Monday, 5 December 2016

Poetry Session — Dec 2, 2016

There were nine of us at the reading of poems by an assortment of authors. Vikram Seth was the token Indian; the other poets were from England, America, Ireland, and France. Almost four centuries of poetry were covered.

KumKum, Saras, Sunil, Thommo, Priya enjoying sandwiches, cupcakes and coffee

We had no singing this time, but had Joe learnt to rap, his poet could have been rendered in her original voice. Pamela could not attend for some obligation she had to fulfil on behalf of her husband.

Sunil, Thommo, Priya, Hemjit, Shoba

It is unusual in modern times for poetry to be crafted to adhere to a form and structure. Unusually, we had a triolet, a sonnet, and an Alexandrine mixed with hymn meter, iambic tetrameters, and modern rap.

Sunil, Thommo, Priya, Hemjit

This was the last session of the year and a new set of novel selections has been made for 2017. We start off with Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier on Jan 13, and the following month Kavita has invited the crew with their dearly beloveds to her estate in Thodupuzha, about 2 hours journey by road. It will be poetry in a pastoral setting.

KumKum & Saras

Here we are at the end of the session, after enjoying cucumber and cheese sandwiches (KumKum) and cupcakes (Shoba).
Hemjit, Thommo, Priya, Saras, Shoba, KumKum, Sunil, Kavita, Joe

Full Account and Record of the Poetry Session on Dec 2, 2016

The dates for the next events are confirmed as follows:

Fri Jan 13, 2017Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
Sun Jan 15, 2017 — Lunch at KumKum & Joe’s place

Present: Hemjit, Thommo, Priya, Saras, Shoba, KumKum, Sunil, Kavita, Joe
Absent: Zakia, Preeti, Pamela

1. Saras
Vikram Seth Bio
Vikram Seth was born to Leila and Prem Seth in Calcutta (now Kolkata). His father Prem Seth was an executive in Bata Shoe company and his mother, Leila Seth, served as a judge, rising to be the first Chief Justice of a State High Court (Himachal Pradesh).

KumKum with Leila Seth at India International Centre, New Delhi, in 2009 with the IIC Librarian, Zutshi

Vikram studied at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, Stanford University and Nanjing University.
His younger brother, Shantum, leads Buddhist meditational tours. His younger sister, Aradhana, is a film-maker married to an Austrian diplomat, and has worked on Deepa Mehta’s movies Earth and Fire. Many of his fictional characters are drawn from life, he acknowledges, but the portraits are composites.
Seth was educated at the Doon School in India, but finished with a scholarship to Tonbridge School in England. Seth studied Modern Greats at Oxford (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics or PPE) at Corpus Christi College where he developed an interest in poetry and learned Chinese. After leaving Oxford, Seth moved to California to work on a PhD in economics at Stanford University.
Having lived in London for many years, Seth now maintains residences near Salisbury, England, where he bought and renovated the house of the poet George Herbert in 1996; and another one in NOIDA, a Delhi suburb, where he lives with his parents and keeps his extensive library and papers.

 A suitable guest - Vikram Seth in poet George Herbert's old house which he bought in Bemerton

Seth self-identifies as bisexual. In 2006, he became a leader of the campaign against the Indian Penal Code Section 377, a holdover of the colonial law against homosexuality.
His mother has written about Seth’s sexuality and her coming to terms with it in her memoir On Balance (2003).
Work Themes
Seth has studied several languages, including Welsh, German and, later, French in addition to Mandarin, English (which he describes as “my instrument” in answer to Indians who carp about his not writing in his native Hindi), Urdu (which he reads and writes in Nasta’liq script), and Hindi, which he reads and writes in the Devanagari script. He plays the Indian flute and the cello and sings German lieder, especially those of Schubert.

 Vikram Seth signs in Malayalam too

His travel book From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet (1983) was his first popular success and won the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. It offers insights into Seth as a person, who is candid about the reality and effect of living abroad — though not about being part of the diaspora — a theme which arises in his poetry but nowhere in his fiction:
Increasingly of late, and particularly when I drink, I find my thoughts drawn into the past rather than impelled into the future. I recall drinking sherry in California and dreaming of my earlier student days in England, where I ate dalmoth and dreamed of Delhi. What is the purpose, I wonder, of all this restlessness? I sometimes seem to myself to wander around the world merely accumulating material for future nostalgias.”
On A Suitable Boy
I have little doubt that. … Vikram Seth is already the best writer of his generation,” Eugene Robinson and Jonathan Yardley said in reference to A Suitable Boy. Both are literary critics for The Washington Post.
Seth has published five volumes of poetry. His first published work, a collection of poetry called Mappings (1980), was originally published by Purushottama Lal, the legendary Calcutta professor (at St Xavier's College) who founded the publishing venture called The Writers Workshop, now carried on by his son, Ananda Lal and his wife, Shuktara. For a short obituary of P. Lal you can read this note in the London Economist:

Prof. P. Lal in his Kolkata home

Mappings attracted little attention and indeed Philip Larkin, to whom he sent it for comment, referred to it scornfully among his intimates, though he offered Seth encouragement. Thommo, also a graduate of St Xavier's College, commented that Professors Vishwanathan and Lal of the Dept of English married two sisters, Paramita and Shyamasree, daughters of the famous linguistics professor of Calcutta University, Prof Sukumar Sen. KumKum said she studied under Prof Sen at Cal Univ.
Novels in Prose
The first of his novels, The Golden Gate (1986), is a novel in verse about the lives of a number of young professionals in the Bay Area around San Francisco. The novel is written entirely in Onegin stanzas after the style Aleksandr Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. Onegin stanzas are in iambic tetrameter rather than pentameter, and the 14 lines are rhymed aBaBccDDeFFeGG, where the lowercase letters represent feminine endings (i.e., with an additional unstressed syllable) and the uppercase representing masculine endings. The 590 sonnets making up The Golden Gate are a tour-de-force, and he turned it out in just a year or so, working at the rate of about 600 lines a month, he says. Seth had encountered Charles Johnston’s 1977 translation of Eugene Onegin in a Stanford second-hand bookstore and it changed the direction of his career, shifting his focus from a Ph.D in Economics to literary work. The likelihood of commercial success seemed remote — and the scepticism of friends as to the novel’s viability is facetiously quoted within the novel; but it received wide acclaim, with Gore Vidal dubbing it “The Great California Novel”; it achieved healthy sales and remains in print.

Timothy Steele, Veracity and Vim

Timothy Steele, his poet-mentor at Stanford to whom The Golden Gate is dedicated, says, "I've always found him warm and funny. The first thing that impresses you about Vikram is his immense and lively intelligence. It was always clear he was going to do something remarkable, but it wasn't clear, when I first knew him, what direction his talent would take”. Here is the dedicatory sonnet which stands at the beginning of The Golden Gate:

        So here they are, the chapters ready,
        And, half against my will, I’m free
        Of this warm enterprise, this heady
        Labor that has exhausted me
        Through thirteen months, swift and delightful,
        Incited by my friends’ insightful
        Paring and prodding and appeal.
        I pray the gentle hands of Steele
        Will once again sift through its pages.
        If anything in this should grate,
        Ascribe it to its natal state;
        If anything in this engages
        By verse, veracity, or vim,
        You know whom I must credit, Tim.

A Suitable Girl
There’s no word yet as to whether the novel in progress will stretch to the wrist-breaking length of A Suitable Boy, but Vikram Seth has announced that he is writing a sequel to his most popular novel, which should be released in 2017 after a delay.
A Suitable Girl will skip a generation and see Lata, the 19-year-old heroine of A Suitable Boy, now a grandmother, searching for the right match for her grandson.

The biographical details above are excerpted from the review at with several additions.
Lunch with the FT: A reluctant genius Vikram Seth

2. KumKum
John Keats is one of KumKum's favourite English poets. She has read him once before at KRG. This time, she chose one of the Odes, since Keats is praised for the perfection of his Odes.
Some critics thought To Autumn was his best, and some say, it ranks second. For a Keats enthusiast, it will be very difficult to select ‘the best’. To Autumn was composed on Sept 19, 1819, after an evening walk in the countryside. What the poet heard and saw is exquisitely limned in this Ode. Keats died only a year after he composed it.

 Keats’ grave in Rome - 'Here lies One Whose name was writ in Water'

KumKum thought the selection of words in this Ode was marvellous. He chose them for rhyme, meaning, sound, imagery, and, of course, for their power to convey his myriad moods, even his philosophy. Be it mere description, an allusion to light, or sound, or fragrance, taste, texture, life, death, posturing, and the silence; all are faithfully represented. There is no doubt that Keats is the poet who elevated the sensuousness of words to new heights. Take this from Ode to a Nightingale:
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;

And read these erotic lines from the The Eve of St. Agnes when young Porphyro comes ‘with heart on fire for Madeline’ and hidden in her closet, espies her undress:
Anon his heart revives: her vespers done,
Of all its wreathed pearls her hair she frees;
Unclasps her warmed jewels one by one;
Loosens her fragrant boddice; by degrees
Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees:

KumKum clarified several terms Keats used in the Ode to Autumn:
hilly bourn — small stream that flows down a hill
garden croft — an enclosed garden
river sallows — willow trees growing by the river
thatch-eaves — the edges of the roofs of thatched cottages
cyder press — the apple gets squeezed by the mechanical press into a juice which can be fermented

3. Joe
Kate Tempest (birth name Kate Esther Calvert, born Dec 22, 1985) is a poet from south-east London. At the age of sixteen she made her entrance on the stage of spoken word artists at poetry slam events. She says she had a ‘wayward youth’, living in squats, ‘hanging around on picket lines rapping at riot cops’. She is a rapper and a playwright, and has recorded several albums. In 2014 she was selected as one of the Poetry Book Society’s Next Generation Poets. 

Kate Tempest is an English poet, spoken word artist and playwright

Her first collection of poems, Everything Speaks in its Own Way, was published under her own imprint. She won the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry in 2012 for her hour-long performance piece, Brand New Ancients. That was her entry into mainstream poetry, with a passionate depiction of ordinary people with all their faults in the role of ancient gods.
Joe took up the entrance gambit of this poem for the first piece which begins:
There have always been heroes,
And there have always been villains,
And yes the stakes may have changed
but really there’s no difference.

Kate Tempest writes with a fine ear for the modern rough-tough words used in street rap. She is always writing about contemporary life, but through the lens of myth and a feeling for the ancient struggles of humankind.

For the second piece Joe picked another mythical story, that of Icarus and Daedalus, retold in a colloquial style by Ms Tempest as though the performer were a friend of Icarus. You will remember the story of Icarus, the son of the master craftsman Daedalus, who fashions wings made of feathers and wax for both of them to escape by flying away from Crete. The father warns the son not to fly close to the sun. But all Icarus
wants to do was soar above his station and become
the Sun's equal
Gifts are dangerous when they are given and not earned
A lesson merely heard is never a lesson learned

And so Icarus flies close to the sun, the wax melts, the feathers fall off, and he plunges into the sea!

You can find Kate Tempest on the Web at her own site:

and a good introduction to her body of work is at:

The Financial Times has a frank but informal interview over breakfast at Terry’s Café (costing £15.95) in her native haunt of south-east London:

Asked how she caters to the distinct audiences for her poetry, her music, her rap, her plays, etc. She replies:
I don’t separate the forms in the way I receive them or create them. Today, I’m going to be blown away by a rapper and tomorrow by a poet — it doesn’t work like that. I receive lyricism and literature with an open soul. The commonality is the lyricism. It’s just the words. That’s all.”

4. Kavita

The poems which Kavita chose contrast the eagerness with which poor children entertain themselves receiving a single trifling present, with rich children who get bored with the showers of gifts they receive. Kavita said her son wanted to play football, and nothing else; he couldn't be bothered to even open the many gifts he got at Christmas. The moral of which is to give a poor child just one gift, nicely wrapped, and if you give gifts to a rich child make sure to use no wrapping; just lay it all out on the bed.

Ellis Parker Butler was born in Muscatine, Iowa. He was the author of more than 30 books and 2,000 stories and essays, and is most famous for his short story "Pigs is Pigs", in which a bureaucratic stationmaster insists on levying the livestock rate for a shipment of two pet guinea pigs, which soon start proliferating in geometric progression.

Working from his home in Flushing (Queens) New York, Butler was — by every measure and by many times — the most published author of the pulp fiction era. He wrote twenty-five stories for Woman's Home Companion between 1906 and 1935. The stories were illustrated by well-known illustrators. Between 1931 and 1936, at least seventeen of Butler's stories were published in newspapers.

His career spanned more than forty years and his stories, poems and articles were published in more than 225 magazines. His work appeared alongside that of his contemporaries including Mark Twain, Sax Rohmer, James B. Hendryx, Berton Braley, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Don Marquis, Will Rogers and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Despite the enormous volume of his work, Butler was, for most of his life, only a part-time author, working full-time as a banker and was very active in his local community. KumKum alluded to T.S. Eliot also being a full-time banker at Lloyds Bank in London, working on foreign accounts, and being a part-time poet, until he resigned and joined Faber and Faber, the publishing house. Butler was a founding member of both the Dutch Treat Club and the Author's League of America, a permanent fixture in the New York City literary scene.

He died in Williamsville, Massachusetts and was interred in Flushing Cemetery.

5. Shoba

Shoba chose two poems of Walter de La Mare, a modern English poet whose father was a French Huguenot (Protestant). In those days France was not very kind to Protestants and he emigrated to England. Walter de la Mare is considered one of modern literature's chief exemplars of the romantic imagination. His life was outwardly uneventful. His formal education did not extend beyond high school. De la Mare began writing short stories and poetry while working as a bookkeeper in Standard Oil Company's London office during the 1890s. His first published short story, "Kismet," appeared in the journal Sketch in 1895. In 1902 he published his first major work, the poetry collection Songs of Childhood. Critics often assert that a childlike richness of imagination influenced everything de la Mare wrote, emphasising his frequent depiction of childhood as a time of intuition, deep emotion, and closeness to spiritual truth. In 1908, following the publication of his novel Henry Brocken and the poetry collection titled Poems, de la Mare was granted a Civil List pension, enabling him to terminate his corporate employment and focus exclusively on writing. He died in 1956.

As a poet de la Mare is often compared with Thomas Hardy and William Blake for their respective themes of mortality and visionary illumination. His greatest concern was the creation of a dreamlike tone implying a tangible but nonspecific transcendent reality. It is generally agreed that de la Mare was a skilful manipulator of poetic structure, a skill which is particularly evident in the earlier collections.

Closely linked with his poetry in theme and mood are de la Mare's short stories. Collections like The Riddle are imbued with the same indefiniteness and aura of fantasy as his poetry. As a short story writer, de la Mare is frequently compared to Henry James, particularly for his elaborate prose style and his ambiguous, often obscure treatment of supernatural themes.

The novels of de la Mare rival his poetry in importance. His early novels, such as Henry Brocken, are works of fantasy written in a genre traditionally reserved for realistic subjects. In his tale of supernatural possession, The Return, de la Mare deals with a primarily naturalistic world while maintaining a fantastic element as the thematic core.

de la Mare is sometimes labelled an escapist who retreats from accepted definitions of reality and the relationships of conventional existence. His approach to reality, however, is not escapist; rather, it profoundly explores the world he considered most significant—that of the imagination.

Shoba read the second poem, The Listeners, which many readers recognised from having read it in school, or more probably in college. It has a strange air of mystery. Who came on the horse? Who is listening? Saras said it is a bhut story. These two lines indicate some secret affair is going on:
Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,’

Joe read this poem in a slim textbook called Modern Poetry when he entered college; that gave him a taste for poetry which has remained. The textbook included poets such as these and their well-remembered lines:

Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, The Little Red Calf
O little red brother,
Keep close to your mother
Whatever betide,
And snuggle as long as you may to her side!

W.B. Yeats, The Lake Isle of Innisfree
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

Alice Meynell, The Shepherdess
She walks-the lady of my delight-
A shepherdess of sheep.
Her flocks are thoughts. She keeps them white;
She keeps them from the steep;
She feeds them on the fragrant height,
And folds them in for sleep.

Siegfried Sassoon, Everyone Sang
Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white

Gerard Manley Hopkins, Pied Beauty
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

6. Hemjit

Hemjit chose the very first recognised and published poet of America, Anne Bradstreet, a Puritan (i.e., the sect that wished to rid or purify the Church of England of all rituals that smacked of the Popish creed). She was born in England in 1612 (Shakespeare was still alive). She was well-educated and married a Cambridge man, Simon Bradstreet, at the age of 16. Her family emigrated to America in 1630 aboard the ship Arabella. Her husband and her father later served as Governors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

She had ten children in spite of her poor health. She was deeply religious and the second poem testifies to her personal devotion. In 1650 her poems were published in England under the title The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, by a Gentlewoman of those Parts, the manuscript being taken there by her brother-in-law on a visit. She didn't fit into the accepted mould of housewife, being a poet also. Hemjit claimed she was a feminist in her time for enlarging the frame within which women could toil.

She lost 800 books in her collection when her house burned down; later two of her children died. Yet she was serene, writing
And when I could no longer look,
I blest his grace that gave and took,
That laid my goods now in the dust.
Yea, so it was, and so 'twas just.
It was his own; it was not mine.
Far be it that I should repine.

The first poem written in couplets is testament to the unalloyed union of two persons in marriage. It is an aseptic union she speaks of, quite other-worldly for being free of strife, with the wife so utterly devoted to her husband that she exclaims, unabashed
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me ye women if you can.

About the second poem, Joe said it would be impossible to write something like this today, and if someone did, readers would roll their eyes in disbelief. For a close reading of this poem consult:

The word loue in the last line (And Loue him to Eternity) is probably from French louer, to praise, said Hemjit and Shoba seconded that opinion. Could it equally be seen as an obsolete spelling of ‘love’?

Her grave stone in North Andover, Massachusetts, has these words incised:
Mirror of Her Age, Glory of her Sex,
whose Heaven born Soul
leaving its earthly Shrine,
chose its native home, and
was taken to its Rest,
upon 16th Sept 1672

Anne Bradstreet gravestone in North Andover, MA
(erected by the Historical Society of the town)

For more about the poet consult the Poetry Foundation at

7. Priya

Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928), Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886), Louis Macneice (1907 – 1963)
Priya chose several poets according to the theme of winter, the present season. In Kerala there is no winter really except a chill in the Nilgiris, but the poets here are writing in temperate latitudes where the progression of seasons becomes especially severe in winter. Thomas Hardy writes of birds that find it hard to survive the winter because the ground is hard, encrusted with frost that will not yield to their pecking as they forage. Priya sent Joe a video that illustrates this poem graphically:

Hardy - Durnover Field Video

Hardy is writing in triolet form, which is 8 lines, rhymed ab aa abab, with lines 4 and 7 repeating 1, and 8 repeating 2. To see that you have to recast the poem, removing the bird names and joining some lines to get
Throughout the field I find no grain;
The cruel frost encrusts the cornland!
Aye: patient pecking now is vain
Throughout the field, I find...No grain!
Nor will be, comrade, till it rain,
Or genial thawings loose the lorn land
Throughout the field. I find no grain:
The cruel frost encrusts the cornland!

A characteristic of Hardy is that he is familiar with an entire archaic vocabulary of dialect words that serves him well in his poetry. The manifestation of his art is the word lorn (meaning ‘lost’ or ‘forsaken’) in the phrase lorn land which he rhymes with cornland. Joe mentioned that Thomas Hardy is probably the oldest poet in age to have been published in the English language. In 1898, two years shy of sixty, Hardy published his first volume of poetry, Wessex Poems, a collection of poems written over the previous 30 years. If you read Joe's appreciation of Hardy at

you will realise what damage critics can do. They had succeeded in bottling up Hardy's poetry for 30 years, disfiguring it, killing it, and causing the verse to remain unappreciated until decades after his death! And yet his poetic oeuvre is large, 947 poems:

It was much than same story with Emily Dickinson when a pseudo-critic called Thomas Higginson ordained a still-birth of her desire to publish. See:

Dickinson in her poem on Snow writes about the magic ‘crystal veil’ that snow casts on the landscape and describes objects like fences, grain fields, and roads transformed by the powder. She uses her favourite 4-line stanza in hymn meter, varying the rhyme. But the images stand out.

For a modern editor of Country Life at The Guardian newspaper the appeal of winter lies in a host of things. Winter, says Clive Aslet, is a time of true wonder — the crunch of frost, starlings at dusk, a solitary robin, keeping warm with roasted chestnuts, icicles hanging from the eaves, and mulled wine simmering on the stove. For a wonderful evocation read his illustrated piece at

Sonnet 97 has been recited at least twice before at KRG, once by Prof Tom Duddy at the Shakespeare 450th birthday celebration and once by KumKum later at his 400th death anniversary:

‘How like a winter hath my absence been’

Sonnet 97 is not really about winter at all except in a single metaphor. The sonneteer is writing this in summer and comparing his absence from his beloved as though it were a winter. And if it is about seasons then all four are described, each with its characteristics: spring, summer, autumn and winter. Only WS could pack the atmospherics of the entire year in describing aspects of how it feels to be absent from one's beloved! Please refer to the link above. There you will also note Helen Vendler, the venerable Harvard professor and critic, suggesting that Sonnet 97 was very much on Keats‘ mind when he wrote the Ode to Autumn.

MacNeice, the fourth poet Priya read is an Irish poet who was a contemporary of Auden and member of his gang, consisting of C. Day Lewis and Stephen Spender.

The Auden Gang with T. S. Eliot  - L to R, Louis MacNeice, Stephen Spender, T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, Cecil Day-Lewis

MacNeice was born the son of a clergyman. He lost his mother when young. His father taught him Latin at home, but he felt isolated as a child, and divided between the upper class and the lower classes both of whom were hostile. He went to a posh school, Marlborough, but faced a lot of unpleasantness there. Later he went to Oxford and there met Auden and Spender. He mentions somewhere that in Oxford, homosexuality and intelligence were paired, as was heterosexuality and brawn. What MacNeice absorbed from Oxford was a great deal of snobbery.

After taking a first at Oxford in Classics he married and moved to the University of Birmingham as an Assistant Lecturer. He wrote a novel, and then turned to poetry again. He sent several poems to T.S. Eliot who as editor at Faber and Faber would not publish him at first, although he granted space in a journal he edited, called the Criterion. Two years later in 1935 his collection, Poems, was brought out by Faber and Faber. At about this time his wife left him, with a daughter to be looked after. MacNeice traveled, leaving the girl with his sister and a nurse. By 1936 he made it to a prominent collection called Faber Book of Modern Verse. He had a very adventurous life thereafter, courting many women, writing radio plays for BBC, and penning more poetry, and battling alcohol. He died of pneumonia caught when he was spelunking and did not change from wet clothes. He is being reclaimed now as an Irish poet, rather than the English poet he was in life, circling the orbit of Auden.

For more, read his bio at the wiki site:

In Snow MacNeice shows a positive relish as he speaks of the ‘incorrigibly plural’ and of the ‘drunkenness of things being various ... On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one’s hands ’ (from Dividing Lines: Poetry, Class, and Ideology in the 1930s by Adrian Caesar). Unlike the triolet by Hardy this poem celebrates the ‘suddener, crazier’ world that Winter reveals. Priya said you feel the physicality of life when you read the poem.

8. Thommo
P.G. Wodehouse (1881 – 1975)
Thommo, an aficionado of Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, drew upon the humorous master's poems to engage and entertain us at the reading. A selection can be found at

In the first poem a chivalrous man desires to respond to the War Office's recruitment poster for men to join up, and having been trained at Sandhurst, the military academy for officers in England, he goes to the War Office to learn when he will be ‘gazetted’, a peculiar word all colonials are aware of, meaning to have their appointment notified in the official Gazette of the Government. He's given the runaround and sent from one Military Section to another until he is finally directed back to the first one where he started, and then he knows he'll probably have to wait and goes home; he's still waiting!

The second poem is more interesting because the tetrameter rhymes with great facility, and serves up a bit of nonsense (much like Bertie Wooster, said Shoba). The poet confesses to his lover that he's glad they never married, for having tarried he's since published verses of genius, and since genius is incompatible with a happy married life, he's glad he spared his beloved:
Reluctantly I set you free,
Though ne'er, I vow, will I forget you.
Some other man your hand may win;
I'll strive to bear it with composure;
Your letters you will find within;
Yours truly,
EDWIN JONES. (Enclosure)


For more about P.G. Wodehouse click on ‘About P. G. Wodehouse’ at

9. Sunil

Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867)
Baudelaire is the indispensable French poet of the nineteenth century, for having influenced not only other important French poets like Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, but also English poets through the Symbolist and Modernist movements he participated in. That in turn influenced modern English poetry, as witness the statement by Frank Kermode that the most important moment of T.S. Eliot's undergraduate career at Harvard was in 1908 when he discovered Arthur Symons‘ The Symbolist Movement in Literature. This book is credited with bringing French Symbolism to the notice of English and American poets.

Some of Baudelaire's poems were subject to censorship upon publication because they dealt frankly with topics which are commonplace today: lesbians, prostitutes, fetishism, etc. His signal poetic work is Fleurs du Mal or The Flowers of Evil published in 1857, from which the first poem is taken, L'âme du Vin, or The Soul of Wine. The poems use a meter unfamiliar in English, called the Alexandrine, 12 syllables with an emphatic stress on the 6th. See

There is a website for his poems from the first edition onwards, built as a labour-of-love. It has several translations into English of each poem:

Apropos of this poem, Joe declares:
L'âme du vin vit non seulement dans des bouteilles, mais dans le sein de toutes les personnes ivres

The soul of wine lives not only in bottles, but in the breasts of all sozzled folk

The second poem has an intriguing element: it features a girl from Malabar. At the reading there was some debate whether the girl was in France, which would be remarkable; or was she in Malabar, pining for France – if so why? The mystery gets resolved by consulting

Baudelaire - To A Woman Of Malabar
(photo taken from Castes and Tribes of Southern India by Edgar Thurston)

Baudelaire was shipped off by his stepfather in 1841 to Calcutta to outgrow his rebellious spirit. But en route the ship was wrecked in Mauritius and there he met Dorothée at a sugarcane plantation. She had been expatriated from Malabar with her mother to work as a slave on the plantation. In her sweet company Baudelaire was cured of his rebellion and his melancholy. Not only that, but she became his Muse, and he regained the inspiration to write; which culminated in Les Fleurs du Mal when he returned to France.

Oh, what wonders this girl in the tropics did to revive the flagging spirit of a forlorn poet! Shouldn't Dorothée be awarded the Légion d'Honneur posthumously for outstanding services to French poesy?


1. Saras
Vikram Seth (born 1952)

1. Round and Round 
After a long and wretched flight 
That stretched from daylight into night, 
Where babies wept and tempers shattered 
And the plane lurched and whiskey splattered 
Over my plastic food, I came 
To claim my bags from Baggage Claim

Around, the carousel went around 
The anxious travelers sought and found 
Their bags, intact or gently battered, 
But to my foolish eyes what mattered 
Was a brave suitcase, red and small, 
That circled round, not mine at all.

I knew that bag. It must be hers. 
We hadn't met in seven years! 
And as the metal plates squealed and clattered 
My happy memories chimed and chattered. 
An old man pulled it off the Claim. 
My bags appeared: I did the same.

From California 
Sunday night in the house. 
The blinds drawn, the phone dead. 
The sound of the kettle, the rain. 
Supper: cheese, celery, bread.

For company, old letters 
In the same disjointed script.
Old love wells up again,
All that I thought had slipped

Through the sieve of long absence 
Is here with me again: 
The long stone walls, the green
Hillsides renewed with rain.

The way you would lick your finger 
And touch your forehead, the way 
You hummed a phrase from the flute
Sonatas, or turned to say,

"Larches--the only conifers 
That honestly blend with Wales." 
I walk with you again
Along these settled trails.

It seems I started this poem 
So many years ago 
I cannot follow its ending 
And must begin anew.

Blame, some bitterness, 
I recall there were these. 
Yet what survives is Bach
And a few blackberries

Something of the "falling starlight", 
In the phrase of Wang Wei, 
Falls on my shadowed self.
I thank you that today

His words are open to me. 
How much you have inspired 
You cannot know. The end
Left much to be desired.

"There is a comfort in 
The strength of love." I quote 
Another favourite 
You vouchsafed me. Please note

The lack of hope or faith: 
Neither is justified. 
I have closed out the night.
The random rain outside

Rejuvenates the parched 
Foothills along the Bay. 
Anaesthetised by years
I think of you today

Not with impassionedness 
So much as half a smile
To see the weathered past
Still worth my present while.

2. KumKum
John Keats (1795–1821)

Ode to Autumn
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

3. Joe
Kate Tempest (born 1985)

1. Excerpt from the beginning of Brand New Ancients.
There have always been heroes,
And there have always been villains,
And yes the stakes may have changed
but really there’s no difference.
There’s always been greed and heartbreak and ambition
and bravery and love and trespass and contrition
we’re the same beings that began, we’re still living,
in all of our fury and foulness and friction,
These are everyday odysseys, we have dreams we make decisions…
The stories are there if you listen.

The stories are here,
the stories are you,
and your fear
and your hope
are as old
as the language of smoke,
as old as the language of blood,
as old as the language of languishing love.

the Gods are all here.
Because the Gods are in us.

And the gods are in the betting shops
the gods are in the caff
the gods are smoking fags out the back
the gods are in the office blocks
the gods are at their desks
the gods are sick of always giving more and getting less
the gods are at the rave –
and they’re two pills deep into dancing –
the gods are in the alleyways laughing
the gods are at the doctor’s
they just need a little something for the stress
the gods are in the toilets having unprotected sex
the gods are in the supermarket
the gods are walking home,
the gods can’t stop checking Facebook on their phones
the gods are in a traffic jam
the gods are on a train
the gods are watching adverts
the gods are not to blame –
the gods are working for the council
the gods are on the dole
the gods are getting drunk pissing their wages down a hole
the gods are in their gardens
and they’re staring at their plants
the gods are in the classrooms
those poor things don’t stand a chance
the gods are trying to tell the truth
but the truth is hard to say
the gods are born, they live a while
and then they pass away.
(You can hear the poet-performer doing this act on Youtube:

Come down from the sky your flying to high

Soaring the sky's that had always been beyond his reach
He felt like a champion his feet kicked the clouds
Arms bound in the feathers of his father's labour
Which a little while later would be ashes and vapour

Cumbersome limbs furnished with powerful things
He heard the wind speak every time he heard his wings beat
His Father flew before him and so his course was set
He's like don't fly by the waves or your wings will get wet
And don't fly so high that the sun melts the wax
Just stay on my path son and follow my tracks
But Icarus enamoured by the feeling of flight
He just had to fly higher and get closer to that light
The sun was hot against him as he carried on ascending
He felt strength in him increasing like the heat that was so tempting
Beneath was the world he left behind in search of better things
To achieve his freedom he sacrificed everything

Come down from the sky your flying to high
Heed your Father's words this ain't your territory
No one even noticed as he splashed and hit the sea bed
I wonder what he saw before he fell
If he needed my help
Would he have asked for it?
Probably he wouldn't no
Probably he thought he was invincible
He weren't
In principle he burnt
He smouldered in them myths
So that we who never flew before could learn from what he did

Given the gift of flight
It was too easy to ignore
The warnings of his Father
How could he be truly responsible
When really all he wants to do was soar above his station and become the Sun's equal
But the Sun can have no equal
For Icarus that flicker in his eye
Distant picture in the sky
About to catch the light that he sought
Oh foolish young pride
Silly man cub
How can you learn to fly if you ain't even learnt to stand up
If he had listened to his father
He would never would've drowned
But the happiness he felt is one he never would have found
Gifts are dangerous when they are given and not earned
A lesson merely heard is never a lesson learned
By the time his father turned, the wax had completely burned
Feathers scattered on the waves
They rolled on unconcerned
But in the small moment before he fell into the sea
Icarus the head strong had been completely free

Come down from the sky your flying too high
Heed your Father's words this ain't your territory
No one even noticed as he splashed and hit the sea bed
I wonder what he saw before he fell
If he needed my help
Would he have asked for it?
Probably he wouldn't no
Probably he thought he was invincible
He weren't
In principle he burnt
He smouldered in them myths
So that we who never flew before could learn from what he did
(Listen to Kate Tempest perform this on Youtube at:

4. Kavita
Ellis Parker Butler (1869 – 1937)

1. The Poor Boy’s Christmas
Observe, my child, this pretty scene,
And note the air of pleasure keen
With which the widow’s orphan boy
Toots his tin horn, his only toy.
What need of costly gifts has he?
The widow has nowhere to flee.
And ample noise his horn emits
To drive the widow into fits.


The philosophic mind can see
The uses of adversity.

2. The Rich Boy's Christmas
And now behold this sulking boy,
His costly presents bring no joy;
Harsh tears of anger fill his eye
Tho’ he has all that wealth can buy.
What profits it that he employs
His many gifts to make a noise?
His playroom is so placed that he
Can cause his folks no agony.


Mere worldly wealth does not possess
The power of giving happiness.

5. Shoba
Walter de la Mare (1873 – 1956).

1. The Scarecrow
All winter through I bow my head
beneath the driving rain;
the North Wind powders me with snow
and blows me black again;
at midnight 'neath a maze of stars
I flame with glittering rime,
and stand above the stubble, stiff
as mail at morning-prime.
But when that child called Spring, and all
his host of children come,
scattering their buds and dew upon
these acres of my home,
some rapture in my rags awakes;
I lift void eyes and scan
the sky for crows, those ravening foes,
of my strange master, Man.
I watch him striding lank behind
his clashing team, and know
soon will the wheat swish body high
where once lay a sterile snow;
soon I shall gaze across a sea
of sun-begotten grain,
which my unflinching watch hath sealed
for harvest once again.

2. The Listeners
Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:—
Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,’ he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

6. Hemjit
Anne Bradstreet (1612 — 1672)

To My Dear and Loving Husband
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me ye women if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay;
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let’s so persever,
That when we live no more we may live ever.

By Night when Others Soundly Slept
By night when others soundly slept
And hath at once both ease and Rest,
My waking eyes were open kept
And so to lie I found it best.

I sought him whom my Soul did Love,
With tears I sought him earnestly.
He bow’d his ear down from Above.
In vain I did not seek or cry.

My hungry Soul he fill’d with Good;
He in his Bottle put my tears,
My smarting wounds washt in his blood,
And banisht thence my Doubts and fears.

What to my Saviour shall I give
Who freely hath done this for me?
I’ll serve him here whilst I shall live
And Loue him to Eternity.

7. Priya
Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928), Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886), Louis Macneice (1907 – 1963), William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)
Winter in Durnover Field by Thomas Hardy (1901)

Scene.—A wide stretch of fallow ground recently sown with wheat,
and frozen to iron hardness. Three large birds walking about thereon,
and wistfully eyeing the surface. Wind keen from north-east: sky a dull grey.
Rook.—Throughout the field I find no grain;
The cruel frost encrusts the cornland!
Starling.—Aye: patient pecking now is vain
Throughout the field, I find...
Rook.—No grain!
Pigeon.—Nor will be, comrade, till it rain,
Or genial thawings loose the lorn land
Throughout the field.
Rook.—I find no grain:
The cruel frost encrusts the cornland!

Sonnet 97 by William Shakespeare (1609)
How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December’s bareness every where!
And yet this time removed was summer’s time,
The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,
Bearing the wanton burden of the prime,
Like widow’d wombs after their lords’ decease:
Yet this abundant issue seem’d to me
But hope of orphans and unfather’d fruit;
For summer and his pleasures wait on thee,
And, thou away, the very birds are mute;
Or, if they sing, ’tis with so dull a cheer
That leaves look pale, dreading the winter’s near.

Snow by Louis Macneice

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was

Spawning snow and pink roses against it

Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:

World is suddener than we fancy it.
World is crazier and more of it than we think,

Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion

A tangerine and spit the pips and feel

The drunkenness of things being various.
And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world

Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes –

On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one’s hands –

There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

The Snow by Emily Dickinson

Illustration by Tina Berning

It sifts from leaden sieves,
It powders all the wood,
It fills with alabaster wool
The wrinkles of the road.

It makes an even face
Of mountain and of plain, —
Unbroken forehead from the east
Unto the east again.

It reaches to the fence,
It wraps it, rail by rail,
Till it is lost in fleeces;
It flings a crystal veil

On stump and stack and stem, —
The summer's empty room,
Acres of seams where harvests were,
Recordless, but for them.

It ruffles wrists of posts,
As ankles of a queen, —
Then stills its artisans like ghosts,
Denying they have been.

8. Thommo
P.G. Wodehouse (1881 – 1975)

1. A War Office Enquiry

SIR, Mr Punch, the following is true.
Peruse my story written in blank verse,
For such a tragic metre seems to me
Peculiarly adapted to the subject.
From earliest years had I been singled out
As one whose talents leaned to feats of arms,
In view of which to Sandhurst I repaired,
Whence, in the second year from my arrival,
Steeped to the eyes in military lore,
I passed with honours.

Straightway did I speed
To the War Office, all agog to learn
The date when I might look to be gazetted.
Quickly arriving, I produced my card,
And to the nearest minion thus: "Good Sir,
In me a budding KITCHENER you see,
Who, at your leisure, would be glad to learn
The date when he may look to be gazetted."
They’ll tell you,” quoth the knave, “at M.S. One.”
To M.S. One, whatever that might mean,
I turned my steps. And, on arriving, “Sir,
To be succinct, I pant to ascertain
The date when I may look to be gazetted.”
"Ah," said the minion blandly, "I should think
Colonel O'MAUSER is the man you want.
He'll give you information on the topic.
Call, therefore, on this noted son of Mars
At Number Thirty-seven, Bayonet Buildings.
Pall Mall."

I thanked him kindly, and departed.
Colonel O'MAUSER, I regret to say,
Was out.

His servant, having heard my errand,
Genially bade me "Ask at M.S. Two."
Bracing myself together (for by now
Faint did I feel with hunger and fatigue),
I called at M.S. Two, to be directed
With some asperity to Cox's Bank,
Where, I was told, I might expect to find
He, they surmised, could tell me in a trice
The date when I might look to be gazetted-
Shrewd man, the Major.

Cox's Bank was shut.
I tried to find him at the Foreign Office
Without success. And when a person there
Gave me instructions, which, I saw, would lead
Once more by devious routes to M.S. One,
I hailed a passing hansom, and returned,
Full of strange oaths, to my ancestral home –
And to this day, for all I've toiled and fretted,
I've no idea when I'm to be gazetted.
[First published in Punch, April 15, 1903]

2. Shattered Dreams
[The British Medical Journal says that men of genius are never happy in their married lives.]
I THOUGHT, dear DORIS, we should be
Extremely happy if we married;
I deemed that you were made for me,
But oh! I'm thankful now we tarried.
Had we been wedded last July
(I caught the measles so we waited)
We'd now be wretched, you and I;
A genius always is ill-fated.

We might have lived without a hitch
Till one or both of us were “taken”,
And even won the Dunmow flitch
Of appetising breakfast bacon;
We might have passed our married life
In quite the Joan and Darby fashion,
Free from the slightest taint of strife, –
Had I not written “Songs of Passion”.

Ah me, that book! The truth will out;
Genius is rampant in each sonnet;
Consult, if you're inclined to doubt,
The verdict of the Press upon it.
The Pigbury Patriot calls them “staves
Which we feel justified in praising”;
The Mudford Daily Argus raves;
The Sloshly Clarion says “Amazing!”

So, DORIS, it can never be:
I trust the tidings won't upset you;
Reluctantly I set you free,
Though ne'er, I vow, will I forget you.
Some other man your hand may win;
I'll strive to bear it with composure;
Your letters you will find within;
Yours truly,
EDWIN JONES. (Enclosure)
[First published in Punch, July 29, 1903]

Dunmow Flitch: The town of Great Dunmow, Essex, is famous for its four-yearly ritual of the Flitch Trials, in which couples must convince a jury of six local bachelors and six local maidens that they have never wished themselves un-wed for a year and a day. If successful the couple are paraded through the High Street and receive a flitch of bacon.

Darby and Joan: The term 'Darby and Joan' is defined as "a happily married couple who lead a placid, uneventful life". The term is also used disparagingly to describe younger people who are perceived to favour spending their evenings in, or following pursuits seen as "middle-aged". In England, clubs for senior citizens are appropriately called Darby and Joan Clubs. It seems most likely that John Darby and his wife Joan were first mentioned in a poem published in The Gentleman's Magazine by Henry Woodfall in 1735.

9. Sunil
Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867)

1. The Soul Of Wine
One eve in the bottle sang the soul of wine:

'Man, unto thee, dear disinherited,

I sing a song of love and light divine- 

Prisoned in glass beneath my seals of red.

'I know thou labourest on the hill of fire,

In sweat and pain beneath a flaming sun,

To give the life and soul my vines desire,

And I am grateful for thy labours done.

'For I find joys unnumbered when I lave

The throat of man by travail long outworn,

And his hot bosom is a sweeter grave

Of sounder sleep than my cold caves forlorn.

'Hearest thou not the echoing Sabbath sound?

The hope that whispers in my trembling breast?

Thy elbows on the table! gaze around;

Glorify me with joy and be at rest.

'To thy wife's eyes I'll bring their long-lost gleam,

I'll bring back to thy child his strength and light,

To him, life's fragile athlete I will seem

Rare oil that firms his muscles for the fight.

'I flow in man's heart as ambrosia flows;

The grain the eternal Sower casts in the sod- 

From our first loves the first fair verse arose,

Flower-like aspiring to the heavens and God!' 
(translated by Frank Pearce Sturm)

2. To A Woman Of Malabar
Your feet are as slender as hands, your hips, to me,
wide enough for the sweetest white girl’s envy:
to the wise artist your body is sweet and dear,
and your great velvet eyes black without peer.
In the hot blue lands where God gave you your nature
your task is to light a pipe for your master,
to fill up the vessels with cool fragrance
and chase the mosquitoes away when they dance,
and when dawn sings in the plane-trees, afar,
fetch bananas and pineapples from the bazaar.
All day your bare feet go where they wish
as you hum old lost melodies under your breath,
and when evening’s red cloak descends overhead
you lie down sweetly on a straw bed,
where humming birds fill your floating dreams,
as graceful and flowery as you it seems.
Happy child, why do you long to see France
our suffering, and over-crowded land,
and trusting your life to the sailors, your friends,
say a fond goodbye to your dear tamarinds?
Scantily dressed, in muslins, frail,
shivering under the snow and hail,
how you’d pine for your leisure, sweet and free,
body pinned in a corset’s brutality,
if you’d to glean supper amongst our vile harms,
selling the scent of exotic charms,
sad pensive eyes searching our fog-bound sleaze,
for the lost ghosts of your coconut-trees!
(translated by A.S. Kline, probably)
Post a Comment