Tag Archives: poetry


Whence? Whither? We don’t know—
Fill up the schooner! How she schoons!
Hoist glass and sail and let us go!

The distant shore will host a show
Of distant stars and distant moons.
Whence? Whither? We don’t know!

Yes, shoes will walk, and arms will row,
But sail-ships scud across lagoons.
Hoist glass and sail and let us go!

Our breath is breeze, so let it blow;
We’ll ride our lungs like air balloons.
Whence? Whither? We don’t know!

Our lives are fluid; let them flow,
Not shine contained in silver spoons.
Hoist glass and sail and let us go!

And shall we bury treasure? No!
We’ll trade our jewels in saloons!
Whence? Whither? We don’t know…
Hoist glass and sail and let us go!

Who is not sparked to poetry by the sight of a tall ship? Or at least to imaginings? And hoistings of glasses? I set down the above villanelle just now in a libatious fraction of an hour. Here’s another poem, written a century and some ago by Richard Hovey:

The Sea Gypsy
I am fevered with the sunset,
I am fretful with the bay,
For the wander-thirst is on me
And my soul is in Cathay.

There’s a schooner in the offing,
With her topsails shot with fire,
And my heart has gone aboard her
For the Islands of Desire.

I must forth again to-morrow!
With the sunset I must be
Hull down on the trail of rapture
In the wonder of the sea.

Ah, the romance of the schooner, come from a distant past, heading to an uncertain future. Who would merely set shoe after shoe on soil who could sail a schooner on the sea?

What is a schooner? It’s a kind of ship, originally with two masts but sometimes with three or more; the foremast is shorter than the main mast. Schooners are larger than cutters, but smaller and easier to manouevre than frigates or galleons; they can move well with a small crew. They were, in their time, popular for fishing and shipping – and piracy.

One of the things schooners shipped was sherry, from Xerez in Spain. Sherry was traditionally served in two sizes of glass: a smaller glass was called a cutter, and a larger glass was called a schooner. From that, the name has transferred to beer glasses. In Australia, a schooner is a glass smaller than a pint; in Canada, it is larger than a pint (though you won’t find it everywhere).

Nowadays schooners are popular as tourist attractions. The star of Toronto’s harbour is a three-masted schooner built in Germany in 1930, originally named the Wilfried but bought in 1960 by a Danish captain and renamed Kajama after his children Kaywe, Jan, and Maria. It was bought in 1999 by a Toronto company – it is newer to this city than I am. The picture above is of the Kajama in Toronto harbour. Here’s a closer look (yes, taken with an old film camera).

The word schooner has a Dutch look to it, doesn’t it? The spelling does have a Dutch influence. But the word is not originally Dutch; it is English, or perhaps it is borrowed from Scots. The first schooner was (by some accounts) launched in 1713 at Gloucester, Massachusetts, and there is a probably apocryphal story connecting it to the Scots word scon, meaning ‘skip across the water’ (as a stone), by way of a bystander’s exclamation: “Oh, how she scoons!” We’re not really sure just how the word really came around. It was first spelled skooner or scooner, anyway. But the Dutch borrowed the word (with the ship), and made it schoener, which is kind of funny because schoen is Dutch for ‘shoe’. The current English spelling may have been influenced by that, or by school, or both.

You won’t see too many schooners these days. Unless you’re Canadian, that is. It’s true that most Canadians are not in Toronto or Nova Scotia (where other schooners may sometimes be seen), but all we need to do is look at a dime. The Canadian dime features the Bluenose, a schooner that was both a working fishing craft and a racing ship unbeaten for seven years in the 1930s. It was enough to get it onto the dime in 1937 (well, technically the image on the dime is a composite of the Bluenose and two others, but never mind), and it’s been there ever since.

But the Bluenose itself (or herself, if you hew to that usage) ended up in the Caibbean. A nice retirement? Not exactly. Fishing schooners were displaced by motorized boats in the 1930s, and the Bluenose was sold to work as a freighter. It wrecked, laden with bananas, on a reef off Haiti in 1947, just 10 years after making it onto the dime. No one died in the wreck – other than the Bluenose. You can go see a replica at Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Or just pull out a dime, if you’re Canadian.

And if you carry cash. Many people don’t these days; coins seem to have an uncertain future (the Canadian penny has already gone under). But go to a pub and order a pint – heck, order a schooner – and hoist it to the Bluenose and other sailing ships, and while you’re doing that, look over at the bar for a glint like a star. It may be a dime, left as part of a tip, half-submerged in a lagoon of ale. Wish it a safe journey – but not a dull one.


I’d like you all to meet Miss Chievous.
She’s got a lot of fun to give us.
With eyes so wiley and mouth so devious,
She’ll trick you to thinking she’s Miss Chievious
(She isn’t now, though you should know
She had that name centuries ago).
She’s a little imp, a sylph, a sprite,
A naughty mistress of delight;
When it comes to fun that could end in grief,
She’s the boss-girl – she’s Miss Chief.
It’s Friday evening and you’re bored stiff?
Just wave a little handkerchief,
Put on your tail coat and your waistcoat –
Or kevlar vest, and grab your mess kit –
Her boat to fun’s docked at the quay.
She’ll teach you to be wild and free!
She’ll have you dangling on a gunwale
Quaffing Cognac with a funnel,
Held inverted by a boatswain
Mostly naked till half frozen;
Sneaking peaks and stealing victuals –
Blancmanges and peanut brittles,
Caesars spiked with sauce from Worcester –
Then she’ll say, “Come meet my sister.”
If your tongue is free from injury,
Just wait till she comes out in… lingerie!
For that’s how she breeds fascination:
She ever foils your expectation.
If you make your chief Miss Chief,
You’ll end up hanging from a cliff
And see Miss Chievous just above it…
But mark my words, boy, you will love it.

I encourage you to read this through for yourself first. But you may thereafter watch this video of me reading it, if you wish:

More Poetry Minute and a Half

I’ve created four more episodes of Poetry Minute and a Half: “Out of the Business” by The Tubes (by request), “Taking Care of Business” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive, “Enter Sandman” by Metallica, and one I’m particularly proud of, Rammstein’s “Mein Teil” in English translation.

Do send in requests. I’m thinking of branching out to other genres of music.

Poetry Minute and a Half

Just because the idea amused me, I’ve started a series called “Poetry Minute and a Half” in which I read (erm, excuse me, the somewhat posh Godfrey St. John-Burns reads) heavy metal lyrics as poetry. In the interests of focusing on the sound quality, I’ve made them just the sound rather than a video of the reading, but since YouTube is the best place for sharing such things around, I’ve made the sound files into videos with just the title as the image.

These will likely be more amusing if you know the songs, but I’m sure they will have some entertainment value either way.

Requests for further poem readings are welcome.

Here are the first four:

Unrequoted love

A friend recently got a tweet from an interested chap in which he used quotation marks in a way she, as an editor, did not approve of. I was put in mind of this poem from my book Songs of Love and Grammar:

Unrequoted love

I’m getting letters from my dear,
but I’m not sure that she’s sincere.
I see the way she ends her notes:
the phrase “I love you” is in quotes.
I really don’t know what to do,
for if she’s quoting, quoting who?

Although I know it seems absurd,
her every gift is but a word:
I send you “hugs”, I send you “kisses”
That’s it? Some kind of present this is!
She writes, I “miss” you, and I see
the missing is mere irony!

Well, I think I know what to do:
I’m writing her, I “miss” you too.
My “love” is such, if you were here,
you’d get “a diamond ring”, my dear.
My “life” shall be at your disposal –
I wait for “yes” to my “proposal”.

She sends mere quotes? I send her same!
She’ll know that two can play this game!

If you enjoyed that, there are five dozen more in Songs of Love and Grammar, available for just $12 on lulu.com and amazon.com.

A naughty chemistry poem

I think it’s about time for another poem from Songs of Love and Grammar (my book of salacious verse about English usage, available at Lulu.com and Amazon.com). This one is a naughty chemistry poem – by which I mean both a naughty poem about chemistry and a poem about naughty chemistry. It is larded with abbreviations from the periodic table – e.g., Fe for iron. To read it correctly you need to read the abbreviations as the full names of the elements. If you’re stuck, no worries: I’ve made a video of it.

The elements of lust

I met a chemist just by chance
in the Pd at a dance.
I’m a bit of a B the dancing floor,
so I thought I’d try a little more.
I asked, “Would it be much amiss
to lead a Rn your mouth with a little kiss?”
She said, “Oh, please, don’t get me wrong.
It’s just – your W inches long.”
“I know,” I said. “It’s fun for play,
though when I it’s in the way.”
She said, “Then let’s be somewhat bolder,
with my right Ne your left shoulder.
The days Ar when I would shy –
they’re dead; let’s Ba, say bye-bye.”
My sense of shame I’d S a Ni,
so we commenced some slap and tickle,
but even I turn Cd red
to think of where our actions Pb…
The host told us we had to stop or
we’d be dragged off by a Cu;
it took some Au to Fe it out.
But this adventure left no doubt:
in love, I’m not so sentimental…
I’ll take a girl who’s elemental.

Now here’s the video:

The various chemical symbols, which have to be pronounced as the full name of the element, are: Pd = palladium, B = boron, Rn = radon, W = tungsten, I = iodine, Ne = neon, Ar = argon, Ba = barium, S = sulfur, Ni = nickel, Cd = cadmium, Pb = lead, Cu = copper, Au = gold, Fe = iron. Note that the I in line 10 is iodine, not simply the first-person singular pronoun. Cadmium red is a bright red.

To split the sweet infinitive

Instead of a word tasting note today, I present, for your entertainment, a video of my poem “To sweetly split the infinitive” from Songs of Love and Grammar. I think you’re going to really like it. 😉