Good Poem #25 – Ozymandias by Shelley

Here is Shelley’s well-known sonnet putting each of us in our place.

“Look on my works, ye Mighty and despair”


by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear —
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”


Movie #13 – Alfie

Another in a series of overlooked movies…

13.  Alfie

The original 1966 “Alfie” starred Michael Caine as priapric young man in newly swinging London, in the time just before the Beatles, when Engliand was finally shaking off the dreariness that followed World War II.  Alfie demonstrates but fails to see for himself the hollowness resulting from getting caught in the cross-currents of the sexual revolution. The movie was nominated for six Academy Awards. Its great Bert Bacharach and Hal David theme song was sung unforgettably by Dionne Warwick. It’s nothing like the flashy but shallow and forgettable remake with Jude Law.

“What’s it all about, Alfie?”


Watch the trailer.

Good Poem #24 – The Gila Monster Route

This poem refers to a fictional railroad so forlorn that it was named for the gila monster, a venomous lizard of the American Southwest. I found originally it in an old poetry anthology I had for years (“One Hundred American Poems” – 50 cents). I liked it for the vernacular language and used to read it to the children at bedtime.

My anthology says that the poem’s author was listed as anonymous, but the internet shows its authors to be Glenn Norton and Louis Freeland Post, a controversial Washington bureaucrat of the early twentieth century. This seems unlikely as nothing in Post’s background indicates he would write such a poem.  The earliest publication date is 1919.


By Glenn Norton and Louis Freeland Post(?)

The lingering sunset across the plain
Kissed the rear-end door of an east-bound train,
And shone on a passing track close by
Where a ding-bat sat on a rotting tie.

He was ditched by the shack by cruel fate.
The con high-balled, and the manifest freight
Pulled out on the stem behind the mail,
And she hit the ball on a sanded rail.

As she pulled away in the falling light
He could see the gleam of her red tail-light.
Then the moon arose and the stars came out —
He was ditched on the Gila Monster Route.

Nothing in sight but sand and space;
No chance for a gink to feed his face;
Not even a shack to beg for a lump,
Or a hen-house there to frisk for a single gump.

He gazed far out on the solitude;
He drooped his head and began to brood;
He thought of the time he lost his mate
In a hostile burg on the Nickel Plate.

They had piped the stem and threw their feet,
And speared four-bits on which to eat;
But deprived themselves of daily bread
And sluffed their coin for dago red.

Down by the track in the jungle’s glade,
In the cool green grass, in the tulas’ shade,
They shed their coats and ditched their shoes
And tanked up full on that colored booze.

Then they took a flop with their hides plum full,
And they did not hear the harnessed bull,
Till he shook them out of their boozy nap,
With a husky voice and a loaded sap.

They were charged with vag for they had no kale,
And the judge said, “Sixty days in jail.”
But the john had a bindle — a worker’s plea—
So they gave him a floater and set him free.

They had turned him out, but ditched his mate,
So he glommed the guts of an east-bound freight,
He flung his form on a rusty rod,
Till he heard the shack say, “Hit the sod!”

The john rolled off, he was in the ditch,
With two switch lamps and a rusty switch,—
A poor, old, seedy, half-starved bo
On a hostile pike, without a show.

From away off somewhere in the dark
Came the sharp, short notes of a coyote’s bark.
The bo looked round and quickly rose
And shook the dust from his threadbare clothes.

Off in the west through the moonlit night
He saw the gleam of a big head-light —
An east-bound stock train hummed the rail;
She was due at the switch to clear the mail.

As she drew up close, the head-end shack
Threw the switch to the passenger track,
The stock rolled in and off the main,
And the line was clear for the west-bound train.

When she hove in sight far up the track,
She was workin’ steam, with her brake shoes slack,
She hollered once at the whistle post,
Then she flitted by like a frightened ghost.

He could hear the roar of the big six-wheel,
And her driver’s pound on the polished steel,
And the screech of her flanges on the rail
As she beat it west o’er the desert trail.

The john got busy and took the risk,
He climbed aboard and began to frisk,
He reached up high and began to feel
For the end-door pin — then he cracked the seal.

‘Twas a double-decked stock-car, filled with sheep,
Old john crawled in and went to sleep.
She whistled twice and high-balled out,—
They were off, down the Gila Monster Route.

Catching Walleye

Walleye are nature’s wonders, big-eyed fish torpedoes of muscle and teeth, longer and more streamlined than bass — and better tasting.  They’re found only in clear, cold water, deep and away from light. When hooked, walleye are not as frantic on the line as smallmouth bass, but they’re more determined not to give in.  I caught my first last week and it made a lasting impression, not to mention a delicious meal.

You can’t horse in a walleye.  It’s deep in the water and reluctant to be pulled in. You have to set the drag (the line resistance) on the reel and give the fish room to run until it tires and yields to the net.  If you stop the line from going out as the fish fights, it will likely snap the line and be gone, leaving you with a still rod, an empty stringer and an aching sense of disappointment. It reminded me of the attitude of many who rail against the new and declare that there can be no compromise with forces of change.

But, life is change. Holding change unacceptable and to be resisted at all cost is like stopping the reel on a walleye: you’re likely to be left alone, bitter and empty-handed. There are two options: you can wage a losing war against change. Or, you apply yourself to change, set the drag and give it some room to run.  Then, maybe, you can manage it and reach a point where you and the new are adapted to the future.

One thing is sure, change will come.  It’s just a question of where you will be at the end of the day.

“Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'”.
Bob Dylan, “The Times They are A’changing”

Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-changin’ Lyrics | MetroLyrics

ed with walleye

But I digress. . .

Great Movie #13 – Murphy’s Romance

Another in a series of overlooked movies…

Hearing of James Garner’s recent death reminded me of “Murphy’s Romance”, the only role which garnered Garner an Oscar nomination.  It is the story of Emma, a down-on-her-luck single mother played by Sally Fields who meets Murphy (Garner’s character), a successful but much older druggist in a small town in the West.  It is a love story for adults but suitable for all ages. Carole King sings the theme song, “Love for the Last Time”.

Murphy, referring to a plumbing problem:  “It might be the ball cock.”
Emma: “Most problems start there.”

Here’s the trailer.

Murphy's Romance

Murphy’s Romance

Good Poem #24 – “The Song of Hiawatha” by Longfellow

“Ye who love a nation’s legends,
Love the ballads of a people. . .
Read this Song of Hiawatha”

Traveling near the Great Lakes always reminds me of Longfellow’s epic 1855 poem, “The Song of Hiawatha”. Last week we were along Lake Superior, which is celebrated in the poem by its Native American name, Gitche Gumee. Note how the rhythm matches our idea of the beat of native drums.

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them;
Bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water,
Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.
   from “The Song of Hiawatha”, Chapter III

The poem is long so I doubt many read the whole thing anymore. It has also been criticized for its edenic, condescending and inaccurate portrayal of Native Americans, but still the poem’s popularity has informed the sense of what it means to be an American. It also demonstrates what intensity and pure hard work Longfellow put into his writing as well as his New Englander’s eye for detail in the nature of the great North woods. The following excerpt is only the introduction.  The entire poem can be found at a Maine Historical Society website.

 The Song of Hiawatha

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882)


Should you ask me, whence these stories?
Whence these legends and traditions,
With the odors of the forest
With the dew and damp of meadows,
With the curling smoke of wigwams,
With the rushing of great rivers,
With their frequent repetitions,
And their wild reverberations
As of thunder in the mountains?
I should answer, I should tell you,
“From the forests and the prairies,
From the great lakes of the Northland,
From the land of the Ojibways,
From the land of the Dacotahs,
From the mountains, moors, and fen-lands
Where the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
Feeds among the reeds and rushes.
I repeat them as I heard them
From the lips of Nawadaha,
The musician, the sweet singer.”
Should you ask where Nawadaha
Found these songs so wild and wayward,
Found these legends and traditions,
I should answer, I should tell you,
“In the bird’s-nests of the forest,
In the lodges of the beaver,
In the hoof-prints of the bison,
In the eyry of the eagle!
“All the wild-fowl sang them to him,
In the moorlands and the fen-lands,
In the melancholy marshes;
Chetowaik, the plover, sang them,
Mahng, the loon, the wild-goose, Wawa,
The blue heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
And the grouse, the Mushkodasa!”
If still further you should ask me,
Saying, “Who was Nawadaha?
Tell us of this Nawadaha,”
I should answer your inquiries
Straightway in such words as follow.
“In the vale of Tawasentha,
In the green and silent valley,
By the pleasant water-courses,
Dwelt the singer Nawadaha.
Round about the Indian village
Spread the meadows and the corn-fields,
And beyond them stood the forest,
Stood the groves of singing pine-trees,
Green in Summer, white in Winter,
Ever sighing, ever singing.
“And the pleasant water-courses,
You could trace them through the valley,
By the rushing in the Spring-time,
By the alders in the Summer,
By the white fog in the Autumn,
By the black line in the Winter;
And beside them dwelt the singer,
In the vale of Tawasentha,
In the green and silent valley.
“There he sang of Hiawatha,
Sang the Song of Hiawatha,
Sang his wondrous birth and being,
How he prayed and how be fasted,
How he lived, and toiled, and suffered,
That the tribes of men might prosper,
That he might advance his people!”
Ye who love the haunts of Nature,
Love the sunshine of the meadow,
Love the shadow of the forest,
Love the wind among the branches,
And the rain-shower and the snow-storm,
And the rushing of great rivers
Through their palisades of pine-trees,
And the thunder in the mountains,
Whose innumerable echoes
Flap like eagles in their eyries;–
Listen to these wild traditions,
To this Song of Hiawatha!
Ye who love a nation’s legends,
Love the ballads of a people,
That like voices from afar off
Call to us to pause and listen,
Speak in tones so plain and childlike,
Scarcely can the ear distinguish
Whether they are sung or spoken;–
Listen to this Indian Legend,
To this Song of Hiawatha!
Ye whose hearts are fresh and simple,
Who have faith in God and Nature,
Who believe that in all ages
Every human heart is human,
That in even savage bosoms
There are longings, yearnings, strivings
For the good they comprehend not,
That the feeble hands and helpless,
Groping blindly in the darkness,
Touch God’s right hand in that darkness
And are lifted up and strengthened;–
Listen to this simple story,
To this Song of Hiawatha!
Ye, who sometimes, in your rambles
Through the green lanes of the country,
Where the tangled barberry-bushes
Hang their tufts of crimson berries
Over stone walls gray with mosses,
Pause by some neglected graveyard,
For a while to muse, and ponder
On a half-effaced inscription,
Written with little skill of song-craft,
Homely phrases, but each letter
Full of hope and yet of heart-break,
Full of all the tender pathos
Of the Here and the Hereafter;–
Stay and read this rude inscription,
Read this Song of Hiawatha!

Good Poem # 23 – Travel by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Speaking of trains, here is Edna Millay’s heartfelt “Travel”.

“There isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
no matter where it’s going.”

I feel the same way.


By Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 – 1950)

Edna St. Vincent Millay

The railroad track is miles away,
And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day
But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn’t a train goes by,
Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.

Great Song #8 – Wabash Cannonball

Bob Dylan says that a song is a dream and you try to make it come true.  Here’s another in a series of songs that dream up good stories…

“Wabash Cannonball” is a infectious classic with a driving beat. It enjoyed a number of resurgences in the mid-Twentieth Century and still radiates the romance of train travel. I thought of it because we’re headed to Minnesota next week. It has been recorded many times, notably by the Carter Family and Roy Acuff, and became a favorite on the Grand Ole Opry.

One of the great things about living today is to be able to find without leaving your chair answers to questions you’ve had for years.  I always wondered if there was a Wabash Cannonball train.  It seemed strange that the song celebrates places from Minnesota to Birmingham since the Wabash Railroad served neither. There was a Wabash Cannonball train, but it was named after the song, not the other way round. Apparently it’s just a song, without any basis in fact, perhaps referencing a mythical train that carried hoboes to heaven.

“From the hills of Minnesota, where the rippling waters fall. . .”

Here’s Roy Acuff’s version.

P.S. Not long ago two friends of friends of son Jack came to visit on a driving trip.  They were New Yorkers and were headed from here to Nashville.

Me: Are you going to see the Grand Ole Opry?
Our guests: The what?

What I Saw

Simple pleasure from a simple-minded activity:

The blows that a life of self-control
Spares to strike for the common good,
That day, giving a loose my soul,
I spent on the unimportant wood.
From Robert Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mudtime”

log splitting 1A recent storm deposited a butternut hickory across one of our trails. As hickories go, it was a juvenile – about 25 feet tall, fully leafed out and heavy with nuts. We were surprised that such a tree would go over in a moderate wind. Closer inspection showed that even thought upper sections were solid, the base of the trunk was completely hollow. Nature, as usual, knew what she was doing.

log splitting 10

It was an excellent example of the proverbial ill wind that blows nobody good: The tree was perfect for firewood with a straight trunk and as big around as a basketball at its base.  On top of that, it was easy to get to. So, chain sawing began.

Under the heading that the trouble with life is one thing always leads to another, the tree had been growing at the top of a steep rise above a creek, so predictably one good log when cut rolled down the hill.  When I went for it, I found two huge highly invasive bush honeysuckles.  So, I went back up the hill and slid down with the chain saw and stump killer.  Having dispatched the honeysuckles and not wanting to waste a good slide down a steep bank, I thought I’d look around down there and found a couple of osage orange trees, known locally as hedge apples and known to me personally as the devil’s favorite tree. So, I took care of them and, bettering Sysiphus, got the log back up the hill.

But I seriously digress.

You’d think I never had felt before
The weight of an ax-head poised aloft,
The grip of earth on outspread feet,
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.
More from Robert Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mudtime”

Having cut the tree into usable logs, I chose a big one as a chopping block, stood a smaller one on top of it and tried the maul.  The hickory split like a dream, totally different from dense osage orange wood which laughs off even a solid whack of the maul.  A blow or two with the maul split hickory logs a foot across and twenty inches long with a sound so satisfying that I can only compare it to the clatter of bowling pins that comes with a strike.

log splitting 4

log splitting 6

log splitting 7

Stacking fire wood for the winter of 2016, I recalled fondly my Aunt Gladys who died at 96.  She made wonderful gooseberry jam. When she was 92 or so, she had my ever-gracious brother-in-law Steve plant a gooseberry bush in her back yard, knowing that it would take two years to bear fruit. Optimism is necessary for longevity and makes it worthwhile.

But I digress (again). . .