If you can meet with cliché and disaster

Rudyard Kipling

It’s been eulogized, anthologized, criticized and idolized. It’s suffered the indignity of being printed on tea towels. Various literary luminaries have sneered that it’s verse, not poetry, nevertheless it’s been popular for over a century with ordinary mortals and I like it.

It may be a little cliché and it’s certainly sexist but—like the equally over-the-top Desiderata—it’s full of wisdom and very good advice.


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise: Continue reading “If you can meet with cliché and disaster”

Mightier than the sword: the power of the typo

Robert FrostThe temporary meltdown on Wall St on the 7th of May 2010 certainly frightened the horses. Another illustration of how vulnerable we are to computer glitches and failure of what should be insignificant components such as those that caused Auckland to suffer a couple of months of blackout. The Wall Street cockup seems to have been caused by the simple transposition of a ‘b’ for an ‘m’ on some worthy’s keyboard, deftly converting a few hundred million into untold billions and no doubt transferring a lot of wealth from the naive to the quick.

It all prompted Dr Paul Krugman to reflect:

Somewhere I read about a game in which you’re supposed to do the maximum damage to a famous piece of literature with the minimum typo. The winner was:

Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the Village though


For those unfamiliar with New York’s geography, the Village is an entirely different beast to the village. Here’s the original version from the ever accessible Mr Frost; even if you’re not familiar with his poetry you’ll probably recognise the beautiful and widely quoted last three lines.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost (1874-1963): the bard of New England.


The Cold Within

fire and warmthSix humans trapped by happenstance
In dark and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood,
Or so the story’s told.

Their dying fire in need of logs,
The first woman held hers back,
For on the faces ‘round the fire,
She noticed that one was Black.

The next man looking ‘cross the way
Saw one not of his church,
And couldn’t bring himself to give
The fire his stick of birch.

The third one sat in tattered clothes,
He gave his coat a hitch,
Why should his log be put to use
To warm the idle rich?

The rich man just sat back and thought
Of wealth he had in store,
And how to keep what he had earned
From the lazy, shiftless poor.

The black man’s face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from sight,
For all he saw in his stick of wood
Was a chance to spite the white.

And the last man of this forlorn group,
Did naught except for gain,
Giving to those who gave
Was how he played the game.

The logs held tight in death’s still hands
Was proof of human sin.
They didn’t die from the cold without,
They died from the cold within.

James Patrick Kinney