Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "Arrival at Santos" by Elizabeth Bishop

Here is a coast; here is a harbor;
here, after a meager diet of horizon, is some scenery;
impractically shaped and—who knows?—self-pitying mountains,
sad and harsh beneath their frivolous greenery,

with a little church on top of one. And warehouses,
some of them painted a feeble pink, or blue,
and some tall, uncertain palms. Oh, tourist,
is this how this country is going to answer you

and your immodest demands for a different world,
and a better life, and complete comprehension
of both at last, and immediately,
after eighteen days of suspension?

Finish your breakfast. The tender is coming,
a strange and ancient craft, flying a strange and brillant rag.
So that's the flag. I never saw it before.
I somehow never thought of there being a flag,

but of course there was, all along. And coins, I presume,
and paper money; they remain to be seen.
And gingerly now we climb down the ladder backward,
myself and a fellow passenger named Miss Breen,

descending into the midst of twenty-six freighters
waiting to be loaded with green coffee beans.
Please, boy, do be more careful with that boat hook!
Watch out! Oh! It has caught Miss Breen's

skirt! There! Miss Breen is about seventy,
a retired police lieutenant, six feet tall,
with beautiful bright blue eyes and a kind expression.
Her home, when she is at home, is in Glens Fall

s, New York. There. We are settled.
The customs officials will speak English, we hope,
and leave us our bourbon and cigarettes.
Ports are necessities, like postage stamps, or soap,

but they seldom seem to care what impression they make,
or, like this, only attempt, since it does not matter,
the unassertive colors of soap, or postage stamps—
wasting away like the former, slipping the way the latter

do when we mail the letteres we wrote on the boat,
either because the glue here is very inferior
or because of the heat. We leave Santos at once;
we are driving to the interior.

by Elizabeth Bishop

This poem was first published in the New Yorker in 1952.

Photo Credit: Alice Helen Methfessel, courtesy of Frank Bidart

For more about poet, Elizabeth Bishop, see:

This is an unusual poem in its format and layout. In line 2, stanza 4, the phrase "a strange and brillant rag" looks like the word should be brilliant, but Bishop published it as "brillant". I cannot find such a word in the dictionary.

At the end of line 4, stanza 7, Bishop carries the "s" which one would expect at the end of the place name "Glen Fall" onto the beginning of line 1, stanza 8. Whether Bishop does this to play with the reader's perceptions I cannot know as she died in 1979 and we cannot ask her.

We might expect her to be mailing letters in line1, stanza 10, but Bishop publishes the phrase as "the letteres" which sounds vaguely French, but isn't since the French word for letter is lettre.

Despite, or perhaps because of these eccentricities, this is a fascinating poem of travel only undertaken sixty years ago.

This is where Elizabeth Bishop is talking about:


and these are the kind of things you can do in Santos these days:


Thursday, November 19, 2015

For Paris and Parisians: "Darkness" by Lord Byron

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars

Did wander darkling in the eternal space,

Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth

Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;

Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day,

And men forgot their passions in the dread

Of this their desolation; and all hearts

Were chill'd into a selfish prayer for light:

And they did live by watchfires—and the thrones,

The palaces of crowned kings—the huts,

The habitations of all things which dwell,

Were burnt for beacons; cities were consum'd,

And men were gather'd round their blazing homes

To look once more into each other's face;

Happy were those who dwelt within the eye

Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch:

A fearful hope was all the world contain'd;

Forests were set on fire—but hour by hour

They fell and faded—and the crackling trunks

Extinguish'd with a crash—and all was black.

The brows of men by the despairing light

Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits

The flashes fell upon them; some lay down

And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest

Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smil'd;

And others hurried to and fro, and fed

Their funeral piles with fuel, and look'd up

With mad disquietude on the dull sky,

The pall of a past world; and then again

With curses cast them down upon the dust,

And gnash'd their teeth and howl'd: the wild birds shriek'd

And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,

And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes

Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl'd

And twin'd themselves among the multitude,

Hissing, but stingless—they were slain for food.

And War, which for a moment was no more,

Did glut himself again: a meal was bought

With blood, and each sate sullenly apart

Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;

All earth was but one thought—and that was death

Immediate and inglorious; and the pang

Of famine fed upon all entrails—men

Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;

The meagre by the meagre were devour'd,

Even dogs assail'd their masters, all save one,

And he was faithful to a corse, and kept

The birds and beasts and famish'd men at bay,

Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead

Lur'd their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,

But with a piteous and perpetual moan,

And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand

Which answer'd not with a caress—he died.

The crowd was famish'd by degrees; but two

Of an enormous city did survive,

And they were enemies: they met beside

The dying embers of an altar-place

Where had been heap'd a mass of holy things

   For an unholy usage; they rak'd up,

And shivering scrap'd with their cold skeleton hands

The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath

Blew for a little life, and made a flame

Which was a mockery; then they lifted up

Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld

Each other's aspects—saw, and shriek'd, and died—

Even of their mutual hideousness they died,

Unknowing who he was upon whose brow

Famine had written Fiend. The world was void,

The populous and the powerful was a lump,

Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless—

A lump of death—a chaos of hard clay.

The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,

And nothing stirr'd within their silent depths;

Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,

And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp'd

They slept on the abyss without a surge—

The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,

The moon, their mistress, had expir'd before;

The winds were wither'd in the stagnant air,

And the clouds perish'd; Darkness had no need

Of aid from them—She was the Universe.

by George Gordon (Lord Byron)

Rest assured, Paris and Parisians and the people of France, this darkness may have descended on your fair city recently, but the free and loving world is with you and we will help you with every fibre of our beings to lift this darkness, brought by mad men, from the "City of Light".

Our prayers are with all the dead and their grieving families.

Take heart, these fanatics will not prevail.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "Fork" by Charles Simic

This strange thing must have crept  
Right out of hell.
It resembles a bird’s foot
Worn around the cannibal’s neck.

As you hold it in your hand,
As you stab with it into a piece of meat,
It is possible to imagine the rest of the bird:  
Its head which like your fist
Is large, bald, beakless, and blind.

by Charles Simic

For more information about the poet, Charles Simic, see:


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "The Pig" by Roald Dahl

In England once there lived a big
And wonderfully clever pig.
To everybody it was plain
That Piggy had a massive brain.
He worked out sums inside his head,
There was no book he hadn't read.
He knew what made an airplane fly,
He knew how engines worked and why.
He knew all this, but in the end
One question drove him round the bend:
He simply couldn't puzzle out
What LIFE was really all about.
What was the reason for his birth?
Why was he placed upon this earth?
His giant brain went round and round.
Alas, no answer could be found.
Till suddenly one wondrous night.
All in a flash he saw the light.
He jumped up like a ballet dancer
And yelled, 'By gum, I've got the answer! '
'They want my bacon slice by slice
'To sell at a tremendous price!
'They want my tender juicy chops
'To put in all the butcher's shops!
'They want my pork to make a roast
'And that's the part'll cost the most!
'They want my sausages in strings!
'They even want my chitterlings!
'The butcher's shop! The carving knife!
'That is the reason for my life! '
Such thoughts as these are not designed
To give a pig great piece of mind.
Next morning, in comes Farmer Bland,
A pail of pigswill in his hand,
And piggy with a mighty roar,
Bashes the farmer to the floor…
Now comes the rather grisly bit
So let's not make too much of it,
Except that you must understand
That Piggy did eat Farmer Bland,
He ate him up from head to toe,
Chewing the pieces nice and slow.
It took an hour to reach the feet,
Because there was so much to eat,
And when he finished, Pig, of course,
Felt absolutely no remorse.
Slowly he scratched his brainy head
And with a little smile he said,
'I had a fairly powerful hunch
'That he might have me for his lunch.
'And so, because I feared the worst,
'I thought I'd better eat him first.'

by Roald Dahl

A revenge fantasy for our porcine friends plus their allies the Vegetarians and Vegans.

For more on writer and poet, Roald Dahl, see:

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Tuesday Poem: "My November Guest" by Robert Frost

My Sorrow, when she's here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She's glad the birds are gone away,
She's glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so wryly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell he so,
And they are better for her praise.

by Robert Frost
Let's welcome the month of November. But Robert Frost sees it from a Northern Hemisphere perspective whereas those of us who live "Down Under" are welcoming Spring with warmer days, more light and flowers in bloom all over the place. Beautiful!!!
For more about the poet, Robert Frost, see:

Monday, November 2, 2015

Poem to Celebrate the All Blacks winning their Third Rugby World Cup: "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley

In case you haven't heard, the All Blacks (New Zealand's national rugby team) have just won the 2015 Rugby World Cup on the evening of Saturday 31 October at Twickenham in London, England.  

Since the inception of the Rugby World Cup in 1987, the All Blacks have won it three times. This is their third World Cup victory, the first to be won away from home and they are also now the first team to not only retain the World Cup, but to win back-to-back tournaments. 


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit From pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

by William Ernest Henley

William Ernest Henley

For more on the poet, William Ernest Henley, see:

Credit: Copyright 2015 Getty Images

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Today is Dylan Thomas' birthday and I love Dylan Thomas: "Poem in October" by Dylan Thomas

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
    And the mussel pooled and the heron
            Priested shore
        The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall
        Myself to set foot
            That second
In the still sleeping town and set forth.

    My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
    Above the farms and the white horses
            And I rose
        In rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
        Over the border
            And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.

    A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
    Blackbirds and the sun of October
        On the hill's shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
        To the rain wringing
            Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me.

    Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
    With its horns through mist and the castle
            Brown as owls
        But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
        There could I marvel
            My birthday
Away but the weather turned around.

    It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
    Streamed again a wonder of summer
            With apples
        Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child's
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
        Through the parables
            Of sun light
And the legends of the green chapels

    And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
    These were the woods the river and sea
            Where a boy
        In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
        And the mystery
            Sang alive
Still in the water and singingbirds.

    And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
    Joy of the long dead child sang burning
            In the sun.
        It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
        O may my heart's truth
            Still be sung
On this high hill in a year's turning.

by Dylan Thomas

For all things Dylan (the original not Bob):