Friday, August 24, 2012

I Wish I'd Written This

The Orange Tree
By John Shaw Neilson (1872-1942)

The young girl stood beside me.  I 
Saw not what her young eyes could see:
– A light, she said, not of the sky
Lives somewhere in the Orange Tree.

– Is it, I said, of east or west?
The heartbeat of a luminous boy
Who with his faltering flute confessed
Only the edges of his joy?

Was he, I said, borne to the blue
In a mad escapade of Spring
Ere he could make a fond adieu
To his love in the blossoming?

– Listen! the young girl said. There calls
No voice, no music beats on me;
But it is almost sound: it falls
This evening on the Orange Tree.

– Does he, I said, so fear the Spring
Ere the white sap too far can climb?
See in the full gold evening
All happenings of the olden time?

Is he so goaded by the green?
Does the compulsion of the dew
Make him unknowable but keen
Asking with beauty of the blue? 


– Listen! the young girl said. For all
Your hapless talk you fail to see
There is a light, a step, a call
This evening on the Orange Tree.

– Is it, 1 said, a waste of love
Imperishably old in pain,
Moving as an affrighted dove
Under the sunlight or the rain?

Is it a fluttering heart that gave
Too willingly and was reviled?
Is it the stammering at a grave,
The last word of a little child?

– Silence! the young girl said. Oh, why,
Why will you talk to weary me?
Plague me no longer now, for I
Am listening like the Orange Tree. 

When I was  only 13, I won a High School prize for a poem in the school magazine. (Yes, you bet I'm skiting about it, even now!) The prize was The Collected Poems of John Shaw Neilson, whom I had been unaware of until then.  Beautiful, magical verses — a revelation to me. He has remained one of my most beloved poets ever since, and I still have that treasured volume.  This is my favourite of his poems — for its mysticism and mystery.

The link on his name takes you to a detailed biography.  

Poem Hunter says, in part: 

Slightly built, for most of his life [Australian poet] John Shaw Neilson worked as a labourer, fruit-picking, clearing scrub, navvying and working in quarries, and, after 1928, working as a messenger with the Country Roads Board in Melbourne. Largely untrained and only basically educated, Neilson became known as one of Australia's finest lyric poets, who wrote a great deal about the natural world, and the beauty in it.

He was a slender man of medium height with a face that suggested his kindliness, refinement and innate beauty of character. He was glad to have his work appreciated, but it never affected his simplicity and modesty. He was slow in developing, perhaps ... he had to learn the words with which to express himself. There is little suggestion of an intellectual background to his work, but the range of his emotions is beautifully expressed with apparently unconscious artistry, in phrases that often have the touch of magic that marks the true poet.

His books are available at Amazon.  Or you can read all his poems here or here.  Enjoy!


Any poem or photo used in ‘I Wish I’d Written This’ remains the property of the copyright holder (usually its author).

6 comments:

  1. Wow, Rosemary, such a wonderful poet and largely unschooled - one would never know it from his poetry, which is absolutely wonderful. I love the rhythm and cadence of this poem. And to think of your own talent being recognized already at thirteen!

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  2. Rosemary,
    This was wonderful I love how it lifted at the end of each stanza~
    Wow, how wonderful to be acknowledged at this tender age~
    It is magical! :D

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  3. I was not familiar with this poet but I love that piece you posted and will have to explore his works further. Thanks for sharing him with us.

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  4. That prize was a gift for life. I'm glad they chose so well for you all those years ago. It could be what brought you here today.
    Thank you for acquainting us with this kind person's work.

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  5. Really beautiful. That's quite a prize you received, and now we get to sample the wonder of these poems. Thanks for this post.

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  6. Lovely phrasing, implying rather than saying.

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