WORDS FOR TODAY, TOO winnie caw 2003
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all the entries are extracts from my little book, my 'bible'; compiled over a period exceeding thirty years. Most have now been filtered onto the words for today pages; save for some aphorisms (which appear/may appear elsewhere on whimsy) and song lyrics (copyrighted)

~ winnie x 25.02.03

 some add-ons, 19th February 2006:

The Poet's Companion

Must be in mint condition, not disposed
To hayfever, headaches, hangovers, hysteria, these being
The Poet's prerogative.

Typing and shorthand desirable. Ability
To function on long walks and in fast trains an advantage.
Must be visible/invisible

At the drop of a dactyl. Should be either
A mobile dictionary, thesaurus and encyclopedia,
Or have instant access to same.

Cordon bleu and accountancy skills essential,
Also cooking of figures and instant recall of names
Of once-met strangers.

Should keep a good address book. In public will lead
The laughter, applause, the unbearably moving silence.
Must sustain with grace

The role of Muse, with even more grace the existence
Of another eight or so, also camera's curious peeping
When the Poet is reading a particularly

Randy poem about her, or (worse) about someone else.
Ability to endure reproaches for forgetfulness, lack of interest,
Heart, is looked for,

Also instant invention of convincing excuses for what the Poet
Does not want to do, and long-term ability to remember
Precise detail of each.

Must be personable, not beautiful. The Poet
Is not expected to waste time supervising
The Companion. She will bear

Charming, enchanted children, all of them
Variations on the Poet theme; and
Impossibly gifted.

Must travel well, be fluent in the more aesthetic
European languages; must be a Finder
Of nasty scraps of paper

And the miscellany of junk the Poet loses
And needs this minute, now. Must be well-read,
Well-earthed, well able

To forget her childhood's grand trajectory,
And sustain with undiminished poise
That saddest dedication: lastly my wife,

Who did the typing.

~ U A Fanthorpe (b 1929)


Summer Farm

Straws like tame lightnings lie about the grass
And hang zigzag on hedges. Green as glass
The water in the horse-trough shines. 
Nine ducks go wobbling by in two straight lines.

A hen stares at nothing with one eye,
Then picks it up. Out of an empty sky
A swallow falls and, flickering through
The barn, dives up again into the dizzy blue.

I lie, not thinking, in the cool, soft grass,
Afraid of where a thought might take me - as
This grasshopper with plated face
Unfolds his legs and finds himself in space.

Self under self, a pile of selves I stand
Threaded on time, and with metaphysic hand
Lift the farm like a lid and see
Farm within farm, and in the centre, me.

Norman MacCaig (1910 - 1996)



an off-concrete Scotch fantasia

oa! hoy! awe! ba! mey!

who saw?
rhu saw rum, garve saw smoo. nigg saw tain. lairg saw lagg.
rigg saw eigg. largs saw haggs. tongue saw luss. mull saw yell.
stoer saw strone. drem saw muck. gask saw noss. unst saw cults.
echt saw banff. weem saw wick. trool saw twatt.

how far?
from largo to lunga from joppa to skibo from ratho to shona from
ulva to minto from tinto to tolsta from soutra to marsco from
braco to barra from alva to stobo from fogo to fada from gigha to
gogo from kelso to stroma from hirta to spango.

what is it like there?
och it's freuchie, it's faifley, it's wamphray, it's frandy, it's sliddery.

what do you do?
we foindle and fungle, we bonkle and meigle and maxpoffle. we
scotstarvit, armit, wormit, and even whifflet. we play at crosstobs,
leuchars, gorbals, and finfan. we scavaig, and there's aye a bit of
tilquhilly. if it's wet, treshnish and mishnish.

what is the best of the country?
blinkbonny! airgold! thundergay!

and the worst?
scrishven, shiskine, scrabster, and snizort.

listen! what's that?
catacol and wauchope, never heed them.

tell us about last night
well, we had a wee ferintosh and we lay on the quiraing. it was pure strontain!

but who was there?
petermoidart and craigenkenneth and cambusputtock and
ecclemuchty and corriehulish and balladolly and altnecanny and
clauchanvrechan and strocnachlochan and auchenlachar and
tighnacrankie and tilliebruaich and killieharra and invervannach 
and achnatudlem and machrishellach and inchtamurchan and
auchterfechan and kinlochculter and ardnawhallie and

and what was the toast?
schiehallion! schiehallion! schiehallion!

Edwin Morgan (Scots Makar) b 1920


Mine is the silence
And the quiet gloom
of a clock ticking
In an empty room,
The scratch of a pen,
Ink-pot and paper,
And the patter of the rain.
Nothing but this as long as I am able,
Firelight - and a chair, and a table.


~ From 'The Writer '(The Rebecca Notebook) by Daphne du Maurier


25 February 2003


I know the sky will fall one day,
The great green trees will topple down,
The spires will whither far away
Upon the battlemented town;
When winds and waves forget to flow
And the wild song-birds cease from calling,
Then I shall take my shoes and go
To tell the King the sky is falling.

There's lots of things I've never done,
And lots of things I'll never see;
The nearest rainbow ever spun
Is much too far away from me;
But when the dark air's lost in snow
And the long quiet strikes appalling,
I learn how it will feel to go
To tell the King the sky is falling.


~ Gerald Gould


"...One morning I arrived at his apartment thoroughly discouraged and told him that everything - the daily routine, the daily struggle - seemed so pointless. Isaac sighed and agreed - yes, he had days like that too. But what can one do? One accepts it and continues to work.

'I'd like to believe that all this is evolving toward some good,' I said, 'toward something higher.'

Isaac hoped so, too. 'But who knows?' he said, 'We are in this world to learn to become wiser, more compassionate, to grow. But if we know in advance how it will turn out in the end, how can we learn and how can we grow?'

He was glad when I phoned one day. 'I meant to call you,' he said, 'but I've been going through a terrible crisis, a literary crisis.' He was due to leave for his summer hiatus in Switzerland and he could not decide which way the novel, still being serialized, should go. The next day the crisis was over.

'I've discovered how to end the novel,' he said, 'It was the kind of crisis that does not kill you. On the contrary, it makes you think, makes you create. The creative process is nothing but a series of crises.' "

~ Nili Wachtel (translator of 'Meshugah' by Isaac Bashevis Singer 1904 - 1991)



24 February 2003

Question Not

Question not, but live and labour
Till the task is done;
Helping every needy neighbour,
Seeking help from none.

Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone;
Kindness in another's trouble,
Courage in your own.


~ Adam Lindsay Gordon


"What I really care about is the individual human being. 'Blind Chance', 'No End' and the 'Decalogue' were all about individuals. In 'Blue', Juliette Binoche talks about liberty. She says "I don't want love or friendship or belongings anymore. That's a trap." When we speak of personal liberty, it's like that. Everything connected with emotions and with objects or with any kind of commitment is a trap. It forces us to give up our freedom. Love also takes away our freedom.

I don't think people want to be equal. Everyone wants to be a little better, and that's true for good things as well as bad ones. We all want to be better people than our neighbours and a bit more loved. We all want to suffer less than others. We all want to die a slightly quicker and more peaceful death.

'Red' shows what I think about fraternity. It's something inside us which can suddenly resurface. 'Fraternity' means sympathy, a willingness to help others. The hero tries to convince her that it doesn't exist, but her very presence proves fraternity is possible. As a pessimist, I have to search harder than an optimist. For an optimist, the fact that things are fine is obvious. For me, it's always astonishing. That's how it is. Like every pessimist, I look for a little light in the tunnel.

"Though I speak with the tongue of angels, if I have not love, I am become as hollow brass."

The lonely hearts column in a German newspaper ran an ad which read, "Three Colours Blue". And then it said in English, "If I had such strength as to move mountains and if I had all knowledge but no love, I would be nobody." That's from St Paul's letter to the Corinthians, which we used in the film. Then it said, "Auburn-haired woman age 32, height 1 metre 72, attractive, active, flexible awaits an offer." If that woman has found a partner, maybe it was worth making the film."

~ Krzysztof Kieslowski (1941 - 1996)


23 February 2003

It is the second word that makes a quarrel.

~ Japanese Proverb


"The perfect horseman

The perfect horseman is quiet on a horse. The calmness which springs from confidence in his own ability extends to the horse and quietens him too. Nothing frightens a horse as much as a frightened rider, and nothing will make a horse most restless and fidgety than a rider who cannot sit still. Horses are extremely sensitive to the mental state of the man on their back; some could even be thought to be two different animals, so opposite may be their form with two riders of contrasting skill and temperament.

The Perfect Horseman's legs are strong and, by using his thigh and calf muscles, he can squeeze and urge his mount to go faster; but he does not wildly clap his heels against the flanks as if he were beating a drum. His hands are strong also, but with a gentle firmness that controls and guides, not a savage grip that fights a continual battle against the horse's mouth. A fierce pull will only encourage a horse to get the bit in his teeth and bolt in order to stop the jagged pain at the soft corners of his mouth.

...The Perfect Horseman's toes are always pointing forwards or upwards, his elbows are tucked in, and his back is straight."

~ From 'The Sport of Queens' by Dick Francis


22 February 2003


The river is flowing; flowing and growing;
The river is flowing down to the sea.
Mother Earth carry me; A child I will always be;
Mother Earth carry me back to the sea.

~ American Indian


Look Stranger

Look, stranger, at this island now
The leaping light for your delight discovers,
Stand stable here
And silent be,
That through the channels of the ear
May wander like a river
The swaying sound of the sea.


Here at the small field's ending pause
Where the chalk wall falls to the foam, and its tall ledges
Oppose the pluck
And knock of the tide,
And the shingle scrambles after the sucking surf, and the gull lodges
A moment on its sheer side.

Far off like floating seeds the ships
Diverge on urgent voluntary errands;
And the full view
Indeed may enter
And move in memory as now these clouds do,
That pass the harbour mirror
And all the summer through the water saunter.

~ W H Auden



21 February 2003

A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drowned, for he'll be going out on a day when he shouldn't. But we do be afraid of the sea, and we do only be drownded now and again.


~ From 'The Arran Islands' by J M Synge


"The old-time sailor, again, was essentially a creature of contradictions. Notorious for a 'swearing rogue', who punctuated his strange sea-lingo with horrid oaths and appalling blasphemies, he made the responses required by the services of his Church with all the superstitious awe and tender piety of a child. Inconspicuous for his thrift or 'forehandedness', it was nevertheless a common circumstance with him to have hundreds of pounds, in pay and prize-money, to his credit at his bankers, the Navy Pay-Office; and though during a voyage he earned his money as hardly as a horse, and was as poor as a church mouse, yet the moment he stepped ashore he made it fly by the handful and squandered it, as the saying went, like an ass. When he was sober, which was seldom enough provided he could obtain a drink, he possessed scarcely a rag to his back; but when he was drunk he was himself the first to acknowledge that he had 'too many cloths in the wind'. According to his own showing, his wishes in life were limited to three: 'An island of tobacco, a river of rum, and - more rum'; but according to those who knew him better than he knew himself, he would at any time sacrifice all three, together with everything else he possessed, for the gratification of a fourth and unconfessed desire, the dearest wish of his life, woman. Ward's description of him, slightly paraphrased, fits him to a hair: 'A salt-water vagabond, who is never at home but when he is at sea, and never contented but when he is ashore; never at ease until he has drawn his pay, and never satisfied until he has spent it; and when his pocket is empty he is just as much respected as a father-in-law is when he has beggared himself to give a good portion with his daughter'. With all this he is brave beyond belief on the deck of a ship, timid to the point of cowardice on the back of a horse; and although he fought to a victorious finish many of his country's most desperate fights, and did more than any other man of his time to make her the great nation she became, yet his roving life robbed him of his patriotism and made it necessary to wring from him by violent means the allegiance he shirked. It was at this point that he came into contact with what he hated most in life, yet dearly loved to dodge - the press gang."

~ From 'The Press Gang' by J R Hutchinson, with reference made to 'Wooden World Dissected' (1706) by Ned Ward


20 February 2003

Two little girls at the edge of the sea
Gaze at the water silently;
With ribbons of seaweed in each hand
They press they feet to the yielding sand.

Scarlet sail on a mizzen mast,
Oyster-catchers scurrying past,
Vapour trails in a brilliant sky,
Shag hanging out their tails to dry,

Fennel and mallow and bittersweet
Growing where pebbles and heather meet;

This is a picture to hold in mind
If winter is cold, and the world unkind
And summer is only a memory
Of two little girls at the edge of the sea.

~Mary Wilson



Cork and Work and Card and Ward

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you
On hiccough, thorough, laugh, and through?
I write in case you wish perhaps
To learn of less familiar traps:
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard, and sounds like bird.
And dead; it's said like bed, not bead;
For goodness' sake, don't call it 'deed'!
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).
A moth is not a moth in mother
Nor both in bother, broth in brother.
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear for bear, or fear for pear.
There's dose and rose, there's also lose
(Just look them up), and goose, and choose
And cork and work, and card and ward
And font and front, and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart

 -Come come, I've barely made a start!
A dreadful language? Man alive,
I'd mastered it when I was five!

~ Unknown c 1900


19 February 2003

Picking Apples

Apple time, and the trees brittle with fruit.
My children climb the bent, half-sapping branches
to where the apples, cheeked with hectic flush
of Autumn, hang. The children bark their haunches

and lean on the edge of their balance. The apples are out
of reach; so they shake the tree. Through a tussle of leaves and laughter
the apples thud down; thud on the orchard grasses
in rounded, grave finality, each one after

the other dropping; the muffled sound of them dropping
like suddenly hearing the beats of one's own heart
falling away, as if shaken by some storm
as localized as this. Loading them into the cart,

the sweet smell of their bruises moist in the sun,
their skins' bloom tacky against the touch,
I experience fulfilment, suddenly aware
of some ripe, wordless answer, knowing no such

answers exist; only questions, questions, the beating years,
the dropped apples...the kind of touch and go
that poetry makes satisfactions of;
reality, with nothing more to show
than a brush of branches, time and the apples falling,
and shrill among the leaves, children impatiently calling.

~ Maurice Lindsay (b. 1918)



Matty Groves (Song - Traditional)

A holiday, a holiday, and the first one of the year;
Lord Donald's wife came into the church, the gospel for to hear;
And when the meeting it was done, she cast her eyes about;
And there she saw little Matty Groves walking in the crowd.

'Come home with me, little Matty Groves; come home with me tonight;
Come home with me, little Matty Groves; and sleep with me till light.'

'Oh, I can't come home. I won't come home and sleep with you tonight;
By the rings on your fingers I can tell, you are Lord Donald's wife.'

'What if I am Lord Donald's wife! Lord Donald's not at home;
For he is out in the far cornfields, bringing the yearlings home.'

And the servant, who was standing by and hearing what was said;
He swore Lord Donald he would know before the sun was set;
And, in his hurry to carry the news, he bent his breast and ran;
And, when he came to the broad mill-stream, he took of his shoes and swam.

Little Matty Groves, he lay down and took a little sleep;
When he awoke, Lord Donald was standing at his feet;

Saying, 'How do you like my feather bed?' and 'How do you like my sheets?'
and 'How do you like my lady, who lies in your arms asleep?'

'Oh. Well I like your feather-bed and well I like your sheets;
But better I like your lady gay, who lies in my arms asleep.'
'Well, get up! Get up!' Lord Donald cried, 'Get up as quick as you can.'
'It'll never be said in faire Englande, I slew a naked man.

'I can't get up, I won't get up. I can't get up for my life.
For you have two long beaten swords, and I have a pocket knife.'
'Well, it's true I have two beaten swords, and they cost me deep in the purse;
But you will have the better of them, and I will have the worse;

And you will strike the very first blow, and strike it like a man;
I will strike the very next blow, and I'll kill you if I can.'
So Matty struck the very first blow, and hurt Lord Donald sore.
Lord Donald struck the very next blow; and Matty struck no more.

And then Lord Donald took his wife and sat her on his knee;
Saying, 'Who do you like the best of us? Matty Groves or me?'
And then up spoke his own dear wife; never heard to speak so free;
'I'd rather a kiss from dead Matty's lips than you or your finery.'

Lord Donald he jumped up and down and he did bawl;
He struck his wife right through the heart and hit her against the wall.
'A grave! A grave,' Lord Donald cried, 'to put these lovers in,
But bury my Lady at the top, for she was of noble kin.'



18 February 2003

Isn't It Strange?


Isn't it strange, that princes and kings
And clowns who caper in sawdust rings
And ordinary folk like you and me
Are builders of eternity?

To each is given a bag of tools,
An hour glass and a book of rules
And each must build, 'ere time is flown,
A stumbling block, or a stepping stone.

~ Verse written on a greetings card



I used to think that grown-up people chose
To have stiff backs and wrinkles round their nose,
And veins like small fat snakes on either hand,
On purpose to be grand.

Till through the bannisters I watched one day
My great-aunt Etty's friend who was going away,
And how her onyx beads had come unstrung.
I saw her grope to find them as they rolled;
And then I knew that she was helplessly old,
As I was helplessly young.

~ Frances Cornford





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