I don’t normally write poetry. I tried my hand at it, and even fancied I was pretty good for a long time. But after my senior year at university I began reading a lot of poetry, and I realised that I actually wasn’t very good.
Oh, I knew how to string pretty sentences together, and I knew how to rhyme and how to put the perfect word in the perfect place. But as is so often the case, simply having the mechanics down doesn’t make something “good”. There’s that ethereal quality that touches the soul when you read it, something that reaches off the page and sings to your heart. I didn’t have that.
Reading Wordsworth—my favourite poet—I was continually astonished at how meaningful his poems were. There was a simple truth in each of them, in each line even, that picked up the reader and fluttered through his mind in ways he’d never imagined possible.
But all the great poets had something of this—Tennyson, Byron, Coleridge, Emerson and Browning. They grabbed your attention and spoke of things that you had always known, you’d just never found the words for. That’s what I wanted to do with my poetry, but it simply wasn’t there. They were just words on a page. I didn’t have the soul. So I gave up. I was good at prose, at fiction writing, that would be enough.
However, poetry is kind of like music, kind of like the artist’s vision of painting that flashes before his eyes at some unintentional stimulus. He can’t hold it back, it comes unbeckoned. And so it was recently when I heard a song. I listened to the song, the melody stayed with me long afterwards, and somehow without even trying, words began to come. I wrote them down quickly, but the trail grew cold after a few stanzas. It would be over a year before I’d pick up the poem again, and this time the words were there waiting for me. When I’d finished, I sat back, flush with the heat of my success. I loved it.
And now, a month later, I still do. There’s something very honest about it, and I think it’s from a myriad of my past experiences and a romantic zeal that is always alive inside me, and somehow this found its way from my fingertips onto the page. It’s not the best piece of poetry ever written, but I feel it is truthful, and in that truth is a part of me, so I’m bound to like it.
Without further ado, the only poem I’m like to ever post on my site. And probably the last one I’ll write in a very long time. It can be read to the tune of “My Jolly Sailor Bold”, sung in the most recent Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
A River Fay
One cheerless day I wandered
Down past a river fay
When all the trees were leafless
And all the sky was grey.
The birds they chirped no longer
No sparrows sang their song
The winter sky was falling
And still I wandered on
Her hair was gold as sunlight
Her eyes green as the sea
I once had called her lover
Now her mem’ry haunted me.
She lingered in the gloaming
As shadows filled with rime
She whispered through the twilight
The name, it was not mine.
I hear her by the river
We walked one happy time
Black waters wend away to sea
My dreams lost beneath the brine.
I once had loved a maiden
As fair as summer’s day
Now she laughs and loves another
Under winter skies of grey.
I put “My Jolly Sailor Bold” on as I read this. It’s a perfect pairing. Your poem is lovely in its melancholy. I’m glad you chose this to post.
Thank you very much, I’ve only grown more fond of it over time. It’s wonderful that you put that music to it while you read! It’s very encouraging to have readers take the time to give a piece room to breathe, so I thank you