Die Erlkönigin | Voiced by Harriet Whitbread

An actress’s reading of Die Erlkönigin is always something I’ve wished for. Then, just over a month ago Harriet Whitbread, the head of Voice & Learning Support at the Fourth Monkey Actor Training Company, emailed to ask if I’d enjoy her own reading of the poem.

I confess that when I read this poem publicly, I sometimes can’t make it to the end. Goethe’s original poem, Erlkönig, was and is profoundly meaningful to me in a way that I could only translate by writing Die Erlkönigin. Ms. Whitbread shared that she also had trouble reading to the end and that is, in a sense, as much as I ask from the poem.

Please enjoy Whitbread’s beautiful performance.

Harriet Whitbread is Head of Voice & Learning Support at the Fourth Monkey Actor Training Company located at the The Monkey House, 97-101 Seven Sisters Road, London, N7 7QP. You can visit the Fourth Monkey website here.

The Devil Knows

Devises Herioques

The devil knows how to tell a lie.
He’ll con the foolish through and through
Impeccably dressed in a coat and tie.

Nobody hears the poor man’s cry
And anyhow what can you do?—
The devil knows how to tell a lie.

He’ll tell you (if you ask him why):
‘I’d not be here, if it weren’t true,
Impeccably dressed in a coat and tie.’

And though each day a thousand die
Success is for the chosen few.
The devil knows how to tell a lie.

I bet you think you’d never try
But he knows well you’d like it too—
Impeccably dressed in a coat and tie.

The world is burning by and by
But what he does is done for you.
The devil knows how to tell a lie
Impeccably dressed in a coat and tie.

by me
June 2 2020

jester map


  • The following was inspired by Emily Wilson’s translation of the Odyssey. Specifically, read the closing paragraph in my previous post: Emily Wilson’s Odyssey. I did a few things differently with this poem. I roughed it out first, something I rarely do; then the blank verse revision. I’ve also been reading Shakespeare’s late plays, the romances, especially with a mind to his late style; and in combination with a book by Russ McDonald called Shakespeare’s Late Style. Historically, Shakespeare’s later verse has been considered problematic and was, by later poets like Pope, revised if not excised. Not to me. The syntactic “incoherence” of Shakespeare’s late verse is unmatchably beautiful. So, by writing the following, I wanted to learn from it. I combined the epithets found in Homer with the syntactic addition, divagation, delay, elision and suspension typical of Shakespeare’s late style. I know this isn’t any way to write in the 21st century, but me and my poetry have gone our own way.

Odysseus, wily navigator, you
Who have endured a thousand harborless sorrows,
I too have suffered.
••••••••••••I, being sent to launder
Your mistress’s apparel in the river
Or often, by myself, to bring from orchards
A desired olive, fig or grape, was also
Betrayed by those you’ve slain—made by them
A slave to slaves—my vessel desecrated
My lading mired and diminished, sorted
With weeds and brackish waters—yet for that
••••••••••••Odysseus, ingenious King—
Tell him, your minstrel with the wine stained fingers
Who sings of wayward tides, of witches, Gods
And far-flung isles, that I was also lost
Longing for home who had no home to search for;
And tell your songster in your rage you snared
My sisters by one rope between a pillar
And dome; and that we were together lifted,
Each beside the other, nooses round
Our necks until our feet no longer touched
The earth—the knots tight as a luthier’s string.
Tell your songster, though he sings of you
To tell of the twelve girls who were like
Thrushes that spread their wings to fly at last
But could not. Though struggling, we only breathed
To take another dying breath—our agony
Your pleasure.
••••••••••••Tell him: ‘Sing of girls, of slaves
To slaves, who twitched a little while but not
For long; whose rags were left behind, bone broken
And creaking in the winds of Ithaca.”
Tell him that we waited to be lain
Among the corpses we ourselves had carried
From the blood-soaked hall.
••••••••••••So long as sings your minstrel,
Odysseus, so long will fly from us
The last syllable of our breath: that far
From Ithaca, cries of murder, bloodshed
And vengeance—where the grass at evening shivers
In sea-spray and the noiseless spider sifts
The wind—was seen a startled thrush that cried out,
Took flight above the drumming waters, even
Above the dissolution of the air,
Into the spreading fingers of the Milky Way.

March 12th 2018 by me, Patrick Gillespie


December 15th 2015

Midway through December, as I continue to write haiku, I notice I pay more attention to the world, aware of poetic contrasts, interrelationships and vividness. Writing haiku is a kind of mindfulness. Haiku are short and can be written in an instant, though this doesn’t mean they’re simple or trivial. I continue to edit the haiku I’ve written this past week.

But the experience is different than a sonnet. I can spend a week or months on a single poem, turning the same imagery and ideas over until I arrive at something that feels organic and, ideally, spontaneous. But writing haiku allows a poet to inhabit a different world each day—each day newly imagining a new poem. This brings an awareness to everyday doings. The first realization is how frustratingly similar each day can feel. I travel the same roads. I see the same clouds. The trees are bare, the floor leaf-strewn, and the rivers shine through them.

I want my haiku to offer a variety emotions and observations. Even if I write them every day for a yearI want to avoid repetitiveness. That means one has to look beyond the familiar to the unfamiliar which is, after all, what haiku do. They also make the familiar unfamiliar and new. So writing haiku requires not just mindfulness but an aware inquisitiveness. The poet who writes haiku isn’t passive. Basho warned that haiku were only to be had in the journey. He famously wrote:

“The moon and sun are travelers through eternity. Even the years wander on. Whether drifting through life on a boat or climbing toward old age leading a horse, each day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”

Today I travelled south to Woodstock and I travelled west and north to Randolph. The sky was a beautiful mix of broken clouds and blue sky. The wind was strong today, and moody. My tarps were blown off the woodpiles and tonight the wind is just as rancorous.

I wonder about my own spiritual journey.

I was in love with the world today—its little vanities, nobility and introspection. The sun lit some mountains and not others. The smaller rose above their statelier neighbors when the sun swept across them.

When the sun is this low in winter the undersides of the clouds are always dark and broody.


····clouds—buttoning her coat from the bottom


“Real poetry is to lead a beautiful life. To live poetry is better than to write it.” ~ Basho

Back in April I wrote a haiku inspired by Basho’s famous poem about the old frog. I’m not the first, but I might be a little fond of my own:


old pond—
·····ice melting into
··········the sound of frogs


This time of year you can look through the woods and see everything missed in summer—brooks, houses, further fields. I saw an old shed I’d never seen before.


···in the old shed—the moon
··········in a puddle


39: December 15th 2015 | bottlecap



December 13th 2015

I’m watching my wife and daughters rehearsing the Christmas revels. I sit in the back row. The players are dressed in Scottish kilts and regalia. They sing a combination of Christmas carols and traditional Scottish tunes. I’ve always loved the unadorned music of the Irish and the Scots. Must be in my blood.


I see a little girl,
Across the street she skips.
I wonder who someday
Will be the one to kiss her lips.

I see a little boy
Who runs in circles round.
I wonder who she’ll be
Will turn his spinning upside down.

Let happiness be theirs
Though sorrow’s in every smile;
Their world be free of cares
If only for a little while.


I wrote this on the spur of the moment–tonight. And I can’t write anything that’s not a little bittersweet. I’ve been reading Buson’s haiku, different yet as memorable as Basho’s. They can be very simple–and sometimes deceptively so.


····the Milky Way—the roadway


Once again I’ve come home too late at night. I may sleep in a little, again.


37: December 13th 2015 | bottlecap



December 7th 2015 | buds in winter

  • Today’s post marks one month of writing haiku/haibun. I hope all of you are enjoying them; and my thanks to all who have commented. At first, I was only going to write haiku, but they readily became haibun. Now, as I begin to  understand the form, I already imagine ways to more expansively explore it.



buds in December—
····the old tree·dreams of another


I’ve been meaning to cut down an old maple.  There’s one branch left. I go out but change my mind. Though winter is arriving, the limb is already blackened by buds.

31: December 7th 2015 | bottlecap

December 6th 2015 | Journey to the South


We journeyed to the south today. Out for Christmas shopping. The morning began as the season’s most beautiful. Low clouds in the valleys left the trees a brilliant white, especially beautiful above the green grass and the copper of their fallen leaves.


······frost—trees floating above the valley’s


We travelled south over the White River then out of the clouds in Pomfret. The field’s brittle golden rod, wild parsnip, yarrow, meadowsweet, Queen Anne’s lace and aster were bursting with tufts of sunlit frost.


·····December’s wildflowers must also


Further south along Route 100, the road rises skyward until the vast expanse of the Greens laces the horizon. A lone farmhouse overlooked the valley and I wondered at the beauty of the view—and also the loneliness.

30: December 6th 2015


December 5th 2015 | spotless


····three days of rain—the spotless



29: December 5th 2015 | bottlecap


I woke last night, sometime in the early morning, and saw the moon through the frosted window. Over the motionless field it seemed especially bright.

December 1rst 2015| a jay’s sreech


a jay’s
····screech—December’s ice-storm turning



25: December 1rst 2015


The morning began with indefinite clouds and blue sky between. The sun caught in the highest trees; but by noon the rain began. The roads and trees had soaked in the 18 degree nights; and the sticking rain turned to ice. Getting home was slow and, once home, the world was a quiet place. The grass and stones glistened. I heard a jay’s cry off in the blue-stained hillside.


a jay’s
screech—the ice-storm turning the hillside


I’ve been reading Bamhill’s translation of Basho’s haiku — my favorite. I notice that Basho often revised or tweaked his haiku, and sometimes couldn’t seem to settle on a favored try. I guess I join him in that tradition.

November 30th 2015 | late November

On the first night of December:


····apples fallen and the tree laden
·············with stars



24: November 30th 2015


Was out late tonight. The night is cold and unusually clear for November— and the stars brilliantly glitter. But then, in just an hour and a half, it will be December. The night, in truth, is really December’s.