A Short Story of Falling

Alice Oswald

copyright ©Alice Oswald 2016

It is the story of the falling rain
to turn into a leaf and fall again

it is the secret of a summer shower
to steal the light and hide it in a flower

and every flower a tiny tributary
that from the ground flows green and momentary

is one of water’s wishes and this tale
hangs in a seed-head smaller than my thumbnail

if only I a passerby could pass
as clear as water through a plume of grass

to find the sunlight hidden at the tip
turning to seed a kind of lifting rain drip

then I might know like water how to balance
the weight of hope against the light of patience

water which is so raw so earthy-strong
and lurks in cast-iron tanks and leaks along

drawn under gravity towards my tongue
to cool and fill the pipe-work of this song

which is the story of the falling rain
that rises to the light and falls again

Notes on the Poem

When Alice Oswald read from her 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize-winning collection Falling Awake last spring, she was not in fact reading - she was reciting her work. In the video of her reading, note that she never looks down, but gazes directly at the audience throughout the poem. In this picture, all that is visible on the podium before her is a small scrap of paper that surely cannot contain the text of all the poems she presented that unforgettable evening. Alice Oswald OK, maybe she has a wee advantage because it is her poem. Still, memorization and performance of that memorization are estimable feats, perhaps especially so in this age of myriad distractions. Oswald is known and admired for memorizing her work when she presents it. Her performance of her book-length poem Memorial was described as a "visibly exhausting tour-de-force" in an article in which she touched on reasons for this rigorous practice. “I do very much believe in poetry as a kind of tune or music,” she revealed. As well, the Memorial presentation was clearly a type of veneration: "In a kind of superstitious way, I feel that for those names actually to be sounded out loud is even more than for them to be written on a page. It’s a kind of giving of life back to those people." Memorization and recitation might seem too daunting, even for the rewards of challenging oneself, succeeding, honouring, leaving an impression. Poetry In Voice, an organization that encourages Canadian students to fall in love with poetry through reading, writing, and recitation (including competition) offers straightforward tips for giving it a try. It just so happens Oswald's "A Short Story of Falling" is a perfect recitation candidate, with rhyming couplets unspooling in a satisfyingly rhythmic fashion. Its circular construct invites you to repeat it over and over again. While demanding, there are any benefits to the poet or presenter in reciting a poem. Recitation lends added power and resonance for those listening to and experiencing a poem rendered in this way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.