My latest book is The One Who Swam With The Fishes.

"A mesmerizing account of the well-known story of Matsyagandha ... and her transformation from fisherman’s daughter to Satyavati, Santanu’s royal consort and the Mother/Progenitor of the Kuru clan." - Hindustan Times

"Themes of fate, morality and power overlay a subtle and essential feminism to make this lyrical book a must-read. If this is Madhavan’s first book in the Girls from the Mahabharata series, there is much to look forward to in the months to come." - Open Magazine

"A gleeful dollop of Blytonian magic ... Reddy Madhavan is also able to tackle some fairly sensitive subjects such as identity, the love of and karmic ties with parents, adoption, the first sexual encounter, loneliness, and my favourite, feminist rage." - Scroll

Sign up for my newsletter: The Internet Personified

17 April 2006

Move along, move along, there's nothing to see here (really, don't say I didn't warn you)

Today, since I have nothing to write about, we're going to talk of poetry. No, no, don't go, this'll be fun, I promise.

Erm, right. If all my readers have abandoned me, I'm just going to talk to myself then.

This morning I was listening to Little Plastic Castle by Ani DiFranco, one of my all-time favourite poems. There's this whole debate about musicians versus poets, but I think the best kind is when the two mingle, and when you have beautiful, beautiful poetry, sung very well. Take this line for instance, the one that always resonates most deeply within me is "They say goldfish have no memory, I guess their lives are much like mine, the little plastic castle, is a surprise every time". Hello, Ani, you read my mind. Each time, a new love and new situation and a new person, and I think, this time, I know it all and yet, I have forgotten the little things. And my plastic castle-- a held hand for instance, or just someone wanting to spend time with you--always a surprise. And then they break up with you and you're back to being a goldfish. Also, I'd like someone to sing to me the words that she sings to her lover in this song. "From the shape of your shaved head, I recognized your silhoutte, As you walked out of the sun and sat down and the sight of your sleepy smile eclipsed all the other people, as they paused to sneer at the two girls from out of town. And I said "Look at you this morning, you are by far the cutest."

Love poetry's okay if you're in a certain sort of mood, but for angsty-ness, no one beats Wendy Cope. These are two of my personal favourites.

Bloody Men

Bloody men are like bloody buses,
You wait for about a year,
And as soon as one approaches your stop,
Two or three others appear.
You look at them flashing their indicators,
Offering you a ride.
You're trying to read the destinations,
You haven't much time to decide.
If you make a mistake, there is no turning back.
Jump off, and you'll stand there and gaze,
While the cars and the taxis and lorries go by,
And the minutes, the hours, the days.

I Worry

I worry about you--
So long since we spoke.
Love, are you downhearted,
Dispirited, broke?
I worry about you.
I can't sleep at night.
Are you sad? Are you lonely?
Or are you all right?
They say that men suffer,
As badly, as long.
I worry, I worry,
In case they are wrong.

I like rhyming poetry a lot. I think there's a certain rhythm there, an expression that makes it more easy to understand than blank verse. Blank verse is a lot like abstract art, it could mean anything, but rhymes, now, those take talent. The only blank verse poem I love and I can recite off by heart is Neruda's Tonight I Can Write. I so want to be the girl with the infinite eyes. I no longer love him, but how I loved him. I wish I had written that first.

But when I was in Class 9 and we used Interact With English which was our series of English textbooks, we had this one poem to illustrate alliteration and all of us learnt it off by heart, it was so easy and yelled at each other, "Over the cobbles he clattered and clanged in the dark inn yard!" That's the only bit I still remember, but here is the poem--a little long, I know, but such fun if you're reading aloud.

The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes

Part One
The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight, over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding-
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.
He'd a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin;
They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh!
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.
Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
And he tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred;
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord's black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord's daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.
And dark in the old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked;
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord's daughter,
The landlord's red-lipped daughter,
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say-
"One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I'm after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way."
He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair i' the casement! His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
(Oh, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the West.
Part Two
He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon;
And out o' the tawny sunset, before the rise o' the moon,
When the road was a gipsy's ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red-coat troop came marching-
King George's men came marching, up to the old inn-door.
They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead,
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed;
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
There was death at every window;
And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through the casement, the road that he would ride.
They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest;
They bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
"Now keep good watch!" and they kissed her.
She heard the dead man say-
Look for me by moonlight;
Watch for me by moonlight;
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!
She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till here fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!
The tip of one finger touched it; she strove no more for the rest!
Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel beneath her breast,
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins in the moonlight throbbed to her love's refrain.
Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs
ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did
not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding,
Riding, riding!
The red-coats looked to their priming! She stood up strait and still!
Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him-with her death.
He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o'er the musket, drenched with her own red blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord's daughter,
The landlord's black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.
Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!
Blood-red were his spurs i' the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat,
When they shot him down on the highway,
Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat.
* * * * * *
And still of a winter's night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding-
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.
Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard,
And he taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred;
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord's black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord's daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

One kiss my bonny sweethearts, and I'll be off! :) I also want a highwayman


  1. now that was fun. great blog eM. thanks
    ukin (i spell backwards too)

  2. One of my favourites too, eM. The first few lines are wonderful.

    For slightly florid but very musical stuff, try James Elroy Flecker. We had something called "The Gates of Damascus" (, I loved it.


  3. Hi eM,
    loved the post!
    Highwayman was my favourite from school. Good to know you feel the same.
    Well, next time, try Charles age poetry but damn strong.
    Good Luck!

  4. Oh interactive English! That was such a long long time ago.


  5. I will trust your advice the next time...... :-)

  6. "Tonight I Can Write" is indeed a classic.

    But somehow, musicians are never respected like poets. The fact is that people like Dylan, Lou Reed, Jagger/Richards have written songs which are poetry in itself(and as good as any).
    Two songs which are on the similar lines to "Tonight I Can Write" are
    "Wild Horses" by The Rolling Stones and "You're a big girl now" by Bob Dylan. Probably two of the best love songs/break-up songs/songs of remorse (whichever way you interpret it). Read the lyrics and judge for yourself.

  7. I can still hear my sixth grade class recite 'The Highwayman" as if our lives depended on it, with our voices full of hatred for the slime ball Tim, almost croaking with sadness for Bess. Ha!! the simplicity of teenage love.
    Though now Wendy Cope's "Being Boring" feels oh-so-real...Age, I guess.

  8. We had the highwayman too! And how my girls and I would discuss the piece and sigh wistfully during recess.

    o, I'm female, btw.

  9. that was lovely. i remember reading that endlessly in english class. for some reason, the most vivid memory i had of this was the idea of 'barrell beneath breast'.. eww.
    by the way, prose, or blank verse is very rhytmnic sometimes.

  10. This is one of my favourite poems. Thanks for a great read.


  11. I love the Highwayman, I still remember huge chunks of it and recite it every now and then, whenever I have an audience who may have studied it in school, so they fill in the other bits.

  12. at a poetry recitation at school (the same one you went to, em) there was this 7th or 8th standard girl who recited this poem. And brilliantly, i might add.

    think it was the first time i actually listened to it.

  13. ICSE? Oh I do remember that. Had a most difficult time studying it for the exams, but now that I look back, it probably was a pretty nice thing to study.

  14. you like all the stuff i like, em.
    i'd probably make the same list with maybe more of neruda and a lot of edna st vincent millay and oh, billy collins! but same otherwise:)
    and superfun blog, btw:)

  15. Ah, yes, Noyes. Adorable, isn't he? But a little odd that a man should have written this poem...

    I wonder how many women have that fantasy - to play Bess to the highwayman :)

  16. You know, I never cared for this poem. Back in school, I just skimmed through the pages and forgot all about it. I didn't give it a second glance even when you wrote it here.

    Till I heard Loreena McKennit sing. And I followed her every word here.

    Ah well, I might as well admit it. The poem is wonderful. So is the song.

  17. "Look for me by moonlight;
    Watch for me by moonlight;
    I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!"

    Indeed the ICSE syllabus of my times had some wonderful poems and this was one of my favoutites too. I loved those lines and wished I'd have the bess-like tresses oneday and a highwayman to let them down for.
    Alas! on both counts :(

  18. i rmmbr knight n dragon in 4th clas...Gulmohar Graded was the book :)..
    lemme c wht i rmmbr

    The knight slew the dragon and the lady was gay...
    All through the night they rolled in the hay !

    Uh oki I invented the second line..i dnt think they will b teachin tht netime soon
    ..but the post brings back memories

  19. Stop all the clocks and cut off the telephone.
    Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.
    Silence the pianos, and with muffled drum
    Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

  20. Highwayman is an absolute favourite of mine!!! We had even done a play on it.. Sigh.
    have a nice trip..

  21. I've been lurking on your blog for a few weeks now since I discovered it, and have thoroughly enjoyed your writing.

    If I may say (without appearing to gush)that you have very deft touch that is rare. Keep writing for all our sakes.

    Do drop by "Ramblings" when you have a moment or two to kill.


  22. My all time favourite- The Highwayman. Did remember a lot of it until recently but then ALzheimer struck. Thanks for refreshing my memory.

  23. Have you read Vikram Seth's poems? They are so good even though are so simple. As for The Highwayman, it takes me back to Class 9 and 10. I used to remember it by heart...In fact the other day I was going through a book of poems that I had in college. I was almost taken back in time...

  24. ooh. i love that poem. the highwayman, i mean. but why have you disabled feeds? i missed four posts. :(

  25. Ah...yes...the Highwayman...brought good ol' highschool memories back...

    Some of my other Favs were:

    1. The Road Not Taken - Frost
    2. Death the Leveller - Shirley
    3. IF (all time fav :) ) - Kipling

    Here's my penny to yr Blog :)

    The Road Not Taken

    Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth;

    Then took the other, just as fair,
    And having perhaps the better claim
    Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
    Though as for that the passing there
    Had worn them really about the same,

    And both that morning equally lay
    In leaves no step had trodden black.
    Oh, I marked the first for another day!
    Yet knowing how way leads on to way
    I doubted if I should ever come back.

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

    - Robert Frost

  26. LPC is my favorite Ani DiFranco song.

    After all these years I still know most of the Highwayman but for the life of me I can't remember anything I learned in math class.

  27. lord i love the highwayman! thanks for putting it up! (i know i know i'm secretly one of those soppy types who sniff while reading romantic tragedies) why didn't we have this in school?

    oh... on second thoughts, it's better that we didn't. things of beauty are better left undissected.

  28. 'Tonight I can write' is beautiful!!Awesome post..

  29. you got your toecaps reinforced with steel,
    hard wearing sole and heel;
    make those tired feet feel like new take your pick, black or brown
    great for the country or the man in town,
    you're gonna need a quality shoe.

  30. After Bob Dylan met Allen Ginsberg, Dylan started calling his songs poetry and Ginsberg started calling his poems,well,songs and yes the quality went up.

    How come everyone likes the Highwayman.

    Try listening to stuff by Captain Beefheart..Not exactly poetry or music but you might like it.

    Peace out

  31. The Highway Man.
    Gawd, that brings back memories. I just remember being terrified by the image of her breast exploding with the musket. Tlot tlot tlot...I still think of horses that way.

  32. 'The highwayman' and 'Tonight...' are indeed classics... your post reminded me of my own high school days.

    Read Vikram Seth's 'All you who sleep tonight'. I think you'l like it...

  33. This is indeed a wonderful blog. But has no one mentioned musician/poet Phil Ochs who first set "The Highwayman" to music? His self composed works, both romantic, and political, are emotive in the same basic way. For a romantic choice I commend Och's, "Changes" to you, for example.

    Now I must be off. I am to send an MP3 of me singing "The Highwayman" to remind my girlfriend of me whilst she is off on foriegn travel. Now I have the words, thanks!


Thanks for your feedback! It'll be published once I approve it. Inflammatory/abusive comments will not be posted. Please play nice.