These Be the Verse(s)

By Cornelia Read

Since I just found out I’m supposed to be driving to Vermont TODAY and not tomorrow, this is going to be a bit of a drive-by post (I’m going to Aunt Julie’s benefit auction for Haiti, to donate a character name in my WIP.)

I have been thinking about poetry lately. Here are some current (and perennial) favorites of mine:


This Be The Verse

          by Philip Larkin


They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

    They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

    And add some extra, just for you.


But they were fucked up in their turn

    By fools in old-style hats and coats,

Who half the time were soppy-stern

    And half at one another’s throats.


Man hands on misery to man.

    It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,

    And don’t have any kids yourself.


(of course, now that I’m a parent myself, I also like Judith Rich Harris’s rebuttal:

How sharper than a serpent’s tooth

    To hear your child make such a fuss.

It isn’t fair–it’s not the truth–

    He’s fucked up, yes, but not by us.)


The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered

by Clive James

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased.
In vast quantities it has been remaindered.
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
My enemy’s much-praised effort sits in piles
In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.
Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
One passes down reflecting on life’s vanities,
Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews
Lavished to no avail upon one’s enemy’s book—
For behold, here is that book
Among these ranks and the banks of duds, 
These ponderous and seemingly irreducible cairns
Of complete stiffs.

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I rejoice.
It has gone with bowed head like a defeated legion
Beneath the yoke.
What avail him now his awards and prizes,
The praise expended upon his meticulous technique,
His individual new voice?
Knocked into the middle of next week
His brainchild now consorts with the bad buys,
The sinkers, clinkers, dogs and dregs,
The Edsels of the world of movable type,
The bummers that no amount of hype could shift,
The unbudgeable turkeys.

Yea, his slim volume with its understated wrapper
Bathes in the glare of the brightly jacketed Hitler’s War Machine,
His unmistakably individual new voice
Shares the same scrapyard with a forlorn skyscraper
Of The Kung-Fu Cookbook,
His honesty, proclaimed by himself and believed in by others,
His renowned abhorrence of all posturing and pretence,
Is there with Pertwee’s Promenades and Pierrots—
One Hundred Years of Seaside Entertainment
And (oh, this above all) his sensibility,
His sensibility and its hair-like filaments,
His delicate, quivering sensibility is now as one
With Barbara Windsor’s Book of Boobs,
A volume graced by the descriptive rubric
‘My boobs will give everyone hours of fun’.

Soon now a book of mine could be remaindered also,
Though not to the monumental extent
In which the chastisement of remaindering has been meted out
To the book of my enemy,
Since in the case of my own book it will be due
To a miscalculated print run, a marketing error—
Nothing to do with merit.
But just supposing that such an event should hold
Some slight element of sadness, it will be offset
By the memory of this sweet moment.
Chill the champagne and polish the crystal goblets!
The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am glad.



By Dorothy Parker

If I had a shiny gun,
I could have a world of fun

Speeding bullets through the brains
Of the folk who give me pains;

Or had I some poison gas,
I could make the moments pass
Bumping off a number of
People whom I do not love.

But I have no lethal weapon-
Thus does Fate our pleasure step on!
So they still are quick and well
Who should be, by rights, in hell. 


Provide, Provide

By Robert Frost

The witch that came (the withered hag)
To wash the steps with pail and rag,
Was once the beauty Abishag, 

The picture pride of Hollywood.
Too many fall from great and good
For you to doubt the likelihood. 

Die early and avoid the fate.
Or if predestined to die late,
Make up your mind to die in state. 

Make the whole stock exchange your own!
If need be occupy a throne,
Where nobody can call you crone. 

Some have relied on what they knew;
Others on simply being true.
What worked for them might work for you. 

No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard,
Or keeps the end from being hard. 

Better to go down dignified
With boughten friendship at your side
Than none at all. Provide, provide

Plague Victims Catapulted Over Walls Into Besieged City 

by Thomas Lux

Early germ

warfare. The dead

hurled this way look like wheels

in the sky. Look: there goes

Larry the Shoemaker, barefoot, over the wall,

and Mary Sausage Stuffer, see how she flies,

and the Hatter twins, both at once, soar

over the parapet, little Tommy’s elbow bent

as if in a salute,

and his sister, Mathilde, she follows him,

arms outstretched, through the air,

just as she did

on earth.


Natural Music

Robinson Jeffers

The old voice of the ocean, the bird-chatter of little rivers,

(Winter has given them gold for silver

To stain their water and bladed green for brown to line their banks)

From different throats intone one language.

So I believe if we were strong enough to listen without

Divisions of desire and terror

To the storm of the sick nations, the rage of the hunger smitten cities,

Those voices also would be found

Clean as a child’s; or like some girl’s breathing who dances alone

By the ocean-shore, dreaming of lovers.

What’s your favorite poem?

24 thoughts on “These Be the Verse(s)

  1. Leslie

    Provide Provde tickled my fancy at a young age… I named my Roomba Abishag, and I know what to name a raven if I ever get one. I liked Ogden Nash’s doggerel, but he didn’t provide a name for my purple cow 😉

    Vachel Lindsay’s The Leaden-Eyed always appealed to me

    Let not young souls be smothered out before
    They do quaint deeds and fully flaunt their pride.
    It is the world’s one crime its babes grow dull,
    Its poor are ox-like, limp and leaden-eyed.
    Not that they starve; but starve so dreamlessly,
    Not that they sow, but that they seldom reap,
    Not that they serve, but have no gods to serve,
    Not that they die, but that they die like sheep.

    Less dark… at least in this part… is William Allingham’s The Fairies. I always felt bad for little Bridget

    Up the airy mountain
    Down the rushy glen,
    We daren’t go a-hunting,
    For fear of little men;
    Wee folk, good folk,
    Trooping all together;
    Green jacket, red cap,
    And white owl’s feather.
    Down along the rocky shore
    Some make their home,
    They live on crispy pancakes
    Of yellow tide-foam;
    Some in the reeds
    Of the black mountain-lake,
    With frogs for their watch-dogs,
    All night awake.

    And as a Cal fan, I’ve gotta love chorus of the Frogs by Aristophanes

    Which may not have been murderous in the original chorus, but is pretty violent in the sentiments it inspired at Cal!

    So maybe the roots of my love of mystery are in the poetry I’ve read!

  2. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Cornelia

    I have a whole list of favourite poems, but this one by Roger McGough has tickled me lately:

    "I have outlived
    my youthfulness
    so a quiet life for me.

    Where once
    I used to

    now I sin
    till ten
    past three."

    Happy travels!

  3. JD Rhoades

    I know it marks me as a lamer who just doesn’t know a lot of poetry, but I’ve always been fascinated by Yeats’ The Second Coming

    TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again; but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

  4. Karen in Ohio

    That’s my kind of poetry, Cornelia! And don’t you love that goofy Glamour Shots pic of Barbara Walters? Hilarious.

    My favorite poem is Rabbi Ben Ezra, by Robert Browning, especially the first verse (excerpt below): ‘

    GROW old along with me!
    The best is yet to be,
    The last of life, for which the first was made:
    Our times are in his hand
    Who saith, “A whole I planned,
    Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”

    Not that, amassing flowers,
    Youth sighed, “Which rose make ours,
    Which lily leave and then as best recall?”
    Not that, admiring stars,
    It yearned, “Nor Jove, nor Mars;
    Mine be some figured flame which blends, transcends them all!”

    Not for such hopes and fears
    Annulling youth’s brief years,
    Do I remonstrate: folly wide the mark!
    Rather I prize the doubt
    Low kinds exist without,
    Finished and finite clods, untroubled by a spark.

    Poor vaunt of life indeed,
    Were man but formed to feed
    On joy, to solely seek and find and feast;
    Such feasting ended, then
    As sure an end to men;
    Irks care the crop full bird? Frets doubt the maw-crammed beast?

  5. Rae

    Awesome post, Miss C…

    For me, it’s Dorothy Parker. Always Dorothy Parker. Today, this is my favorite 😉

    Razors pain you;
    Rivers are damp;
    Acids stain you;
    And drugs cause cramp.
    Guns aren’t lawful;
    Nooses give;
    Gas smells awful;
    You might as well live.

  6. Eika

    Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata. I almost have it committed to memory (it’s hard because it’s free verse). It’s long, so I’ll only quote the last three stanzas:

    "You are a child of the universe,
    no less than the trees and the stars;
    you have a right to be here.
    And whether or not it is clear to you,
    no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

    Therefore be at peace with God,
    whatever you conceive Him to be,
    and whatever your labors and aspirations,
    in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

    With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
    it is still a beautiful world.
    Be cheerful.
    Strive to be happy."

  7. pari noskin taichert

    I love poetry, Cornelia. Your post today is wonderful and introduced me to new friends.

    One of my favorite poems is
    Danse Russe
    William Carlos Williams:
    If when my wife is sleeping
    and the baby and Kathleen
    are sleeping
    and the sun is a flame-white disc
    in silken mists
    above shining trees,—
    if I in my north room
    dance naked, grotesquely
    before my mirror
    waving my shirt round my head
    and singing softly to myself:
    "I am lonely, lonely,
    I was born to be lonely,
    I am best so!"
    If I admire my arms, my face,
    my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
    against the yellow drawn shades,—

    Who shall say I am not
    the happy genius of my household?

  8. Kagey

    I’m a huge fan of Ted Kooser’s website ( where he features really great poems that speak to everyday life. One of my recent favorites is "This Morning in a Morning Voice" by Todd Boss. It’s just a perfect moment captured. He’s talking about hearing his son get up early in the morning, singing to himself:
    "He’s found it in
    the bog of his throat
    before his feet have hit
    the ground, follows
    its wonky melody down
    the hall and into the loo
    as if it were the most
    natural thing for a little
    boy to do… "

    You can read it at

  9. Fran

    Love Dorothy Parker!
    That being said, my favorite poem is by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

    Dirge without Music

    Edna St. Vincent Millay
    I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
    So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
    Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
    With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
    Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
    Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
    A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
    A formula, a phrase remains, — but the best is lost.

    The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
    They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
    Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
    More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

    Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
    Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
    Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
    I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

  10. BCB

    Geez, I hope I never make an enemy of Clive James.

    That picture of the child with linked pinky finger has haunted me all day. Do you have more information about it?

    I have too many favourite poems to share just one. But I’ve always liked this little snippet:

    "My mind lets go a thousand things
    from dates of wars to deaths of kings"

    I’ve also always wanted to write it on a history exam. Have no idea where it came from and wish I did.

    I subscribe to the Writer’s Almanac from American Public Radio — they send a daily email with a poem and "fun facts" (my term, not theirs) associated with the date about various writers. I enjoy it very much. I tried to make a clickable link to it:

    Writer’s Almanac

    If I screwed that up and all it did was detonate something in Nebraska, here is the copy and paste link:

    Hope you had a good time at the auction and that it was successful.

    K James

  11. Leslie


    Courtesy of the wonderful intertubes 😉

    #12 alt MEMORY by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

    My mind lets go a thousand things,
    Like dates of wars and deaths of kings,
    And yet recalls the very hour —
    ‘Twas noon by yonder village tower,
    And on the last blue moon in May —
    The wind came briskly up this way,
    Crisping the brook beside the road;
    Then, pausing here, set down its load
    Of pine-scents, and shook listlessly
    Two petals from that wild-rose tree.

  12. Cornelia Read

    The photograph is by Sally Mann, of her daughter. The one of the boy in the water is of her son. They’re all collected in a book called Immediate Family. She’s my favorite photographer–absolutely haunting images.

    Aunt Julie’s auction raised $18,000 for Partners in Health, a medical organization that does great work in Haiti. The character name in book four went for $400, so I’m glad and honored I got to help out.

    I love EVERYONE’S poems here, thank you all so much!

  13. BCB

    Thanks, Leslie! It’s funny, I just did a google search for it myself (the last time I tried, a few years ago, there were no matches) and found the same thing. It was listed in An American Anthology, a book my dad had at home. I’m sure that’s where I read it. After DECADES of wondering, now I know. Happy!

    Cornelia, I’m going to have to get Sally Mann’s book. Powerful stuff.

  14. sb

    There are strange things done in the midnight sun
    By the men who moil for gold;
    The Arctic trails have their secret tales
    That would make your blood run cold;
    The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
    But the queerest they ever did see
    Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
    I cremated Sam McGee.

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