Thanks to Ian Baillieu for introducing me to today's poem...
(Poem #1818) The Orange Tree
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 heart beat of a luminous boy Who with his faltering flute confessed Only the edges of his joy? - Was he, I said, home 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, I 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.
(1919) The eternal conflict between those who 'talk' and those who 'listen' (perhaps 'analyse' and 'feel' would be better labels, or 'think' and 'feel' in the terminology of the Myers-Briggs classification) is a theme that has attracted and inspired countless poets. What makes it particularly interesting is that the popular perception of poetry is that it should be about feelings - Wordsworth's overquoted "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" - but the very act of writing a (good!) poem, even if it is inspired by feelings, involves a significantly analytcal process whereby those feelings are translated into words. This is not to say that I don't enjoy such poems - today's poem was beautifully lyrical (as indeed was that most famous example of the genre, Whitman's "When I Heard the Learned Astronomer") - but I cannot help but think that the poets mock something that they will not understand. On another level, though, this was a very satisfying poem in that it speaks to the related (but subtly different) conflict between evoking and describing. And here Neilson displays an easy mastery of the form, lines like 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. show an appreciation of the fine line between calling forth a response from the reader's heart and overwhelming that response with the poet's point of view. Poetry along these lines contains an inevitable component of self-reference, so it is only fair to ask if Neilson's poem lives up to its own standards. And in this case, I feel it definitely does - the two halves of the poem are perfectly balanced aspects of a self-contained "a poem should not mean but be" whole, so that, in the end, the subtle magic of the words takes over, and the poem *is* the orange tree. martin [Links] Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaw_Neilson [Australian poet, 1872-1942] Brief biography and assessment from the foreword to his Selected Poems: http://www.middlemiss.org/lit/authors/neilsonjs/selectedpoems.html