Zeg-Zeg – Brief Poems by Tony Harrison

Tony Harrison (born 30 April 1937) is an English poet, translator and playwright. He was born in Leeds, the son of a baker,  and educated at Leeds Grammar School and at Leeds University. He is one of Britain’s foremost verse writers and many of his works have been performed at the Royal National Theatre. In his first full-length book of poetry, The Loiners (1970), Harrison explored his relationship with the eponymous citizens of the working-class community of Leeds. Yet, reflecting Harrison’s own experiences of teaching in Nigeria (the Zeg-Zeg poems below are set there) and working in Prague, the book ranges widely in location and topic, from childhood encounters with sex in Leeds to tales of love in Eastern Europe. His second full-length collection appeared in 1978. From “The School of Eloquence” and Other Poems was a more explicit exploration of class issues than The Loiners had been, provoking critical controversy but also gaining critical plaudits.

Harrison’s most famous poem, and his first foray into television, is  (1985), written during the miners’ strike of 1984–85, and describing a trip to see his parents’ grave in a local cemetery in Leeds,  ‘now littered with beer cans and vandalised by obscene graffiti’. The title has several possible interpretations: victory, versus, verse, etc. Proposals to screen a televised filmed version of drew howls of outrage from the tabloid press, some broadsheet journalists, and MPs, apparently concerned about the effects its “torrents of obscene language” and “streams of four-letter filth” would have on the nation’s youth.He is also renowned for his versions of classic poetic dramatic works and noted for his outspoken political views. He translated his first Greek play 50 years ago, and has since adapted ancient dramas for the National Theatre.

His most recent collection of poetry is Under the Clock (2005), and his Collected Poems, and Collected Film Poetry, were published in 2007. His latest book is Fram (2008), a work for theatre premiered at the National Theatre in 2007. He has picked up a number of prizes over the years, including the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the Whitbread Prize for Poetry and the William Heinemann Prize. In 2015, he was honoured with the David Cohen Prize in recognition for his body of work.




Tony Harrison travelled widely in his early years as a poet, especially in Africa and Eastern Europe and was open to various influences. The influence of Arthur Rimbaud and  Rimbaud’s poetic identity as a  white ‘nègre’ can be best found in, for example, from the Zeg-Zeg Postcards, a sequence of mainly parodic and sometimes pornographic short poems about the sexual exploits of a homosexual English professor and poet in colonial Africa.  ‘Zeg Zeg’ was the name in the Middle Ages for the region now known as Zaria, the Nigerian state where Harrison lived in the 1960s. The poem works best as a complete sequence but the extracts below indicate some of the humour available. Harrison gradually developed his own distinctive voice. The brief poem Heredity gestures at its source.

Tony Harrison has a degree in classics and, as well as translating classic verse plays, he has also translated classic brief poems. I sometimes work with ancient originals written at times when poetry had the range and ambition to net everything, but if I go to them for courage to take on the
breadth and complexity of the world, my upbringing among so-called ‘inarticulate’ people has given me a passion for language that communicates directly and immediately.
I first came across a selection of Martial’s verse in English when, many years ago, for the modest sum of one pound, I purchased a copy of Tony Harrison’s pamphlet of poems called US Martial, which was published by Bloodaxe Books in 1981. (See image on right.) Living in New York at the time, Harrison deftly translated some of the epigrams into a jazzy American idiom.  As well as translating from the Latin, he has also translated from the ancient Greek.   Palladas: Poems, first published in 1975,  introduced this pagan poet, with his Swiftian sensibility (saeva indignatio) to a contemporary audience. His selection, most of which are, unfortunately, too long to be tweeted, skilfully recreates the bitter wit which he describes as ‘the authentic snarl of a man trapped physically in poverty and persecution, and metaphysically in a deep sense of the futile’. As he writes in his preface, ‘Palladas…is generally regarded as the last poet of Paganism, and it is in this role that I have sought to present a consistent dramatic personality…His are the last hopeless blasts of the old Hellenistic world, giving way reluctantly, but without much resistance, before the cataclysm of Christianity.”


Brief Poems by Tony Harrison

from The Zeg-Zeg Postcards


Africa – London – Africa –
to get it away.


Knowing my sense of ceremonial
my native tailor
still puts
buttons on my flies.


I bought three Players tins
of groundnuts with green mould
just to touch your hands
counting the coppers into mine.


Je suis le ténébreux … le veuf ...
always the soixante and never the neuf.


The shower streams over him
and the water turns instantly
to cool Coca-Cola.


I’d like to


Mon égal!
Let me be the Gambia
in your Senegal.



How you became a poet’s a mystery!
Wherever did you get your talent from?
I say: I had two uncles, Joe and Harry-
one was a stammerer, the other dumb.



A flop is when the star’s first-night bouquets
outlast the show itself by several days.




from U. S. Martial


You serve me plonk, and you drink reservé.

My taste-buds back away from mine’s bouquet.


IX Twosum

Add one and one together and make TWO:
that boy’s sore ass + your cock killing you.


XII Paula

She doesn’t feel 3
parts in Comedy
quite do.

4’s more and merrier!
She hopes the spear-carrier
comes on too.


XVI The Joys of Separation

She wants more and more and more new men in her.

He finally finishes Anna Karenina.


Some of these poems, together with the original Latin are available on the Brief Poems Martial post.


from Palladas, Poems


Life’s a performance. Either join in
lightheartedly, or thole the pain.


Born naked. Buried naked. So why fuss?
All life leads to that first nakedness.


Born crying, and after crying, die.
It seems the life of man’s just one long cry.
Pitiful and weak and full of tears,
Man shows his face on earth and disappears.


Agony comes from brooding about death.
Once dead, a man’s spared all that pain.

Weeping for the dead’s a waste of breath –
they’re lucky, they can’t die again.


God’s philosophical and so can wait
for the blasphemer and the reprobate –

He calmly chalks their crimes upon His slate.


God rot the guts and the guts’ indulgences.
It’s their fault that sobriety lets go.


Death feeds us up, keeps an eye on our weight
and herds us like pigs through the abattoir gate.


Shun the rich, they’re shameless sods
strutting about like little gods,

loathing poverty, the soul
of temperance and self-control.


Just look at them, the shameless well-to-do
and stop feeling sorry you’re without a sou.


Poor devil that I am, being so attacked
by wrath in fiction, wrath in fact.

Victim of wrath in literature and life:

1. The Iliad  2. the wife!


A grammarian’s daughter had a man
then bore a child m. f. & n.


The ignorant man does well to shut his trap
and hide his opinions like a dose of clap.


Menander’s right, and thought’s most fertile soil
‘serendipity, not midnight oil.


Where’s the public good in what you write,
raking it in from all that shameless shite,

hawking iambics like so much Betterbrite.


Thanks for the haggis. Could you really spare
such a huge bladder so full of air?


women all
cause     rue

but can be nice
on    occasional

moments two
to  be  precise

in     bed
&    dead


When he comes up to the bedroom
and switches on the light,
the poor man with the ugly wife
stares out into the night.


A drink to drown my sorrows and restart
the circulation to my frozen heart!


Some of these poems, together with the original Greek are available on the Brief Poems Palladas post.



Complete text of from the Zeg Zeg postcards.

The Tony Harrison page on the British Council website.

A critical biography and a detailed bibliography on the Poetry Foundation site.

A newspaper article on Tony Harrison and his poem V.

The Bloodaxe Books page on Tony Harrison.

The Faber & Faber page on Tony Harrison.

A detailed Guardian profile by Nicholas Wroe.

The New Statesman profile by Francis Gilbert.

A Guardian interview with Tony Harrison.

A Book Trust interview with Tony Harrison.

University of Leeds profile.


This page was posted April 30th, 2017 on the occasion of Tony Harrison’s eightieth birthday.

Mists and Wisps – Brief Poems by Hildebrand Jacob

by Jacobus Houbraken, after George Knapton, line engraving, 1735

Hildebrand Jacob (1693–1739) was a British poet and playwright, whose major works include the epic poem Brutus the Trojan and the tragic verse drama The Fatal Constancy. His collected works were published in 1735. His father was Sir John Jacob, third baronet of Bromley, Middlesex (c.1665–1740) and his mother was Dorothy (c.1662–1749). Sir John served in the army from 1685 to 1702, seeing action at the Battle of Killiecrankie and in Ireland. Hildebrand Jacob was named after his mother’s brother, Hildebrand Alington, fourth lord Alington (d. 1722). During 1728 and 1729 he visited Paris, Vienna, and the chief towns of Italy. Following his father, Hildebrand served in the army until at least 1715, then in 1717 he married Meriel, daughter of another baronet, Sir John Bland of Kippax-Park, Yorkshire. They had a son, also Hildebrand, and a daughter, Anne. They made their home at West Wratting, Cambridgeshire. He died, in the lifetime of his father, on 25 May 1739.

Jacob published anonymously in 1720–1 a clever but indelicate poem, ‘The Curious Maid,’ which was frequently imitated and parodied. ‘The Fatal Constancy,’ a tragedy, acted five times at Drury Lane, was published in 1723. ‘Bedlam: a Poem,’ and ‘Chiron to Achilles: a Poem,’ appeared in 1732.  His scattered writings were collected, with large additions, in 1735 as ‘The Works of Hildebrand Jacob, Esq., containing Poems on various Subjects and Occasions, with the “Fatal Constancy,” a Tragedy, and several Pieces in Prose. The greatest Part never before publish’d.’ In the dedicatory epistle to James, earl of Waldegrave, ambassador extraordinary at the court of France, Jacob states that he published the book because incorrect copies had been circulated, and because he wished to convince his friends that he was not the author of ‘some, perhaps, less pardonable Productions that were laid to my charge here at home while I had the advantage of living under your Lordship’s protection abroad.’  In the essay, ‘How the Mind is rais’d to the Sublime,’ Jacob shows himself to have been an enthusiastic admirer of Milton. The National Portrait Gallery in London has an engraving of him by Jacobus Houbraken after George Knapton (see image above).





The only thing certain about us is that we are too many.” That was Yeats commenting on his companions, other poets, in the Rhymers’ Club. While Yeats has survived, most of his companions are now forgotten. It was ever thus. Like most poets, Hildebrand Jacob has disappeared into the mists of time. There is no mention of him in the more than one thousand pages of Margaret Drabble’s The Oxford Companion to English Literature and he has no representation, either, in the six volumes of The Oxford Anthology of English Literature. Like a wisp, the odd poem comes out of the mist. I first encountered his work in a couplet (epigram XV below) included in The Faber Book of Comic Verse, edited by Michael Roberts. Slightly intrigued I searched for further epigrams and found them in The Works of Hildebrand Jacob, Esq. (W. Lewis, 1735). These epigrams may lack the classicism of Ben Jonson, the balance of John Donne, the power of Alexander Pope or the imaginative scope of William Blake. But, in their old-fashioned wit, they may repay a second, even a third reading. I have included the briefest and the best of the thirty-four epigrams below.


Brief Poems by Hildebrand Jacob

Epigram I

O Love! what pains do I endure?
Have patience, Swain, they’ll soon be passed,
Your very passion brings its cure,
Since all philosophers assure,
Nothing that’s violent, can last.

Epigram IV

Corinna dies for grief; but still
She frets, her weeds are made so ill.

Epigram VII

Phillis, I a plot discover!
You have taken a new lover:
For his comfort I can tell,
Let him use you ne’er so well,
You will change him for another.

Epigram VIII

Collin, for love expiring, cries,
To see the Nymph, before he dies.
She went in pity, ’tis confessed
She went; but decked in all her best.

Epigram XV

Titus reads neither prose, nor rhyme,
He writes himself; he has no time.

Epigram XVII

Hamor in six months time, no more,
Has almost travelled Europe o’er:
Hamor must be changed, no doubt?
No; he’s come home, as he went out.

Epigram XX

Why weary of a single Life?
I would advise you, Charles, to stay,
Friend Limber married th’ other day;
You like his table, and his wife.

Epigram XXV

Sly keeps a mistress of his own.
You jest, she’s kept for half the town.

Epigram XXVI

Geron at four score married! ’tis too late.
No; but he wants an heir to his estate.

Epigram XXVII

Why all this stir at Myra’s house?
She took last night a second spouse.
Then why that hatchment, Friend, I pray?
Her first was buried but today.

Epigram XXXII

‘Tis strange, Prudilla, you accuse
Of too much warmth my wanton Muse,
While you read on with all your spite,
And practice, what I only write.

Epigram XXXIV

Poetic Works, you say, are vain,
Infants of a distempered brain,
What then? My verses still you read;
And I my labouring mind have freed.



Biographical details from The Dictionary of National Biography.

The Wikipedia entry on Hildebrand Jacob.

The Works of Hildebrand Jacob, Esq.


by Jacobus Houbraken, after George Knapton, line engraving, 1735

Shards – Brief Poems by Vera Pavlova

 Vera Pavlova was born in Moscow in 1963. She studied at the Schnittke Academy of Music, sang in a church choir, majored in the history of music, and three years later launched her literary career with revealing poems that confronted many readers with repressed memories, concealed experiences and latent longings. Her esteemed career began in the most unlikely of places: a maternity ward. My first poem was a note I had written to send home from the maternity ward. I was twenty at the time, and had just given birth to Natasha, my first daughter. That was the kind of a happy experience I had never known before or after. The happiness was so unbearable that for the first time in my life I wrote a poem. I have been writing since, and I resort to writing whenever I feel unbearably happy or unbearably miserable. And since life provides me with experiences of both kinds, and with plenty of them, I have been writing for the past twenty-six years practically without a pause. I cannot afford staying away from writing. It could be called an addiction, but I prefer to describe it as my form of metabolism. 

Her poems are written in rhyming Russian, contain an intimate tone and were translated into English by her late husband and translator, Steven Seymour. Due to the nature of Russian grammatical endings, many words rhyme with each other and allow poets wide avenues for poetic expression. This freedom in word choice and the richness of the Russian language enables Pavlova to explore her many topics with the depth and breadth she does. Her works have been published in The New York Times and The New Yorker and have been plastered in the New York City and Los Angeles public transportation systems. (See image right.) Her poetry has been published in twenty languages in the span of twenty years.





The glass is shattered, but what do the splinters reflect? For some reason this line of dialogue from Ingmar Bergman’s film, The Hour of the Wolf, comes to mind when I read the poems of Vera Pavlova. It is not that they partake of an isolated Nordic noir; they are more Russian, more cosmopolitan and more  emotionally variegated. They are more refractive than reflective; more shards than splinters. And yet, as in Bergman’s film, there is the sense of an artist confronting a shattered world view, shattered into shards. (Most of the poems consist of less than 10 lines and many consist of considerably less.) W. B. Yeats asked his beloved to Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. Vera Pavlova treads softly, but on shards, not on dreams; and often “barefoot” (as in the poem below.) Her language, at least as it is reflected in Steven Seymour’s translations, is “naked” in the Yeatsian sense. She has often been called an “erotic” poet, but that is too limited a designation. Even the label “feminist” would be a misapplication. Asked to pronounce on “women’s questions”, she  had this to say in an interview with Gleb ShulpiakovOn this subject I have something ready, a poem: “M F. / Mortally sick – Fervently alive. / Delete where necessary”. In art the basic distinction is not between male and female, but between dead and alive. These brief poems may be shards; but they are fervently alive



Brief Poems by Vera Pavlova

Разбила твоё сердце
Теперь хожу по осколкам

I broke your heart.
Now barefoot I tread
on shards.


зимой – животное
весной – растение
летом – насекомое
осенью – птица
всё остальное время я женщина

A beast in winter,
a plant in spring,
an insect in summer,
a bird in autumn.
The rest of the time I am a woman.


после любви:
– Смотри –
весь потолок
в звёздах!
– И на одной,
может быть,
есть жизнь . . .

after love:
the ceiling is
all covered with stars!”
“And maybe
on one of them
there is life . . .”


Иду по канату.
Для равновесья –
двое детей на руках.

I walk the tightrope.
A kid on each arm
for balance.


За пианино, к целому свету спиной.
За пианино, как за высокой стеной.
За пианино, в него уходя, как в забой.
Как в запой. Никого не беря с собой.

At the piano: my back to the world.
At the piano: behind a high wall.
At the piano: like going down into a mine,
or on a drinking binge, taking along no one.


увековечь –
вылепи меня из снега,
голой тёплою ладонью
всю меня отполируй . . .

Eternalise me just a bit:
take some snow and sculpt me in it,
with your warm and bare palm
polish me until I shine . . .


Записывая стихи,
порезала бумагой ладонь.
Царапина продолжила линию жизни
примерно на четверть.

Writing down verses, I got
a paper-cut on my palm.
The cut extended my life line
by nearly one fourth.


И увидел Бог,
что это хорошо.
И увидел Адам,
что это отлично.
И увидела Ева,
что это

And God saw
it was good
And Adam saw
it was excellent
And Eve saw
it was passable


Муза вдохновляет, когда приходит.
Жена вдохновляет, когда уходит.
Любовница вдохновляет, когда не приходит.
Хочешь, я проделаю все это одновременно?

A muse inspires when she arrives.
A wife inspires when she departs.
A mistress, when she doesn’t show up.
Would you like me to do all of that at one and the same time?


I have brushed my teeth.
This day and I are even.


Thought’s surface: word.
Word’s surface: gesture.
Gesture’s surface: skin.
Skin’s surface: shiver.


You are, my dear,
a wall of stone:
to sing or howl
to bash my head on.


The matted lashes sprinkled
with pollen from Eden’s tree.
Your face: the sun.
Mine: a sunflower.


In a nook I write,
you would say crochet
a fuzzy mitten
for a child to be born.


Remember me the way I am
this very instant: brusque and absent,
with words that beat against the cheek
like wings of moths caught in a curtain.




In front of a mirror
was learning to say no.
No. No. No.
The reflection was saying:


I sing, and my legs ache.
I write, and my jaws ache.
Make love, and my shoulders ache.
When I think, my neck aches.


and falling
from such
for so
I will have
enough time
to learn



Why is the word yes so brief?
It should be
the longest,
the hardest,
so that you could not decide in an instant to say it,
so that upon reflection you could stop
in the middle of saying it.


In one pan is joy.
In the other, sorrow.
Sorrow is heavier.
Therefore joy
Rises higher.


Self-Portrait in Profile

the one
who wakes up
on your


A poem is a voice-mail:
the poet has stepped out, most likely
will not be back. Please leave a message
after you hear a gunshot.


The voice. The handwriting. The gait.
Maybe the smell of my hair.
That’s all. Go ahead,
resurrect me.


All poems © Vera Pavlova.

All translations by Steven Seymour.




Vera Pavlova: a detailed personal site with poems, interviews, biographical details and links.

Russian Poetry in English: a dual language selection of the poems of Vera Pavlova.

32 poems on the Poetry International site.

8 poems on the Poetry Foundation site.

Some translations by Michael R. Burch on the HyperTexts site.

Scattered thoughts about poetry from a notebook.

Vera Pavlova page on the Poets Online Blog.

Google Books has 23 poems in the INTERSECTING SENSES book  and further poems in the If There is Something to Desire: One Hundred Poems book.



All poems © Vera Pavlova.

All translations by Steven Seymour.

Pearls – Brief Poems by Michael R. Burch

Michael R. Burch  (born February 19, 1958) is an American computer company executive, poet, columnist, essayist and editor who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the originator and editor  of  The HyperTexts www.thehypertexts.com a literary website which has been online for two decades and, according to Google Analytics, has received more than eight million page views since 2010. He has also been very active in the poetry movements known as New Formalism and Neo-Romanticism. He is an editor and publisher of Holocaust, Hiroshima, Trail of Tears, Darfur and Nakba poetry. He has translated poetry from Old English and other languages into modern English. Poets he has translated include Basho, Bertolt Brecht, Robert Burns, William Dunbar, Allama Iqbal, Ono no Komachi, Takaha Shugyo, Miklos Radnoti, Rainer Maria Rilke, Renee Vivien and Sappho. His work has appeared in such publications as Light Quarterly, The Lyric, The Chariton Review, The Chimaera, Able Muse, Lucid Rhythms, Writer’s Digest—The Year’s Best Writing, The Neovictorian/Cochlea, The Best of the Eclectic Muse and Iambs & Trochees.

Michael Burch is also a peace activist, the author of the Burch-Elberry Peace Initiative, a proposal for peace through justice in Israel and Palestine. He was one of the featured speakers at a Freedom Walk for Palestinians held on October 10, 2009 in Nashville.


Pearls are small, hard, durable and, at times, valuable, like the brief poems of Michael R. Burch. His epigrams show a mastery of concision, balance, brevity and wit. He can use rhyme deftly and humorously, even in a title such as “Nun Fun Undone”. Adding rhyme to the haiku form, which he sometimes employs, may antagonise the purists; but it works. He is not afraid of emotional honesty as in the brief poem below for his wife, Beth. In a post on The Hypertexts site  he amusingly recounts how he was banned for life from the Eratosphere site  for such honesty.

He has also translated a wide variety of short poems. While he calls these “loose translations” they do not deviate far from more exact translators. His versions of Sappho, for example, appeal to me more than the, perhaps, more accurate but, also, more austere versions of Anne Carson. As he explains in a note on the Athenian Epitaphs, “These are epitaphs (a form of epigram) translated from inscriptions on ancient Greek tombstones. I use the term ‘after’ in my translations because these are loose translations rather than ultra-literal translations.”  He has translated widely from the Japanese and has introduced me to the ninth century Japanese poetry of  Ono no Komachi who wrote tanka (also known as waka).

Brief Poems by Michael R. Burch

Epitaph for a Palestinian Child

―for the children of Gaza

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.


Piercing the Shell

If we strip away all the accoutrements of war,
perhaps we’ll discover what the heart is for.


Autumn Conundrum

It’s not that every leaf must finally fall,
it’s just that we can never catch them all.



Love is either wholly folly,
or fully holy.


Sex Hex

Love’s full of cute paradoxes
(and highly acute poxes).


If God
is good
half the Bible
is libel.


Nun Fun Undone

are not for excesses!


don’t forget …

don’t forget to remember
that Space is curved
(like your Heart)
and that even Light is bent
by your Gravity.


Saving Graces

for the Religious Right

Life’s saving graces are love, pleasure, laughter …
(wisdom, it seems, is for the Hereafter.)


Love has the value
of gold, if it’s true;
if not, of rue.


A snake in the grass
lies, hissing


Dark-bosomed clouds
pregnant with heavy thunder …
the water breaks


Late autumn; now all
the golden leaves turn black underfoot:


blesses my knuckle
with affectionate dew


Dry leaf flung awry:
bright butterfly,



& disarming,
but mostly alarming
since all my resolve


Duet, Minor Key

Without the drama of cymbals
or the fanfare and snares of drums,
I present my case
stripped of its fine veneer:
behold, thy instrument.

Play, for the night is long.


Midnight Stairclimber

is at first great sweaty recreation,
then—long, long after the sex dies—
the source of endless exercise.


Warming Her Pearls

for Beth

Warming her pearls, her breasts
gleam like constellations.
Her belly is a bit rotund . . .
she might have stepped out of a Rubens.


Feathered Fiends

Conformists of a feather
flock together.

(Winner of the National Poetry Month Couplet Competition)


The Poem of Poems

This is my Poem of Poems, for you.
Every word ineluctably true:
I love you.


Brief Fling I

means cram,
then scram!


Brief Fling II

To write an epigram, cram.
If you lack wit, scram!


Brief Fling III

No one gives a damn about my epigram?
And yet they’ll spend billions on Boy George and Wham!
Do they have any idea just how hard I cram?


Nod to the Master

If every witty thing that’s said were true,
Oscar Wilde, the world would worship You!


The Whole of Wit

If brevity is the soul of wit
then brevity and levity
are the whole of it.


Fleet Tweet I: Apologies to Shakespeare

A tweet
by any other name
would be as fleet.


Fleet Tweet II: Further Apologies to Shakespeare

Remember, doggonit,
heroic verse crowns the Shakespearean sonnet!
So if you intend to write a couplet,
please do it on the doublet!


Ars Brevis, Proofreading Longa

Poets may labor from sun to sun,
but their editor’s work is never done.


fragment 11

You ignite and inflame me …
You melt me.


fragment 22

That enticing girl’s clinging dresses
leave me trembling, overcome by happiness,
as once, when I saw the Goddess in my prayers
eclipsing Cyprus.


fragment 42

Eros harrows my heart:
wild winds whipping desolate mountains,
uprooting oaks.


fragment 52

The moon has long since set;
the Pleiades are gone;
now half the night is spent,
yet here I lie—alone.


fragment 58



 fragment 155

A short revealing frock?
It’s just my luck
your lips were made to mock!


More of his translations of Sappho are available on the Sappho page on this briefpoems blog and on the Sappho page of The Hypertexts.


after Plato

Mariner, do not ask whose tomb this may be,
but go with good fortune: I wish you a kinder sea.


after Glaucus

Does my soul abide in heaven, or hell?
Only the sea gulls in their high, lonely circuits may tell.


after Simonides

These men earned a crown of imperishable glory,
nor did the maelstrom of death obscure their story.


after Leonidas of Tarentum

Stranger, flee!
But may Fortune grant you all the prosperity
she denied me.


after Diotimus

Stripped of her stripling, if asked, she’d confess:
“I am now less than nothingness.”


More of his translations of these ancient Greek epitaphs  are available on the Athenian Epitaphs page of The Hypertexts.


You can crop all the flowers but you cannot detain spring.


While nothing can save us from death,
still love can redeem each breath.


As if you were on fire from within,
the moon whitens your skin.


Please understand that when I wake up weeping
it’s because I dreamed I was a lost child again,
searching leave-heaps for your hands in the darkness.


I am no longer in love with her, that’s certain,
but perhaps I love her still.
Love is so short, forgetting so long!


More of his translations of Pablo Neruda are available on the Pablo Neruda page on this briefpoems blog and on the Pablo Neruda page of The Hypertexts.


As I slept in isolation
my desired beloved appeared to me;
therefore, dreams have become my reality
and consolation.


Submit to you —
is that what you advise?
The way the ripples do
whenever ill winds arise?


I had thought to pluck
the flower of forgetfulness
only to find it
already blossoming in his heart.


Though I visit him
continually in my dreams,
the sum of all such ethereal trysts
is still less than one actual, solid glimpse.


the end that awaits me —
to think that before autumn yields
I’ll be a pale mist
shrouding these rice fields.


More of his translations of these tanka are available on the Ono no Komachi page of The Hypertexts.


Bonfires for the dead?
Soon they’ll light pyres
for us, instead.


Petals I amass
with such tenderness
prick me to the quick.


An enormous frog!
We stare at each other,
both petrified.


I toss in my sleep,
so watch out,


Cries of the wild geese—
spreading rumors about me?


The ghostly cow comes
mooing mooing mooing
out of the morning mist


The snow melts
the rivers rise
and the village is flooded with children!


More of his translations of Kobayashi Issa are available on the Dewdrops post on this briefpoems blog and on the Kobayashi Issa page of The Hypertexts .


The butterfly
perfuming its wings
fans the orchid


An ancient pond,
the frog leaps:
the silver plop and gurgle of water


The first soft snow:
leaves of the awed jonquil
bow low


The first chill rain:
poor monkey, you too could use
a woven cape of straw


This snowy morning:
cries of the crow I despise
(ah, but so beautiful!)


The cicada’s cry
contains no hint to foretell
how soon it must die.


High-altitude rose petals
the melody of a waterfall.


More of his translations of Matsuo Basho are available on the Basho page of The Hypertexts.


After the French of Patrick Blanche

One apple, alone
in the abandoned orchard
reddens for winter


After the Japanese of Hisajo Sugita

This day of chrysanthemums
I shake and comb my wet hair,
as their petals shed rain


After the Japanese of Chiyo-ni

Ah butterfly,
what dreams do you ply
with your beautiful wings?


After the Japanese of Yosa Buson

White plum blossoms –
though the hour is late,
a glimpse of dawn

(this is believed to be Buson’s death poem; he is said to have died before dawn)


After the Japanese of Kajiwara Hashin

No sky,
no land:
just snow eternally falling …


After the Japanese of Hashimoto Takako

The frozen moon,
the frozen lake:
two oval mirrors reflecting each other.


after  the Japanese of Takaha Shugyo

Wild geese pass
leaving the emptiness of heaven


Our life here on earth:
to what shall we compare it?
It is not like a rowboat
departing at daybreak,
leaving no trace of us in its wake?

More of his translations of Takaha Shugyo are available on the Takaha Shugyo page on this briefpoems blog.


More of his translations of haiku are available on the Haiku:Best of the Masters page of The Hypertexts.

All poems © Michael R. Burch. Reprinted by permission of the author.


The HyperTexts site curated by Michael R. Burch.

An interview with Judy Jones and selected poems.

A recent (January 2017) interview with Michael R. Burch

An interview on Poet’s Corner.

18 poems by Michael R. Burch on the PoemHunter site.

A larger selection of poems on the Michael R. Burch site.

Squabs – Brief Poems by Ogden Nash

Ogden Nash (August 19, 1902 – May 19, 1971) was a famous American poet well known for his light verse of which he wrote over 500 pieces. He was born in Rye, New York, the son of Mattie and Edmund Strudwick Nash. His was a distinguished family; the city of Nashville, Tennessee, was named in honor of one of his forbearers. He attended Harvard College, but dropped out after only one year and then worked as a school teacher in Newport, Rhode Island. He moved to New York where he began selling bonds, unsuccessfully;  as he put it,  “Came to New York to make my fortune as a bond salesman and in two years sold one bond—to my godmother. However, I saw lots of good movies.” He worked as a copywriter for a company that  had previously employed F. Scott Fitzgerald;  he worked in the marketing department with the publishing house Doubleday; he worked, for three months in 1931, on the editorial staff of  The New Yorker. That same year he married Frances Leonard and published his first collection of poems, Hard Lines (Simon & Schuster, 1931). The book was a tremendous success; it went into seven printings in its first year alone and earned him national recognition.

In 1934, Nash moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where he remained until his death in 1971. Nash thought of Baltimore as home. Comparing it to New York he wrote, “I could have loved New York had I not loved Balti-more.” He devoted himself full-time to his verse. He appeared regularly on radio and on television, and he drew huge audiences for his readings and lectures. He was also the author of three screenplays for MGM, and along with S. J. Perelmen and Kurt Weil, he wrote the 1943 Broadway hit One Touch of Venus. He also wrote the lyrics for the 1952 revue Two’s Company. In the 1950s, Nash focused on writing poems for children, including his collection Girls Are Silly (Franklin Watts, 1962). The best of his work was published in 14 volumes between 1931 and 1972. He died on May 19, 1971, prompting The New York Times to say that his “droll verse with its unconventional rhymes made him the country’s best-known producer of humorous poetry.




In culinary terminology, according to Wikipedia, the squab is a young domestic pigeon, typically under four weeks old, or its meat. The meat is widely described as tasting like dark chicken. It is also the title of one of Ogden Nash’s brief, witty and delightful poems. His couplet begins Toward a better world I contribute my modest smidgin… If I call the poems I have chosen below Squabs, it is not to minimise their effectiveness or to diminish their resonance. It is, instead, to acknowledge how tasty the modest smidgin may be.  Introducing a selection of the poetry, Anthony Burgess tried to write in the same vein and confessed his limitations: I am trying to imitate him here, but he is probably quite inimitable./My own talent for this sort of thing being limited and his virtually illimitable. 

While he may be inimitable and illimitable, it is possible to reflect on the merits of his success. Much has to do with his mastery of rhyme.  “I think in terms of rhyme, and have since I was six years old.” His rhymes are, to say the least, unconventional and often absurd. He had a fondness for crafting his own words whenever rhyming words did not exist and a knack for surprising, pun-like rhymes, sometimes with words deliberately misspelled for comic effect. In fact, his persistent sabotage of conventional spelling was to became his signature trademark. He had his own word for this technique – he called himself a  “worsifier.” He often wrote in an exaggerated verse form with pairs of lines that rhyme, but are of dissimilar length and irregular meter. His poems also had an intensely anti-establishment quality that resounded with many Americans, particularly during the Depression. He was a keen observer of American social life, and frequently mocked religious moralizing and conservative politicians. As his career as America’s best practitioner of light verse blossomed he began to refine his focus upon what he called “my field—the minor idiocies of humanity.” This led to a whimsical buffoonery or, as he put it once, “In chaos sublunary / What remains constant but buffoonery?” As one of his biographers, on the Poetry Foundation site, noted, Nash always saw his role as that of cheerful light entertainer, and maintained it to the last in his writing. Decades after his death, he continues to attract new readers and continues to be a popular, if not the most popular, American humorous poet.



Brief Poems by Ogden Nash

A Caution to Everybody

Consider the auk;
Becoming extinct because he forgot how to fly, and could only walk.
Consider man, who may well become extinct
Because he forgot how to walk and learned how to fly before he thinked.


A Word to Husbands

To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up.


Biological Reflection

A girl whose cheeks are covered with paint
Has an advantage with me over one whose ain’t.



Celery, raw
Develops the jaw,
But celery, stewed,
Is more quietly chewed.


Common Sense

Why did the lord give us agility
If not to evade responsibility?


Crossing the Border

Senescence begins
And middle age ends
The day your descendants
Outnumber your friends.


Family Court

One would be in less danger
From the wiles of a stranger
If one’s own kin and kith
Were more fun to be with.


Further Reflections on Parsley

Is gharsley.


Grandpa is Ashamed

A child need not be very clever
To learn that ‘Later, dear’ means ‘Never.’


Genealogical Reflections

No McTavish
Was ever lavish.


I love Me

I’m always my own best cheerer;
Myself I satisfy
Till I take a look in the mirror
And see things I to I.


Introspective Reflection

I would live all my life in nonchalance and insouciance
Were it not for making a living, which is rather a nouciance.


Kipling’s Vermont

The summer like a rajah dies,
And every widowed tree
Kindles for Congregationalist eyes
An alien suttee.


Lather As You Go On

Beneath this slab
John Brown is stowed.
He watched the ads
And not the road.


Lines On Facing Forty

I have a bone to pick with Fate.
Come here and tell me, girlie,
Do you think my mind is maturing late,
Or simply rotted early?


Lines Written to Console Those Ladies Distressed by the Lines “Men Never Make Passes. etc.”

A girl who is bespectacled
Don’t even get her nectaled
But safety pins and bassinets
Await the girl who fascinets.

A reference to a poem by Dorothy Parker.


My Dream

This is my dream,
It is my own dream,
I dreamt it.
I dreamt that my hair was kempt.
Then I dreamt that my true love unkempt it.


Old Doctor Valentine To His Son

Your hopeless patients will live,
Your healthy patients will die.
I have only this word to give:
Wonder, and find out why.


Reflection on Babies

A bit of talcum
Is always walcum.


Reflection on Ingenuity

Here’s a good rule of thumb:
Too clever is dumb.


Reflection On The Fallibility Of Nemesis

He who is ridden by a conscience
Worries about a lot of nonscience;
He without benefit of scruples
His fun and income soon quadruples.


Reflections on a Wicked World

Is obscurity.


Reflections On Ice-Breaking

Is dandy
But liquor
Is quicker.


Reminiscent Reflection

When I consider how my life is spent,
I hardly ever repent.


Samson Agonistes

I test my bath before I sit,
And I’m always moved to wonderment
That what chills the finger not a bit
Is so frigid upon the fundament.


Song Of The Open Road

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree
Indeed, unless the billboards fall
I’ll never see a tree at all.


The Abominable Snowman

I’ve never seen an abominable snowman,
I’m hoping not to see one,
I’m also hoping, if I do,
That it will be a wee one.


The Ant

The ant has made herself illustrious
By constant industry industrious.
So what? Would you be calm and placid
If you were full of formic acid?


The Camel

The camel has a single hump;
The dromedary, two;
Or else the other way around.
I’m never sure. Are you?


The Canary

The song of canaries
Never varies,
And when they’re moulting,
They’re pretty revolting


The Cantaloupe

One cantaloupe is ripe and lush,
Another’s green, another’s mush.
I’d buy a lot more cantaloupe
If I possessed a fluoroscope.


The Cat

The trouble with a kitten is THAT
Eventually it becomes a CAT.


The Catsup Bottle

First a little,
Then a lottle.


The Cockatoo

Cuckoos lead Bohemian lives,
They fail as husbands and as wives,
Therefore they cynically disparage
Everybody else’s marriage.


The Cow

The cow is of bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other is milk.


The Dog

The truth I do not stretch or shove
When I state that the dog is full of love.
I’ve also found, by actual test,
A wet dog is the lovingest.


The Eel

I don’t mind eels
Except as meals.
And the way they feels.


The Fly

The Lord in His wisdom made the fly,
And then forgot to tell us why.


The Jellyfish

Who wants my jellyfish?
I’m not sellyfish!


The Lion

Oh, weep for Mr. and Mrs. Bryan!
He was eaten by a lion;
Following which, the lion’s lioness
Up and swallowed Bryan’s Bryaness.


The Middle

When I remember bygone days
I think how evening follows morn;
So many I loved were not yet dead,
So many I love were not yet born.


The Octopus

Tell me, O Octopus, I begs
Is those things arms, or is they legs?
I marvel at thee, Octopus;
If I were thou, I’d call me Us.


The Ostrich

The ostrich roams the great Sahara.
Its mouth is wide, its neck is narra.
It has such long and lofty legs,
I’m glad it sits to lay its eggs.


The Parent

Children aren’t happy with nothing to ignore,
And that’s what parents were created for.


The Perfect Husband

He tells you when you’ve got on
too much lipstick
And helps you with your girdle
when your hips stick.


The Pig

The pig, if I am not mistaken,
Supplies us sausage, ham and bacon.
Let others say his heart is big –
I call it stupid of the pig.


The Porcupine

Any hound a porcupine nudges
Can’t be blamed for holding grudges.
I know one hound that laughed all winter
At a porcupine that sat on a splinter.


The Rhinocerous

The rhino is a homely beast,
For human eyes he’s not a feast.
Farwell, farewell, you old rhinoceros,
I’ll stare at something less prepoceros.


The Shrimp

A shrimp who sought his lady shrimp
Could catch no glimpse
Not even a glimp.
At times, translucence
Is rather a nuisance.


The Squab

Toward a better world I contribute my modest smidgin;
I eat the squab, lest it become a pigeon.


The Turtle

The turtle lives ‘twixt plated decks
Which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle
In such a fix to be so fertile.


The Wasp

The wasp and all his numerous family
I look upon as a major calamity.
He throws open his nest with prodigality,
But I distrust his waspitality.


To Keep Your Marriage Brimming

To keep your marriage brimming,
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong admit it;
Whenever you’re right shut up.


What’s The Use

Sure, deck your limbs in pants,
Yours are the limbs, my sweeting.
You look divine as you advance . . .
Have you seen yourself retreating?




The Wikipedia page on Ogden Nash.

An astute critical biography of Ogden Nash on the Poetry Foundation site.

142 poems by Ogden Nash on the Poeticous site.

126 poems by Ogden Nash on the Poem Hunter site.

123 poems by Ogden Nash on the All Poetry site.

The Poem Hunter PDF selection of Ogden Nash poems.

A large selection of poems by Ogden Nash on the American Poems site.

A large selection of Ogden Nash poems on the Best Poems site.

A large selection of poems by Ogden Nash on the Poetry Soup site.

Blogden Nash: a blog devoted to Ogden Nash.

An interesting review of The Best of Ogden Nash.