Lyric Poems in English

This is a very mixed bag, in many genres.

When in love, I have been apt to write love poetry, and in fact I have the name of ΕΡΑΤΩ tattooed on one shoulder; nowadays I just write these for my dear wife, of course. All the same, neither past nor present poems in this genre should really be aired in public, so there is only one here. I haven't done much experimental poetry, in the sense of experiments that deliberately get nowhere, but here's one "Sonnet in French Vowels" that I'm far too fond of quoting in full. I've written several Epithalamia (wedding poems) for friends and family. And then there are some really miscellaneous ones, like my new version of "O Canada." I had great fun writing parodies over a year-and-a-half period at Maclean's in 2008-2010.

Feel free to poke around!

Song Lyrics

I've had the privilege of writing three song lyrics for The Roberto Rosenman Quartet, a Toronto jazz group, which were sung by Barbra Lica on their recent album Upstream. The experience has left me with a keen appetite for hearing my own words sung far more beautifully than I can sing them, and I hope to do more in this area in the future.

Into a Dream

This lyric was inspired by Sappho 58, in its theme of the tragedy of mortal-immortal love. You can listen to the Roberto Rosenman Quartet song! It appeared on their 2014 album Upstream.
She said, “Now I look at you differently:
I see you’re no more what you seem
You used to be real, but the ecstasy I feel
Is turning you into a dream.”

He said, “You’re a nymph, a divinity
A girl whom I dread to blaspheme
I burn in your eyes in a ceaseless sacrifice
That’s turning me into a dream.”

When the gods take up with human beings
Tears will fall like rain
     Sweet as sin
     That’s how it’ll always begin:
Pleasure’s never given without pain.

Short is the path of mortality
That falls for the powers supreme
At the end of the day, they are laughing far away
And turning us into a dream.

Leaving Me to Be Blue

A poem about an afternoon, evening, and night of post-romantic introspection, sung by Barbra Lica for the Roberto Rosenman Quartet on their 2014 album Upstream.
Afternoon at the cafe
Just like every day
     Here I sit thinking of you
People finish up their tea
Leaving me to be

Now it’s evening in the street
Following my feet
     Here’s the drunk ten o'clock crew
Having fun officially
And leaving me to be
                    so blue

So you said my love’s a bonfire
Burning up everything that might have been
I'm a martyr on a tall pyre
This is the end, and it’s here I begin

Morning in the sky
Time to say goodbye
     Au revoir, maybe adieu
To the memory
That was leaving me to be
                    so blue

Dance Again

Another poem for the Roberto Rosenman Quartet, again inspired by Sappho 58: in this case by the first half of it in which the speaker laments that she can no longer dance with the young, but here in a more optimistic style. Also featured on Upstream.
You're here, it's you!
Been wishing since I don't know when
To see you do
That fancy little dance again.

I like your style
And this is now and that was then;
A secret smile
Enchants me to the dance again.

And if you want me to love you forever
Sorry but that's not me
These days good girls display
A certain agility

Before you drown
Your sorrows with the other men
Cheer up, sit down,
Romance me 'til we dance again.

My Favourite Things Rewritten

A parody of "My Favourite Things" by Rodgers and Hammerstein, from The Sound of Music; a reminiscence of Montreal bohemian days. Here is the original song from the musical; here's a karaoke version (i.e. without song) that you could, if you desired, use with the lyrics below.
Montreal bagels and sunshine in summer,
Hippies that dance to the beats of a drummer,
     Girls to whom delicate cotton cloth clings,
     These are a few of my favourite things.

Cake and pistachios to eat when I want to,
Stoics and Cynics and pure Mahayana,
     Music that jumps when the band really swings,
     These are a few of my favourite things.

Verses and laughter and soft conversations,
Words that endure down the long generations,
     Rhythms to which the immortal Muse sings,
     These are a few of my favourite things.

When the bill comes, when the phone rings,
          When I've got the 'flu,
I simply remember my favorite things,
          And then I don't feel so blue.

First Poem for LVG (22 April 2009)

This poem was set to music by a Toronto composer commissioned by my aunt, on the occasion of my wedding; LVG is now my wife.
It's nothing but coincidence
For winter usually relents
In April, when the birds begin
To chatter, girls to show some skin,
Skateboards to clatter until dusk,
And shopkeepers to be a bit less brusque;

I know that patient nature's art
Has no such answer for my heart,
No prophecies for me alone;
One omen yet I won't disown
That chants the gods' benevolence:
Her eyes of grey, that mock coincidence.

Birthday Odes and Epithalamia

This is one of my favourite genres of poetry, because the recipients truly appreciate them!

Birthday Ode for Alatair Penz

This baby, now a vigorous young lad, was born a month prematurely.
Born before the summer evenings fade,
On your tired mother's lap new-laid,
Son of Priya, Nihal Alasdair,
Heir of Erik, nothing could deter
Your resolve so softly to embrace
Parents who have longed to see your face.

Epithalamium for James and Mindy

The first epithalamium I ever wrote, for my dear and much missed friends, James and Mindy. You can sort of tell I was reading a lot of Pindar at the time! Technically, it consists of three stanzas, all with the same scheme; it uses lines of varying length joined with both assonance and rhyme, everything being iambic in rhythm. The scheme is:

10 A1
10 A1
10 A2
10 A1
10 A2
8 A3
6 A2
8 A3
10 R
10 A3
10 R
12 R

where the initial number is the number of syllables, A is an assonance and R is a rhyme.
Philosophy, from well above the stars,
Beyond the ceiling of dark heaven, stares
Upon our works, upon our days below:
I blush beneath the deathless gaze that stirs
The spirit: let all poetry belong
To wisdom, but all souls to love;
For I do not believe
There is some better way to live
Than hand in hand with shining beauty, James,
As long as golden Mindy is alive:
Her splendour — yes, her perfect splendour — shames
The wisest man, and crushes other women's claims.

To press a suit is dangerous for fools,
For on the sluggish suitor ruin falls:
Whoever dared to enter in that race
With Atalanta, eager as spring foals
To race a stallion — all for a caress —
They perished, for they tired fast.
'Til once she came across
An apple in the grass; her fist
Swooped down to clench the tantalising fruit;
For three gold apples Atalanta fussed,
Adjusting thus her single-minded route;
And at the finish found Hippomenes th' astute.

Oh lucky couple! Happy apples! Soon,
Before the stars forget the fading sun,
We'll sip at will from victory's slender flute,
Discerning in the heavens that bright sign,
Unyielding in its swift celestial flight,
Auspicious for the voyage — look:
The ship is well afloat,
The crowd's upon the shore and luck
Is guaranteed by more than mortal force:
For heaven, all the ocean's just a lake:
The blessèd vessel steers a peaceful course
Through every storm and reaches port without remorse.

Epithalamium of 2008

Not two, but one;
Not halves, a whole
And perfect unison
Was sung today:
Where Humber's hillsides roll
I heard them say
Beneath the chuppah's flowers
That all life's hours
That fill the mortal day

They'd spend entwined,
Nor sink nor yield,
Nor cease to seek and find
In th' other's eyes
What glorious love revealed:
The heart defies
The flesh and mends all wrong,
As gentle song
Makes laughter of our sighs.

Epithalamium for Dave and Jess

An epithalamium for my dear brother and sister-in-law.
        οὐ μὲν γὰρ τοῦ γε κρεῖσσον καὶ ἄρειον,
ἢ ὅθ᾽ ὁμοφρονέοντε νοήμασιν οἶκον ἔχητον
ἀνὴρ ἠδὲ γυνή: πόλλ᾽ ἄλγεα δυσμενέεσσι,
χάρματα δ᾽ εὐμενέτῃσι, μάλιστα δέ τ᾽ ἔκλυον αὐτοί.
                                                             Odyssey 6.182-185
One beautiful bright eye of emerald green
Accustomed to regard the Rocky peaks
From far aloft, in Justice’ service keen,
Sparkling as though with Okanagan dew,
Leaping down the grassy aisle, seeks
The wink that makes a prophecy come true.

One eye of subtle hazel, lit with love,
Its whites like Rocky peaks, its lashes tall,
Winks its devotion and the joy thereof;
At grassy aisle’s ending it dilates,
Seeing in its imagination all
The history this occasion consecrates.

Now side by side those glowing eyes are set
Upon one face: together they will close
Each night, together blink, roll, squint, and sweat,
Their gaze as potent as their gaze intends:
A single stare intimidates their foes;
A single glance can satisfy their friends.

Epithalamium for Lorenz and Robert

For two friends, residents of Vancouver (whence the reference to Mt. Seymour, a mountain overlooking that city); Lorenz is also my godfather! Albireo is a double star, the tip of the constellation Cygnus (the Swan).
Look, tonight the Swan will soar
Wings stretched over Seymour’s peak;
On its tail burns Deneb evermore,
But fairest are the stars it clutches in its beak:

Albireo, what old eyes
First viewed your double light, what tongue
Declared you first the lovers of the sky,
The toast of all the stars you slowly twirl among?

Fate elected you to be
The lofty sign of two in one,
Model tonight of love’s vast gravity
Until the bravest stars must flee the coming sun.

Epithalamium for Stefanie and Roberto

For my sister-in-law and brother-in-law.
The best of women and the best of men
Seldom (it seems) possess the acumen
To meet, still less to date, and least of all
To vow their love, whatever may befall;
But now the King of Cool and Queen of Style
Have vowed, and kissed, and made the world their aisle:
Never shall Style and Cool now live apart:
They’ll elevate their union to an art.

Satirical / Parodic Verse at Maclean's

Some of my most enjoyable lyrics were from the 18 months I spent commenting on Canadian politics at Maclean's, where, in the community of articulate, passionate, mostly pseudonymous patriots who gravitated to that institution, I had a wonderful audience for occasional verse.

Occasional verse has its advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that occasional verse can employ obscure allusions while still appealing to a wide audience, since a relatively large number of people are following the news on any given day and know the background to a news story. The main disadvantage is that nobody remembers the news a week after it happened. Lacking a received body of myth, however, what else are we to do these days if we seek to appeal to a wider audience than students of English literature or (God help us) fans of Bacchylides? A poem that can only be understood with the help of footnotes is never fully alive.

Casey in the Dock

The immediate background to this poem is that
Bill Casey, the MP for Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley (a riding in Nova Scotia) and a long-time Conservative politician, was expelled from the Conservative caucus in 2007 for voting against the budget, which he claimed broke the Atlantic Accord (an agreement between the federal government, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland). He was subsequently targeted with below-the-belt electoral tactics but triumphantly reelected. This poem was composed quickly (in about half an hour), immediately after Casey himself made public the below-the-belt electoral tactics he had been targeted with. It is of course a parody of the famous baseball poem Casey at the Bat by Ernest Thayer.

The very happy ending of the whole saga is that Mr. Casey, a distinguished patriot, not only won reëlection as an Independent but is still an MP in the House of Commons, having been elected as a Liberal in 2015.
The budget wasn’t gentle to the Maritimes that year;
Th’ Accord then lay in tatters: precious little thus to cheer;
“Atlantic Tories can’t accept it,” journalists did say:
But turns out they were cowards; only Casey voted Nay.

For Casey was a Member of our honest Parliament
The like of whom this glorious nation has but seldom kennt:
He never fobbed his riding off with speeches learned by rote,
And what’s more, when he gave his word, he backed it with his vote.

They chucked him from the caucus and behind him locked the door
They left his party card in little pieces on the floor
They said, “Get out! And nevermore disgrace the Tory brand
With talk of how MP’s can take an independent stand.”

He piled his stuff in boxes: pictures, letters, notes of thanks,
The bric-à-brac of twenty years of service in the ranks
And drove the dismal highway at the closing of the year:
Then Casey, even Casey, at the wheel could shed a tear.

He parked the car in Cumberland and walked to Musquodobit,
His heart was heavy as he passed a dwarf and dusky hobbit,
But just as Casey reached the crest and gazed upon the scene
His heart rejoiced and sobs of joy replaced his sometime spleen.

For all around the Valley, through the streets of every town,
His proud constituents had come to add to his renown:
The lawns, the poles, the chimneys all were decked with banners bright,
And each and every one of them said “Casey, you done right!”

They clustered round him, sang their songs, and lifted him on high,
The men looked on with envy and the women breathed a sigh;
But there among them, ‘mid the mirth, were some the Devil sired,
The Tory organisers who ‘gainst Casey now conspired.

They hated his staunch virtue, and they hated his new fame:
The hated him the more because the people praised his name.
And PMO had sent them out from Ottawa’s dark caves
To muddy Casey’s reputation — scoundrels, villains, knaves!

They donned their balaclavas and they clubbed some baby seals,
They fabricated accusations of dishonest deals
And with a silent cackle slipped them in the Mounties’ mail,
And scurried back to Ottawa to hit the campaign trail.

You know the rest, dear reader, how the carpetbagger came
And got his ass kicked back to where the Tories have no shame;
The people stood by Casey, rich and poor and young and old:
The Casey vote outclassed the Tory’s numbers by tenfold.

But now we wait to see if evil scheming in the dark,
The balaclava politics, the ethics of a shark,
Shall muddy yet the name of one would not hurt a mouse,
Of Casey, mighty Casey, pride and honour of the House.

Harper, Repent!

I composed this song, to the tune of "Scotland the Brave," for the rallies against prorogation that took place on 23 January 2010; I was meaning to bring it to the rally planning meetings and convince my fellow protesters to sing it, ideally while marching. I chose "Scotland the Brave" because the tune is stirring, martial, and so well known, not for any Scottish relevance.

Unfortunately I was too tied up with other business to get to the planning meetings; though I brought 200 copies to the rally, I didn't have the courage to start handing them out, seeing as the crowd could barely be convinced to chant any slogan at all (though in fairness the slogans chosen were extremely lame!). The people who heard me singing it seemed to like it, and I think it would have lent a cheerful energy to the protest; but we'll never know.

The theme is obviously the supremacy of Parliament as the source of legitimacy under Responsible Government, a core tenet of our democracy that Harper had no compunction whatsoever about defying. The reference is to the Glorious Revolution of 1689 that established the non-absolute authority of the Crown.

The lines here in
bold were meant for the whole crowd to join in on. You can hear the tune. You can compare the original lyrics (from 1950, by Cliff Hanley), which have more verses than my version has here.
Pity the gloomy nation
Sunk under prorogation
We march to its salvation
Harper, repent!

Harper, you double-dare us
Tyrants can never scare us
Oh no, they must beware us
And Parliament.

So it's up with the Crown
Down with the Clown

Wake up the whole damn town
For Parliament.

No, I will never tarry
'Gainst measures arbitrary
Love in my heart I carry
For Parliament.


Glorious the Revolution
Which built the Constitution
We march for retribution
Now once again.

Harper will try and smear us
Though all the people cheer us
Let every ocean hear us
Let freedom reign.

So it's up with the Crown
Down with the Clown

Wake up the whole damn town
Let freedom reign.

March on, you proud Canadian
Wipe off the foul contagion
With you our hearts are ragin'
Let freedom reign.

The Very Model of a Modern Tory Minister

Stockwell Day, former leader of the Canadian Alliance and current President of the Treasury Board, was in February 2009 Minister of Public Safety. He had been famous, as Leader, for a disastrous news conference to which he showed up in a wetsuit while riding a Sea-doo; he remains famous for his creationist belief that dinosaurs and human beings once coexisted. But in February 2009 he had the grace to do some Gilbert and Sullivan for an NAC gala night of politics and pundits.; which of course provided an irresistible target for the song below, a parody of Gilbert and Sullivan's famous song. You can listen to the original Gilbert & Sullivan song with lyrics, or without lyrics if you'd like to sing along with the new ones below.
I am the very model of a modern Tory Minister,
My public views are circumscribed, my private views are sinister,
In wetsuits I look chiseled, for I’m hardly roly-poly, oh!
And that’s why they have given me this wonderful portfolio
On weekends you’ll appreciate my hardy grassroots-mustering
But weekdays I’m in Parliament and smugly filibustering
I can’t decide if Harper likes me only for my shyness or
Because I like to talk to my invisible pet dinosaur!
My public views are circumscribed, my private views are sinister,
I am the very model of a modern Tory Minister.

Non, il ne regrette rien

So somehow the subject of Conrad Black came up at Maclean's, and the discussion wheeled 'round to how unusual it is for a convicted criminal to be a successful biographer and vice versa. James Short wondered aloud what scribe Black might still have in store for us, prompting commenter Fintan (voicing the majority anti-Conrad sentiment) to remark:

“What will Black write before he dies?” asks James Short. Unashamed and unrepentant scoundrel that he is, probably something like “Non, je ne regrette rien.”

This was of course a red flag to me as bull. Here is the
tune with original lyrics (which it can to hear while you read); or you could try the karaoke version. Either way, it's best to imagine Milord's baritone.
Non, rien de rien
Non, je ne regrette rien
Ni l’argent que j’ai pris, ni ma femme
Tout ça dont on me blâme!

Non, rien de rien
Non, je ne regrette rien
Humilié, incarcéré, blasphémé
Je serai bien disculpé!

Avec mes adjectifs
J’ai gâté l’égoisme
Prétentieux gérondifs
Mésurés dans l’abîme
Mésurées les amendes
C’est adieu aux limos
Au revoir les chauffeurs
Je repars à vélo

Non, rien de rien
Non, je ne regrette rien
Ni l’argent que j’ai pris, ni ma femme
Tout ça dont on me blâme!

Non, rien de rien
Non, je ne regrette rien
Car vos vies, car vos joies
Aujourd’hui recommencent avec moi!

Die Schreiberballade

The poem below was composed to illustrate the difficult position of a former prime minister of Canada, Brian Mulroney, in November 2007 and for quite a while thereafter, after a corrupt German businessman, Karlheinz Schreiber, alleged that he had given Mulroney huge sums of cash in order to buy his influence; he later testified that West German sources had partially funded Mulroney's takeover of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1983. At various points in the saga of scandal and recrimination, Mulroney affirmed his concern for "his father's name," a reference I found so comical that I composed Die Schreiberballade, mainly as a parody of gothically Romantic morality ballads like Keats' La Belle Dame Sans Merci.
The wind was in the Southern alps,
   Ocktoberfest was past,
And there upon the mountain heath
   I met a man aghast.

He sat beside an empty sack,
   In Schreiberhosen clad;
“My father’s name, my father’s name!”
   His voice was passing sad.

“Oh, stranger, who art thou?” I called
   And hastened to his side.
“Why dost thou on the mountain heath
   Thus mortify thy pride?”

“I was a prince,” he weeping said,
   ”Across the western sea,
My brother was a mighty king,
   More powerful than me.

“I sensed it was my fate to reign,
   I coveted his throne;
My treachery was kept in check
   By lack of funds alone.

“By chance, one woeful winter morn,
   (Forget, I never shall!)
My steps sought out the magic vale
   They call the Schreibertal:

“Like silver shine that valley’s fields,
   A gilded pleasure-park;
The blooms upon the trees appear
   As dollar, franc, and mark.

“And as I wandered, now I heard
   The piping of a flute,
And to my ears the song described
   The joy of German loot.

“Beneath a tree the piper sat,
   The music reached an end;
Now up he leapt and shook my hand
   And smiled just like a friend.

“No more than four feet tall he stood,
   All ruddy was his hide;
But as he danced about I felt
   A twinge of Schreiberleid.

““Now thou art come,” the wight declared,
   “We’ve long awaited thee
In Schreibertal we understand
   No throne is bought for free.

““Thou wouldst ascend? Then I shall help!
   Thou art a Schreiberfreund.
This money and thy kingly dream
   My piping hath conjoined.”

“Just so the Schreiberhobbit spoke
   And ope’d a sack of gold;
And countless glistening coins were there,
   A wonder to behold;

““But first there is a price,” he said,
   “A footnote to thy fame:
Not now, not now, but yet someday
   Shalt owe thy father’s name.”

“The gold was fair, and in my mind
   I pictured my renown;
The gold was fair, and on my head
   I felt my brother’s crown.”

“Stop there, poor prince!” I cried, appalled –
   My teeth began to gnash –
“Or tell me, for G-d’s sake, that thou
   Didst spurn th’ enchanted cash!”

“Alas!” he wailed, with staring eyes,
   “As though by hell impelled,
As helpless as in evil dreams,
   I took the Schreibergeld.

“Then back I went, and with my haul
   I gave my brother grief:
My thanes flew to my banner bright,
   Securing me the fief.

“For nine sweet years I reigned in bliss,
   In battle triumphed twice,
But in the glory of myself
   Forgot the Schreiberpreis.

“One night, between the royal sheets,
   Just as the midnight neared,
I woke and heard a raven squawk:
   The elfin sprite appeared.

“I would not pay — I would not go –
   The cash was all but spent –
I bade him flee to Schreibertal;
   He vowed I would repent.

“No dungeon guards could hold him back,
   But from the walls he spoke:
My father’s name he soon destroyed
   Before the frightened folk.

“My castle burnt, my sceptre snapped,
   With empty sack I roam:
Behold me now, my friend, and dread
   The vengeance of a gnome!”

So spoke the broken prince, and wept,
   And could not be appeased;
I fled across the mountain heath
   By haunting horror seized;

But in my ears his words ring still
   Like echoes from a tomb;
To all the world I propagate
   The lesson of his doom:

Oh, do not swear a Schreiberschwur
   To be a Schreiberheld!
Go never into Schreibertal
   To seek the Schreibergeld!

Stephen Harper, Piano Man

Mainly known as a policy wonk and ruthless master of political chess, our prime minister, Stephen Harper, astonished the world with a public performance of The Beatles' "A Little Help from my Friends" on 3 October 2009 at the National Arts Centre.

Needless to say, this tour de force set off a ceaseless string of jokes about the PM as a pianist / singer / entertainer, especially at
Maclean's; but I owe the immediate inspiration for this parody of Billy Joel's "Piano Man" to my good friend danby, who was the first I saw to use the phrase "piano man." It recounts an afternoon in the House of Commons during Question Period, just as the original recounts an evening at a bar.

  • "a weasley Nova Scotian" = Peter MacKay, then Minister of Defence;
  • "I'll demand that we honour the dead" refers to a Harper Government habit of accusing assailants of disrespecting the army;
  • "Jack with the 'stache" = Jack Layton, then Leader of the NDP;
  • "if I hadn't got myself duped" refers to Layton's response to various CPC bribes to prevent an election in the Fall of 2009;
  • "that francophone crystal-eyed maniac" = Gilles Duceppe, then Leader of the Bloc Québécois.
It's two o'clock on a Wednesday
The regular crowd shuffles in
There's a weasley Nova Scotian sittin' next to me
Gettin' psyched for some serious spin.

He says, Steve, should I take this one for you?
I'm not really sure what she said;
But I think it began with our stimulus plan:
I'll demand that we honour the dead.

La la la, de de da
La la, de de da, da da

Sing us a song, you're the Prime Minister
Sing us a song in QP
Well, we're all in the mood for a policy
Or at least for a regal decree

Now Jack with the 'stache is a friend of mine
He keeps my side firmly in power
But he's quick with a squeal or to turn on his heel
Or to stuff your gun muzzle with flowers

He says, "Steve, I believe this is killing me"
-- As the hearty moustachios drooped --
"Well I'm sure that I could be in Cabinet
"If I hadn't got myself duped."

Oh, la la la, de de da
La la, de de da, da da

Now Iggy's is a Russian aristocrat
Who never had time to live here,
And he's lecturing Rae, who's gone Bob Barker grey,
About how to expand his career.

And that francophone crystal-eyed maniac
Is rising to plead with the Speaker:
Yes, they're sharing a dream they call Parliamentary government,
And I secretly wish for a streaker

Sing us a song, you're the Prime Minister
Sing us a song in QP
Well, we're all in the mood for a policy
Or at least for a regal decree

It's a pretty good crowd for a Wednesday
And that creep Van Loan gives me a smile
'Cause he knows he'd be dead at a nod of my head:
That's just what they call "leadership style."

And the piano sounds like a carnival
And the backbenchers caper like seals
And they laugh at my jokes and join hands in the hoax
Of defending our long-dead ideals.

Oh, la la la, de de da
La la, de de da, da da

Sing us a song, you're the Prime Minister
Sing us a song in QP
Well, we're all in the mood for a policy
Or at least for a regal decree

Ode on a Grecian Derivative

On the crash of 2008; a parody of Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn."

Inspired by a comment of
Paul Krugman's: "the economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth."
Thou lately ravish'd bride of arrogance,
Thou foster-child of Smugness and false Math,
Viciousness' cat'lyst, who couldst thus enhance
The market's guilt, and launch the Day of Wrath;
What apprehension lurks within thy code
Of bankers or investors, or of both,
On Wall Street or within the TSE?
What toxic assets these? What neg'tive growth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to unload?
What stark comeuppance? What harsh obloquy?

Marseillaise politique canadienne

A general attack on the shallowness of Canadian party politics. Much improved, tel quel, if read while listening to the melody. If you'd like, you can compare the original lyrics.
Allons, enfants de mon parti,
Car l’élection arrivera;
Contre nous, francehement, de l’ennui,
L’étendard public élevé -
L’étendard public élevé!
Entendez-vous dans les campagnes
Mugir les féroces électeurs
Qui haissent tous nos candidats
Et même nos chefs - ils les dédaigent!
Aux caisses, les partisans!
Dans chaque circonscription!
Marchons, marchons,
Que nul résultat
Ne change nos opinions!


New Version of "O Canada"

There has been much talk of tweaking the wording to "O Canada," the Canadian national anthem; though predictably nothing has happened; but the discussion got me thinking about "O Canada" and how it could be improved from its present toxic levels of tautology, grammatical opacity, and solecism, with this result. Apart from replacing the old text, this new text would have the virtue of meaning the same thing in both languages and articulating a genuinely poetic theme (the mutability of flesh vs. the durability of institutions). The first stanza here is the English version, the second the French version, and the third a combined version that follows the same alternation between languages that we currently employ. To sing along with these new words, try this Youtube video.
O Canada, our noble northern land
True patriots all, for you we proudly stand;
Like snow before the breath of spring
The years will melt away,
But we remain, O Canada,
And stand on guard today.
Forever one, both young and grey,
O Canada we stand on guard today.
O Canada we stand on guard today.

O Canada, auguste terrain du nord,
Nous nous levons, fidèles jusqu'à la mort,
La vie se passe comme la neige
Se fond en plein printemps
Mais nous restons, O Canada,
Pour toi si vigilants
Ensemble toujours, agé(e)s, enfants,
O Canada pour toi si vigilants
O Canada pour toi si vigilants.

O Canada, our noble northern land
True patriots all, for you we proudly stand;
La vie se passe comme la neige
Se fond en plein printemps
Mais nous restons, O Canada,
Pour toi si vigilants
Forever one, both young and grey,
O Canada we stand on guard today.
O Canada we stand on guard today.

Sonnet in French Vowels

"All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music. For while in all other kinds of art it is possible to distinguish the matter from the form, and the understanding can always make this distinction, yet it is the constant effort of art to obliterate it. That the mere matter of a poem, for instance, its subject, namely, its given incidents or situation — that the mere matter of a picture, the actual circumstances of an event, the actual topography of a landscape — should be nothing without the form, the spirit, of the handling, that this form, this mode of handling, should become an end in itself, should penetrate every part of the matter: this is what all art constantly strives after, and achieves in different degrees."
                  Walter Pater, "Giorgione" (1873)
o è a y a é i ou i u
   eu a è u, e à ô é i a
a eu i à o ou, e û ê u;
   è é è e, e i, o à, ou a.
y y ô à, é y, i ou à ô?
   u é é é, a o, a û i ê
à û è o a, ê e à y ô
   è e e é, i é à ô u ê:
ou a è y y é e a o é,
   a ou o ô è e à à i ou,
eu è a ô, a û! u! o è é
   y o e é, i y à y o ou.
i a o u, é è e a i i,
à ou, à u, e é a ô u i.

Sonnet for David Berlin

On the occasion of his book of 2011, The Moral Lives of Israelis.
There is the past and future, only those:
No present moment and no ecstasy
Of thought distended till we decompose:
I'm only what I was and what I'll be.
It's true, atemporal eternity
Absorbs all love, all hate, all breath, and smoothes
Us all into the endless history
Of death: for that should I corrupt our youths?

Life wants upheavel, wants the incomplete,
A Yes, a No, the will to disobey,
The right upheld and the avengèd wrong,
As when the king lamented the defeat
Of Saul, his bitter rival: still today
The west wind blows the sadness of that song.

Caius Gracchus

For R. Stursberg, 2012, on the challenges and rewards of reform. My older son's name is Caius.
When Caius Gracchus stared the Senate down,
His voice his only weapon, and his frown,
Insisting that the rich Italian soil
Was not the Senate's but the People's spoil,
The People who, like limbs that shield the head,
At Cannae and at Asculum had bled,
The People, oft by vicious tongues chastised,
By only the despicable despised,
By self-appointed guardians repressed,
By open-handed patrons dispossessed,
When Caius clenched a patriotic fist,
How many Senators did he enlist?
They huddled yawning, ordered wine, conferred,
Swallowed a little, joked, and passed the word
To hunt him through the Forum, smear his name,
Murder the man, assimilate the aim,
And afterwards, like Hannibals, deride
Proud Caius Gracchus' Roman suicide.
And there they'd still be chatting à propos
The glory of the comfy status quo;
But Caius Caesar set that Senate-house aglow.


A Canadian winter idyll.
On rink or lake, each breath opaque,
the black tape fresh, the blunt blades thresh
in violation: switch off, swoop in,
and re-begin: anticipation
fills us up, none skate, and the hard eyes wait:
dropped brisk, the flicked disk
jumps whither shades slither,
disappeared, 'til it's back
to attack or be cleared.

Oh, who could tell how gods propel
a man's poor luck like some poor puck
and smirk, sardonic? There's something cruel
about a duel of the demonic.
Now I skip, slip, roll to the longed-for goal:
though late, a man's fate
ain't little: soon it'll
be as quick as the snap
or the slap of a stick.

Song of the Secutor

I wrote this for a class on Roman social history at Dalhousie, and I've sung it several times there, sometimes dressed in the armour of an actual Secutor, the type of Roman gladiator always opposed to the Retiarius (net-man). Here a Secutor looks back nostalgically at his days of fighting a now dead Retiarius.
Where are you now, my little retiarius?
I used to chase you back and forth all day
Though I couldn't see a thing
I could hear it when you'd fling
Your little net to catch me and to slay.

Do you remember, little retiarius?
We'd smile and give our Ave, Caesar, te
Morituri salutamus

That's just Latin for "Yo' mamma's
Fit to join us in our bloody cabaret."

At last we met, my lonely retiarius,
As I was walking down the Appian Way,
There I read upon your grave
Neither of us is a slave
So th' arena cannot summon us today.

Expansion on Iliad 6.146-9

Iliad 6.146-9:

οἵη περ φύλλων γενεὴ τοίη δὲ καὶ ἀνδρῶν.
φύλλα τὰ μέν τ᾽ ἄνεμος χαμάδις χέει, ἄλλα δέ θ᾽ ὕλη
τηλεθόωσα φύει, ἔαρος δ᾽ ἐπιγίγνεται ὥρη:
ὣς ἀνδρῶν γενεὴ ἣ μὲν φύει ἣ δ᾽ ἀπολήγει.

Indeed, just like the growth of leaves, just so the grown of human beings:
Some leaves the wind upon the ground will scatter, while the forest's trees
Will swiftly bring to light another, when the hour of springtime comes.
Just so the growth of men: one seeks the light, the other falls away.
The destiny of leaves is like our own:
Winds scatter them, while on the branch, swift grown,
Another generation buds, in May;
Another buds just as the first gives way.

The mighty river rushes to the sea;
Though lost, its water does not cease to be:
The light will lift and drop it from the sky,
And so the river never shall run dry.

We build our little castles on the sand:
Although against the tide no wall can stand:
The tallest walls are washed into the shore:
Tomorrow someone else will build one more.

Cf. Simonides (29 Diehl/ Snell, 8 West):

   ἓν δὲ τὸ κάλλιστον Χῖος ἔειπεν ἀνήρ·
«οἵη περ φύλλων γενεή, τοίη δὲ καὶ ἀνδρῶν.»
   παῦροι μὴν θνητῶν οὔασι δεξάμενοι
στέρνοισ' ἐγκατέθεντο· πάρεστι γὰρ ἐλπὶς ἑκάστωι
   ἀνδρῶν, ἥ τε νέων στήθεσιν ἐμφύεται.
θνητῶν δ' ὄφρα τις ἄνθος ἔχηι πολυήρατον ἥβης,
   κοῦφον ἔχων θυμὸν πόλλ' ἀτέλεστα νοεῖ·
οὔτε γὰρ ἐλπίδ' ἔχει γηρασέμεν οὔτε θανεῖσθαι
   οὐδ', ὑγιὴς ὅταν ἦι, φροντίδ' ἔχει καμάτου.
νήπιοι, οἷς ταύτηι κεῖται νόος, οὐ δὲ ἴσασιν,
   ὡς χρόνος ἔσθ' ἥβης καὶ βιότοι' ὀλίγος
θνητοῖσ'· ἀλλὰ σὺ ταῦτα μαθῶν βιότου ποτὶ τέρμα
   ψυχῆι τῶν ἀγαθῶν τλῆθι χαριζόμενος.