SONG BE DELICATE by John Shaw Neilson
Let your song be delicate. The skies declare No war — the eyes of lovers Wake everywhere. Let your voice be delicate. How faint a thing Is Love, little Love crying Under the Spring. Let your song be delicate. The flowers can hear: Too well they know the tremble, Of the hollow year. Let your voice be delicate. The bees are home: All their day's love is sunken Safe in the comb. Let your song be delicate. Sing no loud hymn: Death is abroad . . . Oh, the black season! The deep — the dim!
I featured the late Australian poet John Shaw Neilson in 'I Wish I'd Written This' in August 2012, with a mysterious, haunting poem called The Orange Tree. This one is almost equally so, and the line 'Let your song be delicate' has come back to me at random moments all my life, since the age of 13 when I first became acquainted with this poet — as a sweet phrase rather than an instruction.
But let's take it as an instruction now, and attempt some writing with the delicacy and song-like qualities he both recommends and exemplifies.
So your challenge is to let your song be delicate . . .
Or not – read on:
On the other hand, though delicate poetry can be very lovely, there's also a place for the harsh and uncompromising. Perhaps you're more inclined to fire in the belly, a poetry of strength and passion? Even the ugly and the shocking may have a place in poetry, if it has a point to make. Let another dead Aussie, Shelton Lea, also featured here, and capable himself of great delicacy, put you in a very different mood with this brief untitled piece from The Paradise Poems:
COULD YOU KILL A DOG WITH A HAMMER?
WOULD YOU STAMMER WHEN YOU CRUSHED THE SKULL OF A CHILD?
AND IF YOU FOUGHT A MAN TO DEATH WITH BOOTS WOULD YOU BE BEGUILED BY HIS BLOOD?
AND WHEN YOU'VE STABBED AND STABBED AT YOUR UNFAITHFUL LOVER, WOULD YOU FEEL MILD AND CALM, LIKE AFTER A BLOODY GOOD SCREW?
OR WOULD YOU BLUBBER TO INSANITY?
SOME PEOPLE DO.
SOME PEOPLE DO.
Nothing song-like about that! It's a yell. (Yes, it was written and published in all caps, before the internet existed.) He makes a great case for writing like John Shaw Nielson, doesn't he?Yet I know some of you, dear readers, don't shirk the confrontational either.
Perhaps there need be no contradiction; it is also possible for delicacy and strength, mystery and the mundane, to combine. You might like to try that possibility too. For instance Joyce Lee, yet another late great Australian, wrote this when she was close to dying (aged 94):
Still small voice
(from Bountiful Years)
An earthbound day,
thick cloud, oppressive air,
you spend hours
cleaning up spills and breakages.
paints on cloud canvas,
in afterglow. Reflections
of the Presence always known,
Soft warm light
filters through, unlocks
your dark recesses.
The place you dreamed
to rooms inhabited
beyond your furthest thought.
A voice advises
"Ask me in joy as well as need."
Truthfully, I'd love it if you all tried for delicate song today, as it suits my mood – but if your mood is otherwise, by all means express that.
(Images used are free from the internet.)
(Next week's Motif will be 'choices.')
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