I

I have not studied the philosophy of human love
Nor set a slide-rule on the yearnings of my heart,
But I have loved you well and very long
And taught my heart the way you'd have it go.

II

Release your hold on the wrong end of nothing
And grasp the quality of understanding the being.
The reality of being with very simple beings means
That though everything is nothing, nothing
Is indeed everything else.

III

Being a singer of song, what do I need
that I haven't got, needing so little?
Being a singer, I tune my very voice-notes,
Tune my voice-notes with the patient stars.

IV

If I only had the power to resist
The urge to write the legends of my life,
I might well have lived some unharmonized days
And died with my childish sins intact.




OH BELOVED ONE, IF I DIE
WITH MUSIC IN MY MOUTH

Oh beloved one, if I die with music in my mouth
Choked as 'twer by the very sounds of heaven,
If I die with music in my mouth,
Remember that I have lived with it anon,
Have tuned my many strings to augment my voice
And offered song to raise your sagging spirit,
And subtly wedded word with intangible sound
To brush away frustration's bitter hand.
     If I died with music in my mouth
     Remember that I have lived with it anon.

 

From "Brick Dust and Buttermilk" ©1977 John Jacob Niles.
Photographs by Doris Ulmann (1932) and Tony Leonard (1977).


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