Almost Forgotten Verse


Mezzo Cammin

There's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money, either.

- Robert Graves

Poetry is just the evidence of life.  If your life is burning well, poetry is the ash.

- Leonard Cohen

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Half my life is gone, and I have let
the years slip from me and have not fulfilled
the aspiration of my youth, to build
some tower of song with lofty parapet.

Not indolence, nor pleasure, nor the fret
of restless passions that would not be stilled,
but sorrow, and a care that almost killed,
kept me from what I may accomplish yet;

Though, half-way up the hill, I see the Past
lying beneath me with its sounds and sights, -
a city in the twilight dim and vast,

With smoking roofs, soft bells, and gleaming lights, -
and hear above me on the autumnal blast
the cataract of Death far thundering from the heights.

Source: American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, The Library of America

This Is Just to Say

Poetry is about the grief.  Politics is about the grievance.

- Robert Frost

In Australia, not reading poetry is the national pastime.

- Phyllis McGinley

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Copyright © 1962 by William Carlos Williams (although written in 1934)

The Red Wheel Barrow

so much depends
a red wheel 
glazed with rain
beside the white

© 1962 by William Carlos Williams (although written in 1923)

On the Death of a Colleague

by Stephen Dunn

She taught theater, so we gathered 
in the theater.
We praised her voice, her knowledge,
how good she was
with Godot and just four months later
with Gigi.
She was fifty.  The problem in the liver.
Each of us recalled
an incident in which she'd been kind
or witty.
I told how she'd placed her hand
where the failure was,
taught me to speak from my diaphragm.
I was on stage
and heard myself wishing to be impressive.
Someone else spoke
of her cats and no one spoke
of her face
or the last few parties.
The fact was
I had avoided her for months.
It was a student's turn to speak, a sophomore,
one of her actors.
She was a drunk, he said, often came to class

Sometimes he couldn't look at her, the blotches,
the awful puffiness.
And yet she was a great teacher,
he loved her,
but thought someone should say
what everyone knew
because she didn't die by accident.

Everyone was crying.  Everyone was crying and it
was almost over now.
The remaining speaker, an historian, said he'd cut
his speech short.
And the Chairman stood up as if by habit,
said something about loss
and thanked us for coming.  None of us moved
except some students-
to the student who'd spoken, and then others
moved to him, across dividers,
down aisles, to his side of the stage.

Stephen Dunn teaches (taught?) English at Stockton State College.  His collection of poems, Between Angels, was published by W W Norton.  "On the Death of a Colleague" was the eighth winner of the Mary Elinore Smith Poetry Prize (given in memory of Miss Smith by her family and friends).  Mary Elinore Smith, who died in 1981, was an editor of The American Scholar.

Source: The American Scholar Summer 1989 published for general circulation by Phi Beta Kappa

Four Quartets

by T S Elliot

Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.  My words echo
Thus, in your mind.

The Poetry of D H Rumsfeld

by Hart Seely

Dubious verse by the secretary of defense

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is an accomplished man.  Not only did he guide the war in Iraq, he has been a pilot, a congressman, an ambassador, a businessman, and a civil servant.  But few Americans know that he is also a poet.  Until now, the secretary’s poetry has found only a small and skeptical audience: the Pentagon press corps.  Every day, Rumsfeld regales reporters with his jazzy, impromptu riffs.  Few of them seem to appreciate it.  But we should all be listening.  Rumsfeld’s poetry is paradoxical: It uses playful language to address the most somber subjects: war, terrorism, mortality.  Much of it is about indirection and evasion: he never faces his subjects head on but weaves away, letting inversions and repetitions confuse and beguile.  His work, with its dedication to the fractured rhythms of the plainspoken vernacular, is reminiscent of William Carlos Williams’.  Some readers may find that Rumsfeld’s gift for offhand, quotidian pronouncements is as entrancing as Frank O’Hara’s.

And so Slate has compiled a collection of Rumsfeld’s poems, bringing them to a wider public for the first time.  The poems that follow are the exact words of the defense secretary, as taken from the official transcripts on the Defense Department Web site.

The Unknown

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.

— 12 February 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Glass Box

You know, it’s the old glass box at the —
At the gas station,
Where you’re using those little things
Trying to pick up the prize,
And you can’t find it.
It’s —

And it’s all these arms are going down in there,
And so you keep dropping it
And picking it up again and moving it,
But —

Some of you are probably too young to remember
those —
Those glass boxes,
But —

But they used to have them
At all the gas stations
When I was a kid.

— 6 December 2001, Department of Defense news briefing

A Confession

Once in a while,
I’m standing here, doing something.
And I think,
“What in the world am I doing here?”
It’s a big surprise.

— 16 May 2001, interview with the New York Times


You’re going to be told lots of things.
You get told things every day that don’t happen.

It doesn’t seem to bother people, they don’t —
It’s printed in the press.
The world thinks all these things happen.
They never happened.

Everyone’s so eager to get the story
Before in fact the story’s there
That the world is constantly being fed
Things that haven’t happened.

All I can tell you is,
It hasn’t happened.
It’s going to happen.

— 28 February 2003, Department of Defense briefing

The Digital Revolution

Oh my goodness gracious,
What you can buy off the Internet
In terms of overhead photography!

A trained ape can know an awful lot
Of what is going on in this world,
Just by punching on his mouse
For a relatively modest cost!

— 9 June 2001, following European trip

The Situation

Things will not be necessarily continuous.
The fact that they are something other than perfectly
Ought not to be characterized as a pause.
There will be some things that people will see.
There will be some things that people won’t see.
And life goes on.

— 12 October 2001, Department of Defense news briefing


I think what you’ll find,
I think what you’ll find is,
Whatever it is we do substantively,
There will be near-perfect clarity
As to what it is.

And it will be known,
And it will be known to the Congress,
And it will be known to you,
Probably before we decide it,
But it will be known.

— 28 February 2003, Department of Defense briefing

Hart Seely writes for the Syracuse Post-Standard newspaper.  He is co-author of 2007-Eleven and Other American Comedies.

Source:  2 April 2003

President Bush Pens a Poem

Washington - Laura Bush says her husband is a poet even if, uh, Americans don't know it [still don't know it].  At a gala Friday night kicking off the third National Book Festival, Mrs Bush celebrated the written word in an age of visual media, thanking American authors for their "tales of mystery, history and heroism."

"A good book is like an unreachable itch; you just can't leave it alone," she said at the Library of Congress, repository of 126 million books, recordings, photographs, maps, manuscripts and more.  She revealed that President Bush had penned a poem for her when she got back from a 5-day solo trip to Europe, where she attended a book festival in Moscow and visited France - getting two kisses on the hand from French President Jacques Chirac.  "President Bush is a great leader and a husband, but I bet you didn't know he is also quite the poet," she said.  "Upon returning home last night from my long trip I found a lovely poem waiting there for me."

As her husband watched quietly, she recited it.

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Oh my, lump in the bed
How I've missed you.

Bush sometimes refers to his wife as a lump in the bed.  [Curious.  I wonder why.]  Mrs Bush went on:

Roses are redder
Bluer am I
Seeing you kissed by that charming French guy.  [French President Jacques Chirac]

And then the finale:

The dogs and the cat, they missed you too
Barney's still mad you dropped him, he ate your shoe
The distance, my dear, has been such a barrier
Next time you want an adventure, just land on a carrier.

Barney the dog had a tumble when Mrs Bush was handing him to her husband on a tarmac.

James H Billington, the librarian of Congress, called Mrs Bush "first reader of our land" for her work on behalf of literacy and reading.  The first lady is a former librarian and teacher, and the book festival is modelled after those she started in Texas when her husband was governor.  "Stories beckon us to toss all the cares in the world - work, even sleep - to read and discover," she said.

Novelist Tom Clancy, Cherokee storyteller Gayle Ross, nonfiction author and novelist Stephen L Carter, CBS newsman Bob Schieffer and actress Julie Andrews, who writes children's books, joined Mrs Bush in launching the festival.

Source: CNN Saturday 4 October 2003

I can't help but wonder what was the point in reading that poem - NOT to showcase the president's poetic talent.  To show he is human, perhaps?  (If he is, we need to know that.)  Maybe it's just that she couldn't think of anything else to say.  Maybe George was jealous of Donald Rumsfeld?  If so, this should make him feel better...

Make the Pie Higher

by George W Bush

I think we all agree, the past is over.
This is still a dangerous world.
It's a world of madmen and uncertainty
and potential mental losses.

Rarely is the question asked
Is our children learning?
Will the highways of the Internet become more few?
How many hands have I shaked?

They misunderestimate me.
I am a pitbull on the pantleg of opportunity.
I know that the human being and the fish can coexist.
Families is where our nation finds hope, where our wings take dream.

Put food on your family!
Knock down the tollbooth!
Vulcanize society!
Make the pie higher! Make the pie higher!

This "Make the Pie Higher!" poem is composed of actual quotes from George W Bush.  Visit the reference below for the actual context where each line appeared.



A Discovery

by Vladimir Nabokov, 1943

Dark pictures, thrones, the stones that pilgrims kiss
Poems that take a thousand years to die
But ape the immortality of this
Red label on a little butterfly.


by Mark Isaak (with apologies to Percy Bysshe Shelly)

I met a scholar from an antique school
Who said: Two vast and all-embracing clades
Sit in old journals ... Outside in a pool,
Half sunk, a downy water mold invades
And, mocking if it's plant or animal,
Confused old authors who its visage read
And tried to fit it in accepted folds
These taxonomic articles had spread.
And pencilled on a page these words appear:
'My name is Oomycetes, Mold of Molds:
Look on my genes, ye Cladists, and despair!'
Nothing besides gets read. In here, away
From moist and verdant pond, still saprobes dare,
And brittle yellow books slowly decay.

Source: The "Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature" intro page is here.  A curious site, this.


by Carol Hofstadter

I decree
A fine day.
Dart away
From your cage
And engage
In brave flight,
So you might
Flee the croup.
Hope you swoop
Into ham,
Apple jam,
And French bread,
Or instead
You will lose
The bright hues
Of your plumes.
Flu consumes
Scrawny birds;
Heed my words
And take care.
Slip the snare
That does pinch
My wee finch.
Hopes abound
That aground
You won’t be,



by Philip Larkin

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare.  Not in remorse
- The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused - nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always.  Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels.  Religion used to try,
That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear - no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anæsthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small, unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink.  Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others.  Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape,
Yet can't accept.  One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

1922 - 1985 / England

Aubade is a poem or song of or about lovers separating at dawn.
[French, from Old French albade, from Old Provençal albada, from alba, dawn, aubade, from Latin, feminine of albus, white.]

This poem took Larkin 3 years to write...

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