The Orange Tree – John Shaw Neilsen – Analysis

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 heartbeat of a luminous boy
Who with his faltering flute confessed
Only the edges of his joy?

Was he, I said, born 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.

John Shaw Neilson 1919

S1 … The young girl starts a conversation with a bystander. She sees (or senses) a ‘light’ in the Orange Tree; but not so the bystander (or the poet).

S2-3 … The bystander or poet then makes enquiry on the nature of the ‘light’ expressing his thoughts on that nature in poetic terms. All his energy is on his creative thoughts. He alludes to a boy and to love.

S4 … The young girl takes no notice of his poetic rapture instructing him to ‘listen’. It is almost like a sound in the Orange Tree.

S5-6 … The bystander goes into more poetic fantasy on the possible nature of the ‘light’. Again he equates his thoughts to that of a boy.

S7 … The young girl is now irritated by the hapless talk from the bystander. She instructs him emphatically to listen!

S8-9 … Unfortunately the bystander poet takes no notice and continues his poetic expression trying to pry out the nature of her experience in his creative words rather than try to experience the ‘light’ for himself.

S10 … The young girl has had enough of his hapless weary talk. The communication with the bystander poet has ended. She is now at one with the Orange Tree sharing totally with the Tree; and perhaps at one with the natural environment. And the poet is left none the wiser.

This is one of the most known poems of John Shaw Neilsen and perhaps one of his most important poems. Every poet, writer and especially those steeped in analysis should read these words. Analysing experience detracts from the experiencing and may, as in the case above, detract from the experience of another.

And perhaps The Orange Tree can be equated to Life and ‘light’ to beauty. Life must be experienced yourself! You must listen to understand; to be in tune with life rather than letting your own fancies distract.

I hope that my analysis has not stopped enjoyment of the poem!

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