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January 15, 2008


To strike, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

To be a rock, and not to roll.

Gregory wins the net for the day.

Mary Oliver:

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Say not the struggle naught availeth
The labour and the wounds are vain
The enemy faints not, nor faileth
And as things have been, they remain;

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,
And, but for you, possess the field;

For, while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, by creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent flooding in the main;

And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward, look, the land is bright.

As long as this is an open thread, I'll start a major bit of controversy:

Babylon 5 is not that great, and does not deserve what appears like worship.

I watched the 1st 4 episodes of Season 2, and sent back the next 4 unwatched. There was little intentional humor, there was no great sense of threat, and I didn't give a rip about any of the people (human or alien) involved. Episode 3 ("Geometry of Shadows") is mostly concerned with a group (the "techno-mages") not even mentioned in the 1st 2 eps, and who are taking themselves out of the show.

Then there's the whole silliness with the purple and green aliens. It took me two minutes to realize that if I took the purple leaders sash and the green leaders sash, I could order them to respect and not fight each other, and they'd have to obey.

One more: Garibaldi is at death's door and there's a highly dangerous procedure that might cure him. The doctor and Sheridan have a brief tussle over who's going to risk his life to save Garibaldi -- and the result is that they could have taken volunteers, hooked up 5 people to the machine, one by one, with no risk to the volunteers or Garibaldi. It was a set-up with no pay-off.

Let me forestall one objection. I'm not going to wait until episode 157 when is "starts to get good". Gary recommended starting with Season 2, I did, and I feel no need to push on.

I would put Firefly (but not the horrid movie Serenity) at the top of my list ("Objects in Space" is an example of TV at its best, followed by Deep Space 9, Seasons 1 through 6 (Season 7, like the last 2 seasons of Buffy, took place in an alternatate universe). Complex plotting, intriguing characters and great acting made both very believable.

The first 3 seasons or so of Red Dwarf were brilliant. Eventually, it got caught in a lot of "been there, done that".

I'd put B5 with the by-and-large tedious Enterprise (when a beagle is the favorite character, you know you're in trouble!). I couldn't stand Voyager, but thought TNG was pretty good.

If this gets too contentious, I'll "Take It Outside".

Regarding Red Dwarf, I'm most familiar with the first 5 series, as these were the ones I was able to watch at the time they were originally broadcast on PBS (it is only with the advent of Netflix that I caught up on series 6-8).

So, I would contend that it was a brilliant show for at least through season 5. I think "Back to Reality," in particular, supports this thesis.

On a Bird Singing in its Sleep

A bird half wakened in the lunar noon
Sang halfway through its little inborn tune.
Partly because it sang but once all night
And that from no especial bush's height,
Partly because it sang ventriloquist
And had the inspiration to desist
Almost before the prick of hostile ears,
It ventured less in peril than appears.
It could not have come down to us so far,
Through the interstices of things ajar
On the long bead chain of repeated birth,
To be a bird while we are men on earth,
If singing out of sleep and dream that way
Had made it much more easily a prey.

-- Robert Frost

OK, and I'll use this open thread for another, albeit minor, controversy: "300" is actually pretty good. Very good, even.

I saw it the other night, when a friend brought over the DVD. I expected to be underwhelmed, having gotten the idea that the movie was static, bombastic, with a dialog of mostly grunts and shouts.

Turns out we all really enjoyed it. We also enjoyed the Special Features, esp. the historian's take on the movie. She did take on the historical-accuracy issue. One of the things I liked best - the smartass dialog, particularly between Leonidas and the Persian King - the historian said was an accurate take on Spartans. Yes, they were raised to be ultimate warriors - but, she said, by Spartan definition that also meant being witty and quick on the uptake.

And rumors that the movie is visually gorgeous are very, very true.

Kate, that poem is lovely.

"300" is actually pretty good. Very good, even.

The comic? Absolutely.

The film? Well, yeah, but the 300th time they did the "cool" "snap-into-slow-mo-in-the-middle-of-a-sword-stroke" bit -- which was hackneyed by the second Matrix movie -- I was ready to scream.

I recommend the '60s sword-and-sandal flick that inspired Miller, The 300 Spartans.

I'm a big fan of Lunch, from which my favorite bit would have to be: (-- oh God, looking it over again for my favorite part and realizing anew how much I love the whole thing!)

The dancing wagon has come! here is the dancing wagon!
Come up and get lessons -- here is lemonade and grammar!
Here is drugstore and cowboy -- all that is America -- plus sex, perfumes, and shimmers -- all the Old World;
Come and get it -- and here is your reading matter
For twenty-nine centuries, and here finally is lunch --
To be served in the green defilade under the roaring tower
Where Portugal meets Spain inside a flowered madeleine.

(Also by Koch: Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams, anticipating a certain small portion of the blogosphere by thirty-odd years.)

Which I wish to remark
And my language is plain
That for ways that are dark
And for tricks that are vain
The heathen Cheney is peculiar
And the same I would rise to explain

I believe it was Jack Newfield who said in his book on Bobby Kennedy that "Ulysses" was RFK's favorite poem too.

Andy's loss left me with tears, and thanks for forwarding the donation address. These two poems are among my favorites, but the most favorite is in a similar, if more hackneyed vein. Invictus , by William Ernest Henley:

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
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

My baby was talking in her sleep
She said, "Bob?"
I said, "what?"
She said, "Bob?"
I said, "I'm Bob"
She said, "No. I mean a different Bob"


"Suddenly the messenger was there among them,
thrown into the simmer of the wedding-feast
like a new ingredient. The drinkers did not sense
the god’s secret entrance, holding his divinity
so close to himself, like a wet mantle,
and seeming one of them, this man or that,
as he passed through. But one of the guests
suddenly saw, in mid-speech, the young bridegroom,
at the table’s head, as if snatched up into the heights,
no longer reclining there, and, with his whole being,
mirroring, all over, a strangeness, that spoke to him, with terror.
And immediately after, as though a mixture cleared,
there was silence, only with a residue at the bottom
of clouded noise, and a precipitate
of fallen babbling, already offering the corruption
of musty laughter that has begun to turn.
Suddenly they were aware of the slender god,
and as he stood there, filled inwardly with his mission
and unyielding – they almost knew.
And yet, when it was spoken, it was greater
than all knowledge, none could grasp it.
Admetus has to die. When? This very hour."

"Alcestis", Rainer Maria Rilke.

I just wanted to say that at 9:30 GMT, 2:30 Colorado time, I'll be lighting a candle for Andrew, and keeping absent friends in mind, and I invite you all to join me.

life's many lessons
are like jewels on a path
waiting to be found

There was a young man from Nantucket ...

No, not really.

I'm not that into poetry, but a year or two ago BBC Radio 4 had a documentary on the comically awful "Great McGonagall", and his stuff needs to be read (or heard, as I did) to be believed. There seems to be a good collection (and somewhat more respect for the gentleman) here.

Brilliant version of the WCW poem from a commenter at ObWi. Some context here.

Great selection and sentiment by Jes above.

Yeah, Jes's poem was great and took me slightly aback when I got to the signature.

apropos of the mention of McGonagall, my father recited the following ditty to me as the former spouse and I were returning from getting our marriage license in 1980:

"I'd rather flunk the Wasserman test,
Than listen to the poems of Edgar Guest."

Marriage dissolved in '99, dad went in '02. So it goes.

It is perhaps over used, but I always comes to mind...

UNDER the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you 'grave for me:
Here he lies where he long'd to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

RL Stevenson

Ulysses was quoted in B5, and Tennyson was one of the main character's favorite poets.

More Tennyson:

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.

I missed 9:30 GMT Jesurgislac, but will do 9:30 US EST.
Lurkers are saddened, too.

It's not a poem but I have been listening to an incredibly moving song about a soldier's death: Two Soldiers

Jeff, I don't know if Gary did you any favors by suggesting you start with Season 2 of B5. Season 1 was very different in tone and character than the rest of the series. Season one reminds me some of TOS Star Trek, weird and funky with a lot of cheapo props, bright sets and bad acting by the commanding officer. It's a proper intro to what happens next.

I found B5 to be a disappointment overall, never quite delivering on any of its lofty promises. I was there at the beginning, as Londo might say.

I've heard this one recently, and really like it:

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there, I did not die.

Make this American instead of British, and I think Andy might have approved.

The Soldier

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Rupert Brooke

Hey everyone:

It would be much appreciated if you could visit my new blog:

I am trying to lift it off the ground so it would be appreciated if you could comment, thank you.

John Boyle O'Reilly
The faithful helm commands the keel,
From port to port fair breezes blow;
But the ship must sail the convex sea,
Nor may she straighter go.
So, man to man; in fair accord,
On thought and will the winds may wait;
But the world will bend the passing word,
Though its shortest course be straight.
From soul to soul the shortest line
At best will bended be:
The ship that holds the straightest course
Still sails the convex sea.

It would be much appreciated if you could visit my new blog:

This would probably work better if you become a member of the community, post frequently (on topic, of course) and link to the blog through the TypePad URL. I have no idea who you are, what your blog is about, etc. So why would I visit?

Also, since we're in the martial vein tonight, a little Richard Lovelace.

To Lucasta, going to the Wars

TELL me not, Sweet, I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
To war and arms I fly.

True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.

Yet this inconstancy is such
As thou too shalt adore;
I could not love thee, Dear, so much,
Loved I not Honour more.

Georges Perec
wrote a novel of a hundred thousand words
without the letter "e".
I should be able to manage a simple love poem
Without "you"
or "her"
or "she".

If a flock of birds can
through an Escher
entirely in the negative space,
it should be possible to hang
a little irresponsible desire
in the silence
after a verb
where a direct object should be.

I love.


It definitely lacks something.

Maybe I could hide it
in a really wicked
subordinate clause
that goes on so long
she falls asleep
and wakes
at twilight
behind the inner canvas
of a Magritte
with the vague notion
that I love her.

Too complicated.

A voice,
the one that talks to creditors on the telephone
and orders lunch
and says the lord's prayer at weddings
along with everyone else
even though I don't believe in god,
says it would like to know why
I need
to say anything at all.

"What makes it necessary
for every emotion -
even the pointless
the counter-productive and the ill-advised -
to be trotted out
and compared
to a summer's day?"

Good question.
The answer is a metaphor.

It's like
language is a set of rules
that can't break themselves
because they
sprout green
and shine yellow
and ripple blue
even when they're sitting still.
even when they're doing nothing
like numbers divided by one
or palindromes reversed
or characters in _Waiting for Godot_
who keep saying
and saying
into the void
because they can do nothing else.
Because it's by virtue of
saying things
that they exist.

Actually, that was a couple of metaphors,
but you see what I'm getting at.

The voice is not convinced.
"You're starting to piss me off",
it says.

How about this:

Nothing feels as good
as when these murky thoughts
and make a painting
that hangs together
that holds water
that rings true.


Except maybe the love itself.

"Georges Perec"
has four "e"s in it.
Does that mean his book is ruined
if he signs his name?

And since I'm nothing more
than words to you
What can I do but speak?
Even if I can't
make love

if there are any heavens my mother will (all by herself) have
one. It will not be a pansy heaven or
a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but
it will be a heaven of blackred roses

my father will be (deep like a rose
tall like a rose)

standing near my

(swaying over her
with eyes which are really petals and see

nothing with the face of a poet really which
is a flower and not a face with
which whisper
This is my beloved my

(suddenly in sunlight
he will bow,

and the whole garden will bow)

e.e. cummings

S**t, sorry. It didn't look that long when I pasted it.

To Any Dead Officer

WELL, how are things in Heaven? I wish you’d say,
Because I’d like to know that you’re all right.
Tell me, have you found everlasting day,
Or been sucked in by everlasting night?
For when I shut my eyes your face shows plain;
I hear you make some cheery old remark—
I can rebuild you in my brain,
Though you’ve gone out patrolling in the dark.

You hated tours of trenches; you were proud
Of nothing more than having good years to spend;
Longed to get home and join the careless crowd
Of chaps who work in peace with Time for friend.
That’s all washed out now. You’re beyond the wire:
No earthly chance can send you crawling back;
You’ve finished with machine-gun fire—
Knocked over in a hopeless dud-attack.

Somehow I always thought you’d get done in,
Because you were so desperate keen to live:
You were all out to try and save your skin,
Well knowing how much the world had got to give.
You joked at shells and talked the usual ‘shop,’
Stuck to your dirty job and did it fine:
With ‘Jesus Christ! when will it stop?
Three years ... It’s hell unless we break their line.’

So when they told me you’d been left for dead
I wouldn’t believe them, feeling it must be true.
Next week the bloody Roll of Honour said
‘Wounded and missing’—(That’s the thing to do
When lads are left in shell-holes dying slow,
With nothing but blank sky and wounds that ache,
Moaning for water till they know
It’s night, and then it’s not worth while to wake!)
. . . .
Good-bye, old lad! Remember me to God,
And tell Him that our Politicians swear
They won’t give in till Prussian Rule’s been trod
Under the Heel of England ... Are you there?...
Yes ... and the War won’t end for at least two years;
But we’ve got stacks of men ... I’m blind with tears,
Staring into the dark. Cheero!
I wish they’d killed you in a decent show.

- Siegfried Sassoon

The tongue cannot live up to the heart:
Raise the eyes of your affection to its affection
And let its equivalents
ripen in your body.
Love what you don't understand yet, and bring it to you.

-- from "December Journal," Charles Wright

dkilmer -- that is an excellent poem (in my eyes). Is it your own work?

“The Man He Killed”

“Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!

“But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.

“I shot him dead because--
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That’s clear enough; although

“He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps,
Off-hand like--just as I--
Was out of work--had sold his traps--
No other reason why.

“Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown.”

Thomas Hardy

(1902; first published 1909. I would have sworn this was written after WWI. Apparently not.)

Modesto: Yes -- thank you for the kind words! It came to mind because many of us knew Andrew only through his words, and because of the feelings I imagined his family must have had reading his words after his death.

It is a wonderful poem -- as are so many of them. One of the things I love about blogging is that every time I open a poetry thread, all these great poems magically appear.

"Yeah, Jes's poem was great and took me slightly aback when I got to the signature."

Taken aback???

Anwyay, note that that is just the beginning of a long poem which goes on to be even more relevant.

Hey everyone:

It would be much appreciated if you could visit my new blog:

I am trying to lift it off the ground so it would be appreciated if you could comment, thank you.

Posted by: slickleb

I'd like to not thank slickleb for finding my blog, finding the topmost post in which I inarticulately posted about the death of Andy Olmsted, and deciding that that was an appropriate post to append an identical piece of spam.

Ask me again in a couple of years, when you display better judgment. Meanwhile, your comment at my blog was deleted.

STRANGERS drawn from the ends of the earth, jewelled and plumed were we;
I was Lord of the Inca race, and she was Queen of the Sea.
Under the stars beyond our stars where the new-forged meteors glow,
Hotly we stormed Valhalla, a million years ago!

Ever ’neath high Valhalla Hall the well-tuned horns begin,
When the swords are out in the underworld, and the weary Gods come in.
Ever through high Valhalla Gate the Patient Angel goes
He opens the eyes that are blind with hate—he joins the hands of foes.

Dust of the stars was under our feet, glitter of stars above—
Wrecks of our wrath dropped reeling down as we fought and we spurned and we strove.
Worlds upon worlds we tossed aside, and scattered them to and fro,
The night that we stormed Valhalla, a million years ago!

They are forgiven as they forgive all those dark wounds and deep,
Their beds are made on the Lap of Time and they lie down and sleep.
They are forgiven as they forgive all those old wounds that bleed.
They shut their eyes from their worshippers; they sleep till the world has need.

She with the star I had marked for my own—I with my set desire—
Lost in the loom of the Night of Nights—lighted by worlds afire—
Met in a war against the Gods where the headlong meteors glow,
Hewing our way to Valhalla, a million years ago!

They will come back—come back again, as long as the red Earth rolls.
He never wasted a leaf or a tree. Do you think He would squander souls ?

-Rudyard Kipling

Blood and Lead

Listen to what they did.
Don't listen to what they said.
What was written in blood
Has been set up in lead.

Lead tears the heart.
Lead tears the brain.
What was written in blood
Has been set up again.

The heart has a drum.
The drum is a snare.
The snare is in the blood.
The blood is in the air.

Listen to what they did.
Listen to what's to come.
Listen to the blood.
Listen to the drum.

Or, if you prefer something slightly more cheerful,

Beauty, Danger and Dismay
Met me on the common way.
Whichever I chose, I chose Dismay.

I think I'm in love with James Fenton.

Taken aback???

Well just "surprised" I guess -- I was expecting to see your name in the signature.

'Well just "surprised" I guess -- I was expecting to see your name in the signature.'

That's mistaking the lightning for the lightning bug.

As long as we're mistaking lighting for its bugs:

Cold autumn can muzzle the day,
silence its thousand jubilating voices;
from the steeple whimper, so peculiar,
death bells in November's mist.

On the wet rooftops lies sleeping
a white fog; and with cold hands
the storm inside the chimney's walls strikes
a death-karma's closing octaves.

(is my not-completely-justice-doing translation of:

Kalter Herbst vermag den Tag zu knebeln,
seine tausend Jubelstimmen schweigen;
hoch vom Domturm wimmern gar so eigen
Sterbeglocken in Novembernebeln.

Auf den nassen Dächern liegt verschlafen
weisses Dunstlicht; und mit kalten Händen
greift der Sturm in des Kamines Wänden
eines Totenkarmens Schlussoktaven.


Georges Perec wrote a novel of a hundred thousand words without the letter "e". I should be able to manage a simple love poem Without "you" or "her" or "she".

Ooooh, a challenge! I am a bug to the lightning bug when it comes to poetry, but I shall try...

Murmurs in the night
It sounds like speech
But the end trails off
Like the gossemer end of a contrail

"Knucklehead!" and "Knucklehead!" back
And smiles and kisses
Admiration for the child within
("Bug!" hollered as a Beetle tottles past)
Or soft rebuke for unthinking act
Forgiven also without thought

"Basingstoke" works
When "Calm down" will not
The soul is placated, anger goes
Margaret and Henry dance off

Mouth puckered for a kiss
Or wide agape in dreaming sleep
Head on my shoulder, gently dozing
Arm around me, protecting and holding me

"This love is mine!" I shout
And scarce believe it.

Two nights ago I saw a movie about a weird, fabulous 15 year old kid and he quoted that Frost poem. The movie:

Two nights ago I saw a movie about a weird, fabulous 15 year old kid and he quoted that Frost poem. The movie:

Have I mentioned how very much fun these past two weeks have been?

It's enough to make someone a trifle irritated.

Hope this isn't an inappropriate use of the open thread, since it isn't terribly poetic.

Gary, sorry to hear (well, see, actually) it.

Here, if you haven't seen this it may at least give a chuckle.

Not poetry, perhaps, but allow me a non-poetic license then.

I had seen it, but it was funny, so thanks.

And let me emphasize to everyone that The Poor Man is back. Or did I already mention that here?

And someone with her e-address should tell Jes that it's safe to come back: she only left to be away while Hilzoy was gone.

And let me emphasize to everyone that The Poor Man is back. Or did I already mention that here?

Huzzah. And I corrected the spelling over there for you. ;-)

Testing just how open this thread is, this reminds me of a couple of past ObWi threads.

I'm not planning on seeing this movie, incidentally.

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