The HyperTexts

Commonsensical (and Sometimes Whimsical) Literary Criticism
by Michael R. Burch

This is a page of literary criticism and advice to writers by the American poet, editor, essayist and translator Michael R. Burch. The subjects discussed include:

What is Poetry, Exactly or Even Roughly?
What Fresh Hell is "Literary Theory"?
Literary Devices with Examples
Tips for Beginning and Intermediate Poets
Observations about Poetry and Writing
The Artistic Ego, with Examples
Why I Call Addled Poetry "Experts" the Keystone Scops
My Literary Heresies
Bible Criticism
Flat Earth Experiments and Proofs
Movie Criticism

You can find Burch's analysis of his own poems here: "Auschwitz Rose" Analysis, "Epitaph" Analysis, "Something" Analysis, "Will There Be Starlight" Analysis, "Davenport Tomorrow" Analysis, "Neglect" Analysis, "Passionate One" Analysis, "Self Reflection" Analysis

My Main Tips for Beginning and Intermediate Poets, Along with Other Observations about Poetry and Writing

• Poetry is the art of finding the right word at the right time.—Michael R. Burch
• The most common cliché in contemporary poetry is: "Show, don't tell!" Unfortunately, someone forgot to inform Homer, Dante, Shakespeare and Milton.—Michael R. Burch
• "Art for the sake of art" is an option ignored by the greatest poets, and even by the inventors of the inane idea.—Michael R. Burch
• We can't change the past, but we can learn from it.—Michael R. Burch
• Don't be afraid to bend and break counterproductive rules.—Michael R. Burch
• When I was being bullied, I had to learn not to judge myself by the opinions of intolerant morons. Then I felt much better.—Michael R. Burch
• Intolerance is unsuccessful because one cannot argue successfully against success.—Michael R. Burch

While it may seem simplistic to say that poetry is largely a matter of finding the right word at the right time, I believe this is nonetheless true. If I remember correctly, A. E. Housman said something to the effect that writing poetry for him was mostly a matter of getting rid of the wrong words. And I am reminded of a story about James Joyce and his obsession with finding the right places for the right words. A friend visited Joyce to find him very unhappy. Why? It had taken an entire day for Joyce to come up with only seven words to use. "But that's pretty good day's output for you," the friend observed, trying to be encouraging. "Yes, but I don't know where to use them!" was Joyce's agonized response. So I think two writers as different as Housman and Joyce might have agreed with my premise. However, finding the right word at the right time in poetry requires a good ear. Someone who is tone deaf had best stick to singing in the shower and give up dreams of performing at the finest opera houses. Ditto for would-be poets. Joyce was a musician and had a musician's ear for melody. If I remember correctly, his earliest publications were poetry. I write poetry entirely by ear and never scan my poems. In fact, I don't think my ear really believes in scansion because there are so many different levels of stress. Some syllables get stretched out and others get compressed. How can all the language's dynamics be reduced to two symbols? So I never scan and when I do, I scan very badly, not really believing in what I am attempting. T. S. Eliot said that he didn't know the definitions of the various metrical feet and I believe him, because the only one I can remember is the iamb: da DUMB. Mind you, I love the effects, it's only the rules and definitions that I quibble with, peevishly.

The main mantra of modernism is "Show, don't tell!" Let me quickly mention that I'm not mindlessly opposed to modernism like so many of my formalist friends. Rather, I believe in plucking and using the good while discarding the bad, as I used to do when picking blueberries in blueberry-rich England as a boy. The wisest blueberry pickers know to avoid the shriveled, diseased and unripe berries. Always go for the most succulent, that was our motto! And so it should be with the mantras of modernism. There is freedom in free verse, and freedom is generally a good thing, as long as one uses it wisely. Thus I will keep free verse in my basket of poetic bounty. But what about "Show, don't tell!" and "No ideas but in things!" and "Fear abstractions!" These hysterical mantras all mean essentially the same thing: Poets should not say what they mean directly, they should beat around the bush. But no one got this ultra-important message to the greatest writers. Shakespeare's characters — Hamlet, Lear, Falstaff, Romeo, Juliet, et al — went around saying exactly what they meant without couching everything in imagery and metaphor. Ditto Milton's characters. Ditto Chaucer's. Ditto Dante's. Ditto Homer's. Do we perhaps see a pattern emerging? And what about Walter Raleigh's magnificent poetic rant "The Lie," or William Blake's stirring "Jerusalem," or the marvelous direct statement poems of A. E. Housman? The simple truth is that great poets have been telling us exactly what they think since the dawn of literature. It is probably good advice to caution writers: "Avoid preaching tedious sermons that will bore your readers to tears and drive them away in droves." But it is asinine to scream "Show, don't tell!" like a raving lunatic, when the world's greatest poets did tell, and did it so very well.

Similarly, "art for the sake of art" is an option regularly ignored by all the great poets, and even by the inventors of the inane idea. Well, perhaps Poe stuck to it more than his inconsistent disciples, but is he a major poet for poems like "The Raven" and "Annabel Lee," as entertaining as they may be? I very much doubt that Emily Dickinson would have agreed with "art for art's sake." She might have preferred "art for the heart's sake." I believe Walt Whitman would have agreed with Dickinson over Poe. It's also interesting and ironic that Archibald MacLeish, who wrote the famous Ars Poetica poem with the silly blurb that a poem should "not mean, but be," did a complete turnaround due to fascism and WWII, and wrote the stunning poem "Memorial Rain" in memory of his slain brother, publishing the moral truth in no uncertain terms. The poetry of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot is replete with abstract speech and "teaching moments" that might be construed as small (or large) sermons. Probably the greatest word-painter of them all, Wallace Stevens, was quite the abstract philosopher. So the best "art for art's sake" poets failed to abide by their highly dubious rule. Let me quickly admit that the non-rule is certainly an option. But the greatest poems go beyond mere art to communicate profound ideas and meaning. Hamlet communicates far more than the most delightful watercolorings of wildflowers. And Hamlet accomplishes most of what it accomplishes not through things, not through artistic imagery and metaphors, but through highly complex ideas expressed as such. Ditto for Milton's in Paradise Lost. Do modern self-alleged "literary critics" never read and think before they effuse? I'm afraid I may have just made more sense in fourteen sentences than they have in all their opuses combined!

"We can't change the past, but we can learn from it." This is true for most human beings, but not for writers, because writers have a tool called "revision." We can go back to our writings of the past, learn from our mistakes, and correct what we wrote. Walt Whitman revised his masterpiece, Leaves of Grass, long after the book had been published and made him famous. Whitman was still working on LoG on his deathbed: the final edition is called the "deathbed edition." Well, if America's greatest poet can revise his masterpiece, mere mortals can correct their youthful effusions. I cock a Spockian eyebrow when I hear poets saying, "I can't change my poem." Of course you can change anything you wrote at any time. If the writing can be improved, why not improve it? It would be vastly silly to do otherwise.

"Don't be afraid to bend and break counterproductive rules." I have been criticized by various formalists for breaking the ironclad rules of sonnets, villanelles, limericks, etc. But most of my favorite sonnets are rule breakers: "Ozymandias," "Acquainted With The Night," "Those Winter Sunday," "Sweet Rose of Virtue," the curtal sonnets of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hell, Shakespeare broke his adopted rules in some of his sonnets: iambic tetrameter here, 12 lines there. Where are the literary critics with their hysterics and screaming heebie-jeebies when the Bard of Avon bends and breaks the not-so-ironclad-after-all rules? In his article on the sonnet for Encylcopaedia Britannica, the formalist poet Anthony Hecht said that a canonical form like the sonnet requires innovation on the part of poets, or something to that effect. I agree with Hecht.

by Michael R. Burch

What is poetry? Is it possible to define poetry? While we all know poetry when we read it, or hear it being performed, it's not the easiest thing to define. Nevertheless, I will attempt to scale the Mount Everest of poetry questions. Let's begin with dictionary definitions:

po·et·ry  [poh-i-tree] noun
1. the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts.
2. literary work in metrical (i.e., rhythmic) form; verse.
3. prose with poetic qualities: "William Faulkner, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf wrote poetic prose."
4. poetic qualities however manifested: "The ballerina was poetry in motion."
5. poetic spirit or feeling: "She inspires me to poetry."

However, I think these definitions all miss the mark to some extent. Poetry can be metrical and/or rhythmic, but it doesn't have to be. Poetry can be beautiful, expressing elevated thoughts, but it doesn't have to be. And until we can define what "poetry" and "poetic" mean, how can we use the terms in definitions 3-5? To define what poetry is, I am going to borrow an idea expressed by Sir Herbert Read, then expand on it. Read said that poetry operates in three different ways: through sense, sound and suggestion. I will call these the three "dimensions" of poetry. Now I will go out on a limb and define both prose and poetry:

Prose: One-dimensional writing, with that dimension being sense (i.e., meaning, the communication of ideas).
Poetry: Multi-dimensional writing, with the three primary dimensions being sense, sound and suggestion. Additional, secondary dimensions include the visual, the symbolic, etc.

By my own definition, what I have written on this page so far is prose, because all I have attempted to communicate is meaning (ideas). Unless writing does more than just communicate ideas, it is prose, not poetry. Now for purposes of illustration and contrast, I will provide an example of poetry that operates in three dimensions:

Music When Soft Voices Die (To )
by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory—
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.

Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heaped for the belovèd's bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.

The difference between my one-dimensional prose and Shelley's three-dimensional poetry should be painfully obvious. Shelley's poem makes sense; he is communicating ideas just as I did in my prose. But Shelley has added the second dimension of sound effects: rhythm, rhyme, assonance and alliteration. Furthermore, he has added the third dimension of suggestion, or making us feel something: sadness, melancholy, perhaps even despair. Shelly's poem is a much higher order of writing than my prose, because it does more, it accomplishes more, and it makes us feel more.

For me, this is the essential difference between prose and poetry. If we read prose that operates in two or more dimensions, we call it "poetic" prose. The closer prose comes to the best poetry, the more poetic it is. On the other hand, if writing is laid out on the page to look like a poem, but lacks sound and suggestion, it reads like prose and we call it prosaic.

You may or may not agree with my definition. Perhaps you or someone else can come up with a better definition. But after half a century of reading, studying, writing, editing and translating poetry, this is the best definition that I have been able to come up with. Prose is one-dimensional writing. Poetry is multi-dimensional writing. The second dimension, sound, is easy enough to grasp. Poetry is more musical, more rhythmic, or just sounds better than ordinary prose. The third dimension, suggestion, is harder to describe, but we know it when we experience it. Here are two examples of poems that are replete with suggestion:

Bread and Music
by Conrad Aiken

Music I heard with you was more than music,
And bread I broke with you was more than bread;
Now that I am without you, all is desolate;
All that was once so beautiful is dead.

Your hands once touched this table and this silver,
And I have seen your fingers hold this glass.
These things do not remember you, belovèd,
And yet your touch upon them will not pass.

For it was in my heart you moved among them,
And blessed them with your hands and with your eyes;
And in my heart they will remember always,—
They knew you once, O beautiful and wise.

by D. H. Lawrence

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cozy parlor, the tinkling piano our guide.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamor
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

Do you feel something when you read these poems? Do you feel sadness, melancholy, longing, an ache, despondency, despair? Are you moved? If so, that is the third and most mysterious dimension of poetry at work: suggestion. The best poets can move us with their words, like the best songwriters. Songs with lyrics are poems set to music. The best poems create their own "music" through the sounds of their words. Thus good songs and good poems are very closely related.

Please note that according to my definition poetry does not have to be metrical or rhyme. Any pleasing sound qualifies. For instance, I like the alliteration in this translation of an ancient Greek epigram:

Sappho, fragment 42
translation by Michael R. Burch

Eros harrows my heart:
wild winds whipping desolate mountains
uprooting oaks.

The first line has "r," "h," "s" and long "o" sounds. The second line has "w," "d," "s" and long "i" sounds." The third line has assonance with "u" and "o" sounds. While the poem "lacks" formal meter and rhyme, it still has quite a bit going on, sound-wise.

by Michael R. Burch

On Quora someone asked how I would explain the term "literary theory" to a high school student.

The question's implication was, I thought, that high school students might be intimidated by the term, or perhaps just run away fleeing, asking over their rapidly departing shoulders, "What fresh hell is this?"

To explain the concept of “literary theory” to a high school student, I would compare a literary theory to the magnifying lens Sherlock Holmes uses to learn more about “whodunit” and how they did it.

A literary theory seeks to explain how and/or why writers do what they do. A literary theory is a way of investigating, studying and explaining writing.

How did a criminal pull off the seemingly perfect crime? Sherlock Holmes will use a device to examine the evidence and his powers of deduction to figure out how the crime was executed. And he isn’t limited to a single device. He might use a handheld magnifying lens in the field, a microscope in the lab, or a telescope at a distance.

How do writers manage to “pull off” the things they do? What motivates them? Literary theorists will use devices like formalism and deconstruction to investigate and analyze literature.

Speaking of guilty parties, I have a terrible and dismal confession to make. I have become the most dreaded of criminals: a literary theorist!

Yes, it is the sad end to an otherwise commendable life.

But, being completely without excuse, I developed a literary theory to explain the difference between poetry and prose. My theory was created the same way Isaac Newton developed his theories of motion. Newton said that he stood on the shoulders of giants in order to see what he saw. In my case, I stood on the shoulders of Herbert Read.

Herbert Read had a theory, expressed in his Phases of English Poetry, that the primary attributes of poetry are sense, sound and suggestion. (By “sense” he meant meaning.) I call these primary attributes “dimensions.” But poetry can have other dimensions. For instance, a concrete poem will have a visual dimension. Thus I came up with the literary theory that poetry is multidimensional writing, whereas ordinary prose is one-dimensional writing, with that single dimension being sense/meaning.

In my “multidimensional theory of literature” the three primary dimensions of poetry are sense, sound and suggestion. Ordinary prose is one-dimensional writing and when prose begins to approach poetry in sound and/or suggestion, we call it “poetic prose.” Additional dimensions include the visual, the symbolic, etc.

According to my multidimensional theory, we can determine if we are reading “fully functional” poetry by our response to it. Does it make sense to us? Do the sounds please our ears? Does it suggest something to us beyond mere meaning: a sense of deja vu, a feeling of homesickness, a shiver of apprehension, etc.?

If so, we are reading fully functional poetry. Thus free verse poems like “A Noiseless Patient Spider” by Walt Whitman qualify as “real poetry” despite not employing poetic devices like traditional meter and rhyme.
On the other hand, zillions of poems that appear to be poetry really aren’t, or are not fully poetry, because they don’t please the ear and/or lack the power of suggestion. Others don’t ultimately make much sense, or not enough to be significant.
My literary theory is just one of many that students of poetry can use to analyze poems. But I rather like it myself.

by Michael R. Burch

Is it desirable or even possible to be an artist without an ego?

I will construe the term “artist” widely, to include painters, sculptors, poets, songwriters, composers, musicians, dancers, actors and actresses.

There is a fairly common religious idea that the ego is “bad” if not downright evil. Thus the ego must be suppressed, the way Catholic priests suppress their libidos — perhaps with similar rates of success, since libidos and egos do not take well to being suppressed. According to this theory artists must suppress their egos in order to create good art. Yes, and the world is flat, tomatoes are poisonous, etc. It is my belief that any theory about art can be disproved if there are masterpieces that violate the theory. I intend to disprove this idea of good art needing to be egoless by citing ego-saturated masterpieces by great artists like Sappho, Shakespeare and Walt Whitman.

I do not claim to know, but I suspect, that great artists always have strong egos, by which I mean a strong sense of self. This doesn’t mean great artists have to be egoists (self-centered and/or selfish) or egotists (conceited), but I believe great artists want to express something and that requires having something to express: the thoughts, ideas, feelings and dreams of the self, or ego.

I believe a “good ego” would have a strong sense of self, a strong desire to express that self, and such a strong sense of self-worth that the self’s expressions are deemed to deserve an audience. Poets want to be read and complain when they’re not. Musicians want to be heard. And so on.

Blushing violets are likely to die unknown. Thus most artists have to actively pursue becoming known for their work. The fact that we know them by their work suggests considerable effort by the ego to be recognized. There are exceptions, like Emily Dickinson, whose poems were discovered and published after her death, but such exceptions are rare. And still Dickinson’s ego produced hundreds of poems, suggesting a strong desire to express itself.

These are examples of the artistic ego at work…

In the first poetry collection by the first poet we know by name, Enheduanna, she declares herself the favorite of the goddess Inanna, whom she elevates over the male gods in order to exalt her position as high priestess!

The immortal Sappho of Lesbos wrote a poem in which I take her to be comparing herself to another female poet. Sappho predicted that her rival would be forgotten because she lacked the Roses of Pieria. In other poems Sappho said that she would be remembered. I have called Sappho the first modern poet because she was the first major poet to make herself the focus of her poems.

Dante had no qualms about proclaiming himself one of the greatest poets of all time.

In his sonnets Shakespeare said that he would immortalize his lovers. And he said so more than once. We can infer that he believed he wrote so well that what he wrote would be read in the future.

The great Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci competed to be deemed the greatest artist of Renaissance Florence. Leonardo wrote an amusing essay in which he denigrated sculpture as inferior to painting. Then Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel!

No poet had a greater ego than Walt Whitman, who created modern free verse and was emulated by poets around the world. Whitman believed he was the greatest poet since Shakespeare and wrote glowing reviews of his own poetry.

John Milton claimed that he would “justify the ways of God to man.” Milton’s ego has been called “immense” and might account for his ability to create the immense ego of Satan in Paradise Lost.

Los is the hero of William Blake's mythology as developed in his prophetic books. Los is the Eternal Poet and the Eternal Prophet. And Los is, of course, Blake’s alter ego. Blake was a heretic who denied the need for salvation and considered himself his own Christ.

Voltaire’s enormous ego and his insistence on defying convention kept him continually in hot water: he was jailed, exiled, his books were burned, and he was probably lucky not to have been burned alive as the foremost heretic of his day.

Goethe was an advocate of the "good ego" or a wider sense of self.

Salvador Dalí said, "Every morning when I awake, the greatest of joys is mine: that of being Salvador Dalí." When he was criticized for choosing to live under General Franco's fascist government in Spain, Dalí sniffed that he didn't care about others so long as he could be king!

Al Jolson considered himself to be the world's greatest entertainer.

George Orwell cited “sheer egoism” as his main motivation for writing.

Ayn Rand ranked herself as the philosophical equal of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas.

John Lennon said the Beatles were bigger than Jesus.

Muhammad Ali wrote poems and called himself "The Greatest."

Robbie Williams named his album The Ego Has Landed.

At the end of this article there is a list of famous people with strong egos from all walks of life, such as Alexander the Great, Muhammad Ali, Napoleon and a number of actors, actresses, sports figures, etc.

I recently had a discussion about the ego in poetry with an Oriental poet/editor who told me that the ego “cropping up” in poetry would result in mediocre poetry, and that I did not understand my own poetry (which she has praised many times over the years) because I had to keep my ego from cropping up in order to write good poetry. This was my response:

If there was no ego in poetry, poets would not feel disappointment when their poems were rejected. They would not be any happier when poems are published than when they are rejected. I have been editing and publishing poetry for 30+ years and I have a lot of experience working with poets around the globe. I understand that in the Orient the ego is seen differently than in the West, but that is a cultural thing. Human nature is human nature, and it is human nature for poets to want their poems to be published, to be happy when they are, to be disappointed when they are not, and to have other people like their poems. I am always happy when other people like my poems, whether they are young students or accomplished poets. I am always disappointed when my poems are not published when I consider them publishable. That is just human nature.

As for the ego not cropping up in good poetry, here are three quick examples to the contrary:

1. Walt Whitman’s lifework and masterpiece Leaves of Grass is not just ego-saturated, but superego-saturated. For instance, the opening lines of “Song of Myself”:

I celebrate myself and sing myself
and what I assume
you will assume.

The great Walt Whitman was all about one ego — his. Yes, he wrote about other subjects but Whitman’s main theme was himself.

2. Sappho of Lesbos was so highly esteemed by her peers that she was called the Tenth Muse. The other nine Muses were goddesses, so that was high praise indeed. Sappho’s main themes were her desires, her feelings, her fears, her disappointments.

3. Shakespeare in his sonnets reminds me of Sappho, as he wrote in the first person about his desires, his feelings, his fears and disappointments.

There are many other examples of egos cropping up in poetry, but those are three that leap immediately to mind.

I will also point out that many notable Indian literary figures, including the great Rabindranath Tagore, have praised Whitman and compared his poetry favorably to Oriental poetry …

Tagore was struck by Whitman's mysticism and said, "No American has caught the Oriental spirit of mysticism as well as he." (Holloway 156)
The noted philosopher and Indologist Anand K. Coomaraswamy, in Buddha and the
Gospel of Buddhism, found lines of "Song of Myself" to echo the spiritual values of the Buddhist and Hindu religions.
Swami Vivekananda called Whitman "the Sannyasin [monk] of America."
V.K. Chari's Whitman in the Light of Vedantic Mysticism uses the Vedantic concept of the Self to interpret Whitman's “cosmic dynamism.”
O.K. Nambiar in Walt Whitman and Yoga applies principles of Yoga philosophy to explain passages in "Song of Myself."
•  Other Indian scholars said similar things, helping lead to the established view of Whitman as a mystical poet.

by Michael R. Burch

Alexander the Great
Muhammad Ali dubbed himself The Greatest
Napoleon Bonaparte
Julius Caesar
Winston Churchill
William the Conqueror
Charles de Gaulle
Lebron James declared himself first “King James,” then the GOAT, and there was also “The Decision.”
John F. Kennedy
Abraham Lincoln
John Lennon
Douglas MacArthur
Michael Jackson
Qin Shi Huang had his concubines and personal attendants buried alive with him!
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Teddy Roosevelt
Marquis de Sade
William Shakespeare
Margaret Thatcher aka the Iron Lady
Donald Trump has been called an egomaniac, an egoist, an egotist, a megalomaniac, a malignant narcissist, a pathological narcissist, a transactional narcissist, a sociopath, and just plain evil.
Kanye West has been accused of trying to be Hollywood’s biggest egomaniac, which would be quite a trick to pull off. But if anyone can do it, Kanye probably can.
Walt Whitman

HONORABLE AND DIS-HONORABLE MENTION: Glenn Beck, Beyonce, Justin Bieber, Tony Blair, Bono, Warren Buffett, Ted Bundy, Caligula, Mariah Carey, Dale Carnegie, Simon Cowell, Tom Cruise, Robert Downey Jr., Drake, Faye Dunaway, Thomas Edison, Larry Ellison, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Ulysses S. Grant, King Henry VIII, Paris Hilton, Alfred Hitchcock, Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Kylie Jenner, Steve Jobs, Lyndon Johnson, Angelina Jolie, Jim Jones, Kim Kardashian, Adam Levine, Charles Manson, Marilyn Manson, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Joseph McCarthy, Morrissey, Robert Mugabe, Benito Mussolini, Nero, Shaquille O’Neal, Larry Page, Gwyneth Paltrow, George Patton, Pol Pot, Rihanna, John D. Rockefeller, Axl Rose, Steven Seagal, Gene Simmons, O.J. Simpson, Will Smith, George Soros, Quentin Tarantino, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Ivana Trump, George Washington, Jack Welch, Orson Welles, Tiger Woods, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mark Zuckerberg

This is how a fellow executive described Oracle’s narcissistic CEO Larry Ellison: “The difference between God and Larry is that God does not believe he is Larry.”


by Michael R. Burch

Bead by bead,
I count my lovers’ moons ...
Moon by sad moon,
I await my children. Soon ...

by Michael R. Burch

The earliest known drawing, circa 70,000 BC, was found at Blombos, South Africa. This drawing, made with a red ocher crayon, looks like a # hashtag! Curiously, researchers have identified 32 common geometric symbols used in 52 different caves around the world. These symbols seem to have significance and may be the earliest form of writing. Our ancestors went to great lengths to create the symbols, but unfortunately we don’t understand what they represent. “This capacity goes back at least 100,000 years,” says Francesco d’Errico of the University of Bordeaux, France. The Altamira Cave cave paintings, circa 39,000 BC, may be the earth's oldest paintings and the earliest carbon-dated examples of human figurative art. Skipping rapidly forward in time, researcher Genevieve von Petzinger determined that symbols she had found on numerous cave walls were being combined on necklaces, circa 14,000 BC, found at the French village of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac. Such necklaces, discovered with the body of a young woman, had beads made from ancient deer teeth. The beads were etched with symbols: different combinations of straight lines, an X, and an asterisk formed by running a straight line through an X. Von Petzinger believes this combination of symbols is the evolution of some form of human code. If so, over time the code could have evolved into more complex cuneiform script and hieroglyphics. But if there is a code, no one has been able to crack it so far. That is, until I took a whack at it ...

This is speculation on my part, but let’s assume a straight horizontal line was used for counting, with one line representing the number one, two lines representing two, and so on. Now let’s assume an X represents two people mating, while an asterisk formed by adding a straight horizontal line represents "adding" a baby (this is speculation for purposes of example). Three straight lines and an X could represent a woman's third mate. The beads could then be used to keep track of when a woman had sex with a certain partner and when she became pregnant. Perhaps nine different beads represented nine moons or nine menstrual cycles. One new bead might be added each new month or cycle, with the oldest bead being discarded when it no longer fit. If a woman had two or more partners, she could keep track of whose children she might potentially be bearing. Again, this is admittedly speculation. But it might have been very important for a pregnant woman to know whose child she was carrying, men being inclined, as they are, to prefer their own children to those fathered by other men.

The evolution of writing includes other important milestones. Inscriptions cut in stone on Fourth Dynasty tombs of Giza and the Second Dynasty tablet of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford date to around 4,200 BC. Symbols on Gerzean (Egyptian) pottery, circa 3,800 BC, have been compared to later hieroglyphics, although the connection is disputed. The Kish Tablet, circa 3,250 BC, may be the oldest extant example of Sumerian proto-cuneiform (i.e., pictographic) writing. Early Egyptian hieroglyphics date to around this time. A Seth-Peribsen tomb seal, circa 2,690 BC, has the first known complete sentence: "The golden one of Ombos has unified the two realms for his son ... Peribsen." The Sumerian Kesh Temple Hymns and Instructions of Suruppak, circa 2,500 BC, may be the earth's oldest surviving literature. The Egyptian Tale of a Shipwrecked Sailor has also been dated to around this time. Thus we may consider 2,500 BC as the approximate beginning point of literature and songwriting. But there does seem to be the possibility of some form of communication that goes back at least 70,000 years, and perhaps 100,000 or more. If the 32 common cave symbols have meaning, the use of symbols could have expanded over time into more complex forms of writing like cuneiform and hieroglyphics.

It may be impossible to crack the earliest code. But my little thought experiment seems intriguing to me. A bead might represent a moon or menstrual cycle. The easiest symbol to draw, a straight line, might be used for simple counting – something I use nearly every day myself, although I prefer vertical lines. But a vertical line might have been assigned another meaning, like "myself." In any case, what would a young woman be most concerned about, calendar-wise and mathematically? If she had more than one mate, keeping track of when she had sex, and with whom, might have been very important, men being as they are. Perhaps mate swapping was only allowed when a woman was infertile, to help establish paternity. Our ancestors may not have been as prudish about monogamy as we are! If similar necklaces with similar symbols are found only with the bodies of females, that might be a clue. Of course I am only an amateur (and some experts might consider me rank), but we may have to consider what was most important to our ancient ancestors if we want to crack the code. Was the beaded necklace, perhaps, an early calculator, calendar, and note-taking system? If so, we will have to bow to the genius of the caveman – or, more correctly – the cavewoman! If I'm correct, some enterprising young cavewoman created an early iPad: a combination of calendar, calculator and note-taking system. And she did it with a few beads, something to twine them on, and an etching tool.

by Michael R. Burch

Five features of Shakespeare’s poetry raise serious questions about a confederacy of dunces I like to call the Keystone Scops, in one of my cuter coinages:

METER. Shakespeare wrote sonnets almost exclusively in iambic pentameter. He wrote his plays primarily in blank verse, or unrhymed iambic pentameter. He also employed limerick meter at times and incorporated melodic songs into his plays. So a fundamental feature of Shakespeare’s poetry is meter.

RHYME. When Shakespeare wrote lyric poetry, he was a rhymer. His famous sonnets, all 154 of them, are rhyming poems. Since Shakespeare is the consensus choice of modern literary critics as the greatest poet of all time, it’s amusing that so many of them pooh-pooh meter and rhyme in modern poetry. Why didn’t the world’s greatest poet agree with these founts of wisdom?

ABSTRACT VERSE. For my purposes here the term "abstract" means "immaterial." Concrete is not abstract because we can touch it, but we have to imagine love. Modern literary critics in their vast collective (or parrot-like) wisdom frequently echo the mantras of modernism: “Show, don't tell! No ideas but in things! Fear abstractions! Poets should never directly say what they really mean! Poets should always use concrete imagery and couch their meaning in metaphors! Beat around the bush!” Unfortunately, or more likely, fortunately, Shakespeare never got this ultra-important message, nor did other poets generally considered to be among the world’s best: Homer, Dante, Chaucer, Milton, Goethe, Whitman, Neruda, et al. These great poets regularly expressed abstract ideas in abstract speech. For instance, Shakespeare’s sonnets are much more about thoughts and feelings than “things.” The great soliloquies of Hamlet and other Shakespearean characters are wonderful examples of abstract ideas being expressed in abstract speech, with an image here, a metaphor there, but with the main drift always being the heart and mind of a man or woman as fully exposed as possible in words. Why didn't the world's greatest poet fear abstractions as the Keystone Scops imperiously demand that we do?

PERSONIFICATION. Modern literary critics and most modern poets shun personification as if it were Lucifer incarnate. But Shakespeare had no such qualms. For example: "The moon, methinks, looks with a wat'ry eye; / And when she weeps, weeps every little flower, / Lamenting some enforced chastity." Once again, if we are sane and able to read and have any common sense at all, we must ask ourselves if these self-appointed censors of poetry are utterly clueless dunces. The question is, of course, rhetorical.

DIDACTIC VERSE. A didactic poem is directly instructional or informational: it teaches or explains something such as a truth, a moral, a principle or a process. The English word "didactic" derives from the Greek didaktikos ("able to teach or instruct"). While modern literary critics have more or less "written off" didactic poetry (pardon the pun), they are contradicted by the fact that some of the greatest poets wrote didactic verse, including Shakespeare. Many of the Bard's famous sonnets conclude with didactic couplets. Perhaps they all do: isn't that a feature of the form? For example, Shakespeare's first sonnet ends on a decidedly didactic note: "Pity the world, or else this glutton be, To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee."

In conclusion, we have at least five features of Shakespeare’s poetry that modern literary critics regularly chide and deride. Should we believe the world’s greatest poet and playwright, or the Keystone Scops? You can probably guess my preference.

by Michael R. Burch

I was asked what makes "The Red Wheelbarrow" different from other poems. I don’t know that it is all that different from other poems. It seems rather ordinary to me. The poem gained fame as an “example” of these nonsensical modernist mantras:

No ideas but in things!
Show, don’t tell!
Fear abstractions!

As I have pointed out before, these hysterical commandments boil down to the same thing: Poets should not say what they mean directly. Rather, they should beat around the bush. Now as options these imperious commandments would be fine. It is perfectly fine to show rather than tell. But the greatest poets did “tell” — Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, plus your personal favorites, most likely.

Furthermore, I find it ironic that in his famous poetic treatise William Carlos Williams begins by blatantly telling: “So much depends …”

If WCW hadn’t given the game away by telling us what he was up to, no one would remember his nonsensical treatise. It would just be a brief series of mundane, meaningless images. It is only the telling that makes the poem of any interest to anyone.

I also feel compelled to note that the most prominent of the early modernists, Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, wrote poetry full of abstract notions delivered directly via abstract speech. For instance, when Eliot, speaking as Prufrock, wants us to understand his character, like Shakespeare he resorts to direct statement:

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

Pound’s Cantos are similarly replete with telling.

So there is a lot of hypocrisy involved. The apostles failed to set good examples for their disciples, who nonetheless repeat the absurd mantras, ad infinitum.

Common sense tells us that because the greatest poets both showed and told, both methods are perfectly fine. The best poets can do both, have done both, and will continue to do both. The parrots will, alas, continue to parrot nonsense.

by Michael R. Burch

One of the pros of postmodernism, in my opinion, is the general distrust of “grand theories” and ideologies. I think such skepticism is a very good thing.

One of the cons of postmodernism is a tendency toward obscurity and weirdness on the part of many postmodernist poets, artists, architects, et al. Have novelty for the sake of novelty and eccentricity for the sake of eccentricity led to a dead end? To better understand what happened and why, I highly recommend Tom Wolfe’s rib-splitting critiques on popular art and culture, such as The Painted Word and From Bauhaus to Our House. It turns out that some of the leading postmodernists didn’t reject “grand theories” after all. Rather they adopted the goofiest possible “grand theories” and enslaved themselves to those lunacies.

by Michael R. Burch

These acidic excerpts were extracted from some of the most brutal reviews of works of literature and their authors, delivered by some of the world’s most astute readers and writers:

Ezra Pound said of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake that “Nothing so far as I can make out, nothing short of divine vision or a new cure for the clapp, can possibly be worth all the circumambient peripherization.”

Dorothy Parker, writing under her byline The Constant Reader for The New Yorker, complained that the incessant cuteness of The House at Pooh Corner caused her to vomit — that when she got to the word “hummy” the “Tonstant Weader Fwowed up.”

In his review of the later work of W. H. Auden, the poet-critic Randall Jarrell compared him to a windmill endlessly churning out rhetoric, and to a man obsessively washing his hands.

Mark Twain ripped James Fenimore Cooper’s sometimes-illogically-acclaimed novel The Deerslayer to absolute shreds. Here’s an illustrative example: “Cooper's art has some defects. In one place in "Deerslayer," and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.”

In his review of The Great Gatsby, H. L. Mencken calls the story “obviously unimportant” and says the characters are “mere marionettes—often astonishingly lifelike, but nevertheless not quite alive.”

Charlotte Bronte said that when reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice she found: “An accurate, daguerreotyped portrait of a commonplace face, a carefully-fenced, highly-cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright, vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.”

While I will not include myself in the august company of reviewers above, I like to think that I have had my moments. For instance, this is an excerpt from my review of a poetry anthology too terrible to be named aloud, like Sauron:

I found locating the better poems to be like searching for treasure concealed within the eerie, seaweed-enshrouded skeleton of a sunken ship. At times the waters grew confoundingly murky: for instance, in the section where V [the editor-in-chief] indulged in self-congratulatory commentary about a garland of sonnets he penned concerning the Titanic's catastrophic maiden voyage. V began his less-than-objective analysis in the third person, as if someone else were praising his work, then switched—seemingly obliviously—into the first person, giving the game away. In his commentary, V employed broken, sometimes incomprehensible, bizarrely-punctuated English. It is undoubtedly the strangest passage of literary criticism that I have ever read, being simultaneously narcissistic and incredibly awkward: an unmitigated disaster. Thus, my references to the Titanic in this review are not gratuitous. It seems fitting that this over-hyped collection's most vaunted poems are about a voyage that began with hubristic marketing of an "unsinkable" ship, only to end with a symbol of human arrogance and its chief officers vanishing, never to be seen again. Can V and his anthology escape similar fates? Not a chance. I am reminded of a line from "The Convergence of the Twain" by Thomas Hardy: "What does this vaingloriousness down here?"

And because the anthology's numerous defects remind me of the Titanic's popping rivets and flooding compartments, I question whether readers will consider the book to be worth its cost, their valuable time, and the annoyances and frustrations they'll experience in their search for something of value. Unfortunately, the worthier poems may remain undiscovered as readers give up the search due to numerous quality control failures on the part of the anthology's editors. Or, more accurately, on the part of the editor who posed for the literary equivalent of "selfies" while at least four members of his crew sounded alarms about the disaster looming on the horizon.

by Michael R. Burch

“Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats employs a wide variety of poetic devices:

• Form: I believe Keats created a nonce form for this ode.
• Meter: Iambic pentameter with trimeter in the eighth line of each stanza.
• End Rhyme: The rhyme scheme is ABABCDECDE.
• Internal Rhyme: “To toll me back from thee to my sole self.”
• Repetition for Emphasis: "Away! Away!"
• Alliteration: “With beaded bubbles winking at the brim.”
• Assonance: “In some melodious plot.”
• Imagery: “Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves.”
• Simile: “Forlorn! the very word is like a bell.”
• Metaphor: “Fast fading violets” are a metaphor for the briefness of human life.
• Allusive Metaphor: “Bacchus and his pards” is a metaphor that alludes to excessive drinking. Bacchus was the Greek god of wine and drunkenness. He was worshiped by frenzied priestesses known as the Bacchae. A bacchanalia is a drunken orgy. By declining to travel with Bacchus, Keats is saying that he will not fly to the nightingale by getting drunk.
• Extended Metaphor: The poem may be considered an extended metaphor in which the nightingale’s immortal song represents Keats’s poetry. When Keats enters the night of death, his song will still be heard and he will have joined the immortal nightingales.
• Symbology: The nightingale symbolizes the poet, poetry and poetic inspiration (the Muse). The nightingale’s song symbolizes the poet’s verse.
• Allusion: The nightingale is an allusion to Philomela (also Philomel). In Greek mythology Philomela was a princess of Athens who was raped and mutilated by Tereus, her sister's husband. Tereus cut out Philomela’s tongue to prevent her from accusing him. But she was transformed into a nightingale by the gods who made her immortal and gave her the loveliest of voices. I believe Keats is identifying with Philomela because he suffered with tuberculosis that had attacked him and threatened to silence him. He would die tragically young at age 25. But like Philomela he would still be heard thanks to a gift of the gods, the Muses of poetry.
• Personification: Beauty is personified with “where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes.” The Moon is personified: “And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne.” The Stars, Love and Death are also personified.
• Apostrophe: The poet speaks directly to the nightingale: “Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird.”
• Anaphora: Keats opens the poem with an anaphora, stressing the personal nature of the poem by beginning its first two lines with “My.” In the third stanza Keats begins a series of lines with “Where.”
• Anadiplosis: The term means “double back” in Greek. In poetry this is to emphasize a word or phrase through close repetition and especially to repeat the ending word of a line or stanza at the beginning of the next line or stanza. Keats concludes the seventh stanza with the word “forlorn” and begins the eighth stanza with the same word.
• Wordplay, Puns, Double Entendres: I believe “my sole self” probably means “my individual self” and “my soul-self” or simply “my soul.” The word “darkling” is rare and may have been chosen because it sounds like “darling” and "daring," although that is just a guess on my part. One does wonder if Thomas Hardy got his “Darkling Thrush” from Keat’s darkling nightingale. Ditto for Matthew Arnold's "darkling plain."
• Exclamations: “O” twice, "Forlorn!" and "Adieu!" and “Away! Away!”
• Poetic Contractions: “’Tis” and “Charm’d” among others.
• Enjambment: “My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk, / Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains.”
• Hyperbole: Keats calls the nightingale “immortal” but of course its lifespan was shorter than his. Nightingales have lifespans of one to five years. And ironically the females are mute.
• Paradox: Keats portrays approaching Death in dark terms — “weariness,” “fever,” “fret,” “palsy,” “leaden-eyed despairs,” etc. — but he also calls Death “easeful” and says he has called Death “soft names” in “many a mused rhyme.”
• Antithesis: Keats compares the brevity of a human life to the immortality of the nightingale. But perhaps he means that the nightingale’s song is immortal. If so, Keats may be saying, “I am going to die soon, but this poem will be immortal.” If so, he was unfortunately correct on the first count, and an accurate prophet on the second.

The Power of a Few Words Delivered by the Right Writer at the Right Time
by Michael R. Burch

Essays can influence public opinion even if most people don’t read the essays, as long as the essays reach and influence the world’s intellectual “movers and shakers.” For instance, I suspect many human beings have been influenced Voltaire's essays, even though they haven’t read Voltaire themselves, because Voltaire was so influential with other writers.

Voltaire continues to influence us more than we realize, as does William Blake, perhaps the world's most influential poet and artist.

Another example of an influential essayist is Martin Luther. Luther published his revolutionary ideas in August 1520, and sold only around 4,000 copies in the early going. But his ideas spread like wildfire and ignited the Protestant Reformation.

Other essayists who remain influential despite not being read directly in large numbers today include Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau (who rented his Walden Pond house from Emerson). Take the idea of civil disobedience, which many Americans probably think originated with Dr. King. However it was the great Romantic poet and essayist Percy Bysshe Shelley who originated the idea of nonviolent civil disobedience. Thoreau took up the idea in his essay “Civil Disobedience.” Gandhi quoted Shelley in his speeches. Dr. King continued and expounded upon the theme with with his essay called the “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” The concept of civil disobedience took on a life of its own and grew over time. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of an essay or similar communication such as a poem, song or novel, when it is delivered at the right time into the right hands.

Thomas Paine’s essays are another pertinent example. The novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin is another. The poems of William Blake, which influenced singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan and John Lennon, are another. Such writings “go viral” and infect other writers, like a communicable disease. The best essays, poems, songs, short stories and novels are like mustard seeds, germinating into massively larger growths over time.

by Michael R. Burch

This is my answer to a question posed on Quora ...

How did the literature of the Middle Ages affect the poetry of the ages to come?

It was like a chain reaction!

Take just one writer, Geoffrey Chaucer. He influenced English poets, poetry and literature in profound and important ways.

Chaucer was the first major poet to write primarily in English. Before Chaucer the majority of poetry produced in England had been written in other languages: Anglo-Saxon (heavily Germanic), French, Greek and Latin. At the time Chaucer wrote, English kings were still speaking French, the language of the crown, and the courts of law were still being conducted in Latin. Obviously, the choice of a major poet to write his masterpieces in “vulgar” English had a profound influence on writers to come. And not only on poetry, but on all English literature and even the language itself.

But for all his English-ness, Chaucer was a cosmopolitan poet. His influences included French poets, Ovid, Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. Through his continental influences, Chaucer helped broaden and deepen English poetry and literature. For example, Chaucer wrote English rondels patterned after the French. For example, this is my translation of a lovely rondel attributed to Chaucer:

Merciles Beaute ("Merciless Beauty")
by Geoffrey Chaucer
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Your eyes slay me suddenly;
their beauty I cannot sustain,
they wound me so, through my heart keen.

Unless your words heal me hastily,
my heart's wound will remain green;
for your eyes slay me suddenly;
their beauty I cannot sustain.

By all truth, I tell you faithfully
that you are of life and death my queen;
for at my death this truth shall be seen:
your eyes slay me suddenly;
their beauty I cannot sustain,
they wound me so, through my heart keen.

Chaucer’s characters such as the Wife of Bath seem alive and fully-fleshed, and no doubt influenced how Shakespeare drew characters of his like Falstaff. Thus Chaucer had tremendous influence on English playwrights, through his own and Shakespeare’s continuing influence.

Chaucer has also been credited with introducing iambic pentameter and rhyme royal to the English language. With his early version of iambic pentameter, Chaucer was able to write longer poems that seemed natural and conversational while maintaining an enjoyable rhythm. The more musical English poets would follow his lead. For instance, the mellifluous Edmund Spenser claimed to be the reincarnation of Chaucer. That is some influence!

We can see the influences of Chaucer — iambic pentameter, fully-fleshed characters, etc. — in the highly popular plays of playwrights like Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. So Chaucer helped make English poetry popular. He was like Elvis inspiring the Beatles. John Lennon once said, “Before Elvis there was nothing.” Modern English language poets might opine, “Before Chaucer there was nothing, or very little.”

by Michael R. Burch

Rather than asking which poets were the most influential in general, I am going to consider which poets seemed (to me) to have the strongest influence on other writers, specifically, with the writers influenced most strongly listed first. Thus I believe William Blake had the strongest influence and his strongest influence of all was on Allen Ginsberg and the Beat poets. This list is based mostly on intuition and is far from scientific ...

#1 - William Blake - Allen Ginsberg and the Beats, W. B. Yeats, Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Jim Morrison, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Sylvia Plath, Hart Crane
#2 - Walt Whitman - Carl Sandburg, Allen Ginsberg and the Beats, Langston Hughes, Pablo Neruda, Fernando Pessoa, Federico Garcia Lorca, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane
#3 - William Shakespeare - John Keats, Herman Melville, James Joyce, Charles Dickens, Robert Browning, Goethe, John Milton, Alfred Tennyson, Robert Frost

John Keats kept Shakespeare's bust on his desk; Moby-Dick began with notes jotted in the margins of Melville’s volume of the tragedies.

#4 - Homer - Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, James Joyce, J. R. R. Tolkien (but really everyone to some degree)
#5 - Geoffrey Chaucer - Edmund Spenser (who claimed to be the reincarnation of Chaucer), Charles d'Orleans, Shakespeare
#5 - Edmund Spenser - John Milton, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, Lord Byron
#6 - Petrarch - Sir Thomas Wyatt, Henry Howard, Geoffrey Chaucer, Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser
#7 - Edgar Allan Poe - Charles Baudelaire and the French Symbolists, Jorge Luis Borges, Oscar Wilde, Ernest Dowson, Algernon Charles Swinburne
#7 - Emily Dickinson - Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore, Sylvia Plath, Helen Hunt Jackson, Mabel Todd Loomis, e. e. cummings
#8 - Ezra Pound - T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, H. D., Amy Lowell, Archibald MacLeish, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams
#8 - Charles Baudelaire - The French Symbolists, Jorge Luis Borges, Oscar Wilde, Ernest Dowson, Algernon Charles Swinburne
#9 - T. S. Eliot - Ezra Pound, Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens, Archibald MacLeish, Gwendolyn Brooks
#9 - Langston Hughes - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, Lorriane Hansberry, Suzan-Lori Parks, Yusef Komunyaaka, Jack Kerouac

W. Jason Miller has noted the connection between Langston Hughes' "Dream Deferred" and Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" poem/speech/sermon. Lorriane Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun takes its title from a line in the same poem.

#10 - William Wordsworth - Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, Matthew Arnold, John Stuart Mill, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost, W. B. Yeats
#11 - Virgil - Ovid, Dante, Edmund Spenser, John Milton, John Dryden, Alfred Tennyson, Matthew Arnold
#12 - Dante - Geoffrey Chaucer, John Milton, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, James Joyce
#12 - Ovid - Dante, Geoffrey Chaucer, Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Ted Hughes
#12 - Christopher Marlow - Shakespeare, Goethe
#13 - John Milton - Andrew Marvell, William Blake, John Keats, Thomas Hardy, George Eliot
#14 - Percy Bysshe Shelley - John Keats, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Robert Browning, W. B. Yeats, Isaac Rosenberg
#15 - John Keats - Robert Browning, Jorge Luis Borges, William Carlos Williams, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Isaac Rosenberg
#16 - Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Lionel Johnson, Ernest Dowson, Arthur Symons, W. B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde
#16 - Ernest Dowson - T. S. Eliot
#16 - Li Po aka Li Bai aka Li Bo - Ezra Pound, James Wright, Charles Wright
#17 - Pablo Neruda - W. S. Merwin, Mark Strand, James Wright
#18 - John Donne - T. S. Eliot
#19 - Stephen Crane - Ernest Hemingway
#19 - Robert Browning - William Butler Yeats
#19 - Ralph Waldo Emerson - Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens
#19 - Robert Frost - Edward Thomas
#20 - Gerard Manley Hopkins - Dylan Thomas, Nick Marco aka Tony Marco
#20 - Algernon Charles Swinburne - Kevin N. Roberts

My Favorite Writers
by Michael R. Burch

These are my favorite writers. By “favorite” I mean the ones with whom I feel the closest kinship, the most affinity, the closest likeness ...

1 - William Blake
2 - Robert Burns
3 - e. e. cummings
4 - Mark Twain and Voltaire (two irascible reformers)
5 - Walt Whitman
6 - Sappho (the Mother and Muse of all lyric poets and songwriters)
7 - The Archpoet (a medieval Latin poet whose tongue-in-cheek "Confession" is wickedly funny)
8 - Basho and Issa
9 - Ernest Dowson (his Cynara poem is at the top of the list of poems I wish I'd written myself)
10 - The Divine Oscar Wilde (his stunning poem "Requiescat" is one of my all-time favorites and Wilde was the master of the epigram and witty repartee)

Others: Conrad Aiken, Anne Reeve Aldrich, Louise Bogan, Bertolt Brecht, Emily Bronte, Cervantes, Thomas Chatterton, Geoffrey Chaucer, Sam Cooke, Hart Crane, John Donne, William Dunbar, Dan Fogelberg, Langston Hughes, Keats, Neruda, Rilke, Shelley, Paul Simon, Wallace Stevens, J. R. R. Tolkien, Thomas Wyatt

If You Want to Be Well-Read, Perhaps Start Here
by Michael R. Burch

(#1) The Norton Anthology of Poetry, where one can read the best poems of poets like Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Whitman, Dickinson, Yeats and Frost for a fraction of a penny per poem. There is no better investment to be made. My first copy has fallen apart from constant use. If a particular poet doesn't strike your fancy, feel free to skip him/her.

(#2) The Norton Anthology of World Literature, to greatly broaden one’s geographic horizons.

(#3) The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, by J. R. R. Tolkien, for sheer entertainment and marvelous, masterful storytelling.

(#4) The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. Please be sure to read them in the proper, indicated, order.

(#5) Leaves of Grass and Specimen Days, by Walt Whitman. Uncle Walt's sublime prose puts most poetry to shame. His best poems are otherworldly.

(#6) Don Quixote, by Miguel Cervantes. The first modern novel remains one of the very best.

(#7) The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. You don't have to read them all, but the more the better. Be sure to at least read Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth.

(#8) The Odyssey and Iliad, by Homer. One cannot be well-read without Homer, the first great storyteller and still perhaps the best.

(#9) The Painted Word, by Tom Wolfe. This side-splitting book will explain how modern literary and art theory became the death of poetry and art. There has never been a better or funnier critic of the arts than Tom Wolfe.

(#10) Lives of the Poets, by Michael Schmidt. If you want to really understand how poetry came to be written by creatures rarer and stranger than unicorns.

Honorable Mention: The Collected Works of W. H. Auden, Basho, William Blake, Louise Bogan, Robert Burns, Anton Chekov, Hart Crane, e. e. cummings, Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, John Donne, Ernest Dowson, Robert Frost, Goethe, Langston Hughes, Victor Hugo, John Keats, John Milton, Pablo Neruda, Rainer Maria Rilke, Sappho, Wallace Stevens, Dylan Thomas, Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, William Wordsworth, W. B. Yeats.

My Top 25 Poetry Books of the 20th Century
by Michael R. Burch

The Collected Works of William Butler Yeats
The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens
The Collected Poems of Robert Frost
The Collected Works of Langston Hughes
(*)The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath
(*)The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas
(*)The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen
(*)The Complete Poems and Selected Letters and Prose of Hart Crane
The Complete Poems of Elizabeth Bishop
The Collected Poems of Archibald MacLeish
100 Collected Poems by e. e. cummings
Collected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot (I prefer Eliot's more accessible mature poetry to his often obscure earlier work, although I love "Prufrock")
Blue Estuaries by Louise Bogan ("After the Persian" and "Song for the Last Act" are stunners)
Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire (I have translated some of Baudelaire's sexier poems and the translations have become popular with porn stars and escort sites!)
Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda
The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke
Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke
Sonnets to Orpheus by Rainer Maria Rilke (Is it clear that I'm a Rilke fan?)
Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden (the title poem is a masterpiece)
Field Work by Seamus Heaney
Auden: Poems by W. H. Auden
Selected Poems by Robert Lowell
New and Collected Poems by Richard Wilbur
Autumn Sonata: Selected Poems by Georg Trakl

(*) Any one of these four marvelous poets could have ended up topping this list if they had lived longer.

My Literary Heresies
by Michael R. Burch

I like Shakespeare’s songs better than I like his sonnets, which seem overly philosophical to me and not wonderfully convincing as expressions of love and passion. I wonder if the Bard wrote them for a patron and didn’t really have his heart entirely in the task. In any case, I give Shakespeare higher marks for his plays and songs than for his lyric poems.

I am not a fan of Dante and do not have him among my top hundred poets. I find his plot lacking. Where are his great characters? My heart and mind rebel against the hideous concept of “hell.”

I like James Joyce’s Dubliners and a few of his poems here and there better than his more celebrated works of literature. Having read the first chapter of Finnegans Wake with a cocked Spockian eyebrow, I agree with Ezra Pound's criticism of the book. If Uncle Ezra finds you too difficult, you are tres difficult indeed!

I join A. E. Housman in questioning whether John Dryden and Alexander Pope were poets. Yes, they were accomplished writers, but where is their poetry? Polished wit is not living, breathing, vital poetry. I agree with Housman that there was a long dry spell in English poetry, from the last major works of John Milton to the first major works of William Blake. There were pleasant exceptions in a few poems here and there by, for example, Thomas Gray and the "marvellous boy" Thomas Chatterton, but for the most part poetry was lacking.

"There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Alexander Pope."—Oscar Wilde

I suspect that Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, wrote the plays and poems credited to the actor William Shakespeare. This has nothing to do with “class discrimination.” I side with Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, three commoners with no agenda against their own kind. I base my deduction on the following facts: (1) There is no evidence the actor owned any books; in his will he discussed the fates of his pots, pans and furniture, but not a far more valuable library; books were rare and therefore valuable in those days. Nor did the actor bother to discuss the fate of the writings he claimed would make him immortal. Isn't that beyond odd, unless he didn't write the immortal words himself? (2) There is no evidence the actor had any literary correspondence or wrote any other letters of note. Even if his collection of letters was lost, what about his letters to other writers that should have survived in their collections? Literary people own books and write letters, but where are Shakespeare's? Daniel Wright, an English professor who directs the Shakespeare Authorship Research Center at Concordia University, observed, “He's the only presumed writer of his time for whom there is no contemporary evidence of a writing career. And many of us find that rather astonishing.” (3) Shakespeare’s epitaph sounds like that of a rustic: “rough doggerel” that is not at all Shakespearean. (4) The Shakespearean sonnet was invented by Oxford's uncle, Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey. (5) Shakespeare's plays were written predominately in blank verse, which was first used by Surrey in his translation of Virgil's Aeneid. (6) Oxford owned an acting company and put on plays for the royal court, where he was favorite of the queen. (7) There are strong parallels between Shakespeare's plays and events in Oxford's life. (8) In 1571, Oxford composed the first Shakespearean sonnet of the Elizabethan reign. Will Shakspere was seven at the time. (9) In the first 17 sonnets it seems possible that Shakespeare was trying to persuade Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton, to marry and have children with ... Oxford's daughter, Elizabeth Vere! (10) In 1578, Oxford was praised by Cambridge scholar Gabriel Harvey as a hero whose "countenance shakes speares." (11) Oxford's brother-in-law was an emissary to Denmark who wrote letters to de Vere that mention courtiers named Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and drinking rituals that involved downing a shot then firing cannons. How would Will Shakspere have known such obscure things? (12) And why, for Christ's sake, isn't Shakespeare buried where he so obviously belongs: at Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey? But perhaps he actually is! Edward de Vere was originally buried in Hackney, then later reburied in Westminster.

I have heard the argument that certain Shakespeare plays were written after Oxford's death. But they could have been written earlier. And whoever wrote Shakespeare's plays is known to have collaborated with other writers.

I have no "agenda" against the actor, just legitimate questions. I have no desire to discriminate against my own kind, since I come from common stock. I do not claim to "know" who wrote the plays. But if I had to lay a wager, I would bet on Oxford.

by Michael R. Burch

Edgar Allan Poe is probably most famous for his poem “The Raven” — hell, the Baltimore Ravens were named after the poem! Can we doubt that the NFL’s celebrated intellectuals carefully reviewed all Poe’s opus (opuses? opesi?) before determining that “The Raven” was his signature work? But any number of Poe poems — for instance, the lovely and haunting “Annabel Lee” — are better, as are a number of his short stories. “The Raven” is an entertaining poem, especially if one likes jingly dark comedies, but not Poe’s best work.

Salman Rushdie called The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown "a novel so bad that it gives bad novels a bad name," although I’m not sure if Brown ever wrote anything better and don’t really care to find out. Dan Brown had me at “goodbye.”

Stephen King has admitted to being under the influence of cocaine when he wrote The Tommyknockers, but what was his excuse for Christine, From a Buick 8, Mr. Mercedes, Pet Sematary, Cujo, Silver Bullet, Rose Madder, etc.?

Of Mice and Men is not a bad book like some of the others mentioned here, but John Steinbeck should be remembered more for East of Eden.

Ditto for Jules Verne, who best novel was Mysterious Island.

Since it is literally impossible to write a more boring, tedious, allegorical-sermon-laden book than Pilgrim’s Progress, if John Bunyan wrote anything else in even a slightly different vein, it would automatically be better. A Valentine’s poem, perhaps, although Bunyan would probably turn that into an interminable sermon as well.

I agree with Mark Twain's acerbic criticism of James Fennimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans.

I have tried to read Pride and Prejudice, but have never actually succeeded. So many tea parties and ballroom dances! So much cultivation and polite chit-chat! So many carefully trimmed hedges and delicate flowers! Did anything ever actually happen? I fell asleep before I could find out. I agree with Charlotte Bronte’s criticism of Jane Austen: “She does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well. There is a Chinese fidelity, a miniature delicacy in the painting. She ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound. The passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy sisterhood. Even to the feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasional graceful but distant recognition—too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress.” Now I know why I fell asleep!

But my personal non-favorite in the book category is Ulysses by James Joyce. While it has been called the greatest novel of all time, etc., I think Dubliners is a better book. Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? Perhaps Joyce, because she called his writing in Ulysses “diffuse, brackish, pretentious, overly self-conscious, etc.” However, I must hedge my bet because Finnegans Wake puts Ulysses to shame, in terms of being diffuse. Even the famously difficult Ezra Pound threw up his hands after cracking FW, then slapping it shut angrily forever. Or as Vladimir Nabokov, who used some fancy words himself, albeit ones with dictionary definitions, said in a review for Paris Review: “I detest Punningans Wake in which a cancerous growth of fancy word-tissue hardly redeems the dreadful joviality of the folklore and the easy, too easy, allegory.”

Books and poems I struggled to finish or was unable to finish, from most success (however unpleasurable) to least success: Silas Marner, the essay poems of Alexander Pope, Pilgrim's Progress, Pride and Prejudice, Ulysses, Finnegan's Wake.

by Michael R. Burch

Have there been any American epic poems? Much depends on what one means by the term “epic poem.” If we construe the term widely, to mean a long or longish poem with some sort of sweeping epic theme, these are my personal choices for the greatest epic poems in American literature:

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman is my landslide winner. Whitman was his own Ulysses, his own Aeneas, his own Moses, his own Christ, and perhaps his own Pilate as well. He was Homer making Homer a hero for the ages, and Milton making Milton a Lucifer incarnate, but somehow we end up liking and admiring Uncle Walt nonetheless. He was a great spirit and a great poet. Like a winged Pegasus, they can pull off such unlikely and marvelous things.

The collected poems of Emily Dickinson might qualify as an epic yet unstintingly introspective vision of one woman, in 2,000-plus short verses. If Whitman made himself his own Christ, Dickinson may have made herself her own Mary Magdalene, but she was no shirking violet in her poems. (For instance, “Wild Nights.”) As different as they were as people and in style, I think the father and mother of American poetry were similar in the way they investigated and exposed themselves, warts and all, to their readers. One might call them the first major American confessional poets. They were the subjects of their respective epics.

“I Have a Dream” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is an epic national vision and I think it qualifies as poetry of a high order as well. Poets write memorable words and who can ever forget Dr. King’s?

Howl by Allen Ginsberg was another unabashed vision of America — warts and all. In this case, mostly warts.

The Bridge by Hart Crane was his response to the bleak vision of T. S. Eliot in The Waste Land. Few modern poets can hope to challenge the endlessly eloquent Eliot, but I think Crane exceeded him in a few poems — for example, “Proem: to Brooklyn Bridge” and the magnificent longer version of “Voyages.” Crane was not always consistently excellent, but no rhapsode ever hit higher notes or held them longer. And we do remember Babe Ruth for his gargantuan clouts, not his strikeouts.

Another poet able to challenge and sometimes exceed Eliot was Wallace Stevens. Go with the 1931 version of Harmonium, which adds 14 poems to the original. Or better yet, buy his Collected Poems.

Ezra Pound’s Cantos will be hard for many readers to like, and most won’t bother, but the man could write. My favorite Pound poem is his exquisite Kensington Garden poem. I can forgive him many literary sins for that one. As for Pound being an antisemite, from what I understand he helped Jews fleeing from what became the Holocaust. So I will give Uncle Ezra the benefit of the doubt on both counts. But even he expressed doubt that he had accomplished what he set out to do with his Cantos. And Pound strikes me as more cosmopolitan than American, like his protégé Eliot, who might otherwise qualify for The Waste Land and Four Quartets. If we are talking about epic poems penned by Americans, Pound and Eliot are contenders. If we are talking about national epics and/or Americana, not so much.

I seem to remember Charles Olson calling Pound and Eliot “inferior predecessors.” Thus we should expect Olson’s epic-length The Maximus Poems to be remarkably better than anything produced by his inferiors. Well, Olson did tower over the diminutive pair in physical height, at six-foot-eight, so that is something. Otherwise, I remain unconvinced and will opt for “Prufrock,” the “Four Quartets,” the lovely Kensington Garden poem …

I think Robert Hayden’s marvelous sonnet “Those Winter Sundays” is one of the very best poems written in the last hundred years, or so. But I must confess that I haven’t read his longer epic poem Middle Passage except for snatches here and there, so I can’t comment other than to mention it as a possible contender, based on the man’s obvious talent and erudition. So much to read and so little time — a cliché but nonetheless true.

Paterson is a poem of beyond-epic length, published in five volumes by William Carlos Williams. While I did like his poem about the icy plums, I am not in general a WCW fan, and I cannot imagine reading one volume, much less five. I mention the poem here because of its remarkable length. If I can manage a decent couplet, I’m happy. And readers will be able to finish it, so we are all winners!

The Mouse Whole by Richard Moore is an American epic poem of an entirely different flavor. The poet turns himself into a mouse, sets himself afloat in an overflowing sewer, then artfully poses questions such as, "Should parents who don't want kids have them?" Such questions should be rhetorical but might be lost on the MAGA crowd. The hero is so small and of such little consequence that his name isn't revealed until the third book. But he is Byronic in his ability to come up with implausible rhymes to save couplets here and there from going under! For instance:

I turned and swam downstream,
and two feet down with a shiver
climbed out of that stinking river
and sat on a stone in despair
and thought of my dripping hair
and how long it would take to dry...
then out of the side of my eye
saw the envelope floating by.
And I thought of the fatuous hopes
stirred up by envelopes ...

Such a sense, I am certain, shined
in the depths of her dim little mind,
and perhaps those others who'd brawl so
occasionally sensed it also ...

Those who in a spasm
of hot enthusiasm
thoughtlessly beget us:
how soon do they regret us?

At 18,000 lines, Clarel by Herman Mellville has been described as “the longest skein of verse in American literature and as knotty as the pasture pines of Pittsfield.”

Edward Arlington Robinson wrote three long blank-verse narrative poems — Merlin, Lancelot and Tristram — that may be considered three volumes of a major Arthurian epic poem.

The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow would be an early contender. But I think Longfellow’s best poems were his shorter lyric poems, and this one does not rank high in my personal canon. The meter may be of interest, the story less so to most readers, probably.

The Four Monarchies by Anne Bradstreet, written I believe circa 1650, would be the earliest American contender, if only because nothing of great significance had been written on the continent in question previously. But can a largely or entirely unread poem be considered epic? I am not a huge fan of the Bradstreet poems I have read, and I haven’t read the longer work in question, so once again I must reserve judgment.

Enough with the Over-Rigid Rules, Already!
by Michael R. Burch

What is the purpose of the 5-7-5 syllable form in English-language haiku? Let's consider the sonnet form and how it evolved over time. The original Petrarchan sonnet had an octave and a sestet, with no closing couplet. What would have happened if all the poets had said, “We can’t innovate! We can’t change the rules! We can only write sonnets one way!” There would have been no Shakespearean sonnet. We wouldn’t have the curtal sonnets of Gerard Manley Hopkins. We wouldn’t have “Acquainted With the Night” by Robert Frost. We wouldn’t have “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. We wouldn’t “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden. All those sonnets are rulebreakers. They differ from each other. Blindly following restrictive rules would rob the English language of these masterpieces because they each break the "rules" in different ways. Hell, Shakespeare repeatedly broke the rules of the sonnet form that now bears his name. His Sonnet 145 is written in iambic tetrameter, with only four iambs per line. Sonnet 99 has 15 lines. Sonnet 126 has 12 lines and is written in heroic couplets. Sonnet 46 is rhymed ababcdcdefefff; Sonnet 69 is rhymed abbbcdcdefefgg; Sonnet 135 is rhymed ababbcbcadadaa; Sonnet 136 is rhymed ababcdcdefefbb.

I prefer the more flexible original definition of “sonnet.” The Italian word sonneto means "little song." When the term "sonnet" was first used in English, it referred to any short poem about love and the words "song" and "sonnet" were interchangeable. So I see no need for a slavish obedience to any particular form or rhyme scheme. None of my top ten sonnets are "standard" Shakespearean or Petrarchan forms. In his article on the sonnet for Encyclopaedia Britannica, Anthony Hecht observed that all canonical forms inspire or require innovation (I forget which). And there was certainly a lot of innovating by the poets who follow!

My Top Ten Sonnets of All Time

"Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden (a blank verse sonnet with an irregular syllable count)
"Acquainted with the Night" by Robert Frost (a non-traditional sonnet written in four tercets with a closing couplet and the unusual rhyme scheme aba bcb cdc dad aa)
"Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley (a non-traditional sonnet with the rhyme scheme ababacdcedefef)
"Sweet Rose of Virtue" by William Dunbar (a non-traditional sonnet of 15 lines with the rhyme scheme aabba ccddc eeffe)
"The Unreturning" by Wilfred Owen (a non-traditional sonnet with the rhyme scheme abba cbbc defdef)
"The Death of a Toad" by Richard Wilbur (an 18-line sonnet written in three sextets)
"Bread and Music" by Conrad Aiken (a 12-line sonnet with no closing couplet and the rhyme scheme -a-a -b-b -c-c)
"Piano" by D. H. Lawrence (a 12-line sonnet with no closing couplet and the rhyme scheme aabbccddeeff)
"The Snow Man" by Wallace Stevens (a 15-line blank verse sonnet written in five tercets)
"The Windhover" by Gerard Manley Hopkins (a highly eclectic sprung rhythm sonnet with two closing tercets rather than a single couplet and the rhyme scheme aaaaaaaa bcb cbc)

Getting back to haiku, the 5–7–5 form seems meaningless in English because no one can hear the form. No one will ever know if a word is dropped or added. What is the point of a form that does, literally, nothing? I never count syllables in my original haiku or translations. And I'm not averse to a haiku having two lines, or four or five, either. What matters is the result, the finished product, not the formula used to create it.

My Favorite Poetic Ghost Stories
by Michael R. Burch

Everyone loves a good ghost story, and some of the very best ghost stories are poetic ghost stories. My favorite poetic ghost stories, beginning with my all-time favorite, are:

"The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes
"La Belle Dame sans Merci" by John Keats
"The Listeners" by Walter de le Mare
"Luke Havergal" by Edward Arlington Robinson
"The Unquiet Grave" an anonymous ballad
"The Kind Ghosts" by Wilfred Owen

by Michael R. Burch

In a 1964 interview that can be accessed on YouTube, J. R. R. Tolkien discussed his sources among other things of interest to many of us. Tolkien was interviewed by Denys Gueroult for BBC and revealed:

Long before I wrote The Hobbit and long before I wrote this [TLotR] I had constructed this world mythology.
I began [writing TLotR] as soon as The Hobbit was out, in the '30s.
I wrote the last ... in about 1949 ... I remember I actually wept at the denouement. [As did I.]
I couldn't afford, of course, the typing.
There's some mistakes still and also it amuses me to say, as I suppose, I'm in a position where it doesn't matter what people think of me now.
There were some frightful mistakes in grammar, which from a Professor of English Language and Lit, are rather shocking.
There was one where I used "bestrode" as the past participle of "bestride"! [I think "bestrode" is a perfectly fine word, myself.]
The Shire is very like the kind of world in which I first became aware of things [as a boy living in rural Warwickshire].
I think it [the Shire] engenders a particular love of what you might call central Midlands English countryside. Based on good water, stones and elm trees and small quiet rivers and so on, and of course, rustic people about.
[The struggles of the hobbits] seems, I suppose, more like an allegory of the human race [than a Christ-like quest]. I've always been impressed that we're here surviving because of the indomitable courage of quite small people against impossible odds: jungles, volcanoes, wild beasts ... they struggle on, almost blindly in a way.
[The Norse Midgard and Tolkien's Middle-earth] are the same word.
Most people have made this mistake of thinking Middle-earth is a particular kind of earth or is another planet of the science fiction sort but it's just an old-fashioned word for this world we live in, as imagined surrounded by the Ocean [like England].
[But Middle-Earth was not our earth of a different era but] at a different stage of imagination.
• [Middle-Earth was designed to seem like] a possible world, but far away [somewhat familiar, like an earth-like world of a distant galaxy.]
[In other words, Middle-Earth was our Earth, re-imagined with no need for fealty or relationship to any "real" history.]
[Middle-Earth] resembles some of the history of Greece and Rome.
[Dwarves] came from the extreme north of my geography. Therefore I gave the north Norse names which are in Norse books ... I'm afraid I simply bagged them!
[As for languages which influenced the creation of his names, Tolkien mentioned Welsh and Finnish.]
Welsh always attracted me by its style and sound more than any other; even though I first only saw it on coal trucks, I always wanted to know what it was about.
A much rarer but very potent influence on myself has been Finnish.
It gives me great pleasure, a good name.
I always, in the writing, start with a name. Give me a name and it produces a story, not the other way back normally.
I invented that little rhyme [about the One Ring] in my bath one day.
[Are his books to be taken as allegories?] No. I dislike allegory whenever I smell it. [As do I.]
I don't work in symbols at all. I'm entirely stoically minded.
If I'm remembered at all, it will be by The Lord of the Rings, I take it.

Yes, remembered as we remember other magicians, like Merlin and Gandalf!

The Power of Poetry
by Michael R. Burch

I was asked what characteristic I would add to literature, if I had the power.

I was an avid reader as a boy, and I read widely. My favorite subjects were nature, dinosaurs and other animals, history, ancient empires, warfare, heroes of the past, explorers and exploration, fantasy, science fiction, and comic books. One day I was reading a comic book and I was struck by the power of what I now call “poetry.” An immortal super villain called a mortal superhero a “pale envelope of flesh.”

I was struck by the vividness, the electricity and the power of that phrase.

Years later, I used the phrase in a poem, which I have shared below. The characteristic that I would add to literature is poetry. Some prose literature rivals poetry. When it does, we call it “poetic prose.” But most prose literature falls short of poetry. What if all literature reached the heights of poetry? Novels would rival the plays of Shakespeare and the epic poems of Homer, Virgil, Dante and Milton!

Here is my poem that was inspired by a poetic phrase I found in a comic book:

Frail Envelope of Flesh
by Michael R. Burch

for the mothers and children of Gaza

Frail envelope of flesh,
lying cold on the surgeon’s table
with anguished eyes
like your mother’s eyes
and a heartbeat weak, unstable ...

Frail crucible of dust,
brief flower come to this—
your tiny hand
in your mother’s hand
for a last bewildered kiss ...

Brief mayfly of a child,
to live two artless years!
Now your mother’s lips
seal up your lips
from the Deluge of her tears ...

Published by The Lyric, Promosaik (Germany), Setu (India) and Poetry Life & Times; also translated into Arabic by Nizar Sartawi and Italian by Mario Rigli

Rejection Slips: "Fine, even beautiful," just not for us ...
by Michael R. Burch

This is a true story. The names of the journals have been changed to protect the less-than-innocent.

In my advancing age, I seldom submit poems for publication unless I know the journals and their editors. But every now and then, I decide to take a chance. When I do, strange things can happen. For instance, I have had poems rejected by editors who said:

I do believe your poems are fine, even beautiful ...
Your poetry is evocative, but not what we're looking for ...

Being a poetry editor myself, of The HyperTexts, I believe I understand the most basic function of poetry editors everywhere, which is to publish the best possible poetry that meets the editors' stated guidelines. So, for example, if a journal publishes only haiku, any poetry submitted must fit the editor's definition of "haiku" while being worthy of publication in his/her opinion. I would certainly have no objection if the editor of a haiku journal rejected my submission of a sonnet: indeed, I would have been foolhardy to submit a sonnet to, let's say, Haiku Heaven. But what about a poetry journal whose guidelines say that it "includes all fronts of poetry with as little bias as possible." I might expect to be published if the editor of this journal—let's call it Biasless Schizophrenic, or BS for short—found my poems to be "fine, even beautiful." Alas, this was not the case, and I fear it's because some editors still consider poems that employ meter and rhyme to automatically be "archaic." But if this was the case, most popular songs and many TV jingles would be automatically archaic. Since Mick Jaggar and Eminem are considered to be modern practitioners of the language, and hardly antiquarians by any measure, I disagree that such a strange, unjust rule should be applied to poets. Since my best poems are written in grammatically correct modern English, I take issue with what seems to be a knee-jerk reaction against rhymed metrical poetry. Here are some excerpts from the BS rejection missive I received:

"Mike, Thanks for your response to my editorial spewings ... and thanks as well for the additional submissions. Returning now to your work—the larger volume of pieces to review—it comes to me that there is simply a stylistic difference here, with no real argument ... My own taste is toward a more decidedly modern or current speech usage in poems, a poetry that may still be beautiful but perhaps not in the same ways that it has been in previous times. I imagine you might actually do well to submit to more classically leaning journals like Poetry. Perhaps it's my oddball aesthetic philosophy at work here. In any event, I do believe your poems are fine, even beautiful, and no sense splitting hairs over phrases. It's just that these aren't fitting into the evolving collection as I see it, and I am sorry not to be inviting you to include your work in this paticular [sic] issue of BS. I believe at present I'll be guest/contributing editor just this one time for now, so things are always changing ... Anyway, thanks again, and may the Muse be with you!"

I will let the reader judge whether the work I submitted was written in anything other than good modern English. Here are two examples:


See how her hair has thinned: it doesn't seem
like hair at all, but like the airy moult
of emus who outraced the wind and left
soft plumage in their wake. See how her eyes
are gentler now; see how each wrinkle laughs,
and deepens on itself, as though mirth took
some comfort there and burrowed deeply in,
outlasting winter. See how very thin
her features are—that time has made more spare,
so that each bone shows elegant and rare.

For loveliness remains in her grave eyes,
and courage in her still-delighted looks:
each face presented like a picture book’s.
Bemused, she blows us undismayed goodbyes.


Once, only once,
when the wind flicked your skirt
to an indiscrete height

and you laughed,
abruptly demure,
outblushing shocked violets,

I knew:
everything had changed . . .

and as you braided your hair
into long bluish plaits
the shadows empurpled,

the dragonflies’
last darting feints
dissolving mid-air . . .

we watched the sun’s long glide
into evening,
knowing and unknowing . . .

O, how the illusions of love
await us in the commonplace
and rare

and haunt our small remainder of hours.

Reader Reaction

With regard to those two wonderful poems of yours that the BS publisher refused, all I can say is that having them on THT is our gain and his loss. Both poems are exquisite. The first, "See", brought tears to my eyes and an aching to my heart as I remembered my grandmother, my mother, and now myself trying to approach old age with courage and bemusement. The stanza: "suddenly/I knew:/everything had changed" in the other poem, "Violets", is so transcendent, so universal, that, regardless of the fact that my moment had nothing to do with violets and everything to do with football, it made me feel again like that 15-year-old girl whose illusion of love was born on an unremarkable Friday night in 1965.—Catherine Chandler

I also, by the way, particularly like the closing lines of your opening poem: "O, how the illusions of love...haunt our small remainder of hours." I think those lines are excellent.—Tom Merrill

“See” is quite extraordinary!—Zyskandar Jaimot

I liked both [poems] a lot, especially "See" for its extraordinary delicacy.—Richard Moore

"See" is very lovely, the "elegant" and "spare" portrait, with all that emu fluff and burrowing mirth.—Marly Youmans

“Exquisite!”—Esther Cameron

This poem ["See"] is very clear, very simple, very loving, keeps the reader abreast—and charmed—and the language as well as the meaning flows smoothly from beginning to end. And the end is lovely. A very nice one, my compliments.—Tom Merrill

“Great news [about “See” and “At Wilfred Owen’s Grave” finishing 3rd and 7th in the 2003 Writer’s Digest Rhyming Poetry Contest] and a worthy recognition for your beautiful poetic touch.”—Chesil, editor of Poetry Webring

"My sincere compliments to Mike Burch on his award-winning poems, "See" and "At Wilfred Owens' Grave", which seem to me deep, qualified, interesting, and well crafted. I found "See" particularly touching—rarely does one come upon so perceptive a portrayal of old age—and "At Wilfred Owen's Grave" becomes a clarion battle cry. For a better day. Clearly, these two poems deserve repeated and frequent rereading. Many thanks for letting me see them."—Rhoda Bandler in a letter to Yala Korwin

Rarely does one come upon so sensitive and sympathetic a portrayal of old age ... poems about old age express often pity, derision, even revulsion. Yours is a lovely portrait, not a caricature."—Yala Korwin

"See" is a marvelous poem.—Greg Brownderville

This, Michael, is nearly faultless. I can't advance a single reservation as to its diction, meter or general execution. One senses that you accomplished precisely what you set out to do. From see how each wrinkle laughs until and courage in her still-delighted looks, your individual style and sensibility truly shine. A great poem.—Jeffrey Woodward

Oh these are so beautiful. Like you I still believe that love is what matters and your poems glow with it. I'm old enough to be deeply moved by 'See'. How strange that a comparative child and an old poet like me should see the world the same way and how grateful I am to you for crystallising the link.—Janet Kenny, poet, opera singer and peace activist

My many thanks for the opportunity to read Mr. Burch's two poems you sent. I have read them many times—each reading a further revelation of his sensitivity and word usage to convey each separate poem in each separate tone. To break down the flavor of each this follows: SEE. This poem is a tender paean to an elderly, lovely woman. It is so full of love without actually saying it, and that in itself is intrinsic to its tug of the reader's heart. It presents a vivid picture of the gallantry and courage of the aging. I quote a few lines that I found unforgettable: ‘see how her eyes are gentler now.’ So sure in youth but quieter with the acquiring of a certain wisdom. The image of wrinkles: ‘burrowed deeply in, outlasting winter’ leaves a mark on the uncritical mind, that accepts and sees the beauty carved by life. AT WILFRED OWEN'S GRAVE. Thoughts of war and death in the years of youth can bring nothing but an ache in the heart. This poem presents it with perfect pitch. The use of language to depict the horrors of war without saying the word horror, but by describing existing in its midst, trying to survive, yet almost surely knowing survival would be a miracle, that death in wars denies life to the ordinary unsung as much as to the gifted cut short untimely, fighting side by side. These are boys lived by family and friends no matter what status in society. This poem is almost a painting using words instead of oils to depict murder while the initiators stay home mouthing phrases of patriotism. Yala, I hope I'm not too wordy. I am deeply affected by both poems.—Emma Landau, in a letter to Yala Korwin

These are accomplished poets who care deeply about poetry speaking, so it's hard for me to understand why the poems they admired would be rejected, especially when the editors who rejected the poems called them fine, beautiful, evocative, etc. My educated guess is that a bias against formal poetry has resulted in my poems being banished to the back of the bus.

Dante Schmante
by Michael R. Burch

I am going to play Devil’s Advocate and ask whether Dante is one of the very greatest poets of all time: Does he rank with Homer, Chaucer and Shakespeare, really?

First, this is Dante’s plot: He damns all his enemies to hell, seems happy to describe their torments in great detail, and he very conveniently saves himself via his lover Beatrice and his favorite pagan poet, Virgil. Is that a great plot?

Next, where are Dante’s great characters? Where is his Wife of Bath, his Hamlet, his Falstaff, his Ulysses, his Ahab, his Huckleberry Finn?

When I read John Bunyan’s once-bestselling Pilgrim’s Progress as a boy, I thought it was the most mind-numbingly boring litany of puritanical morals imaginable. But at least Bunyan was trying to save his characters, against all odds, with his mind-numbing morality. At least give him a gold star for effort. Dante doesn’t even bother with that. Just damn everyone you don’t like to hell, give yourself an easy “get out of jail” card, and all ends well. Sorry, but the plot and characters don’t strike me as the height of literature. I am not a Dante fan. Perhaps the poetry reads wonderfully well in Italian, but so far the translations I have read offer no redeeming values.

Also, I very much doubt that Dante has been as "influential" as advertised, at least in terms of English language readership.

Homer influenced English poetry because his works were translated into English, as early as 1581 by Arthur Hall. There were also major translations by recognizable names like George Chapman (1598), Thomas Hobbes (1676), John Dryden (1700) and Alexander Pope (1715). But there was no major translation of Dante for most of the history of English poetry. How many English readers were able to read the original Italian — one in a hundred?

We are all familiar with John Keats explaining in his famous sonnet how Homer only swam into his ken when he was able to read Chapman’s translation. How can a work of literature be vastly influential if almost no one can read it? And that would have been the case for the Italian verses of Dante in England. From what I have been able to gather in my studies, Dante’s poetry was largely unknown in England, until the translations of his namesake Dante Gabriel Rossetti, published in The Early Italian Poets in 1861. But Rossetti translated La Vita Nuova, so even then the Comedy lacked a superior, popular translation by an important poet, as far as I can tell. It would be 1867 before a major poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, translated the Comedy into English. It’s hard for a work that didn’t have a major translation until 1867 to be of much influence. English poetry was already mature by 1867. Hell, Walt Whitman had published Leaves of Grass, the first major work of modern free verse, in 1855.

Ironically, Ciaran Carson, who has been credited with one of the better modern translations of Dante, as late as 2000 "was almost completely unfamiliar with Dante's work"! How did that happen? Because translation of Dante into English is something of a recent novelty. Gilbert F. Cunningham took on the unenviable task of reading 44 translations of 44 Dante and critiquing them. Renaissance Quarterly, when introducing Cunningham’s book, mentioned “the slowness of the appearance of English translations” and the difficulty English readers had understanding and appreciating Dante. According to that review, only a few of the translations were “reasonably successful”: those of Cary, Carlyle, Longfellow, Norton and Wicksteed. The earliest of those was Cary’s in 1814 and he had to publish the book at his own expense. In any case, it seems English readers didn’t have even “reasonably good” translations of Dante until 1814–1867, with the work of Cary, Carlyle, Rossetti and Longfellow. Worse, they didn’t have even bad translations until 1802 …

As the Wikipedia page notes, Dante’s Divine Comedy was translated “into Latin, French, Spanish and other European languages well before it was first translated into English. In fact the first English translation was only completed in 1802, almost 500 years after Dante wrote his Italian original. The lack of English translations before this is due in part to Dante's Catholic views being distasteful, or at least uninteresting, to Protestant English audiences, who viewed such a Catholic theology, mixed with references to classical mythos, as heretical.”

That 1802 translation was by Henry Boyd, an obscure Irish cleric, not a renowned poet like Chapman or Pope. How many people read the translation? I have never heard it cited, not once, in a literary career spanning more than half a century. And without a stellar translation, where is the allure of Dante? I have read several different translations of Dante, and none of them were good enough to convince me to keep reading. I don’t think Dante has been all that influential, as far as English poetry is concerned, except perhaps through the work of poets like Chaucer and Milton. But that would be like us getting Shakespeare through Moby Dick and West Side Story!

Lacking the ability to read the original, I suspect many readers have done what I did, giving up the enterprise as a lost cause.

How influential was Dante, really? According to Tim N. Smith, the Inferno “did not work its way into the mainstream of English literature and translation until the nineteenth century, when Samuel Taylor Coleridge presented a series of lectures on Dante.” William J. De Sua in his book Dante Into English agreed, saying that “Coleridge was largely responsible for raising Dante’s reputation to the height it still [occupied in 1964].” But Coleridge only joined the Dante bandwagon later in his life, after a “fortuitous” meeting with H. F. Cary in 1817 introduced him to Cary’s blank-verse translation “which had lain neglected since its publication three years previously.” So it seems Dante only became popular and influential in English literary circles after there were finally some “reasonably good” translations for people to read. Before 1814, it seems Dante’s influence was mostly limited to small numbers of English speakers who were fluent enough in Italian to read the originals.

by Michael R. Burch

A. E. Housman said — and I agree — that there was a long dry spell in English poetry between the last major poems of John Milton (1608–1674) and the revolutionary romantic poems of William Blake (1757–1827). If Housman was correct, and I believe he was, that was a long time to go without a major English poet: around 150 years. So what changed? The leading poets of the “dry spell” — John Dryden (1630-1700), Alexander Pope (1688-1744) and Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) — were certainly accomplished writers, but Housman questioned whether they were actually poets. Something seemed to be missing. They have been accused of settling for the status quo and for couplets that clicked too easily into place. Yes, they were witty, but is wit poetry? Yes, they wrote well, but is mere good writing poetry?

I agree with Housman and find, for instance, that Pope’s essay poems are hard to read and harder to like. They seem too pat, too satisfied with easy, unsatisfying answers, not challenging enough. The words “ring hollow” occur to me.

There were some bright spots during the dry spell, especially the two great odes of Thomas Gray (1716-1771). But as the next major poet complained in "To the Muses":

How have you left the antient love
    That bards of old enjoyed in you!
The languid strings do scarcely move!
    The sound is forc'd, the notes are few!

When the first major Romantic poets — Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770), William Blake (1757–1827) and Robert Burns (1759-1796) — finally showed up, they really shook things up. And all the easy, pat answers flew out the window.

Chatterton, the “marvelous boy,” died too young to leave a major mark, but he did blaze a trail of sorts. He returned English poetry to the ancient well of Anglo-Saxon poetry, channeled through Chaucer, light on the frenchificaitions. But it was William Blake who really shook things up. While the Romantics have been called “nature poets,” Blake was more of an anti-nature, anti-Creator, anti-orthodox-religion poet. He was something English poetry had not seen before. One might call him the first major English prophet, crying in the wilderness. Blake claimed to be able to speak to angels, but his angels were rebel angels, not the pallid conformist angels of orthodox Christianity.

At around the same time, Robert Burns was assailing kings, lords and the corrupt church of his day. Blake and Burns were not just poets, they were harsh critics of the establishment. They were reformers. On the eve of the French Revolution, Burns was already writing about the rights of women. Blake was the first artist to graphically depict the horrors of the slave trade and he wrote one of the first poems about racial equality, “The Little Black Boy.” William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was the most influential of the Romantics in their day, a penner of masterful sonnets and odes. Lord Byron (1788-1824) was another anti-establishment figure. Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) was an atheist and no fan of the status quo. Shelley was the first major writer to propose the stragegy of nonviolent resistance to unjust governments. John Keats (1795-1821) died far too young but left an indelible mark on the English language and its literature.

I think what linked the great Romantics was not nature so much as the individual self. They threw out the themes of classical poetry — praise of kings and lords, of God and church, of the established (or mythical) order and harmony — to express deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. They were in favor of the individual, not of the herd mentality. Many of our modern ideas — of equality of the races and sexes, of the common man being as good as any king or lord (and probably a lot more honest), of the primacy of artistic truth and beauty — either originated with the Romantics or had their first public flowering there.

Today we tend to think of the Romantics and nature primarily because of the pantheistic nature of some of William Wordsworth’s more famous poems. But Blake was no lover of nature. Burns was more concerned with the common man and his struggles (and loves and desires) than nature, per se. Byron’s best poems touch lightly on nature, if at all. Keats and Shelly employed nature imagery, but they were more philosophers than naturalists. Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) was a bit of a mystic. His best poems are pure works of the human imagination: “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Kubla Khan.”

So I believe what united the Romantics, more than anything, was the elevation of the individual self and the human imagination above the common herd and its conformist mentality. The Romantics rejected easy, pat answers that eternal truths were to be found in the Bible, or in orthodox religion, or in fealty to church and state and crown.

They were rebels, essentially.

Romanticism was essentially a rebellion against everything that preceded it, and against everything that denied the worth and the value and the rights and the dreams of the individual. And this takes us back to Milton and his rebellious angels — the original source of English Romanticism. As William Blake pointed out, the poet who claimed he intended to justify the ways of God to man did not such thing. Instead, he made Adam, Eve and Lucifer romantic, rebellious heroes for the ages. And that is where English Romanticism begins: with rebellion.

by Michael R. Burch

T. S. Eliot and Walt Whitman were as different as two men can be. But Eliot was influenced by Whitman in several important ways…

Eliot described himself as “classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and anglo-catholic in religion.” Whitman was the antithesis in each regard. He was an avant garde experimentalist in literature, a gung-ho advocate and evangelist of democracy, and a heretic who, like William Blake, apparently saw himself as his own Christ, not needing salvation or any religion other than himself.

So how did Walt Whitman influence T. S. Eliot and the other early modernists in important, even primary, ways?

• Whitman demonstrated to Eliot, his mentor Ezra Pound, and other modernists that musical poetry can be written in English without traditional poetic meter, which Pound dismissed as the “metronome.”

• Whitman also wrote poems without the traditional forms and structures of traditional poetry. He “freed” his poems from the strictures of meter and form. We now call such poetry “free verse” and Whitman was the first major free verse poet.

• Another important way in which Whitman influenced the modernists has to do with content. Whitman said things in his poems that had not been discussed by major English language poets before: homosexuality, masturbation and various other previously taboo subjects. Whitman freed poetry to deal with any and all subjects: “He rescued for poetry the unpoetic, the vulgar, and the profane.” Whitman ignored taboos. And he wrote of “the ordinary lives, occupations, and experiences of himself and his fellow Americans, both in close detail and in full panorama. He tried to capture and express the heroic, the noble, and the divine of the common American and the commonly American.”

• Whitman was also the first major American experimental poet, along with Emily Dickinson. Dickinson’s experimentalism was more subtle that Whitman’s, being less “in your face,” although she also sounds like no other poet before her. Between the two, Whitman and Dickinson created new paradigms for American poetry specifically and for English language poetry in general. Pound, Eliot and Hart Crane would write more like Whitman, with grand and exotic flourishes. H.D. and e. e. cummings would write more like Dickinson, tending toward minimalism. But poetry would never be the same again, to the consternation of the Formalists. Some of them have yet to recover in the 21st century!

• Whitman also created or greatly advanced the idea of a sort of “linkage” between a changing world and a resultant new poetic style. In a letter dated January 7, 1860 he discussed a “new style … necessitated by new theories, new themes … forced upon us for American purposes.” This idea would become critical to modernism: “Out with the old, in with the new, because our modern world is so radically different from the world of our poetic forefathers.” Pound would endorse this need for change when he said, simply, “Make it new.”

Ezra Pound, the most influential of the early English and American modernists, admitted Whitman’s influence in his 1913 poem “A Pact” when he said, “It was you who broke the new wood…”

I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman—
I have detested you long enough.
I come to you as a grown child
Who has had a pig-headed father;
I am old enough now to make friends.
It was you who broke the new wood,
Now is a time for carving.
We have one sap and one root—
Let there be commerce between us.

I’m not sure if Pound meant what he said about Whitman being like a pig-headed father. Sometimes sons can be pig-headed while failing to learn from their fathers, only to eventually catch on. But in any case, Pound acknowledged his debt and that of the other modernists to Whitman.

I believe Whitman’s major influence on Pound & Co. was his “freeing” of poetry from the metronome, from traditional forms and structures, and from “content taboos.”

Whitman, in effect, reinvented poetry by creating more lenient and permissive rules for it to operate by. He was the “first major poet to write in free verse, a crucial innovation that Ezra Pound and the Imagists were to institutionalize more than fifty years later as a prime tenet of modernism.”

Whitman explained his more liberated approach to poetry in the Preface to Leaves of Grass: “The poetic quality is not marshalled in rhyme or uniformity or abstract addresses to things nor in melancholy complaints or good precepts, but is the life of these and much else and is in the soul.”

Summing things up, we can trace major tenets of modernism back to Uncle Walt and his radical innovations and experiments:

• The metronome is an option, not a requirement.
• Specific poetic forms and structures are options, not requirements.
• Poetry is suitable to all subjects: there are no taboos.
• It is appropriate for poetic style to change along with a rapidly changing world.

Or, to sum it all up in two words, “Anything goes.”

A number of these quotes were sourced from the essay “Modernism and the Creation of an American Poetics” by Matt Wallace.

Why do people think Instagram poetry is bad?
by Michael R. Burch

Different people think poetry is bad for different reasons …

Some people are discriminating readers, and they actually read poetry and judge it on its own merits. This is what I call “good discrimination.” But such people are probably in the minority these days.

Some people follow the crowd and slap labels on things they don’t bother to evaluate themselves. Many people say they “don’t like poetry” or “don’t like rhyming poems” but they love certain songs and nearly every hit song is a rhyming poem set to music. This is the wrong kind of discrimination, in my mind, like judging all people of a particular skin color as if they are all the same. There are good song lyrics and bad song lyrics, good rhyming poems and bad rhyming poems, good free verse and bad free verse. Songs and poems should be judged on their individual merits and demerits, if they are going to be properly judged.

Furthermore, it is important to recognize that, regardless of genre, most poetry is bad, just as most singing by the general population is bad and is best reserved for one’s shower and an audience of one. In the canons of art and literature, only the best poets and poems will matter in the long run. Your neighbor’s garage band is probably not going to challenge the Beatles, Stones, Queen and U2 for eternal fame. The Instagram poets are probably not going to challenge Shakespeare, Dickinson, Whitman, et al. But “bad” is a relative term. Someone’s garage band may actually be pretty good, and worth listening to, even though they won’t land a major recording deal. They might do well on YouTube, and get paid for local gigs. There’s nothing wrong with that. So some of the Instagram poets might be worth reading, before they are all lumped together. Rupi Kaur certainly has her fans.

I like to think I'm a good reader of poetry capable of “good discrimination.” I have read some of Rupi Kaur’s poems, and she strikes me as a minimalist who isn’t trying to wow readers with flowery language. I like some of her poems and can see why she has fans. She’s not one of my favorite poets, but I would not call her a “bad” poet. She is actually pretty good at what she is attempting. Much depends on whether her poems connect with you as a reader. The only way to know is to read for yourself and form an independent opinion.

And please keep in mind that millions of people who say they “don’t like poetry” love their favorite songs, and their favorite songs are probably rhyming poems set to music. And the best poets write better poems than the best songwriters, for the most part. So the wrong sort of discrimination lacks rhyme and reason, please pardon the pun.

by Michael R. Burch

The golden image of Trump at the 2021 CPAC conference reminded me of an earlier insurrection involving a golden calf. Millions of Americans who call themselves Christians are worshipping Trump the way he worships himself. But let no one say that I didn't warn them many years in advance.

I came to my findings in a somewhat mysterious way.

I grew up in an evangelical Christian family with missionaries, a deacon, and Sunday School teachers ... all very well-versed in the Bible. I read the Bible from cover to cover, starting at age eleven, and I know it better than most pastors because I read it honestly and didn't ignore the more difficult parts that pastors refuse to discuss with their flocks. And I had felt for a long time that most evangelical churches were on the wrong track. Was Jesus an auburn-haired Rambo, really? As an adult, I briefly attended a Southern Baptist Church but was having deep misgivings. One day as we were singing a hymn, I felt what one might call a "suggestion" (it wasn't an audible voice) to investigate the last hymn in the Baptist Hymnal. To my shock, the last hymn in the Baptist Hymnal was number 666!

That was no accident because my mother later had a Baptist Hymnal given to her, and it too concluded its hymns with number 666. But she had added a 667th hymn by handwriting the lyrics of one of her favorite hymns, "Jerusalem," on the back inside cover. Mom didn't know it, but the lyrics were written by my favorite poet, William Blake, the great English poet, artist, engraver and mystic who said he was able to communicate with angels. Blake's angels did not agree with the organized religion of his day. I have Blakes in my recent ancestry, so it's possible we may be related.

In any case, I left the church and launched my own independent studies.

When Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, everything about him seemed wrong, but I was not thinking "Antichrist" at the time. Then something mysterious related to the number 666 happened again. At the first Republican debate, Trump attacked Megyn Kelly for simply quoting what he had said publicly about women when he called them "pigs," "dogs," "disgusting animals," etc. There was an understandable backlash and Trump announced that he would skip the next debate in order to do a charity event for the veterans he claims to "love." This too struck me as wrong, so I decided to investigate.

Trump "love" is such a curious thing:
does he love our vets half as much as his bling?
—Michael R. Burch aka "The Loyal Opposition"

I learned that Trump had tried repeatedly to keep veterans from selling patriotic flags and t-shirts on ritzy Fifth Avenue, even though that was their right by New York state law. Trump had written public letters to New York mayors demanding that they prohibit vets from street vending. When the mayors refused to break the law, Trump had massive concrete pillars built outside his Trump Tower doors to deny vets space to street vend. Such a patriot, that Trump!

While I was doing my research, I felt another curious suggestion: Who owns 666 Fifth Avenue? Once again, it wasn't an audible voice, but once again it was a very clear and specific question. At first I told the non-voice it was crazy. There couldn't be such an address in Christian America! But I decided to do the research and it turned out the Trumps had purchased the 666 tower through Jared Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump (who had converted to Judaism). Here are some of the interesting things I discovered during my investigations:

The Trumps purchased the most expensive building ever bought in the US, at 666 Fifth Avenue, a street symbolic of money (Mammon).
The Trumps paid $1.8 billion for the 666 tower. And 18 = 3*6 = 666. The 666 tower was bought by Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner.
According to the Bible, Kush was the patriarch and founder of Babylon.
The 666 tower looks like a Babylonian ziggurat.
The infamous Trump Tower is 203 meters tall according to multiple reports. And 203 meters = 666 feet.
• Trump's namesake tower has what appear visually to be hanging gardens like those made famous by Babylon.

Donald Trump inherited his grandmother's real estate empire when she died on June 6, 1966 = 6-6-6.
Trump's grandmother's name was Elizabeth Christ Trump. Elizabeth means "vow" so her full name means "Vow for Christ to be Trumped."
Trump was born a blood moon in 1946.
The first mention of the Antichrist in the book of Daniel calls him a "little horn."
In the last book of the Christian Bible, a "Trump of Doom" sounds and is followed by a terrible plague.
On the Ides of March, the day Rome changed from a republic to a dictatorship, Trump had 666 delegates.
The 2016 election was "all Trump all the time" and 2016 = 666+666+666+6+6+6.
Trump's first fiscal year budget deficit was 666 billion dollars. (Per Fox Business and other sources.)
The number of migrant children Trump separated from their mothers and fathers is 666, according to lawyers trying to reunite the families.
Trump uttered an unholy trinity of heresies on August 21, 2019, when he claimed to be the "King of Israel," the "second coming of God" and the "Chosen One."
August 21 was the 233rd day of the year, and 2*3*3=18=6+6+6.
The Trumps are in the process of building a $666 million tower at One Journal Square. According to multiple reports the height will be 666 feet.
Donald Trump's name in various forms equates to 666 in Jewish gematria, English gematria, and ASCII computer code. You can confirm this with simple Google searches.

I was the first person to put all these eerie facts together and "go public" as they unraveled, but I think I had some help in the form of nonverbal suggestions.

by Michael R. Burch

The earliest known drawing, circa 70,000 BC, was found at Blombos, South Africa. The drawing, made with a red ocher crayon, looks like a # hashtag! Very curiously, researchers have identified 32 common geometric symbols used in 52 different caves around the world. The symbols seem to have significance and may be the earliest form of writing. Our ancestors went to great lengths to create the symbols, but unfortunately we do not understand what they represent. “This capacity goes back at least 100,000 years,” says Francesco d’Errico of the University of Bordeaux, France. The Altamira Cave cave paintings, circa 39,000 BC, may be the earth's oldest paintings and the earliest carbon-dated examples of human figurative art. Skipping rapidly forward in time, researcher Genevieve von Petzinger determined that symbols she had found on numerous cave walls were being combined on necklaces, circa 14,000 BC, found at the French village of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac. The necklaces, discovered with the body of a young woman, had beads made from ancient deer teeth. The beads were etched with symbols: different combinations of straight lines, an X, and an asterisk formed by running a straight line through an X. Von Petzinger believes this combination of symbols is the evolution of some form of human code. If so, over time the code could have further evolved into more complex cuneiform script and hieroglyphics. But if there is a code, no one has been able to crack it so far. That is, at least, until I took a whack at it ...

This is speculation on my part, but let’s assume a straight horizontal line was used for counting, with one line representing the number one, two lines representing two, and so on. Now let’s assume an X represents two people mating, while an asterisk formed by adding a straight horizontal line represents "adding" a baby (this is wild speculation for purposes of example). Three straight lines and an X could represent a woman's third mate. The beads could then be used to keep track of when a woman had sex with a certain partner and when she became pregnant. Perhaps nine different beads represented nine moons or nine menstrual cycles. One new bead might be added each new month or cycle, with the oldest bead being discarded when it no longer fit. If a woman had two or more partners, she could keep track of whose children she might potentially be bearing. Again, this is speculation. But it might have been very important for a pregnant woman to know whose child she was carrying, men being inclined to prefer their own children to those fathered by other men.

The evolution of writing includes other important milestones. Inscriptions cut in stone on Fourth Dynasty tombs of Giza and the Second Dynasty tablet of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford date to around 4200 BC. Symbols on Gerzean (Egyptian) pottery, circa 3800 BC, have been compared to later hieroglyphics, although the connection is disputed. The Kish Tablet, circa 3250 BC, may be the oldest extant example of Sumerian proto-cuneiform (i.e., pictographic) writing. Early Egyptian hieroglyphics date to around this time. A Seth-Peribsen tomb seal, circa 2690 BC, has the first known complete sentence: "The golden one of Ombos has unified the two realms for his son ... Peribsen." The Sumerian Kesh Temple Hymns and Instructions of Šuruppak, circa 2500 BC, may be the earth's oldest surviving literature. The Egyptian Tale of a Shipwrecked Sailor has also been dated to around this time. Thus we may consider 2500 BC as the approximate beginning point of literature and songwriting. But there does seem to be the possibility, at least, of some form of communication that goes back at least 70,000 years, and perhaps 100,000 or more. If the 32 common cave symbols have meaning, the use of symbols could have expanded over time into more complex forms of writing like cuneiform and hieroglyphics.

It may be impossible to crack the earliest code. But my little thought experiment seems intriguing to me. A bead might represent a moon or menstrual cycle. The easiest symbol to draw, a straight line, might be used for simple counting — something I use nearly every day myself, although I prefer vertical lines. But a vertical line might have been assigned another meaning, like "myself." In any case, what would a young woman be most concerned about, calendar-wise and mathematically? If she had more than one mate, keeping track of when she had sex, and with whom, might have been very important, men being as they are. Perhaps mate swapping was only allowed when a woman was infertile, to help establish paternity. Our ancestors may not have been as prudish about monogamy as we are. If similar necklaces with the same symbols are found only with the bodies of females, that might be a big clue. Of course I am only an amateur (and some experts might consider me rank), but we may have to consider what was most important to our ancient ancestors if we want to crack the code. Was the beaded necklace, perhaps, an early calculator, calendar, and note-taking system? If so, we will have to bow to the genius of the caveman — or, more correctly — the cavewoman! If I'm correct, some enterprising young cavewoman created an early iPad: a combination of calendar, calculator and note-taking system. And she did it with a few beads, something to twine them on, and an etching tool.


As you will quickly be able to tell, I am not a fan of the early boy-band Beatles ...

#10 - Please Mr. Postman (not the absolute worst, but the Marvelettes kicked the Beatles' ass on this one)
#9 - I Want to Hold Your Hand, All You Need Is Love, Love Me Do, Can't Buy Me Love, She Loves You, Please Please Me, Hello Goodbye (all catchy tunes, all effervescent pop fizz)
#8 - I Wanna Be Your Man (a pretty clear rip-off of their own I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and perhaps a very slight improvement)
#8 - Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (in the same category, but at least not pretending to be serious)
#6 - Maggie Mae
#5 - Yellow Submarine is only slightly reprieved by Octopus's Garden being even cornier
#4 - Octopus's Garden (this Harrison-Starr collaboration reminds us why Lennon-McCartney wrote so many Beatles songs)
#3 - The only thing worse than Honey Pie is Wild Honey Pie screamed repeatedly, out of tune and without harmony
#2 - Dig It (truly dreadful)
#1 - Revolution #9 (a near-consensus choice as the worst Beatles song ever, and thus not highly original on my part)


# 20 - In My Life (highly rated on Ranker and number five with Rolling Stone, but much lower on my personal list)
#19 - While My Guitar Gently Weeps (also rated highly on Ranker and number ten with Rolling Stone)
#18 - I Am the Walrus and Nowhere Man
#17 - You've Got to Hide Your Love Away
#16 - I Saw Her Standing There
#15 - Help! and Ticket to Ride
#14 - Revolution (not number one or number nine) and Back in the U.S.S.R.
#13 - Get Back (a song I take as the Beatles' response to Take a Walk on the Wild Side)
#12 - A Hard Day's Night
#11- Yesterday (the erstwhile Scrambled Eggs)
#10 - Strawberry Fields Forever / Penny Lane
#9 - Blackbird and Norwegian Wood (two of the simpler, sweeter Beatles songs that actually work)
#8 - Let It Be (written in response to Bridge Over Troubled Water, and, while not as good, still quite good)
#7 - Something / Come Together
#6 - Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight / The End
#5 - Here Comes the Sun (my favorite George Harrison composition)
#4 - Twist and Shout (the best Beatles cover)
#3 - Hey Jude
#2 - Eleanor Rigby
#1 - A Day in the Life (the near-consensus best Beatles song, and my personal favorite)

Honorable Mention: Here There and Everywhere, Don't Let Me Down, From Me to You, I Feel Fine, If I Fell


#25 - "When Doves Cry" and "Little Red Corvette" by Prince
#24 - "River Deep, Mountain High" and "Private Dancer" by Tina Turner
#23 - "Man of Constant Sorrow" by the Soggy Bottom Boys, Home Free, Allison Krauss and Sawyer Fredericks
#22 - "The Sound of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel and Disturbed
#21 - "Wish You Were Here," "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and "Comfortably Numb" by Pink Floyd
#20 - "Wild Horses" and "Angie" by Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones
#19 - "Creep" by Brian Justin Crum on a freakin' talent show!
#18 - "Time to Say Goodbye" by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman
#17 - "Flower Duet" (cheating, perhaps, but I had to sneak in my favorite opera song) by Sabine Devieilhe & Marianne Crebassa
#16 - "Hallelujah" by Jeff Buckley, K. D. Lang, Jordan Smith, Pentatonix and Tori Kelly
#15- "I Drove All Night" by Roy Orbison and Celine Dion
#14 - "All By Myself" by Eric Carmen and Celine Dion
#13 - "At Last" and "I'd Rather Go Blind" by Etta James
#12 - "I Have Nothing" and "Run to You" by Whitney Houston
#11 - "Love Reign O'er Me" by Roger Daltrey of the Who (while I'm not a Who fan, this is a killer song)
#10 - "Stairway to Heaven" and "Black Dog" by Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin
#9 - "Blue Moon," "Fever" and "That's Alright Mama" by Elvis Presley (the early Sun/RCA recordings)
#8 - "A Change Is Gonna Come," "Summertime" and "Cupid" by Sam Cooke
#7 - "Spanish Harlem" by Aretha Franklin, my favorite song of hers
#6 - "Who Wants to Live Forever," "The Show Must Go On" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Freddie Mercury and Adam Lambert of Queen
#5 - "S.O.S." and "Autumn Strong" and "Sinful Passion" by six-octave man Dimash Kudaibergen
#4 - "Piece of My Heart," "Down on Me," "Cry Baby," "Summertime," "Mercedes Benz" and "Try" by Janis Joplin
#3 - "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Art Garfunkel of Simon and Garfunkel
#2 - "Unchained Melody" by Bobby Hatfield of the Righteous Brothers
#1 - "Without You" as performed by Harry Nilsson in his otherworldly cover of a Badfinger song


The first hit song that had me immediately thinking “Hey, that doesn’t rhyme!” was the 1994 chart-topper “All I Wanna Do” by Sheryl Crow. I’m not saying it was the first, but for me it was the most obvious. It sounded like a free verse song to me. And it turns out that it was originally written as a free verse poem, by a “real” poet, Wyn Cooper. So my “rhyme radar” served me well. I will mention that the chorus “cheats” a bit, by repeatedly slant-rhyming “fun” and “one.” I suspect the chorus was added by a songwriter during the process of turning the poem into a song, but that’s just an educated guess.

What made the song’s free verse nature so noticeable? The fact that nearly all hit songs with English lyrics rhyme. And most hit songs are also end-stopped, with additional emphasis on the rhyme-word, followed by a slight pause. For instance:

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, [pause] speaking words of wisdom: “Let it be.” [pause]

“All I Wanna Do” was an outlier that was very apparent to me because I write both free verse and metered poems. I immediately noticed the extreme difference in the delivery of the song, which was more like everyday speech than an end-stopped rhyming poem. And Crow's delivery was quite different from, say, that of Debby Harry in the first "white rap" song that I remember hearing, "Rapture." The rapping in "Rapture" is rhymed and heavily end-stopped.

And so, for me, "All I Wanna Do" is the first "free verse" hit song that I noticed as such.

In any case, songs often cited on Quora and elsewhere on the Internet as “not rhyming” by various experts, in reality do have numerous irregular, slant, and/or internal rhymes.

Examples of songs I have seen cited on Quora as “not rhyming” that actually do rhyme include “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers, “America” by Simon and Garfunkel, “Need You Tonight” by INXS, “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, “How Soon Is Now” by Morrissey and the Smiths, “Lover, You Should've Come Over” by Jeff Buckley, and “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell, among others. Some of these songs employ slant rhymes and/or internal rhymes, but they are far from prose. For instance …

“Stairway to Heaven” employs irregular, internal and slant rhymes:

There's a lady who's sure[1] all that glitters[1] is gold
And she's buying a stair[1]way to heaven
When she gets there[1] she knows[2],
if the stores[1] are all closed[2]
With a word[1] she can get what she came for[1]
Ooh, ooh, and she's buying a stair[1]way to heaven

The song continues to intermix perfect and slant rhymes: meanings/sings/misgiven, get/west, leaving/looking, soon/tune, and so on.

“Unchained Melody,” made famous by Bobby Hatfield of the Righteous Brothers, but written by Alex North, is rhyme rich, with both perfect and slant internal and end rhymes. The lines are also linked by frequent alliteration of L, S and G sounds. In my notation below, [1] “Whoah” rhymes with “go” and “so” and “slow” … [2] “my” rhymes with “I” and “by” … [3] “I’ve” slant rhymes with “love” … [4] “for” rhymes with “your” and slant rhymes with “are” … [5] ”touch” perfect rhymes with “much” … [6] ”time” slant rhymes with “mine” … [7] “you” perfect rhymes with “do” and “to” … [8]“God” is a slant rhyme with the perfect rhymes “need” and “seed” … [9] the “ly” in “slowly” rhymes with “me” … so nearly every word rhymes with something else in the first stanza and/or alliterates …

Woah[1], my[2] love[3], my[2] darling
I[2]'ve[3] hunger[4]ed for[4] your[4] touch[5]
A long, lonely time[6]
And time[6] go[1]es by[2] so[1] slow[1]ly[9]
And time[6] can do[7] so[1] much[5]
Are[4] you[7] still mine[6]?
I[2] need[8] your[4] love[3]
I[2] need[8] your[4] love[3]
God[8] speed[8] your[4] love[3] to[7] me[9].

So, rather than “Unchained Melody” not rhyming, it’s harder to find something that doesn’t rhyme or alliterate.

“America” with lyrics by Paul Simon has numerous internal rhymes — such as “be” and “we” and “seems” and “dreams” — and lots of L and R and D alliteration. We can see Simon using the the ability of “b” and “d” to take stronger stresses to create a rhythm: let us BE lovers … here in my BAG … so we BOUGHT … kathy i SAID as we BoarDED a greyHOUND … like a DREAM … it took me four DAYS …

"Let us be[1] lovers[2], we[1]'ll marry our fortunes together[2]
I've got some real estate here[s] in my bag[3]"
So we bought a pack[3] of cig[3]are[2]ttes and Mrs. Wag[3]ner[2] pies
And walked off to look for Amer[2]ica

"Kathy," I said[4] as we boarded[4] a Greyhound in Pittsburgh
"Michigan seems[5] like a dream[5] to me now[6]"
It took[7] me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw[6]
I've gone to look[7] for Amer[2]ica

Laughing on the bus[8]
Playing games with the faces[8] ------------------ These are very loose rhymes, but "faces" and the bolded "s" alliteration keeps this poetic.
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy[9]
I[9] said "Be careful, his bowtie[9] is really a camera!"

I’d say that Paul Simon wrote lyrics that seem, on the surface, to be prose, but in effect constantly rhyme on the letter “r” in very subtle ways. He also slant rhymes “bag” with “pack” and “cig” and “wag” and also slant rhymes “pack” with “walk.” He also rhymes “said” with the “ed” in “boarded.” There is a lot of rhyme and slant rhyme in “America.” In the third stanza, he perfect-rhymes “spy” with “I” and “tie” and there is a lot of S and L and C alliteration.

Rather than “America” not rhyming, it seems to rhyme like crazy.

As for the immortal Leonard Cohen, his most famous songs certainly do rhyme. For instance, his most famous, by far, “Hallelujah” …

Now I've heard[1] there was a secret chord[1]
That David played, and it pleased the Lord[1]
But you don’t really care for music, do ya?[2]
It goes like this: the fourth, the fifth[3]
The minor falls, the major lifts[3]
The baffled king[4] composing[4] Hallelujah[2]

Hallelujah[2] Hallelujah[2]
Hallelujah[2] Hallelujah[2]

Your faith was strong but you needed proof[5]
You saw her bathing on the roof[5]
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya[2]
She tied you to a kitchen chair[6]
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair[6]
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah[2]

Hallelujah[2] Hallelujah[2]
Hallelujah[2] Hallelujah[2]

In fact, the most frustrating thing about this song is that many singers destroy the inventive “do ya”/”Hallelujah”/”overthrew ya” rhymes by blandly singing “do you” … such incompetence, not to preserve the genius of those rhymes!

There is a LOT of rhyme in these songs, some perfect, some slant:

“How Soon Is Now” by Morrissey and the Smiths:

I am the son and the heir[1]
Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar[1]
I am the son and heir[1]
Of nothing in particular[1]

Just shut your mouth, how can you say[2]
I go about things the wrong way[2]?
I am human and I need to be loved[3]
Just like everybody else does[3].

“Lover, You Should've Come Over” by Jeff Buckley:

Looking out the door I see the rain fall upon the funer[1]al mourners[1] …
Parading in the wake of sad relations as their shoes fill up with water[1].
Maybe I'm too young[2] to keep good love from going wrong[2]

by Michael R. Burch
The Bible’s greatest paradox is that Jesus reserved all his sternest criticism for religious hypocrites, while Christian theologians turned Jesus into the greatest hypocrite of all time, along with his father god, Jehovah. Let me explain …

According to Jesus, as he is quoted in the Gospels, there is one thing no Christian should be, and that is a hypocrite. Jesus called the religious hypocrites of his day “a nest of vipers” and “whitewashed sepulchers full of dead men’s bones.” This means Jesus and his father god should not be hypocrites.

Jesus also said that a good tree cannot produce bad fruit. This means a good God cannot produce the bad and bitter fruit of hypocrisy. And yet the Bible — as it was copied and amended by Christian theologians in the early days of Christianity — turned Jesus and his father god into the most incredible hypocrites!

Take, for example, Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable, Jesus strongly and sternly attacked hypocritical Pharisees who turned their backs on a bloodied and beaten man, in order to remain “clean” and be able enter the temple. In those days if someone touched blood they became ritually unclean and could not enter the temple for a period of days in which they had to purify themselves. In his famous parable Jesus praised a man of the “wrong” religion, a Samaritan, who put religion aside to show compassion to a suffering man. The purpose of this parable is clear: to not be a religious hypocrite like the Pharisees, one must put religion aside to practice compassion when other people are suffering. This is a good and noble teaching. But the Christian theologians who gave us the Bible turned Jesus into an “infinite hypocrite” by saying he would turn his back on billions of souls by either causing or allowing them to suffer for all eternity in “hell.”

The introduction of “hell” into the New Testament, when it had never once been mentioned in the Old Testament, made Jesus and Jehovah infinitely worse than the Devil. The requirement that human beings had to “believe in Jesus” to be spared eternal suffering is the opposite of compassion. And the primitive men who wrote the New Testament and thought they were “going out into all the world to preach the gospel” had no clue how large the world really was. They had no idea enormous continents would remain undiscovered for 1500 years. To them the “whole world” was a narrow strip of cities and towns fringing the Mediterranean Sea. They knew nothing of North America, South America, Australia, China and the Orient, Russia, innumerable islands, or most of Africa.
So what happened to billions of human beings who never heard of Jesus, in order to believe in him? Did they all wake up in a hell they never knew existed, condemned to suffer for all eternity for not believing in someone they had never heard of? Is this what Jesus would do to them, after praising the Good Samaritan? Could anyone possibly call this the “divine plan” of a loving, wise and just god?

But if these souls did not go to hell because it was impossible for them to believe in someone they had never heard of, then the worst thing any Christian could ever do would be to mention the name Jesus to anyone, because doing so would open the gates of hell. Hell, Christians should never mention the name Jesus to their own children!

Moreover, the Bible should be full of warnings for human beings not to have children, if they might end up in hell. Why are there no such warnings? Would a loving, wise, just God say, “Be fruitful and multiply, so I can send billions of your children to hell for not believing evil nonsense!”

Ironically, Christian theologians who cobbled the “hell” of pagan religions into their dishonest and corrupt New Testament turned Jesus and Jehovah into infinite hypocrites unable to live up to their constant calls for compassion, mercy and justice from human beings. And they already had a tough enough row to hoe without being transformed into such monsters!

by Michael R. Burch

Ironically, the first atheist we know by name may have been the wisest man of all time, the famous King Solomon.

The author of Ecclesiastes calls himself “the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem,” which would of course be Solomon, the son of David who ruled Israel from Jerusalem around the tenth century BC. Ecclesiastes also mentions that the Preacher wrote many proverbs, and the book of Proverbs has also been attributed to Solomon.

If Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes, as many Christians believe and maintain, and as the Bible itself clearly states, he was apparently a fatalist and a nonbeliever in the power of God to save or establish justice. The Preacher does not describe God as creating justice on earth, or having any role in salvation after death. The Preacher never praises God, does not pray to him, expects no help from him, and believes prophecy is impossible. Depending on the translation, the Preacher repeatedly says that everything is “vanity” or “meaningless.” He sounds nothing like a Catholic pope or a Protestant minister. If the Bible is correct that Solomon was the wisest man of all time, what does that make them? A valid but imponderable question for Christians who would have to admit that the Bible contradicts major tenets of their faith.

The Preacher does not believe in the justice of God on earth: “There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless.” He does not believe that God is in control of the fates of men, but says “time and chance happeneth to them all.” This is one of the most heretical passages in Ecclesiastes, if one believes in an all-powerful God, and there are quite a few others.

A greater heresy for Catholic popes and Protestant ministers is that the Preacher says sacrifices are meaningless: “All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.” Six Hebrew prophets said that God did not want sacrifices and Jesus quoted two of them. Thus at least eight major biblical figures denied the need for sacrifices. Another imponderable for most Christians.

The Preacher’s heresies continue to mount because he says “the dead know nothing; they have no further reward.”

The Preacher holds out no hope for a life after death, neither does he mention anything about a judgment by God before or after death.

The Preacher is not at all complimentary about what God has given human beings: “the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days.”

Pro-life Christians will find no agreement with the world’s wisest man, because he clearly says that it is better NOT to be born. He also does not advise prayer, saying “let your words [to God] be few.” He does not believe in prophecy, saying “no one can discover anything about their future.” This rebuke of prophecy recurs several times in Ecclesiastes.

The Preacher’s assessment is unremittingly bleak: “Everything to come is meaningless.” He holds out no hope of life after death. Because there is no prospect of life after death, all a man can do is enjoy life here on earth. The Preacher commends “mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, drink and be merry.”

This is the wisdom of the world’s wisest man: that faith, sacrifice and good works don’t amount to a hill of beans. Everyone ends up the same: good and bad, righteous and unrighteous, and sacrifice makes no difference. What really matters is having a good time. Eat, drink and be merry, because tomorrow we die, and there is nothing to look forward to after death.

Many Christians claim the Bible is “inerrant” and “infallible.” But the wisdom of the world’s wisest man is not in accordance with their faith. How can anyone reconcile “all is meaningless” and “all is vanity” with the idea that believing this and doing that will ensure eternal bliss? How can sacrifice be meaningless if the sacrifice of animals or Jesus Christ is the path to salvation?

by Michael R. Burch

The Bible is a collection of ancient mythology, with quite a bit of it having been borrowed from other religions and cultures, then adapted to the theology of the Bible’s writers. That theology changed over time, so the Bible is wildly inconsistent. Here is just one of many “for instances” …

Can God Be Seen? Yes (35), No (8), Maybe (1) and “Only His Ass!” (1)

Eight emphatic votes: NO!

Eight Bible verses by at least four different writers insist that God is an invisible spirit who can never be seen by human beings (Exodus 33:20; John 1:18, 5:37, 6:46; 1 John 4:12, Colossians 1:15, 1 Timothy 1:17, 6:16).

At least 35 votes: YES!

Numerous writers said human beings did see and speak to God, including: Adam and Eve (Genesis chapters 2-3), Abraham (Genesis 12:7, 17:1, 18:1, etc.), Isaac (Genesis 26:2-24), Jacob (Genesis 32:30), and Moses (Exodus 33:11, etc.), among others. In perhaps the most vivid account, Jacob saw God face-to-face, wrestled with him, and prevailed, after which his name was changed to Israel — a name which includes the biblical name of God, El, as a suffix. The writer of this account has Jacob say: “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”

One vote: Only his ass!

One writer insisted that Moses was only able to see God’s ass because he would have died if he saw his face! According to this writer, God mooned Moses. (Exodus 33:1-21) But this passage contains a clear contradiction, because in verse 11 it says that God spoke to Moses, face to face, as a man speaks to a friend. Other verses in the same book contradict the idea that only God’s ass can be seen by human beings. For instance, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy elders saw God. (Exodus 24:9–11)

One vote: Maybe, but only if we offer him meat!

Another writer even had his characters debate the thorny issue. This writer said that Manoah and his wife (Samson's parents) saw God, and that Manoah thought God would kill them for it. But Manoah’s wife argued otherwise because God had eaten the meat they offered him! Do invisible spirits eat meat? This is all very amusing, especially when one hears Christians claiming that the Bible is “inerrant” and “infallible.”

But I digress. Getting back to the original subject …

In ancient times, writers freely spoke through authoritative figures, using names like Moses and Solomon to lend weight to their words. And the Bible even recounts an instance in which this happened, during the reign of the boy king Josiah. When a boy becomes king he has regents and can easily be influenced and used by the adults who counsel him. The Bible relates how the Levite priests who wrote and copied the scriptures that became the Bible told Josiah that they had found a “lost book of Moses.” That book was surely Deuteronomy, an evil, endlessly bloody book that commands the ghastly stoning to death of children for misdemeanors, the murder of girls for the “crime” of having been raped, and the murder of child brides who failed to prove their virginity by bleeding sufficiently on their wedding nights. In many passages, Deuteronomy seems to have been written by human demons. And all the while, the book orders the other Israelite tribes to be generous and share with the Levites, meaning they wouldn’t have to work to eat like everyone else. The sacrificial system was clearly designed for the Levites to get the best cuts of meat. Thus Deuteronomy was not just an evil book, but a very self-serving book.

Obviously, Moses did not write the “lost” book. The Levites wrote it and pretended that Moses had written it, in order to add weight to their words and give themselves the cushiest jobs in the kingdom.
Ditto for Solomon. There is no reason to believe he wrote the books attributed to him. And if he did, and really was the world’s wisest man, he contradicted major tenets of the Christian religion.
The simple truth is that the Bible was written by many different writers with vastly different beliefs over many centuries with ever-shifting theologies, and the writers frequently pretended to be speaking through important figures like Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus and even God Almighty. But being human and not agreeing with each other, they made mistake after mistake and created contradiction after contradiction. I believe the major phases look something like this:

Bible Timeline

The ancient Hebrews originally believed in multiple gods (hence man was created by the gods in “our” image) and human sacrifice.

Moses has been linked to monotheism in Egypt, so it’s possible that Moses or someone like Moses could have started the rewriting of ancient scriptures to eradicate other gods and/or make them inferior to Yahweh. The Genesis creation account was rewritten so that one God reigned supreme but clues remain here and there in the Bible that other gods had been worshipped by the Israelites. Because Abraham was a hugely important figure, monotheism was “backdated” to begin with Abraham.

A major step was to replace human sacrifice with animal sacrifice. Why? Perhaps the Levites didn’t have a taste for human flesh and preferred beef and veal. This revision was also backdated to Abraham, with the boy Isaac being replaced by a handy ram. Abraham’s willingness to slit his son’s throat has been embraced by three major religions, and that’s not a mark in their favor.

There was no afterlife, no heaven and no hell in the earlier books of the Bible. Nor were there “fallen angels” or an omniscient demon named Satan or Lucifer who rivaled God in power. All that came much later, and Satan had to work his way up from a powerless messenger boy who was welcome in heaven, to the evil-minded “ruler” of earth. No one can explain how a powerless messenger boy managed to rival an all-powerful God. It seems like the stuff of comic books, really.

In the earliest books of the Bible, there was only one being in absolute control, and that was Yahweh. Because Yahweh controlled nature, and because nature is amoral, Yahweh was amoral. He did hideously evil things that many Christians now comically defend as good, perfect, etc. If the gods of other religions did such hideously evil things, for instance, commanding the ghastly stoning deaths of girls for being raped, these Christians would of course deride the religions in question and their gods as "false." This happens when girls are stoned to death in Islamic nations, which still unfortunately happens from time to time. But the Bible commands such outrages in the name of its diabolical God. What would Jesus make of such hypocrisy, one wonders?

Satan was clearly introduced as a literary device when certain writers or copyists of the Bible became uncomfortable with their God doing evil things. A being named Satan or Lucifer had gone completely unmentioned in biblical chronologies until the reign of King David. Apparently, David took a census, after which tens of thousands of Israelites died, and this was seen as a judgment for David lacking faith in God. The writer of the account in 2 Samuel 15:1-12 apparently still clung to the belief that an all-powerful God was in control of all events on earth, so this writer had Yahweh influence David to take the census, after which Yahweh became enraged and slaughtered multitudes of people who had nothing to do with the census. The writer of the same account in 1 Chronicles 21:1-17 didn’t seem to think his God should provoke David to take a census, then go on the warpath over something he had caused to happen. So this writer introduced a new character, Satan, to be the fall guy and do the provoking. And thus, if the Bible is inerrant and infallible, clearly God and Satan are the same being!

I could go on, but I’ll stop here. It seems clear to me that the Bible was written as it was because it's a mishmash of primitive human beliefs, with many different writers who disagreed with each other pretending to speak for God, Jesus, Abraham, Moses, et al. Thus the Bible has become a Tower of Babel, or Babble.

by Michael R. Burch

The Bible is literature, so I will criticize it here, since that's my job. The Bible's author has claimed perfection, inerrancy and infallibility, at least according to the author's disciples. I will, however, lay that strange notion immediately and forever to rest.

All Christians believe odd things, but they don't all agree on the details, in which the Devil lies, if you'll pardon the pun. So I have chosen to criticize orthodox Christianity and leave the possibly somewhat saner sects, like the Universalists, alone. Anyone who doesn't condemn me to hell for not believing their preferred brand of nonsense is an improvement on the typical Christian hellion, in my book.

What are the main tenets of orthodox Christianity? The main tenet, of course, is that God is infinitely worse than the Devil and will condemn billions of souls to an "eternal hell" for guessing wrong about which of hundreds or thousands of earthly religions to believe. Jesus Christ will cause or allow Einstein and Gandhi to go to hell. This, to Christians, is "perfection." Other core beliefs of orthodox Christianity include (1) that Jesus is God, as a member of the Trinity, (2) that all three members of the Trinity are perfect and are thus in perfect agreement and accord with each other, and (3) that the Bible is the "word of God" and, having been authored by God, is automatically "inerrant" and "infallible."

But it is my self-appointed task to burst this nebulous bubble immediately and forever. Let me commence ...

The burden of perfection is quite large. Immense, really, and thus wildly beyond human capability. The greatest human writers made mistakes. For instance, the near-consensus choice for the greatest writer of all time, Shakespeare, had clocks in ancient Rome and billiards in ancient Egypt. And Shakespeare was a genius, while the authors of the Bible were more of the evil moron variety. So we can expect to find colossal mistakes in the Bible, coupled with ghastly evil, and of course we do.

Let us begin our investigation operating under the orthodox Christian premise that Jesus is God, and that as part of the Godhead he was in perfect agreement with all the perfections of the entire Bible, with not a word amiss from beginning to end. This means that Jesus, as part of the Godhead, commanded slavery, sex slavery, the stoning to death of children for misdemeanors, infanticide, matricide, ethnic cleansing and genocide. Are these "perfections" or the ravings of ancient lunatics?

I rest my case.

Ah, but I see that you don't believe me! The magical allure of the Christian religion continues to prevail, like a fishhook securing a grouper. So let me give you a quick "for instance."

Take Deuteronomy 22:13-21, for instance. This delightful little passage, authored by Moses according to the book itself, is automatically sheer perfection because the great prophet and lawgiver received his commandments directly from a perfect God, which means a perfect Jesus was in complete agreement with the passage's stunning perfections. Said perfections include: If a man "hates" his wife and wants to murder her immediately after marrying her and having sex with her, all he has to do is produce a "cloth" sans bloodstains that "proves" she was not a virgin on her wedding night. There would then be a little community get-together at her father's house, where the girl's skull would be broken open with flung stones until her brains oozed out and all was well again. Now, I am not normally one to quibble with perfections, but I can see some enormous bottleflies buzzing around in this rancid ointment. First, since DNA testing wouldn't be invented for several millennia, how would anyone know if the cloth had anything to do with the to-be-slaughtered-in-the-most-ghastly-fashion-imaginable little girl in question? (Please keep in mind that in those prehistoric days most wives were girls in their early teens, or younger.) How would anyone know the murderous lunatic husband hadn't produced some alternate cloth? And of course the real Creator would have known that not all girls bleed the first time they have sex. The real Creator could not have made such a moronic mistake. Evil human morons, however, could, and obviously did.

And even if the little girl in question had had sex prior to marriage, how many of the men stoning her to death would have also had extramarital sex? Probably all of them. Jesus made this point when he repudiated the ghastly concept of murdering girls and women for having sex. Who is qualified to cast the first stone where sex is involved? And what, pray tell, do Christians say when girls are stoned to death in Muslim countries for having sex? Of course millions of Christians thunderously call Islam a "false religion"! Imagine that! How can they fail to see the absolute perfection of caving in the skulls of little girls because someone said it was "the will of God"?

What did Jesus say about religious hypocrites?

So in this brief passage we can clearly see that one of two things must be true: Either God is not perfect because he authored an evil commandment that is completely lacking in even the rudiments of justice and which he repudiated himself in the person of Jesus Christ, or God did not author the evil commandment and thus the Bible is not "the word of God" nor "inerrant" nor "infallible."

While I have been accused of "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" for not agreeing that it is complete and sheer perfection to stone little girls to death for something they didn't do, I think it actually works the other way. I am saying that God did not author the satanic verses in question and thus I am defending the honor and integrity of God if such a being exists, which I do not claim to know. Nor does anyone else, of course, so we are all in the same boat together. The ones actually blaspheming the name of God, if God exists and is good, are the Christians who claim he authored every word of the Bible. They are accusing their God of being wildly unjust and commanding the worst crimes known to humanity, which I itemized earlier.

Let me also point out that according to the Genesis account, human beings suffer and die only because they ate the forbidden fruit and acquired the knowledge of good and evil. Thus, if human beings do not possess the knowledge of good and evil, they should be immortal and never suffer or die. But, quite curiously, many Christians seem to only know that stoning girls to death is evil when it happens in Muslim countries. When their own Bible commands the same horror, they pivot and claim this horrendous evil is the perfection of a perfect God.

Were they gypped by their God, or did evil, lying men write large parts of the Bible, meaning Christians need to "test the spirits" and "rightly divide the word" as the Bible itself instructs?

For those Christians who claim the New Testament is "more perfect" than the merely "perfect" Old Testament, what about this verse:

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. (1 Timothy 6:1)

This verse not only condones slavery, it also commands slaves to respect their masters. Should a slave respect a master who is raping his wife and daughters, really? Is this the perfect wisdom of a God who wants justice? Apparently so, because:

Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh ["perverse" in other translations]. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. (1 Peter 2:18-20)

Apparently God wants slaves to submit to unjust, harsh and perverse masters. God is happy when slaves suffer for doing good. And not only the parents, but their children as well! Is this the perfect wisdom of God or the mindless babbling of someone who has no idea what young female slaves experience at the hands of perverse masters, or just can't be bothered to care? Can a wise God fail to understand that these verses are commanding that young female slaves must submit to rape while their mothers and fathers do nothing to object?

But the Bible is very clear that God is cool with sex slavery. Hell, according to the Bible a father can sell his own daughter as a sex slave, with an option to buy her back if she doesn't "satisfy" her new owner:

When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not satisfy her owner, he must allow her to be bought back again. (Exodus 21:7-8)

Male slaves were freed automatically after seven years. But not, thanks to the wonderful wisdom of God, the female slaves! A female slave was a slave for life, and she could be sold into a life of sex slavery by her own father. He had the option (but not the obligation) to buy her back if she didn't please and satisfy her new owner.

Is this the wisdom of God, really?

by Michael R. Burch

According to the Bible, the Garden of Eden was perfect. But, alas, there was a fly in the ointment. However, it's not who you think it was, if you're one of those gullible creatures who call themselves "Christians" while blaspheming the name of Jesus from sunup to sundown. Confused? I will be happy to explain, because it is quite obviously impossible to believe that Jesus was perfect, or even good, and also believe the Garden of Eden myth.

But I digress. Let me begin again ...

According to the Bible, the Garden of Eden was perfect. There was no suffering and no death. The penalty for the sin of eating the forbidden fruit was death. For chauvinistic reasons, many Christians like to blame Eve for the "fall" and act as if Adam was not equally responsible. But according to the Bible, Adam ate the fruit, he sinned, and the penalty for that "sin" (apparently the only possible sin at the time) was death. If Adam had not been found equally guilty with Eve, he would not have been sentenced to death and would still be alive today. Adam and Eve both "sinned" and this "original sin" explains why all human beings suffer and die. Or so the badly-told biblical fairytale goes.

Of course the real criminal in the Genesis account was the biblical god Jehovah. After all, the diabolical Jehovah denied Adam and Eve the knowledge of good and evil, meaning they were like animals and didn’t know good from evil, up from down, right from wrong. They were complete innocents, actual babes in the wood. Therefore, it was impossible for them to know that it was “evil” to eat the forbidden fruit. What the diabolical Jehovah did was like putting poisoned milk before a baby and saying something the baby can’t possibly understand: “Don’t drink the milk or you will surely die!” No good parent would do such a thing. Hell, most bad and terrible parents wouldn't do such an evil, inane, insane thing.

Since Jehovah had denied Adam and Eve the knowledge of good and evil, he should have protected them from evil, as any good parent would protect babies and children too young to understand grave dangers.

Furthermore, Jehovah was a murderous serial killer because he sentenced all the animals to suffer and die, unjustly. They did not eat the forbidden fruit or gain the knowledge of good and evil, so they should not have been sentenced to suffer and die. But of course they all do. According to the "logic" of Genesis, the animals should have remained immortal.

And finally, Jehovah became the first murderer when he murdered innocent animals to give their skins to Adam and Eve as clothes. If he was wise and good, why didn’t he give them clothes of cotton, wool, or some other fiber, rather than murdering innocent animals?

Any Christian who believes in the Trinity and the Garden of Eden account accuses Jesus, as a member of the Trinity, of being a serial murderer of human beings and animals, all completely innocent because they had no knowledge of good and evil and were put in a Catch-22 situation in which any person with a shred of wisdom or plain common sense could have predicted what would happen. But of course it is just a myth, and we know there never was a Garden of Eden, and thus no “fall.” Trillions of animals suffered and died before human beings walked the planet we call Earth. The Bible is full of badly-told fairy tales, lies, contradictions and horrendously evil things said about its god.

To believe the Garden of Eden myth and to believe that Jesus is a member of the Trinity, and thus God, is to accuse him of unjustly sentencing all human beings and animals to suffer and die.

Ironically, atheists and agnostics give Jesus the "benefit of the doubt" and do not participate in such blasphemy against his good name.

by Michael R. Burch

Is Jesus overrated as a philosopher?

First, I don’t think we can judge Jesus as a philosopher because we don’t know what he actually said, versus words put in his mouth by the busy beaver theologians who gave us the New Testament — a “big fish” story if there ever was one.

The idea that Jesus was “perfect” is, of course, entirely a Christian myth, like believing that Odin was the wisest of the Norse gods because he sacrificed an eye. We don’t know if there was an Odin, whether there was such an unlikely sacrifice, or how such a sacrifice would work if it actually occurred. The same questions apply to Jesus.

From reading the gospels, I think we can conclude that Jesus, if he actually lived, probably was a compassionate man who opposed hypocrisy. Of course most philosophers would prefer compassion to hypocrisy, so there’s nothing earth-shaking there. However, the busy beaver theologians turned Jesus into the greatest hypocrite in all mythology, literature and religion, when they had him preach the sermon of the Good Samaritan — a man who put aside religious differences to practice compassion toward a man of another religion, a Jew — only to go on to say that Jesus will either cause or allow all Jews and people of other religions and non-religions to go to “hell” if they don’t become Christians.

Thus, if we judge Jesus by what the New Testament says about him, his philosophy, ethics and religion are sadly lacking. However, I place the blame on the busy beaver theologians and give Jesus the benefit of the doubt. I like to think he was a compassionate man who despised hypocrisy and practiced what he preached. That would make him a good man, a good teacher, and a good example, if not a great philosopher.

by Michael R. Burch

The Bible’s chronologies are often wildly wrong and the ancient book is full of errors, contradictions and evil masquerading as "goodness" and "wisdom."

For example: The Genesis creation account says that trees and plants grew on earth before the sun was created. Any intelligent child knows this is impossible, because without a sun to orbit, the earth would be a frozen globe of ice whizzing aimlessly through deep space. Trees do not grow in the coldest polar regions, and a sunless earth would be far colder than during any ice age. Also, without the sun the light could not be "divided" from the darkness because everything on earth would be pitch-black all the time. There could be no morning and no first day without the sun. So the first five verses of Genesis are rubbish. The next five verses are no better because they explain rain by a "firmament" that holds rain water somewhere above the sky. The writers of Genesis obviously did not understand evaporation or rain clouds. Then we get to the third day, when trees and plants began growing without the sun to provide light, warmth and something for the earth to orbit around. This is pure nonsense, not the "infallible" and "inerrant" word of an all-knowing God.

There are actually two conflicting creation accounts in the book of Genesis, as if the writers didn’t know which one was correct and just tossed in both, like a salad thrown together by two warring chefs.

Genesis 1 begins with a dark, watery earth, then adds (1) light, then (2) land, then (3) the sun, moon and stars, then (4) plants, then (5) fish and birds, then (6) land animals and humans (male and female created together, at the same time). By contrast, Genesis 2 begins with the existence of dry land, then adds (1) water in the form of a mist, then (2) a single human male formed from the dust of the ground, then (3) plants, then (4) all the animals at the same time with no mention of fish, and finally (5) a woman created from one of the male's ribs. One wonders why a "god" who can create everything else with a snap of his fingers would need to resort to surgery in the case of Eve.

Furthermore, everything anyone has ever told us about "original sin" and "the fall" can easily be shown to be nonsensical. First, the Bible claims that human beings were offered a choice between the "knowledge of good and evil" and immortality. If they didn't eat the "forbidden fruit" they would lack the knowledge of good and evil and live forever in a state of innocence. If they ate the forbidden fruit, they would be sentenced to death and murdered by God, but they would at least have the knowledge of good and evil. Now, there are some obvious problems with this strange deal.

First, if Christians don't understand that it is wildly unjust to expect innocent children to make the right decision when they have no way of knowing it is "evil" to eat the forbidden fruit, they must lack the knowledge of good and evil themselves, and therefore should never suffer or die! Did their God gyp them, or does the Genesis account not pass the "smell" test?

Second, what about all the innocent animals? They didn't eat the forbidden fruit or gain the knowledge of good and evil, so according to the logic of Genesis they should all be immortal and never suffer or die. Did the biblical God gyp them too?

Third, why did Jehovah become the first murderer by killing innocent animals to give their skins to Adam and Eve for clothes? Why didn't he use his superpowers to give them clothes of cotton or some other fiber?

Do Christians have the knowledge of good and evil? Most of them completely fail to see that what the biblical God did, according the writer(s) of Genesis, was evil. It was like putting poisoned milk before a baby who can't understand the words, and saying, "If you drink the milk you will surely die, because it is wrong to drink the milk!" Any parent who did such a thing would be locked up for life, as either insane or a coldblooded murderer. And what about all the pre-Civil-War American Christians who believed slavery was "good" because the Bible endorses slavery? Did they have the knowledge of good and evil, or did they just believe whatever they read?

There are also three different versions of the all-important Ten Commandments! (Exodus 20:1–17, Deuteronomy 5:1–21, Leviticus 19:1–37). Which one is the correct one?

According to Genesis, the biblical “god” withheld the knowledge of good and evil from Adam and Eve, then murdered them for not knowing it was “evil” to eat the forbidden fruit. And why did all the animals have to die, when they didn’t eat the fruit or gain the knowledge of good and evil? When I read that passage as a young boy, I knew that the biblical “god” was the real criminal in the Garden of Eden.

“Clean” animals were referenced in the passage about the Great Flood, but it seems clear that passage was doctored. The original account had two of each kind of animal entering the ark. But a later revisionist wanted Noah to sacrifice animals to God, and thus modified the account to say that seven of the “clean” animals were taken aboard. But the concept of “clean” and “unclean” animals did not enter the Bible until much later, at the time of Moses. And yet the prophet Jeremiah said Moses did not institute animal sacrifices at that time. Six Hebrew prophets said that God did not want animal sacrifices at all, and Jesus quoted two of them. So the Bible contradicts itself on one of its most critical theological issues.

Kings of Israel are mentioned in Deuteronomy 17:17–19, but there were no Kings of Israel until much later.

The Bible actually tells us how such errors occurred. During the reign of the boy king Josiah, the Levites pretended to “find” a “lost book of Moses.” This “lost” book of Moses was surely Deuteronomy, which is full of evil commandments and keeps “reminding” the Israelites to “take care” of the Levites. How convenient for the fat cats who wrote the self-serving book! Deuteronomy commands the stoning of children for misdemeanors, the murder of rape victims and child brides, and other horrors. How anyone can believe such a satanic book was authored by a loving, wise, just God is beyond me. But in any case the writers had clearly forgotten that the were no kings of Israel at the time of Moses, and not for centuries afterward.

In Genesis 14:14, Abraham pursued his enemies to Dan. But the tribe of Dan and the region named after it would not exist until many centuries later.

Jericho’s famous walls were destroyed long before the time of Joshua.

There is no evidence that Hebrews were ever enslaved in Egypt.

And so on …

by Michael R. Burch

Jesus and Paul could not have threatened Jews of their day with "hell" because in the Old Testament there was no mention of “hell” or any possibility of suffering after death. Eternal salvation, when it was discussed, was entirely the business of God and human beings played no role in their own salvation. For instance, in the famous Valley of the Dry Bones vision, God shows Ezekiel that he will save the entire nation of Israel — a vast army — and they will only believe in him after they have been resurrected from their graves. In the Old Testament the power of God was never limited by human faith, or by lack of it.

Most Jews have never believed in Jesus as the Messiah, much less as God in the flesh, so Ezekiel’s vision does not agree with the lovely idea: “Believe in Jesus without any evidence or be damned for all eternity!”

In the Old Testament there was no hell, no suffering after death, and salvation was to be universal, not depending on either faith or works, but only upon the power of God to save. The New Testament introduces the idea of “eternal punishment” completely without explanation, since Jehovah and his prophets never mentioned such a wildly unjust thing. And what would be the purpose of torturing people after death, or allowing them to be tortured? That would make God infinitely more evil than the Devil!

How did this sea change in such an evil direction happen? After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in the first century AD, the Christian church relocated to Greece and Rome, where the lower classes (not the intellectuals) believed in hell. However, this “hell” was not Hades because Hades had heavenly regions such as the Elysian Fields and Blessed Isles. The Greek hell was Tartarus, a word which appears in only one verse in the entire Bible (2 Peter 2:4). And that verse is about fallen angels awaiting judgment, so Tartarus was not for human beings and it was not eternal.

Thus, ironically, there is not a single verse in the entire Bible that names a place called “hell” that was prepared as a destination for human beings.

Furthermore, Jesus mocked the pagan Greek vision of an afterlife where people in “heaven” could chat with people in “hell” (Tartarus) across an impassable abyss. To show how ludicrous this idea was, in one of his most famous parables, Jesus put a rich Pharisee in Tartarus and a poor unclean beggar in the heavenly part of Hades. According to Josephus the only Jews who believed in “hell” were the Pharisees, the objects of Jesus’s scorn. So he mocked their pagan belief and yet today Christian pastors use that obvious mockery to insist that there “really is a hell.” But anyone who studied the Old Testament — as Jesus and Paul did — would have known there was no “hell” and no punishment after death. Before they could have threatened anyone with “hell” they would have had to explain why it could not be found in the Old Testament. But it seems obvious to me that Jesus and Paul did not condemn anyone to hell. That only happened after the Christian church moved to places where people already believed in the pagan hell and would accept it without question. Then the busy little theological beavers changed the texts that became the New Testament. But they were too far apart to compare notes, so they made all sorts of errors and introduced all sorts of contradictions.

One of the biggest blunders was, amusingly, over what Christians can eat. According to the gospels, Jesus clearly said that Christians can eat whatever they like, because it is what comes out of a person's mouth that defiles them, not what goes into it. Peter had a vision in which he saw that he should not call any source of food unclean. Paul specifically said that Christians could eat foods offered to idols. But some early Christian theologians either did not get the message, or they did not buy into it. Thus in the second chapter of Revelation, in the letters to the churches, the apparently insane writer of the book puts words in the mouth of Jesus, and has "Jesus" vow to personally murder the children of a mother the writer did not approve of! One of the "sins" mentioned by this "Jesus" was eating foods offered to idols! Is the Holy Spirit unable to make up its mind about what Christians can eat, or did different writers who lived far apart have very different ideas about such vastly important things? You know which way I'm leaning.

Here's a question for Christians who claim the entire Bible is "infallible" and "inerrant": The writer of Revelation named a specific woman living at his time, and her children. So did Jesus keep his vow and personally murder the children for something they did not do, and which Jesus and Paul said was not a sin?

by Michael R. Burch

Can a true religion be based on lies? Christians almost unanimously refuse to admit that the Bible says Adam and Eve lacked the knowledge of good and evil before they ate the "forbidden fruit" and therefore could not have been guilty of the crime for which the diabolical Jehovah sentenced them unjustly to suffer and die ...
The Bible makes it very clear that Adam and Eve lacked the knowledge of good and evil:

And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

They did not even know, at this point, that they shouldn’t be running around naked. They were innocent of any knowledge of good and evil. That was the entire point of the tree, and why it was so named. Everyone understood the purpose of the tree and its fruit, even the serpent, who said:

For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

And the Bible confirms that the serpent spoke the truth, because the Bible clearly says that the eyes of Adam and Eve were opened as soon as they ate the fruit. And if Adam and Eve had already known good from evil, there would have been no reason to eat the fruit. The entire purpose of eating the fruit was to gain the knowledge of good and evil, and this is why Eve ate the fruit, according to the Bible:

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

And according to the Bible, the fruit did indeed give Adam and Eve the knowledge of good and evil they had previously lacked:

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

Before they ate the fruit they were blind to the knowledge of good and evil, and after they ate the fruit their eyes were opened. This is what the Bible says, very clearly.

Thus, Adam and Eve were innocents who could not have understood the concept of evil until they had eaten the fruit. Animals and babies cannot understand the concept of “evil.” Male lions kill and eat their own cubs. Black widows murder their mates. Babies will steal anything they can get their hands on. Why? They lack the knowledge of good and evil.

The Bible is very clear about this, but many Christians refuse to read and admit what the Bible clearly says.

I ask again: Can a true religion be based on lies?

Furthermore, even if one remains blind to the evil committed by Jehovah against Adam and Eve (should such a person not be immortal, never having received the knowledge of good and evil?), it is impossible to miss the fact that Jehovah sinned against all the animals and thus possessed no knowledge of good and evil himself (is this why Jehovah is immortal according to his perverse book?). According to the "logic" of Genesis, the animals should have remained immortal and should never have suffered and died because they did not eat the forbidden fruit and did not gain the knowledge of good and evil. To this day, monkeys don't know that they shouldn't be running around naked even though their anatomy is essentially the same as ours. So why did the diabolical Jehovah condemn all the innocent monkeys to death? And why did Jehovah become the first murderer when he killed animals to give their skins to Adam and Eve for clothes? Why didn't he use his superpowers to give them clothes of cotton, wool or some other non-lethal fiber?

There was only one criminal in the Garden of Eden. The talking serpent told the truth. The Bible confirms that the serpent told the truth, by confirming that Adam's and Eve's eyes were opened, just as the serpent had claimed they would be. So the only criminal in the Garden of Eden was clearly the diabolical Jehovah.

by Michael R. Burch

How did the Bible come to be written, and why is it untrustworthy?

First, the Israelites had no writing until around the 10th century BC. This means the Bible's endless genealogies are hearsay, or worse. No one can remember all their ancestors and their cousins-many-times-removed, including their ages, going back a few generations, much less thousands of years to the dawn of time. What is worse than hearsay? Religious clerics who lie on purpose in order to support their patrons' claims to the throne and their own claims to speak for the "real God." The Bible is, above all, a very self-serving book. It served the purposes of the Levite priests who wrote it and the kings they served. And the Bible served the purposes of both to keep the masses in trembling fear of an all-powerful "god" who would murder them and their children without hesitation if they ever attempted to think independently. Also, with the introduction of animal sacrifice the Levites could live high on the hog without working to eat like everyone else. Or, more properly, high on the mutton.

We can understand why the Bible was written as it was written by understanding the motives of the writers: (1) mind and behavior control through brainwashing via the instillation of fear, (2) supporting the claims of their patrons, (3) supporting their own claims to speak for "the One True God," and of course (4) lots of free food.

We can also see how the motives of the Levites and their deviousness caused the Bible to be changed over time. At one time sacrifices of grain were welcome. But apparently the Levites preferred meat to barley. Thus the story of Cain and Abel was either introduced or amended to make it clear that "god" preferred meat to produce. But the preference for animal sacrifice created an immense problem for the Noah's Ark fairytale. If Noah only took two of each kind of animal on the ark, as "god" had commanded, how could the grateful Noah sacrifice any of them to the bloodthirsty, meat-craving deity? So the fairytale was clumsily rewritten for Noah to take seven of each "clean" animal onto the ark in defiance of Yahweh's original commandment. But the Levite who rewrote the fairytale seems to have forgotten that "clean" animals were not defined until the time of Moses! Nor was animal sacrifice instituted until that time, which we now know to be mythological because it never happened as the Bible describes.

It seems beyond obvious that there was no Exodus of Israelites from Egypt in anything close to the numbers the Bible claims. Archeologists have turned up no evidence of a massive Exodus, nor of a 40-year sojourn of multitudes in the desert. The fabled walls of Jericho fell long before the time of the Exodus. And so on. Is there any evidence of the Exodus? According to The Jerusalem Post:

"The short answer is 'no.' The whole subject of the Exodus is embarrassing to archaeologists. The Exodus is so fundamental to us and our Jewish sources that it is embarrassing that there is no evidence outside of the Bible to support it. So we prefer not to talk about it, and hate to be asked about it ... There is nothing in Egyptian records to support it. Nothing on the slavery of the Israelites, nothing on the plagues that persuaded Pharaoh to let them go, nothing on the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, nothing. Nothing at all."

How, then, do we explain the story of Moses? Here is one possibility: The ancient Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten or Akhenaton ruled Egypt circa 1351–1334 BC. That coincides with a likely time for Moses. Akhenaten was the first famous monotheist in human history, or at least the first of whom I am aware. However, Akhenaten's views did not take hold in Egypt, and after his death his monuments and statues were destroyed, his name was stricken from the rolls of Egypt's pharaohs, and he would be called "that criminal" and "the enemy" in Egyptian archives. Thus it seems safe to assume that any followers who survived Akhenaten's death would have been in peril of their lives. My theory is that Moses was a disciple of Akhenaten who led a small group of monotheists in a mad dash from Egypt. They relocated in Palestine and over the centuries the big fish story got bigger and bigger. The "god" of the Egyptian escapists would have been at war with the "false god" and his lackeys, the pharaohs. Any calamity the Egyptians suffered, whether real or imagined, would have been the wrath of the "real" god. The escape, however mundane, would have become miraculous in the retellings. Moses would have become a mythical hero, and things said about other mythical heroes, such as being set afloat as a baby, would be stitched into the biblical accounts. And none of it would be written down in Hebrew for centuries because there was no Hebrew writing at the time of Moses.

The Bible itself confirms that Moses did not ordain animal sacrifices, through the prophet Jeremiah: "Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Put your burnt offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat flesh. For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices." (Jeremiah 7:21-22)

Six Hebrew prophets said Yahweh did not desire or command sacrifices, and Jesus quoted two of them, according to the gospels.

Why did the Bible come to be written as it was written? A lot had to do with the desire of the Levites to have lots of meat to eat, without working to earn it. These are the lovely souls who had their "god" command the ghastly stoning to death of children for misdemeanors, the stoning to death of rape victims, the stoning to death of child brides for not bleeding sufficiently on their wedding nights to prove their virginity, fathers selling their daughters as sex slaves with an option to buy them back if they failed to "please" their new masters, and so on.

Why was the biblical "god" so unthinkably evil? Consider the nature of his creators.

And I think it's important to keep in mind that there was a competition going on between the writers of the Bible and those of other religions. Over and over, the Levites tried to one-up their competitors. This competition begins with the opening chapters of Genesis, with Yahweh forcing a snake to crawl on its belly, over the fruit of a plant that costs man his immortality.

In a much older work of literature, the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, man is cheated of immortality by a snake who eats a plant. If Gilgamesh had eaten it, the plant would have made him immortal. There was also a Babylonian creator goddess named Tiamat who was represented as a serpent. It seems quite possible that the writer or writers of the Genesis account chose a goddess to join forces with Eve, making "original sin" entirely a female crime. The superiority of the male god Yahweh is demonstrated when he forces the serpent to crawl on her belly and Eve to suffer the pangs of childbirth and obey her husband. There is a lot of such one-upmanship in the Bible, with its writers borrowing from other religions then flipping things around to favor their "god" and purposes.

Jesus: The Ultimate Big Fish Story
by Michael R. Burch

Jesus was completely unknown in his own day. Highly literate Jews, Greeks and Romans never mentioned him, outside the Bible, nor any of his alleged miracles. Jesus is famous the same way Paul Bunyan is famous — for tall tales that got taller and taller over time. It’s easy to demonstrate that the writers of the Bible were making up things about Jesus. For instance, in the book of Acts, Jesus leaves earth for the last time by rising into the clouds as angels tell witnesses that he would return the same way. But that obviously never happened because it would have been the most fantastic event in human history, the word would have spread like wildfire, and all the writers of the gospels and the other books of the New Testament would have mentioned it, as unassailable evidence of Jesus’s divinity. But only one writer knew anything about the “miracle” because he made it up. Ditto for the “transfiguration” which was mentioned in Mark, copied in Matthew and Luke, and only otherwise mentioned in 2 Peter. Most of the writers of the Bible knew nothing about Jesus rising into the clouds or the transfiguration. Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, knew nothing about the immaculate conception, the earthly miracles of Jesus, the transfiguration, or Jesus rising into the clouds. Such miracles were obviously added later, after the death of Paul and the other apostles, as the “big fish” story grew exponentially (and ludicrously).

Mark 16 (original): In the original gospel of Mark, which Bible scholars generally agree to be the first-written gospel and source document for the others, there was only an empty grave with no ascension, no angels, no disciples running to the grave, no Pentecost, etc. There were no claims about what happened to Jesus or his body. Then the big fish started getting bigger and bigger, and soon none of the tall tales agreed with each other …

Mark 16 (expanded): Verses 9-20 were added. In this updated version there was not just one doubting Thomas, because none of the disciples believed what the women who had visited the grave said. Jesus soon appears as they are eating to chide his disciples for their lack of faith, then commands them to handle snakes and drink poison to prove their superpowers to others! Jesus does not spend 40 days instructing his disciples but is taken up immediately into heaven from the room without a cloud or any angels in sight. There is no mention of Pentecost or the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit. Those supernatural events would be added by other writers …

Matthew 28: The big fish story continues to grow. Now the women don’t just find an empty grave. They found an angel whose “appearance was like lightning.” The angel created a tremendous earthquake, rolled the stone back, sat on it, and scared away the terrified guards. Isn’t it odd that none of the other writers of the New Testament bothered to relate this amazing fact? Well, of course it didn’t really happen, or they all would have. Do people of faith fail to mention the intervention of angels? Would you? In this tall tale everyone heads for Galilee. There is no ascension, no Pentecost, and no receiving of the Holy Spirit. Jesus leaves the earth in Galilee, not Jerusalem or Bethany.

Luke 24: Now there are two angels at the grave but no earthquake and the stone is already rolled back when the women arrive. In this version Peter runs to the tomb, but is not convinced; thus Peter is the doubting Thomas. Jesus appears first to Cleopas and an unnamed disciple on the road to Emmaus. This is the only time Cleopas is mentioned in the Bible. Jesus does not appear to the eleven in Jerusalem, but in Galilee. Jesus does not ascend in Jerusalem and there are no angels and no cloud. Instead, Jesus leads his disciples to Bethany and instructs them to remain in Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit, via Pentecost, after his ascension.

John 20:19–30: In this version, Simon Peter and John race to empty tomb. John is the first to believe, and Peter is the original doubting Thomas. Jesus instructs Mary not to touch him because he has not ascended, but then inconsistently tells Thomas to touch him. The disciples do not receive the Holy Spirit by waiting for Pentecost in Jerusalem. Instead, Jesus materializes behind a locked door and gives them the Holy Spirit directly, by breathing on them. There is no mention of Jesus ascending into heaven, nor of angels, nor a cloud.

Acts 1-2: Jesus tells his disciples to remain in Jerusalem; he appears to them there, then is taken up into the sky until a cloud hides him from their view while two men in white (presumably angels) appear, then explain that Jesus will return "in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." After this event the disciples cast lots to choose Matthias as the 12th disciple, replacing Judas Iscariot. Matthias was rather obviously made up after the fact, because he is never mentioned in any other book of the Bible despite being an apostle. It seems likely that the writer of Acts wanted to have 12 disciples rather than 11, did not approve of Paul, and thus chose Saint Matthias to be the lucky number 12, elected via gambling! The disciples receive the Holy Spirit after Jesus has departed the earth, via Pentecost.

Contradictions in the gospels and the book of Acts:

The writers sometimes contradicted themselves. For instance, the writer of John had Jesus command Mary not to touch him because he hadn’t ascended, then commanded Thomas to touch him before his ascension. Was Jesus sexist, or was the writer of John inconsistent in his tall-tale-telling?

According to the other gospels and Acts, Peter was always the primary disciple but the writer of John clearly favored John and thus had him be the first of the disciples to reach the grave and the first to believe.

After the alleged resurrection Jesus appeared to his disciples over a period of forty days (Acts 1:3) but according to the author of Luke the ascension into heaven occurred on the same day as the resurrection (Luke 24:51). Many Christians believe Luke wrote both books, which would make him wildly inconsistent.

Curiously, none of the writers can agree on what Jesus said after his resurrection. If you were told eternally important things by the resurrected God himself, wouldn’t you be sure to faithfully remember and record EXACTLY what he said? But the writers barely bothered to mention what Jesus said for 40 days, and none of them agreed on the actual words, not even vaguely. It seems obvious that the writers were making things up once the apostles weren’t around to correct them. None of them knew what actually happened or what Jesus said (if anything) and this explains why none of the five accounts agree. This also explains why the epistles of Paul, which were written earlier, don’t mention the miracles. They were made up and embellished after Paul wrote his epistles.

Only Matthew records an angel causing an earthquake and rolling back the stone as the women at the grave watched, then sitting on it to explain who Jesus really was. Who could fail to record such a marvelous event, if it really happened?

Only Matthew records other people rising from their graves, so that obviously didn’t happen.

Who doubted the resurrection? In Mark and Luke everyone doubts at first. In Matthew some doubt, but most believe. In John the first disciple to believe is, conveniently, John, while Peter was slow to believe, and Thomas was the last to believe.

The writer of John apparently wanted to assert the prominence of John over Peter and called John the “disciple Jesus loved” as if he loved John the most (which none of the other gospels claim, to my recollection). It seems likely that by the time John was written some Christian churches, including the church of Rome which became the hub of the Roman Catholic Church, had appointed Peter as the primary disciple, while other churches favored John, Paul, and perhaps other disciples. But surely the Holy Spirit would have known if Jesus loved John more than all the other disciples, so why did only one writer know this curious fact?

This is a possible chronology (emphasis on “possible”) that explains how the New Testament came to be written as it was:

After the death of Jesus, around 30 AD, the body disappears and the grave is empty. Many believe the body has been stolen but no one knows what this means. This explains the original version of Mark, which ends with an empty grave and a big question mark. What did the empty grave mean? The author provides only a question with no clues. It is believed the original version of Mark is the oldest of the New Testament gospels, probably written some time between 65-73 AD. But for those who believe the gospels were authored by an all-knowing God, Mark begins with an error: “It began as the prophet Isaiah had written: God said, ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you to clear the way for you’.” (Mark 1:2) But the prophet in question was not Isaiah, but Malachi. The author of Mark made a similar error when he named Abiathar as the high priest when David ate the shew-bread, when actually Ahimelech was the high priest at that time (1 Samuel 21:1-6). This error by the author of Mark was later corrected by the author of Matthew, who simply deleted the name, perhaps not being sure which name was correct (Matthew 12:1-8).

Rumors began to spread that Jesus was still alive. At this point there was no immaculate conception, there were no disciples or angels at the grave, there was no Ascension and no Pentecost. But enough people began to believe in the resurrection for a church to form.

An evangelist named Paul began to create churches and he wrote them letters to encourage their faith. These epistles are the oldest Christian documents, with the earliest dating to around 50 AD. They do not mention an immaculate conception, the earthly miracles of Jesus, the transfiguration, angels at the grave, the ascension, etc. Paul’s gospel centers around the resurrection, not the later tall tales.

There is a big clue in Peter’s second sermon, recorded in the book of Acts, if the sermon is authentic. This sermon also centers around the resurrection. It seems the early Christian church was using the resurrection as the basis of the new religion called Christianity. Jesus was the Christ because he was resurrected. The miracles would be piled on later and grow more and more outlandish.

Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70, and the Christian church became dispersed, with the writers of the books that became the New Testament living far apart, unable to compare notes, and probably not really aware of how the Christian religion was evolving differently in different far-flung places. Each church had questions and challenges to its authority. In each church the big fish was getting bigger, but in different ways. By the time the gospels and Acts were finally written down in their current forms, there were radically different accounts. The different Christian churches had evolved different tall tales, none of which jibed. An all-knowing God authoring the various books of the New Testament would have been able to keep contradictions out of the accounts. Fallible human beings living far apart were not able to make the different accounts align.

What we do know is that the most outlandish miracle of all, Jesus rising into the heavens before a crowd of witnesses, with angels explaining what was happening, did not really happen, or all the writers of the New Testament would have mentioned it prominently. Because we know this was a lie, we have every reason to suspect other lies were being told, such as the virgin birth, walking on water, the transfiguration, etc.

by Michael R. Burch

Q: Why is it disrespectful to God if we say, “Oh my God”?

A: This question is sort of like asking if it’s disrespectful to Santa Claus for adults not to leave out milk and cookies on Christmas Eve. One cannot be disrespectful to mythical beings.

I live in Nashville, the buckle of the Bible belt, where many adults insist their “god” is “real.” But where is the evidence?

Here in Nashville, Christians love to claim the Bible is the “word of God” with a capital G.

Oh really?

The opening chapter of Genesis says the earth existed before the sun, was watery, and that trees and other plants were growing before the sun was created. But the real Creator, if such a being exists, would know better. The primitive men who wrote the Bible (and filled it with lies, contradictions and evil commandments) knew nothing about gravity. They did not understand that without the sun’s gravity the earth would be a frozen globe whizzing aimlessly through space, with a surface temperature approaching absolute zero. Any water would have been frozen solid and surface life like trees would have been impossible.

But let’s put the error-riddled Bible aside and ask ourselves about the nature of God, if such a being exists, from historical events …

Take the extinction of the dinosaurs, long before man existed and was able to “sin.” Why did God allow trillions of innocent animals to suffer so terribly — either being burned alive when the asteroid exploded, turning much of the earth into a giant fireball, or starving to death in the long, bitterly cold aftermath when megatons of ashes blocked out the sun for years?

What about God allowing millions of medieval Christians to watch their children die gruesome deaths during the Black Death, when all he had to do was whisper to someone: “The cure is better hygiene and rat control!” Were millions of suffering children not worth a whisper from this capital G “God” of religion?

In more recent years, with so many Christians like Pat Robertson claiming to be “prophets” in touch with their capital G “God,” why didn’t he warn any of them about the coming coronavirus pandemic? Why have conservative Christians been the hardest hit because they refuse to get vaccinated? According to USA Today, 99% of current coronavirus hospitalizations are the unvaccinated, and in the US the people most resistant to vaccinations are evangelical Christians. Why doesn’t the capital G “God” they claim to love, adore and trust, whisper words of wisdom to them?

Is there any evidence of a “god” who cares anything about human beings, when he can’t be bothered to whisper a few words of life-saving advice?

by Michael R. Burch

Yes, the doctrine of election/predestination is biblical. The Bible clearly teaches in a number of verses that an evil, unjust God predestines some human beings to be “saved” but others to suffer for all eternity, if there is a hell, for the evil choice he made before they were born…

The Bible clearly teaches the evil and unjust dogma of predestination in many verses.

Ephesians 1:4-5

4 Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.

But what about the lack of love for all the souls who will not be saved, and who never had a chance? This is like praising a mother for loving one child and abusing the others.

Romans 8:28-30

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

But what about the ones this cherry-picking God did not predestine for “glory”?

Romans 9:19-21

19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? 20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? 21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

God makes one human being to be a “vessel of glory” according to some translations, and others to be “vessels of destruction” but human beings should not question God being so evil and unjust, because the clay does not criticize the potter! Isn’t this wonderful logic?

John 6:44

44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

The verse above clearly says that no one can be saved unless God ordains it. If you win the salvation lottery, you get raised up, but if not, too bad.

Acts 13:48

48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were predestined to eternal life believed.

They could only believe if they were predestined to believe. Praise the Lord and pass the collection plate!

2 Timothy 1:9

9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began…

Your fate was determined before the world was created, before time began. And the fate of everyone you love as well. If God wants to torture them forever, who are you to object?

Proverbs 16:4

4 The LORD has made everything for its purpose,
even the wicked for the day of trouble.

The verse above says that God predestined the wicked to be wicked. This is because God is all-powerful and controls everything that happens, a common theme throughout the Bible. God not only saw if all before it happened, but he controlled everything that happened. So if your loved ones end up in hell, blame it on him.

Ephesians 1:11

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.

Ephesians 1:11-12

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.

Revelation 13:8

8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.

Before the world was created, God decided who would be saved and who would suffer for all eternity, if there is a “hell.”

Jeremiah 1:5

5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

God decides what happens to babies before they are born.

Mark 4:10–12

10 And when he [Jesus] was alone, those who were about him with the twelve asked him concerning the parables. 11 And he said to them, To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables; 12 so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should turn again, and be forgiven.

In this horrendous passage, Jesus reveals that he is deliberately confusing and misleading people who are following him, so that they will not be forgiven and saved. The great poet Robert Frost wrote a magnificent poem, “Directive,” about the fear this horrendous passage instilled in him as a child. I will explain the poem below…

Line-by-Line Analysis
by Michael R. Burch

by Robert Frost

Back out of all this now too much for us,
Back in a time made simple by the loss
Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off
Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather,

This journey backward in time begins in a cemetery with deteriorating "graveyard marble sculpture." We know that something momentous is involved by the words "all this now too much for us."

There is a house that is no more a house
Upon a farm that is no more a farm
And in a town that is no more a town.
The road there, if you'll let a guide direct you
Who only has at heart your getting lost,

The guide who "only has at heart your getting lost" is the endlessly strange "savior" of the gospels, who was able to save the thief on the cross with a nod of his head, but for some incomprehensible reason declined to nod his head at everyone. This guide's desire to get people lost will be explained by the speaker, in due course, more explicitly.

May seem as if it should have been a quarry –
Great monolithic knees the former town
Long since gave up pretense of keeping covered.

A quarry is used to extract rock, which can then be used to create foundations and buildings. In the New Testament, both Jesus and his foremost apostle, Peter, were called "rocks." Jesus told Peter that he was the "rock" on which he would build his church. A town might literally be fashioned out of rock, while spiritually being based on the "rock" of faith and church. But let's keep in mind that the speaker tells us "it may seem as if it should have been a quarry." So perhaps what appears to be a quarry is not really a source of rock, after all.

And there's a story in a book about it:

"And there's a story in a book about it" refers to the Bible. Here, I think Frost is confirming that the poem's story relates to the Bible. "It" is the quarry, the source or pretended source of rock. So this seems to mean, "There is a story in the Bible about the source of faith, church and/or apostleship."

Besides the wear of iron wagon wheels
The ledges show lines ruled southeast-northwest,
The chisel work of an enormous Glacier
That braced his feet against the Arctic Pole.
You must not mind a certain coolness from him
Still said to haunt this side of Panther Mountain.

When Frost says "You must not mind a certain coolness from him / Still said to haunt this side of Panther Mountain," I take him to be speaking about Jesus Christ, who of course never speaks personally to the children who pray so earnestly to him. And of course "haunt" is what a spirit does; the Bible says its god is a spirit. Jesus was called the Lion of Judah, and a panther is an American lion, so metaphorically we have the Jesus of American Christianity.

Nor need you mind the serial ordeal
Of being watched from forty cellar holes
As if by eye pairs out of forty firkins.

The number forty is a "biblical" number: it rained forty days and nights at the time of Noah's flood. Jesus spent forty days and forty nights in the desert, fasting and being tempted by Satan. Cellar holes are suggestive of hell, which was underground according to the Bible.

As for the woods' excitement over you
That sends light rustle rushes to their leaves,
Charge that to upstart inexperience.
Where were they all not twenty years ago?
They think too much of having shaded out
A few old pecker-fretted apple trees.

We are all aware of the story of the Garden of Eden and "forbidden fruit" symbolic of sin, which is commonly said by Christians to have been an apple.

Make yourself up a cheering song of how
Someone's road home from work this once was,
Who may be just ahead of you on foot
Or creaking with a buggy load of grain.

Reaping and harvesting grain—"bringing in the sheaves"—is a staple image and metaphor of Christianity.

The height of the adventure is the height
Of country where two village cultures faded
Into each other. Both of them are lost.

Here, "lost" is a key word. I believe the two village cultures are the Old and New Testaments.

And if you're lost enough to find yourself
By now, pull in your ladder road behind you
And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.

I believe "put a sign up CLOSED to all but me" refers to the Christian idea that only the "chosen few" will be saved. This is an extraordinarily heavy burden for a child to bear, because most people who have lived did not believe in Jesus Christ. So Christian "salvation" is very much like closing off all hope to most of the world, in order to be saved oneself.

Then make yourself at home. The only field
Now left's no bigger than a harness gall.

The Bible says that the path to salvation is narrow, and that only a few people (the chosen few) will find it. Again, this is a very frightening prospect for a child, especially an empathetic child.

First there's the children's house of make-believe,

The "children's house of make believe" is their childhood faith in the Christ who saves only the "chosen few" and thus lets everyone else be damned.

Some shattered dishes underneath a pine,
The playthings in the playhouse of the children.

The shattered dishes may be shattered communion plates and glasses, shattered illusions, the loss of faith, etc.

Weep for what little things could make them glad.

For me, this is one of the most touching lines in the English language. Despite all the heavy burdens their religion placed on them, there were "little things" that made the children glad, from time to time.

Then for the house that is no more a house,
But only a belilaced cellar hole,
Now slowly closing like a dent in dough.

The children's "destination" and "destiny" has become a "cellar hole," or hell.

This was no playhouse but a house in earnest.

The children were very earnest in their beliefs. Faith was no game for them. They took "hell" and "salvation" very seriously.

Your destination and your destiny's
A brook that was the water of the house,
Cold as a spring as yet so near its source,
Too lofty and original to rage.

Frost called himself an "Old Testament Christian," so the "source" may well be the original Bible (the Hebrew Bible). This source was "too lofty" to rage, and thus much higher and more original than the abandoned religion. Because the Hebrew prophets never mentioned a "hell" or suffering after death, but said that everyone would be saved together in the end, perhaps the "higher source" is universalism.

(We know the valley streams that when aroused
Will leave their tatters hung on barb and thorn.)

The "aroused" streams below the "lofty" original source leave tatters on barb and thorn (the crucifixion).

I have kept hidden in the instep arch
Of an old cedar at the waterside

The original Jerusalem temple, built by King Solomon, was fashioned from the cedars of Lebanon.

A broken drinking goblet like the Grail
Under a spell so the wrong ones can't find it,
So can't get saved, as Saint Mark says they mustn't.

The Holy Grail is the ultimate article of Christian faith. The "broken drinking goblet like the Grail" is the Christian gospel, which is hidden from the "wrong ones" so they "can't find it," according to Saint Mark. The passage in question is about the horrendous doctrine of predestination: an all-knowing, all-powerful God created some human beings to be "glorified" and others to be damned, with their fates being determined and sealed before they were given life. Nothing could be more unfair, more unjust, unless everyone is saved in the end.

(I stole the goblet from the children's playhouse.)
Here are your waters and your watering place.
Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.

Frost says that he stole the goblet. His conclusion, as I apprehend him, is that one can only find himself by losing this terrible gospel and returning to the original source to become "whole again beyond confusion." My guess is that Frost found something higher and better in the universalism of ancient Hebrew prophets like Ezekiel. I wish Christian parents and pastors would read this poem and try to understand why the "good news" that Jesus saves only the "chosen few" is not good news at all, and is bound to terrify any empathetic child who buys into it.


Flat Earth Experiments and Proofs
by Michael R. Burch

The Bible clearly describes the earth as a flat object with fixed foundations that cannot be moved, with the sun circling the earth and the stars being small lights in the sky that can "fall" to earth. But there are simple experiments we can use to prove that the earth is, indeed, a sphere and not flat.

Buy a decent pair of binoculars or telescope. Point the device at the sky and you will be able to see stars and planets that were invisible before. Now point the device at the most distant object you can see with the naked eye. You will not be able to see anything more distant, no matter which direction you point the device. This is because the earth is an enormous sphere, not flat.

Take the device and climb to the highest elevation in your area. The same will be true. Even though you are so high that nothing should block your view, you won't be able to see anything beyond the horizon. If the earth was flat, from the highest point with a decent pair of binoculars or telescope, you should be able to much further. If you look up at the sky, you can. If you look at the horizon in any direction, you can't.

Take the device to any seashore. Water does not flow uphill, so the sea must be perfectly level. Point the device toward the closest continent. If you are on the east coast of the United States, point the device toward Europe. If you are on the west coast, point it toward Asia, etc. If you can see the moon, planets and stars with your device, you should be able to see continents that are much closer to you. But you won't be able too, even though the sea must be perfectly level if the earth is flat. Why can't you see the closest continent? Because the earth is a sphere, not flat.

Watch the sea for approaching vessels. Use your device. Rather than seeing a tiny object getting bigger as it approaches, you will see the top part of the vessel first with the rest of the vessel becoming visible as it gets closer. This is because the earth is a sphere, not flat.

You can do the same thing on any large lake or river. Watch for the horizon for approaching and departing vessels. The same thing will happen. This is because the earth is a sphere, not flat.

If you live close to mountains or tall buildings, start driving away from them. Stop every now and then and use your device. If the earth is flat, you should still be able to see them, since they are taller than their surroundings. But gradually the lower portions will become invisible and if you drive far enough nothing will remain visible. This is because the earth is a sphere, not flat.

Buy a compass or any device that indicates direction. Pick a starting point. In this example I will start with my hometown, Nashville. Buy a plane ticket to any airport to the east. Use your device to confirm that you are heading east. In my example, I will fly to Atlanta. My device will confirm that I have been heading east. Now buy a ticket to London, which also lies to the east. Then fly to Tokyo, which lies far to the east. If the earth is flat, you should be nearing the edge of the world! But if you keep flying in the same direction, you will eventually end up back where you started, never arriving at the edge of the world. This is because the earth is a sphere, not flat.

Suppose the earth is flat, then do a little thought experiment. Why, in the entire history of the earth, has no one ever fallen over the edge? There must be something preventing human beings from going over the edge, perhaps a ring of mountains or impassable regions of ice and snow, like the Arctic and Antarctic. But there is a problem with this little theory, because of devices called planes. Planes can and do fly over the highest mountains. Planes can and do fly over regions of ice and snow. But no plane has ever flown over the edge of the earth, because the earth is a sphere and doesn't have edges.

Do another little thought experiment. If the earth is flat, what does that mean? It means every astronaut and all their families are liars. It means every real scientist is a liar, since no real scientists believe the earth is flat. It means major companies are wasting billions of dollars to launch communications satellites that can't circle the globe, if the earth is not a globe. Then the question becomes: Why? What can anyone possibly gain by spending billions of dollars to pretend the earth is a sphere, if it isn't? The simple answer is that no one could benefit from such a charade. There is no motivation for anyone to commit such a crime.

The sun is round, the moon is round, the planets are round. Are we seeing a pattern emerging? Why do the largest objects become spheres? Because of gravity. All the universe's dense, super-massive objects are required to be spherical, due to the fundamental law of gravity. Given time, any dense, super-massive object will assume a spherical shape due to gravity. It is possible for rotation to keep a planet from being a perfect sphere. For instance, the earth's rotation causes it to bulge slightly at the equator, making our planet an oblate spheroid. But for the earth to become anything close to a flattish disk, it would have to spin much faster to overcome its own gravity, meaning our days would be much shorter than 24 hours.

Think, like the ancient Greeks:

Aristotle argued for a spherical earth, for the following reasons: (1) The gradual disappearance of ships over the horizon with the tops of sails disappearing last. (2) The curved shape of the earth's shadow on the moon during lunar eclipses. (3) The variation of the sun's elevation with latitude. This was the basis of Eratosthenes' measurement, discussed below. (4) The variation of a star's elevation with latitude. (5) The fact that new stars become visible while others disappear as one moves north or south. For instance, the North Star and Little Dipper can't be seen from the Southern Hemisphere. Conversely, the Southern Cross can't be seen from the Northern Hemisphere. Aristotle obtained empirical evidence by traveling to Egypt, where he saw constellations that were not visible in Greece.

Eratosthenes (pronounced eh·ruh·TAAS·thuh·NEEZ) calculated the earth's circumference over 2,200 years ago, with remarkable accuracy considering his handicaps, because he knew the earth was a sphere, not flat. Eratosthenes lived  in Alexandria around 240 BCE. He was aware of a well near Aswan where the sun shone all the way to the bottom at noon on the day of the summer solstice. Thus he knew that on that day, the sun at noon was directly overhead at Aswan. On the same day, Eratosthenes measured the shadow of a stick at noon in Alexandria. The length of that shadow was not zero because the sun was not directly overhead in Alexandria. In order to calculate the earth's circumference, he had to know the distance between Alexandria and Aswan. But there was no way to measure the distance accurately, so he was forced to use an estimate based on how long it took to walk from one city to the other. His logic was correct, but his estimate was an educated guess. Still, he came within 10% of the correct circumference, a truly breathtaking achievement for that era.

Movie Criticism of Improbable Sequels

Is it possible there were two Blue Lagoon movies, much less three? — Michael R. Burch

I remember getting up and walking out of Jaws III, vowing never to return to the failing and flailing franchise: a vow I faithfully kept. — Michael R. Burch

The best thing about Austin Powers 3: Goldmember was its cute and provocative title. But do we really want to think about the subject matter, much less explore it? — Michael R. Burch

Back to the Future III (or Suture?). Yes, methinks they went "too far," as the movie’s blurb suggests.  — Michael R. Burch

Death Wish 3 was aptly named. One can only long for the demise of this lifeless movie franchise. — Michael R. Burch

Alas, Die Hard 3 was true to its title and showed no signs of life. — Michael R. Burch

The Exorcist should have exorcised its demon of self-imitation. — Michael R. Burch

Jurassic Park has become like an overtold joke when everyone knows the punch line. — Michael R. Burch

The Highlander series should have taken the high road and ended with the original. — Michael R. Burch

I’m a Tolkien fan, but The Hobbit trilogy seems like a real str-e-e-e-tch to me. As in, “How can we turn one story into three movies and make lots more moolah?” — Michael R. Burch

The first two Home Alone movies were classics, but after that, well, it was dangerous to one’s brain cells to be home alone with nothing better to watch! — Michael R. Burch

Indiana Jones has been accused of becoming “Stephen Seagal bad.” — Michael R. Burch

It’s hard to believe there was actually a third Addams Family movie. Are we really that desperate for entertainment? And the original Morticia Addams, played by Carolyn Jones, was much hotter! Give me the black-and-white reruns, any time. — Michael R. Burch

Police Academy: the perpetrators of this horrendous crime should be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law! — Michael R. Burch

The first two movies were bad enough, but Robocop 3 added insult to injury. — Michael R. Burch

Did we really need a follow-up to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze? Really? — Michael R. Burch

European Vacation fell vastly short of paradise. It was one flat joke after another. I remember getting up and walking out with my girlfriend, maybe 15 minutes into the movie. — Michael R. Burch

Friday the 13th was very unlucky for paying viewers. Jason returning from the dead in 3-D was not an improvement on this failing and flailing franchise. — Michael R. Burch

The Halloween sequels kept getting worse and worse, in a seeming contest for futility with Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street. — Michael R. Burch

And thus I have reached the bottom of the briny barrel! — Michael R. Burch

by Michael R. Burch

Where do we find the roots of rock, by which I mean rock music with a harder, darker edge than early rock 'n' roll like Rock Around the Clock and Don't Be Cruel? This is a possible timeline:

1922: My Man Rocks Me (with One Steady Roll) by Trixie Smith (not harder stuff, but the first song to link rock with roll)
1929: A Spoonful Blues by Charlie Patton
1936: Me and the Devil Blues by Robert Johnson (did harder rock begin with a deal with the Devil?)
1936: Cross Road Blues by Robert Johnson (bluesmen met the Devil at the crossroads to sell their souls)
1938: Roll 'Em Pete by Pete Johnson with Big Joe Turner
1939: Diggin' My Potatoes was written by Lead Belly and performed in a 1952 electric version by Washboard Sam (vocals and washboard), Big Bill Broonzy (guitar), Willie Dixon (bass) and Lee Cooper (lead guitar)
1942: I Got a Break Baby by T-Bone Walker (the first recording star of the electric blues)
1944: Strange Things Happen Every Day by Sister Rosetta Tharpe (the Godmother of Rock was a pioneer of electric blues guitar playing as well as high volume belting)

Chuck Berry said his career was just "one long Rosetta impersonation." She was 50 years ahead of her time as a guitar goddess and I'm not sure we have caught up yet!

1946: That's All Right Mama by Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup (covered by Elvis in 1954, Crudup was discovered living in a packing crate)
1946: Rockin' the House by Memphis Slim aka John Len Chatman
1947: Call it Stormy Monday by T-Bone Walker
1947: Rock the Joint by Jimmy Preston (covered by Bill Hayley in 1952 and the influence on Rock Around the Clock is obvious)
1949: Rock Awhile by Goree Carter (we will hear his overdriven guitar licks in Chuck Berry and others to come)
1949: Rocket 88 Boogie by Pete Johnson (recorded two years prior to Ike Turner's more famous Rocket 88)
1949: The Fat Man by Fats Domino sold a million records within two years
1949: Got the Blues by B. B. King

B. B. King was one of the three Kings along with Albert King and Freddie King (unrelated). B. B. King has been called "the single most important electric guitarist of the last half of the 20th century."

1950: Rollin' Stone by Muddy Waters (an obvious influence on the Rolling Stones and the magazine)
1951: Moanin' at Midnight by Howlin' Wolf
1951: Rocket 88 by Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm
1952: Hound Dog by Big Mama Thornton (covered by Elvis in 1956)
1954: Shake, Rattle and Roll by Big Joe Turner
1954: That's All Right by Elvis Presley (not "hard" exactly but it had the rock attitude, leaning toward aggression with a wink and a sneer)
1955: Mannish Boy by Muddy Waters
1955: Tutti Frutti by Little Richard
1955: Maybellene by Chuck Berry
1955: Trying to Get to You by Elvis Presley
1956: I Put a Spell on You by Screamin' Jay Hawkins
1956: Please Please Please by James Brown
1956: Long Tall Sally by Little Richard
1956: Hound Dog by Elvis Presley
1956: Roll Over Beethoven by Chuck Berry
1956: Susie Q by Dale Hawkins (with those harder-edged guitar riffs)
1957: Keep a Knockin' by Little Richard
1957: Whole Lotta Shakin' by Jerry Lee Lewis
1957: Great Balls of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis
1957: Jailhouse Rock by Elvis Presley (not to mention the first music video!)
1958: Rumble by Link Wray ("Every punk, grunge, shoegaze and metal band owes their career to this song!")
1958: Jimi Hendrix purchases his first guitar, and soon harder rock will never be the same
1963: Louie, Louie by the Kingsmen
1964: House of the Rising Sun by the Animals (my personal nomination for the first hard rock song)
1964: You Really Got Me by the Kinks (pioneers of fuzzy, distorted power chords)
1964: Testify is a high-volume screamer for the Isley Brothers with a young Jimi Hendrix on guitar
1964: My Diary features Jimi Hendrix playing guitar with early LA hard rockers Arthur Lee and Love
1964: Jimi Hendrix tours with the Isleys and Little Richard but longs for more freedom ...
1965: (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones
1965: Twist and Shout by the Beatles
1965: My Generation by the Who (who admitted trying to sound like the Kinks in the early going)
1966: Jimi Hendrix covers the Howlin' Wolf song Killing Floor and Eric Clapton says his life would never be the same
1966: Hey Joe is Jimi Hendrix's first single with the Jimi Hendrix Experience
1967: Sunshine of Your Love by Cream (perhaps the first hard rock supergroup with Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker)
1967: You Keep Me Hanging On by Vanilla Fudge (a hard rock cover of a Supremes love ballad)
1968: Voodoo Child by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
1968: White Room by Cream
1968: Helter Skelter by the Beatles
1968: In-a-Gadda-da-Vida by Iron Butterfly
1968: Born to Be Wild by Steppenwolf
1968: Hush by Deep Purple (dubbed "the loudest rock band" of their era)
1969: Dazed and Confused by Led Zeppelin
1969: Evil Woman by Black Sabbath
1969: For Your Love by Humble Pie (one critic called the supergroup "a noisy, unmelodic, heavy metal-leaden shit-rock band, with the loud and noisy parts beyond doubt")

Bio: Michael R. Burch is an American poet who lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Beth, their son Jeremy, and three outrageously spoiled puppies. His poems, epigrams, translations, essays, articles, reviews, short stories and letters have appeared more than 6,000 times in publications which include TIME, USA Today, The Hindu, BBC Radio 3,, Daily Kos, The Washington Post, Light Quarterly, The Lyric, Measure, Writer's Digest—The Year's Best Writing, The Best of the Eclectic Muse, Unlikely Stories and hundreds of other literary journals, websites and blogs. Mike Burch is also the founder and editor-in-chief of The HyperTexts, a former columnist for the Nashville City Paper and, according to Google's rankings, a relevant online publisher of poems about the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Trail of Tears, Gaza and the Palestinian Nakba. He has two published books, Violets for Beth (White Violet Press, 2012) and O, Terrible Angel (Ancient Cypress Press, 2013). A third book, Auschwitz Rose, is still in the chute but long delayed. Burch's poetry has been translated into fourteen languages and set to music by twelve composers. His poem "First They Came for the Muslims" has been adopted by Amnesty International for its Words That Burn anthology, a free online resource for students and educators. Burch has also served as editor of International Poetry and Translations for the literary journal Better Than Starbucks.

For an expanded bio, circum vitae and career timeline of the poet, please click here: Michael R. Burch Expanded Bio.

Related Pages: "Auschwitz Rose" Analysis, "Epitaph" Analysis, "Something" Analysis, "Will There Be Starlight" Analysis, "Davenport Tomorrow" Analysis, "Neglect" Analysis, "Passionate One" Analysis, "Self Reflection" Analysis, Auschwitz Rose Preview, Understatement Examples from Shakespeare and Elsewhere, Literary Devices: Definitions and Examples, Bible False Prophecies

The HyperTexts