just part of the deal

Nov 26, 2020 poetry appreciation

The author of today’s poem, Oodgeroo of the Noonuccal, was born on the 3rd November 1920. We’re just managing to squeak in this wonderful poem of hers at the end of her birthday month. Join with me in delight in the lightly-worn wisdom of the unpretentious and wonderful ‘Song‘.

I do so love the simplicity of this poem. It’s formally simple, the ababa rhyme scheme holding together the short lines. The diction is simple, too: there’s no flamboyance, and the imagery is minimal and everyday. There’s a unfussed calm to the poem which mirrors the calm with which it would have us accept ‘Love’s companion, Sorrow’. And the central idea itself is simple—which is not the same as being easy. It encourages us to embrace sorrow as part of the deal of being human—part of the deal, at least, if we are to live fully as opposed to ‘vain[ly]’. ‘Light and sister shade/ Shape each mortal morrow’. It’s just how it is.

‘Song’ puts me in mind of Mary Oliver’s ‘In Blackwater Woods’. Both poems speak calmly of the cost of loving. Here’s how Oliver puts it:

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

There’s something breath-taking in Oliver’s imagery here: how it quietly, remorselessly describes the agony at the heart of love. Oliver also sees loss, though, as the ‘black river…/ whose other side// is salvation’: and as in the Oliver so here in ‘Song’ we are reminded that grief is an experience of passage: it does something to us: ‘Grief is not in vain,/It’s for our completeness’. Fully to experience sorrow does something to us which makes us larger, “completer” people. Not that thinking that can make the agony anything other than agony. But it makes it—and us—part of something larger. I find that a really helpful reminder.

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