine, sir. (He conjugates:)
I am or I am not
You are or you are not
He is or he is not
We are or we are not…
The Professor (extremely displeased)
But it is you who are not there, my poor friend!
Hamlet the Student
That’s just it, professor,
I am ‘where’ I am not
And, in the end, well, after reflection,
To be ‘where’ not to be
Is perhaps also the question.
(Translation by Amiel Bowers who says, "In this poem, the challenge was to find an equivalent pun for 'ou'/'où'—'or' and 'where,' respectively, in English. The grave accent makes all the difference. Oh, clever, clever Hamlet…")

11. Gopa

Jibananada Das (1899 – 1954)

The Cat
All through the day I keep meeting the cat;
In the shade of the tree, out in the sun,
Amidst the dense shade of the leaves
After a spot of success with a few bones of fish
He lies hugging the skeletal-white earth
Wrapped up in himself like a swarm of bees.
And yet he scratches at the trunk of the Gulmohar tree,
Walks behind the sun, stalking it.

One moment he is there;
The next, he has vanished.

I saw him in the autumn evening stroking, with soft white paws,
The scarlet sun; then he gathered the darkness
Like little balls, grabbing each with a jab of his paws
And spread them all over the earth.
(translated from Biral, part of the collection Banalata Sen)

The Orange
Once I am dead,
Shall I ever come back to earth again?

If so be it that I do,
Let me come back, on a wintry night,
As the frail cold flesh of a half-eaten orange
Set on a table, by the dying one's bed.
(translated from Kamlalebu, from the collection Banalata Sen)

(Jibananada Das Selected Poems, translated by Chidananda Das Gupta, Penguin)


Priya said...

Okay, Mr Eliot, we care only for the English you wrote and if that's poetry we'll applaud you, and if not, readers will not be duped by the far-fetched allusions in multiple languages, into thinking the higher art of poetry as practiced by Eliot is to be envied, even if the allusions are beyond the comprehension of the average lover of poetry.- Joe, too harsh and unfair too, i feel.

Also üse of practiced. I get confused about ç'or 's'but in this case i think it should be practised.


Anonymous said...

You are right, Priya. In British English the verb is to 'practise', the noun 'practice'.

In American English they are content to use practice both as noun and verb, in the same spelling with a 'c'.

Having partaken of both varieties extensively I often interchange, and am at home in both.

- joe

Talitha said...

I enjoyed the French poem with its play on etre and ou/ou with the accent grave. I am happy to add to my knowledge of French and love the feel of "To be or not to be" played with in another language. Thankyou Shoba!