A Poem by Anonymous ?

For the last of my #PoetryinJune features I thought that I would feature a poem from that ever prolific versifier Anonymous (often shortened to Anon). Not only prolific but of amazing longevity, Anonymous has penned poems, songs, ditties and doggerel on a variety of subjects for several centuries. His/her versatility is truly legendary in poetic circles, therefore it is not really surprising that no anthology is complete without at least a couple of verses by the writer known as Anonymous.

I therefore browsed though an anthology, Other Men’s Flowers edited by A.P. Wavell (Cape 1944, 1958). This is a rather nice reprint of the memorial edition of Wavell’s book, complete with red slip-case, bought from a book fair about twenty years ago. After much indecision amongst the ‘Anons’ I chose the nonsense poem below, partly because I have always liked it and partly because a pair of cormorants nest on top of an old chimney on a nearby stretch of the River Dodder. We often see them in the spring but sadly have never yet been able ascertain whether they do indeed lay their eggs in a paper bag. The chimney is rather tall you see.

Birds, Bags, Bears, and Buns

Book cover in blue leather binding

Other Men’s Flowers

The common cormorant or shag
Lays eggs inside a paper bag.
The reason you will see, no doubt,
It is to keep the lightening out,
But what these unobservant birds
Have never noticed is that herds
Of wandering bears may come with buns
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.

Now comes the rub. On browsing the internet to see whether I could find out more about this poem, I discovered that poem has been attributed to Christopher Isherwood. Wikipedia say that it was in Poems Past and Present and they reference a 1959 (fourth printing) edition from J.M. Dent and Sons (Canada) Ltd. What puzzles me somewhat is how the poem came to be attributed to ‘Anon’ in the first place if it indeed by Isherwood.

If anyone out there can offer any concrete information on this poem’s history, I would love to hear about it. I hope you have enjoyed this month’s trawl through The Landing poetry books on the TBR (or not read for a long time) Pile. Thanks for the comments and likes posted up – I appreciate the contact.

See you soon!


Ogden Nash

Now that school’s out for summer, I think that we should have another beach related poem to nudge us a little  nearer towards the end of the month. Ogden Nash (1902-1971) has given his own inimitable take on the urge we have to go down to the beach. His poem Seaside Serenade was originally published in The Bad Parents’ Garden of Verse (1936). I have this poem in Candy is Dandy: the Best of Ogden Nash (Andre Deutsch, 1994) which has an introduction by Anthony Burgess. I bought this collection a few years ago when I was working in Dún Laoghaire. This was another case of a customer bringing a book to my attention; the great thing about working in a bookshop is that you gain much inspiration from customers.

I like the parody of R.L. Stevenson in the title of the 1936 collection, so I thought that would be an additional reason to include this particular poem at the start of the school holidays:

Seaside Serenade

But liquor is quicker..

But liquor is quicker..

It begins when you smell a funny smell,
And it isn’t vanilla or caramel,
And it isn’t forget-me-not or lilies,
 Or new-mown hay, or daffy-down-dillies,
And it’s not what the barber rubs on Father,
And it’s awful, and yet you like it rather.
No, it’s not what the barber rubs on Daddy,
It’s more like an elderly finnan haddie,
Or, shall we say, an electric fan
Blowing over a sardine can.
It smells of seaweed, it smells of clams,
It’s as fishy as ready-made-telegrams,
It’s as fishy as millions of fishy fishes,
 In spite of which you find it delishes,
You could do with a second helping, please,
And that, my dears is the ocean breeze.


The poem goes on to describe the sights usually seen on a beach: ‘Is people reclining upon their abdomen’ and ‘Kiddies in clamorous crowds that swarm’. It finishes with a riff on John Masefield and Sea Fever:

Oh, I must go down to the beach, my lass,
And step on a piece of broken glass.

If you go down to the beach this holiday, I hope that you don’t step on any broken glass, but that you do enjoy the sea breezes.

I have only one more day of #PoetryinJune left and I hope that you have enjoyed the poetic offerings this month and Ogden Nash’s verse today.

Christopher Robin and Alice

Today’s choice for #PoetryinJune post is to combine two things: my mum’s birthday (which strictly speaking is tomorrow) and our daughter’s last day in primary school today. My mum used to sing this song to us when we were little and I tried to do the same with my daughter but couldn’t quite remember the tune. I wish I’d found this clip sooner:

Credit: YouTube – uploaded by Robert Ready (2008) – with thanks

See you tomorrow….

George Mackay Brown

The school summer holidays are now almost upon us, so today’s poem from Orcadian poet  George Mackay Brown (1921-1996) is meant to encourage you to think of beach activities. We do of course have to pretend that it’s never going to rain and that all will be sunshine and light. Fortunately you don’t really need the sunshine to go beach combing. Depending on the beach, you might manage to come up with all sorts of objects; I like the range of flotsam and jetsam that the narrator turns up in Beachcomber.

In our garden, we have a bird table and a plant trough that were made from driftwood salvaged from the river estuary near Swords, Dublin courtesy of the OWLS nature group. Maybe you might feel inspired to do a little beach coming yourselves. Who knows, perhaps you might even find a sea chest of golden coins…


Beach in Orkney

A Beach in Orkney

Monday I found a boot-
Rust and salt leather.
I gave it back to the sea, to dance in.

Tuesday a spar of timber worth thirty bob.
Next winter
It will be a chair, a coffin, a bed.

Wednesday a half can of Swedish spirits.
I tilted my head.
The shore was cold with mermaids and angels.

Thursday I got nothing, seaweed,
A whalebone,
Wet feet and a loud cough.

Friday I held a seaman’s skull,
Sand spilling from it
The way time is told on kirkyard stones.

Saturday a barrel of sodden oranges.
A Spanish ship
Was wrecked last month at The Kame.

Sunday, for fear of the elders,
I sit on my bum.
What’s heaven? A sea chest with a thousand gold coins.

I took George Mackay Brown’s poem from an anthology that I have used previously, Golden Apples: Poems for Children (edited by Fiona Waters). If you want to find out more about Mackay Brown take a look at the George Mackay Brown Website for plenty of information on his life and work.

book cover with a girl and a boy reading and a golden appletree

‘a gift book to treasure’

Orkney Photo Credit: DJL (2012) – with thanks.

David Marcus

My poet today is David Marcus (1924-2009), a poet (also editor, translator and novelist) whom I only discovered in the last couple of years. I bought Lost and Found: Collected Poems (New Island, 2007) from a bargain bin in a Dublin bookshop. It was one of those serendipitous moments, as I had been reading an article about David Marcus’s work and then a few days later I spotted this volume while browsing. The collection was edited by George O’Brien who says of Marcus, ‘ It’s hard to think of another figure in twentieth-century Irish literary life to whom the designation ‘man of letters’ is better suited. In ways that have been as unselfish as they have been influential, David has truly been a person of the book.’ High praise indeed; The phrase ‘person of the book’ conjures up a wonderful image of someone it would have been good to know.

From David Marcus’s collection I have picked out the following love poem to act as a modern counterpart to Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet a few days ago:

cover of Lost and Found

Lost and Found


For thee, my love, a lifelong lease on Time,
Safe passage through the crumbling Halls of Life,
Eternal stay in the most temperate clime,
And clear exemption from dark Age’s knife.
If I could garner knowledge from the air
Or by some strange or subtle alchemy
Compound a wine that has of each a share,
If needs, I’d bring it in my hands to thee.
The sweetest verse should every day be spoken.
Your face by every person should be seen.
Your form for other beauty might have been.
It’s easy known my love could not be such,
Even so, yet still I love you much too much.

I would most certainly love to have an ‘exemption from dark Age’s knife’ if such a thing were possible. That not being so, I shall have to make do with words (which are ageless).

For more information on David Marcus’s work Irish Writers Online is a useful resource.

#PoetryinJune is entering the last few days and I hope you have enjoyed the verses that I chose to feature. Thanks to the people who have been kind enough to ‘like’ and comment. As this week also sees the last week of my daughter’s primary school career, I may wax a little nostalgic over the next few days. You have been warned…

Stevie Smith

I chose Fairy Story by Stevie Smith (1902-1971) because I felt that the woodland scene would follow on well from yesterday’s Kipling verses.  There is always a sense of mystery in a woodland, whether it is from strange sounds, half hidden paths or the sense that unseen creatures (and the trees) are communicating in a way that we don’t understand.  I haven’t so far been able to find out when this poem was first published, but it often crops up in anthologies for children. I think we have ‘Fairy Story’ in two or three collections of poetry on The Landing, so I’ve used one that I haven’t featured on the blog before:

Golden Apples: Poems for Children, edited by Fiona Waters and illustrated by Alan Marks (Heinemann, 1985). This anthology is another one of my library sale bargains (thanks again to Dundrum library) from recent years. It is an excellent anthology of ‘simple poems and challenging ones, the familiar and the completely new, poems that range from the lyrical to the comic’.

Fairy Story

book cover with a girl and a boy reading and a golden appletree

‘a gift book to treasure’

I went into the wood one day
And there I walked and lost my way

When it was so dark I could not see
A little creature came to me
He said if I would sing a song
The time would not be very long

But first I must let him hold my hand tight
Or else the wood would give me a fright

I sang a song, he let me go
But know I am home again there is nobody I know.

I only know a scattering of Stevie Smith’s poems so I should look out for an addition to The Landing poetry shelf. While putting this piece together, I was reminded of the film made of Stevie Smith’s life (from a play by Hugh Whitemore) starring Glenda Jackson and Mona Washbourne (1978). I saw it on television when I was a teenager; Glenda Jackson and Stevie Smith have since become inextricably entwined in my mind. I remember being fascinated by the poet having a man’s name (her real name was Florence Margaret Smith) which seemed awfully sophisticated at the time. According to Wikipedia, the reason for the nickname was due to Smith’s supposed resemblance to the jockey Steve Donaghue. And here was me thinking all these years that it was some sort of artistic feminist statement.

I think I now need to go on a DVD hunt to relive my teenage years… 


This week sees the last of our daughter’s primary school career so I am posting The Way Through the Woods by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936by in honour. She recited this poem at a school poetry recitation competition and I can safely say that we all knew it by heart by the time the event came around. We have Kipling’s poem in Penguin’s Poems by Heart  (mentioned previously) which was a very apt title as it happened.

The Way Through the Woods

Woodland landscape

The Way Through the Woods

They shut the way through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath
And the thin anenomes.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods…
But there is no road through the woods.

I may dig up even more nostalgic pieces for #PoetryinJune this week, so be warned…

Photo Credit: D.J.L. 2012

Elizabeth Jennings

I read The Young Ones (1964) by Elizabeth Jennings (1926-2001) again recently, and I thought that if I substituted ‘Luas’ or ‘Dart’ for ‘bus’ it easily be a scene in Dublin in 2013. Not that much has changed, it seems to me, except the hair styles of the young women. I often look at teenagers in Dundrum Shopping Centre and think that they look so much more self-assured than I did at their age. I can sympathise both with the satchel and the school coat; at one point I think I had a grey duffel coat which was hardly the height of teenage glamour. One of ‘The Young Ones’ I was not. Perhaps that’s true of most of us in each generation.

The Young Ones

book jacket of Recoveries

A gorgeous edition of Recoveries

They slip on to the bus, hair piled up high.
New styles each month, it seems to me. I look,
Not wanting to be seen, casting my eye
Above the unread pages of a book.

They are fifteen or so. When I was thus,
I huddled in school coats, my satchel hung
Lop-sided on my shoulder. Without fuss
These enter adolescence; being young

Seems good to them, a state we cannot reach,
No talk of ‘awkward ages’ now. I see
How childish gazes staring out of each
Unfinished face prove me incredibly

Old -fashioned. Yet at least I have the chance
To size up several stages-young yet old,
 Doing the twist, mocking an ‘old time’ dance:
So many ways to be unsure or bold.

For Elizabeth Jennings poem, I have once more borrowed from The Oxford Book of English 20th Century Verse (with many thanks to the late Philip Larkin’s choices). However, as I have used the cover already and in any case it is rather a sombre jacket to depict the bright young things of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ I have snipped a picture of the edition that The Young Ones originally appeared in. The lovely looking cover of Recoveries (Deutsch, 1964) is tempting me to indulge in a purchase. I only know a handful of Elizabeth Jennings’ poems so this would be a nice addition to my TBR Pile.

Now I just need an excuse to treat myself….any suggestions will be gratefully received… 

Samarra or Isfahan?

I found this poem by Dutch poet PN Van Eyck (1887-1954) in a novel by Kader Abdolah called My Father’s Notebook (Canongate Books, 2006). I bought it in 2008 when I was working in Dún Laoghaire; you will be impressed to know that it didn’t stay on the TBR Pile for very long. It tells the story of Ishmael in exile in Europe who is trying to piece his father’s story together from notebooks written in a strange code. Poetry is a very important part of Abdolah’s book, but the following poem in particular caught my eye and I copied it into a notebook in case I ever lost track of the novel.

Van Eyck’s poem closely resembles a story that I remembered from many years ago that I never got around to tracking down. It has many variations and I think the version that I must have heard was the retelling of what is actually a very ancient story, by Somerset Maugham (1933) called Appointment in Samarra. The story that Maugham re-wrote and that Van Eyck turned into a poem is possibly a thousand years old. I’ve been delving into the history a little and it seems as though I wasn’t the only person to have this ghost of a story about Death and Samarra floating around in my head all this time.

Death and the Gardener (translated from Dutch by David McKay)book jacket to My Father's Notebook by Kader Abdolah

A Persian Nobleman:
One morning, pale with fright, my gardener
Rushed in and cried, “I beg your pardon, Sir!

“Just now, down there where the roses bloom, I swear
I turned around and saw Death standing there.

“Though not another moment did I linger,
Before I fled he raised a threatening finger.

“Oh, Sir lend me your horse, and if I can,
By nightfall I shall ride to Isfahan!”

Later that day, long after he had gone,
I found death by the cedars on the lawn.

Breaking his silence in the fading light,
I asked, “Why give my gardener such a fright?”

Death smiled at me and said, “I meant no harm
This morning when I caused him such alarm.

“Imagine my surprise to see the man
I’m meant to meet tonight in Isfahan!”

You never know when and where you are going to find literary connections; with Van Eyck, I discovered a connection to one of my previous #PoetryinJune authors, WB Yeats. Apparently Van Eyck was very interested in the Irish Question and Irish Literature. He subscribed to the Cuala Press and corresponded with Lily Yeats and WB and Georgie Yeats during the 1920s and 30s. It’s an amazingly small literary world; either that or serendipity has been at work again.

That’s all for now on #PoetryinJune…but there’s plenty here to return to discuss another time. I spotted another of Kader Abdolah’s books in the library recently so I am sure he will feature as an extra to my Landing Reading Challenge at some point.

Meanwhile, if anyone else remembers Appointment in Samarra (or Isfahan) from childhood, I would love to hear about it, so drop me a line below.

NB – the ‘history’ link above seems to work better in Firefox than IE (haven’t tried Chrome but let me know)

Edith Nesbit

Edith Nesbit’s (1858-1924) stories were a big part of my childhood; I loved The Phoenix and the Carpet and the fantasy of being able to fly away to strange lands with a magical creature. The adventures of the Bastable family came a close second. I didn’t realise that Edith Nesbit wrote verse until I did a little digging around after reading Man of Parts (David Lodge) which tells of H.G.Well’s relationship with Edith Nesbit and her involvement with the Fabian Society.

I found a couple of Nesbit’s poems in The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century Verse, which I have used in an earlier post. I chose to post an extract of the following verse because it struck a chord with me. We spend a lifetime accumulating knowledge and skills which we hope to pass on to the next generation, but as the woman in Nesbit’s poem says, not everything can be written down and saved. I love the plea in the last line; I think I’d like to know something too.

The Things that Matter

Portrait of Edith Nesbit

Edith Nesbit

Now that I’ve nearly done my days,
 And grown too stiff to sweep or sew,
I sit and think, till I’m amaze,
About what lots of things I know:
 Things as I’ve found out one by one-
And when I’m fast down in the clay,
My knowing things and how they’re done
Will all be lost and thrown away.

There’s things, I know, as won’t be lost,
Things as folks write and talk about:
The way to keep your roots from frost,
And how to get your ink spots out.
What medicine’s good for sores and sprains,
What way to salt your butter down,
What charms will cure your different pains,
And what will bright your faded gown.

But more important things than these,
They can’t be written in a book:
How fast to boil your greens and peas,
And how good bacon ought to look;
The feel of real good wearing stuff,
The kind of apple as will keep,
The look of bread that’s rose enough,
And how to get a child asleep.

Forgetting seems such silly waste!
I know so many little things,
And now the Angels will make haste
To dust it all away with wings!
O God, you made me like to know,
You kept the things straight in my head,
Please God, if you can make it so,
Let me know something when I’m dead.

Poem originally published in the Rainbow and the Rose (Longman, 1905)

I discovered the Edith Nesbit Society, devoted to discussing and promoting Edith Nesbit’s life and work while trawling the internet. It has occurred  to me that it would be useful to compile a directory of all of the literary societies that I come across in the course of my blogging. I think it would fit in alongside the Bibliography pages. It’s probably a long-term project, but these last few #PoetryinJune posts have made me realise just how many literary societies are active, so I would like to support them in a small way.

That’s all for today’s #PoetryinJune – check out the link above for more information on Edith Nesbit.

Picture Credit: Wikipedia – with thanks