#AtoZChallenge: K

John Keats ( 31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821)

K is for Keats: John Keats the romantic poet.

He is one of my favourites, and has been since my early teens.

I love his poetry, of course, and when I first read about him, I was attracted by the tragedy of his early death, and the sad story of his love affair with Frances Brawne (portrayed with heartbreaking perfection in the film Bright Star), but then I discovered his letters and fell even deeper in love.

What has impressed me the most about Keats is how seriously he took his role and responsibilities as an older brother. His letters to his sister, Fanny, are sweet, and I especially love this poem he wrote for her:

There Was a Naughty Boy

There was a naughty boy,
A naughty boy was he,
He would not stop at home,
He could not quiet be–
He took
In his knapsack
A book
Full of vowels
And a shirt
With some towels–
A slight cap
For night cap–
A hair brush,
Comb ditto,
New stockings
For old ones
Would split O!
This knapsack
Tight at’s back
He rivetted close
And followed his nose
To the north
To the north
And followed his nose
To the north.

There was a naughty boy
And a naughty boy was he,
For nothing would he do
But scribble poetry–
He took
An ink stand
In his hand
And a pen
Big as ten
In the other,
And away
In a pother
He ran
To the mountains
And fountains
And ghosts
And posts
And witches
And ditches
And wrote
In his coat
When the weather
Was cool,
Fear of gout,
And without
When the weather
Was warm–
Och the charm
When we choose
To follow one’s nose
To the north,
To the north,
To follow one’s nose
To the north!

There was a naughty boy
And a naughty boy was he,
He kept little fishes
In washing tubs three
In spite
Of the might
Of the maid
Nor afraid
Of his Granny-good–
He often would
Hurly burly
Get up early
And go
By hook or crook
To the brook
And bring home
Miller’s thumb,
Not over fat
Minnows small
As the stall
Of a glove,
Not above
The size
Of a nice
Little Baby’s
Little fingers-
O he made
‘Twas his trade
Of fish a pretty kettle
A kettle–
A kettle
Of fish a pretty kettle
A kettle!

There was a naughty boy
And a naughty boy was he,
He ran away to Scotland
The people for to see–
Then he found
That the ground
Was as hard,
That a yard
Was as long,
That a song
Was as merry,
That a cherry
Was as red–
That lead
Was as weighty,
That fourscore
Was as eighty,
That a door
Was as wooden
As in England–
So he stood in his shoes
And he wondered,
He wondered,
He stood in his shoes
And he wondered.

It is not a fine poem, but is perhaps more precious than his many famous works of genius because they gives us a glimpse of Keats, not the great English poet, but the young man and loving big brother who wanted to make his little sister laugh.

Jaya, Jaya, Jaya

This piece by Malaysian poet Salleh Ben Joned celebrates the colourful and playful names of old Malaysian towns and villages. In contrast there are the prosaic and formulaic names of new townships. Below the original work, I have added translations of the Malay words.


Sebatang sajak konkrit untuk Lat.

Aku amat rindukan:

Tanjung Penawar

Kampung Seronok

Rantau Abang

Janda Baik

Gertak Sanggul

Bukit Katil

Lubuk Cina

Teluk Panglima Garang

Batang Melaka

Batang Berjuntai

Batang Besar


Gelang Patah



Pulau Bunting


Aku lemas dan layu

di tengah-tengah:

Petaling Jaya

Damansara Jaya

Desa Jaya

Ampang Jaya

Subang Jaya

Kelana Jaya





A concrete poem for Lat. (Lat is a popular Malaysian satirical cartoonist.)

My heart longs for:

Tanjung Penawar (Cape of Consolation)

Kampung Seronok (Gleeful Village)

Rantau Abang (Brother Land)

Janda Baik (Good Widow, or perhaps even Kind-hearted Divorcee)

Gertak Sanggul (I find this hard to translate. ‘Gertak’ means bluster and ‘sanggul’ means hair bun. It is supposed to refer to a bouncing up do.)

Bukit Katil (Hammock Hill, or without alliteration, Bed Hill)

Lubuk Cina (Chinese Pond. ‘Lubuk’ may also mean sinkhole or whirlpool.)

Teluk Panglima Garang (Fierce Warrior Bay. Panglima is also an official military title, equivalent if ‘commander’.)

Batang Melaka (‘Batang’ means stick or even river, but it provokes much sniggering because it’s slang for penis. Batang Melaka may refer to the Melaka river, or a large tree, or, in jest, Melaka’s official ‘member’.)

Batang Berjuntai (Lots of merriment over this place name as ‘berjuntai’ means dangling.)

Batang Besar (‘Besar’ is big, therefore you can imagine the schoolboy jokes.)

Banting (‘Banting’ means, variously, convulse, toss, and thresh. It is an agricultural town, or used to be, but I don’t think paddy is grown here.)

Gelang Patah (Broken Bracelet)

Tumpat (Dense)

Pedas (Spicy)

Pulau Bunting (Pregnant Island)


But I am depressed and discouraged

when I am in:

Petaling Jaya (‘Petaling’ refers only to the district and the city. It is not based on any Malay word.)

Damansara Jaya (‘Damansara’ refers to the river that runs from Sungai Buloh to Shah Alam.)

Desa Jaya (‘Desa’ means countryside.)

Ampang Jaya (‘Ampang’ means dam.)

Subang Jaya (‘Subang’ means earring.)

Kelana Jaya (‘Kelana’ means wanderer or wayfarer.)

Putrajaya (‘Putra’ means prince.)

Cyberjaya (well, you know what ‘Cyber’ means.)

(The suffix ‘jaya’ means success or prosperity or to thrive. It is, as you can tell, a popular suffix for the names of new townships and neighbourhoods. Used repeatedly, it has become meaningless. The delightful Batang Berjuntai has been renamed Bestari Jaya, ‘bestari’ meaning smart or skilled. Ho-hum.)


Waving, Wavering Flags


Outside the door,
lurking in the shadows,
is a terrorist.
Is that the wrong description?
Outside that door,
taking shelter in the shadows,
is a freedom fighter.
I haven’t got this right .
Outside, waiting in the shadows,
is a hostile militant.
Are words no more
than waving, wavering flags?
Outside your door,
watchful in the shadows,
is a guerrilla warrior.
God help me.
Outside, defying every shadow,
stands a martyr.
I saw his face.
No words can help me now.
Just outside the door,
lost in shadows,
is a child who looks like mine.
One word for you.
Outside my door,
his hand too steady,
his eyes too hard
is a boy who looks like your son, too.
I open the door.
Come in, I say.
Come in and eat with us.
The child steps in
and carefully, at my door,
takes off his shoes.

~ Imtiaz Dharker

The Music of Comb Against Hair

I had not heard of this poet, but now I have and I can’t get enough of his poems. They are like honey in my mouth when I speak them.

Here is one that is like a dark purple plum eaten in bed after lights out:

Early in the Morning

BY Li-Young Lee
While the long grain is softening
in the water, gurgling
over a low stove flame, before
the salted Winter Vegetable is sliced
for breakfast, before the birds,
my mother glides an ivory comb
through her hair, heavy
and black as calligrapher’s ink.
She sits at the foot of the bed.
My father watches, listens for
the music of comb
against hair.
My mother combs,
pulls her hair back
tight, rolls it
around two fingers, pins it
in a bun to the back of her head.
For half a hundred years she has done this.
My father likes to see it like this.
He says it is kempt.
But I know
it is because of the way
my mother’s hair falls
when he pulls the pins out.
Easily, like the curtains
when they untie them in the evening.

Drinking Alone with the Moon

Drinking Alone with the Moon

By Li Bai (701-762)

From a pot of wine among the flowers
I drank alone. There was no one with me –
Till, raising my cup, I asked the bright moon
To bring me my shadow and make us three.
Alas, the moon was unable to drink
And my shadow tagged me vacantly;
But still for a while I had these friends.
To cheer me through the end of spring  . . .
I sang. The moon encouraged me.
I danced. My shadow tumbled after.
As long as I knew, we were boon companions.
And then I was drunk, and we lost one another.
Shall goodwill ever be secure?
I watch the long road of the River of Stars.

Translated by Robert Payne, 1958