Jan 082003

A friend of mine bet his girlfriend he could write a sonnet in an hour — Keats is supposed to have written “On Chapman’s Homer” in an hour — and foolishly sent me the result. The first twelve lines limp along in correct enough pentameter, but he concludes with:

For even if these foes produce a battle won,
A sight so simple as her smile doth make them one.

This is about the best straight line I’ve been fed for a while; I sent him back this couplet from Pope:

A needless alexandrine ends the song,
That like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.

(Update: Nobody, not even Seablogger, who dissects it line by line, appears to have remarked of Andrew Motion’s bit of doggerel that the second line is an alexandrine, dragging its slow length along.)

Jan 032003

(To the tune of “Maria,” from The Sound of Music)

He builds a nuke without rebuke
Then asks for foreign aid.
He thumbs his nose at those who will
Clean up the mess he’s made.
Amassing troops at the border,
Dear Leader’s not an asset to world order.

He’s always breaking treaties,
But his penitence is real.
If things have worked out badly
He’ll just make another deal.
I hate to have to say it
But I very firmly feel
Dear Leader’s not an asset to world order!

I’d like to say a word in his behalf.
Dear Leader makes me laugh!

How do you solve a problem like Korea?
How do you reason with the barking mad?
How do you find the words for our Dear Leader?
A cineaste! A communist! A cad!

Sep 302002

To a Dead Journalist

Behind that white brow
now the mind simply sleeps —
the eyes, closed, the
lips, the mouth,

the chin, no longer useful,
the prow of the nose.
But rumors of the news,

cling still among those
silent, butted features, a
sort of wonder at
this scoop

come now, too late:
beneath the lucid ripples
to have found so monstrous
an obscurity.

–William Carlos Williams

Sep 262002


No word, no lie, can cross a carven lip;
No thought is quick behind a chiselled brow;
Speech is the cruel flaw in comradeship,
Whose self-bemusing ease daunts like a blow
Though unintended, irrevocable!
For wound, a mere quip dealt, no salve is found
Though poet be bled dry of words to tell
Why it was pointed! How it captured sound!
Charmed by mere phrases, we first glean their sense
When we behold our Helen streaming tears.
Give me dry eyes whose gaze but looks intense!
The dimpled lobes of unreceptive ears!
A statue not a heart! Silence so kind,
It answers love with beauty cleansed of mind.

–T. Sturge Moore

Sep 092002

My spirit will not haunt the mound
Above my breast,
But travel, memory-possessed,
To where my tremulous being found
Life largest, best.

My phantom-footed shape will go
When nightfall grays
Hither and thither along the ways
I and another used to know
In backward days.

And there you’ll find me, if a jot
You still should care
For me, and for my curious air;
If otherwise, then I shall not,
For you, be there.

–Thomas Hardy

Jun 282002

My Picture Left in Scotland

I now think Love is rather deaf than blind,
For else it could not be
That she
Whom I adore so much should so slight me,
And cast my love behind.
I’m sure my language to her was as sweet,
And every close did meet
In sentence of as subtle feet
As hath the youngest he
That sits in shadow of Apollo’s tree.

Oh, but my conscious fears
That fly my thoughts between,
Tell me that she hath seen
My hundreds of gray hairs,
Told seven and forty years,
Read so much waste, as she cannot embrace
My mountain belly and my rocky face;
And all these through her eyes have stopped her ears.

–Ben Jonson