John Company was the familiar name of the Honourable East India Company which administered India until the Indian Mutiny in 1858

But, Oh, if only you would raise your eyes,
take time to look, not always look away,
drink in the lazy buzzard in the skies
or watch the burdened camel make its way;
remark the measured movement and the grace
of women bearing bundles on their head
in coloured saris which evoke a trace
of how the evening sun bakes mountains red!
Learn how the contours of a light-skinned face
with green eyes taking in your foreign form
will tell you something of a Persian race
and how, in India, it was reborn!
Then wonder at this tall magnificence
and blush for all your pale significance!

 

 

Geoffrey Leggett lives in London where he has been writing poetry for about fifteen years after a career in the rough diamond industry. He has two books available on Amazon: In Pale Ink – A Story in Verse. (in Pushkinian sonnets) and In Doubtful Company – 100 Sonnets about Life & Death.


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16 Responses

  1. Monty

    Good stuff, Geoff.

    A pleasingly-unusual subject-matter, woven into a well-written, disciplined poem; with nice imagery (burdened camel: measured movement: grace, etc).

    But I can’t desist conveying that I’ve a hat-trick of minor quibbles:
    1/ I feel that a reader deserves to see a comma after the word ‘saris’; just that slightest of pauses, to alert them that the narrative is now going from one thing (the current scene: women walking, bundles on heads) to another (the new thoughts of mountains baked red).
    2/ Of the three exclamation-marks you’ve used, I feel that the first two serve no purpose, and the third warrants a stewards-enquiry.
    3/ This is not directed at you personally, Geoff: but I see such an abundance of poems on these pages with every line bar two fully-rhymed, with the two being a half-rhyme/non-rhyme/questionable-rhyme. It may be considered trivial (and seemingly is so for many affiliated with SCP), but I personally feel that it spoils a poem visually – as a visual piece of art; and it also disturbs my flow of reading . . . which it did in your poem above. It’s so well written that I was gliding through the piece absorbingly and seamlessly until I reached the word ‘reborn’, at which point I was like: ‘Hang about, what was that word again in the penultimate line?’ . . so then I back-peddled, and found ‘form’. Then I have to conclude: “Well, those two words obviously don’t rhyme; but, if that was the author’s intent, so be it.” . . and then I had to rejoin a poem which I didn’t want to leave in the first place!

    As an example: there was a thoughtful, well-written 40-line poem on these pages last week which contained no less than 38 lines of full-rhymes (an achievement in itself), and 2 lines which attempted to rhyme ‘bomb’ with ‘Vietnam’. Why? To me, it can’t be for any reasons other than convenience/laziness/rushing . . . and it can’t be coincidental that these blemishes generally occur in the final few lines; giving the sense that the author was anxious to get the piece finished, and decided to cut a corner.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Monty, since I wrote the poem you refer to, I am curious as to how you pronounce “Vietnam?” The accepted pronunciation is “Viet- nahm” Which sounds a lot like “bomb” to me. Many people, including many veterans, pronounce it with a short “a” as in the word “am.” This, however, is not how the word is formally pronounced. YouTube offers several audio examples of how to pronounce the word. They all sound similar to “bomb,” at least to my ear.

      Reply
      • Monty

        . . . and when you say, James, that “the accepted pronunciation is . .” – accepted where? Certainly not on this side of the pond; and surely not on that side, no?

        ‘Vietnam’ rhymes completely and unwaveringly with ‘Ham’ . . ‘Bomb’ rhymes completely and unwaveringly with ‘From’: thus you’re saying that ‘Ham’ “sounds a lot like” ‘From’ to you. Surely such a blatant disparity in sound couldn’t be eradicated by mere geography.

        Of all the trustworthy mediums available to man concerning word-usage in our language, all at the press of a button . . I’m a tad surprised that you seem to place your utmost trust in YouTube. I would never before have imagined that I’d hear the words ‘Correct English Usage’ and ‘YouTube’ in the same sentence.

      • C.B. Anderson

        James, I thought “bomb” was a perfectly good rhyme with “Vietnam,” but perhaps that’s because, unless I am told otherwise, I tend to pronounce that “a” as it is pronounced in classical Latin: ah — especially in foreign transliterations. And we all know how bad the British about pronouncing foreign words. One of the Romantics (Byron?) rhymes “Juan” with “ruin” (or something like that) and certainly used the English “J” sound, not the Spanish. I’m sure you could come up with many more examples of British phonic imperialism. How about the automobile, Jaguar, which they pronounce jag-you-are.

    • Geoffrey Leggett

      Monty
      I was hesitant about the exclamation marks myself, thought it made it sound a bit shrill. Thanks for your other comments

      Reply
  2. C.B. Anderson

    Geoffrey, I rather liked this poem, in which much was artfully left unsaid. Having studied comparative linguistics many years ago, I was struck by how you linked Persia and India. The Indo-European language family has ten or twelve major subgroups, one of which is Indo-Iranian, which gave rise to Persian and Sanskrit. Though we were warned never to assume that related languages were the result of a genetic link between the cultures that spoke them (conquest being the most common means of language transfer), there is no doubt that the connection between Persia and India is a real one. In regard to Monty’s comment about exclamation points, yes, they should be used very sparingly — the lines themselves usually suggest the necessary emphasis. This poem is not a diamond in the rough, but nicely cut and set.

    Reply
    • Geoffrey Leggett

      Thank you. I think the Moghuls who invaded and ruled northern India in the 16th? century came from Persia

      Reply
  3. James A. Tweedie

    I’ll grant you that youtube may not be a credible source for much of anything, so, I’ll refer you to the following audio readings of the word, “Vietnam,” from what might be considered more reliable sources.

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Vietnam

    https://www.macmillandictionary.com/us/pronunciation/american/vietnam

    This final website has audios of fifteen different Vietnamese pronouncing the word “Vietnam” in their own language. It is interesting to see how diverse their own pronunciations are. At the bottom of the page is an audio simply labeled, “Translation.” Here, the word is clearly pronounced, “ahm.”

    https://forvo.com/word/vi%E1%BB%87t_nam/

    Reply
  4. Monty

    I can give no better examples than the two I already have: ‘From’ and ‘Ham’. I ask you both to repeat those two words several times out loud; and if you still tell me sincerely that you pronounce both words with the exact same sound (so that ‘From’ becomes ‘Fram’, or ‘Ham’ becomes ‘Hom’), then I will have to concede that it is, after all, a Pond thing, and that the historical figure who we call Oliver Cromwell, you would call Oliver Cramwell.

    I’ve declined to view the offered links not out of stubbornness or obduracy, but ‘cos I know they’ll contain American accents, and will have no bearing on what I’m saying, and will have no bearing on two words – From and Ham – which are centuries older than America.

    I have, on the odd occasion, heard the ‘nam’ in ‘Vietnam’ pronounced as an ‘ah’ sound, like we’d say ‘calm’ . . but it’s standard common pronunciation is the ‘am’ sound; not just this side of the Pond, but yours also, according to a 60’s songwriter from your shores: Joe McDonald (of Country Joe and the Fish). He chose to rhyme Vietnam thus:

    Well come on, all you big strong men,
    Uncle Sam needs your help again.
    He got himself in a terrible JAM
    Way down yonder in VietNAM

    Now come on mothers across the LAND,
    Pack your boys off to VietNAM.
    Come on, fathers, don’t hesitate
    Send off your sons ‘fore it’s too late;
    Be the first ones on your block
    To have your boy come home in a box.

    (chorus)
    And it’s two, three, four,
    what’re we fighting for?
    Don’t ask me, I don’t give a DAMN,
    The next stop is VietNAM.

    Of the three words McDonald uses to rhyme with Vietnam – Jam, Land, Damn – none of those words rhyme with Bomb! To do so, they would have to become Jom, Lond and Domn.

    Whether or not you both agree that McDonald has produced incontrovertible evidence of the standard pronunciation of Vietnam, I feel that he has . . and as such, I’ll make no further comment on this matter.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      So Country Joe is your final refuge? C’mon, man, you can do better than that, and none of his bad rhymes, appropriate for that time and space, have anything to do with legit pronunciations. I heard him sing that very song in Central Park in NYC many many years ago. It was a great concert, but, sorry, he was just a 60s agitator, not an arbiter of formal pronunciation.

      And it’s five, six, seven, open up the pearly gates.

      Reply
  5. Monty

    Take it from a Brit, CB: we pronounce ‘Jaguar’ as ‘Jaguwer’, with the ‘uwer’ sounding as ‘sewer’.

    The way that ANY brit pronounces ANY English word has got nothing to do with “imperialism”; it’s our own language! We didn’t conquer it from another nation; we’ve had it for near on a thousand years. More recently, America chose to adopt it.

    You mention, CB, about “how bad the British are at pronouncing foreign words” . . that’s undeniable. They’re infamously “bad” not only at PRONOUNCING foreign words, but even KNOWING any foreign words to pronounce. The British have always tried to justify this insularity by stating that they’re an ‘island race’ (as opposed to mainland Europe), but I’ve never been sure of the validity of this as a defence. I suspect that it might be more of a case of a word you used wrongly above: imperialism . . and the false sense of superiority that historical imperialism bestowed upon the British over the subsequent centuries.

    Thus, I fully agree with you on that one, CB; although I can’t help feeling that it sounded a bit rich coming from one who resides in a country which has only learnt of the word ‘passport’ in the last 15-20 years.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at, but for me Passport is a brand of Scotch I never drink (though perhaps I should try it). Maybe it’s the American ads that made me think the Brits say, “jag-you-are.” I think it’s a Spanish word, Anglicized to jag-whar. I was once a neighbor of two brothers who had hunted these beasts in Mexico and in Venezuela. Neither one of them, as far as I know, ever wrote a poem, but they sure did kill a shitload of major predators, aided by a pack of well-trained hound dogs.

      Reply
      • Monty

        ‘Passport’ was in reference to how many Americans, up until about a generation ago, had never been outside America; indeed, had never even owned a passport . . hence, strictly speaking, not really being in a position to scold the British for not being able to pronounce foreign words.

  6. James A. Tweedie

    Interesting conversation. The population of the United Kingdom is somewhere around 67 million. At the moment, approximately 117 million people in the United States hold passports. Granted, that represents only 36% of the population (compared to 75% who have passports in the UK) so I suppose it is safe to say that, in general, we tend to be a “stay at home” sort of people! That said, we can travel over 2700 miles in a straight line and still be in the United States (not counting Alaska and Hawaii.) without needing a passport. If a Brit traveled that distance they would be in the middle Kazakhstan! I was also interested to discover that over 44 million people living in the United States were born OUTSIDE of the United States. How many of these are citizens or how many of them own passports I cannot say, but those statistics suggest that there is great deal of travel, both international and domestic, taking place by folks living in the United States these days. What the statistics were a generation ago I have no idea, but my guess is that you are correct in saying that it was significantly less than it is now. Times have changed. I remember 1978, living in Edinburgh, Scotland, hosting my visiting mother-in-law who asked for ice water in an upscale restaurant. The waiter immediately turned around and, in a very loud voice, shouted to nobody in particular, “One American champagne, please!” It was all very funny and embarrassing at the same time! Ah, those were the days!

    Reply
  7. M.P. Lauretta

    Hmm… this is interesting because to me Viet-nam rhymes neither with bomb nor with ham. It rhymes with ma’am, calm, or balm.

    The proper phonetic notation, which I cannot reproduce here for obvious reasons, makes the difference quite clear, if anybody wants to look this up in a good dictionary.

    Re. passports, it’s perhaps worth mentioning that the UK does not issue ID cards like other EU countries, so many people are forced to buy an expensive passport just to have a solid form of ID.

    Reply
  8. Monty

    Well, this ‘passport’ thing has gone a lot further than was intended or needed; it was originally just a flippant, throwaway line about insularity . . may it rest that way? Please, no government polls and percentages!

    Reply

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