For Poetry Friday- Talking like the Rain, and a long day without water

In preparation for Poetry Friday, I checked out an anthology of poems for children--Talking Like the Rain, a Read-to-me Book of Poems (selected by X.J. Kennedy and Dorothy M. Kennedy, illustrated by Jane Dyer, 1992, Little Brown). My six year old is a big fan of my blog, and I thought he might enjoy helping me pick this week's poem. We browsed through the anthology, dipping into poems almost at random. This book offers a mix of older authors (Christina Rosetti, RL Stevenson), and many 20th century poets of whom I know little, and includes a number of anonymous playground type songs, which is always fun. The water color illustrations are enjoyable without being intrusive.

So there we were, browsing, when I was startled to come across this poem, by Joan Aiken, called "John's Song."

It's a long walk in the dark
on the blind side of the moon
and it's a long day without water
when the river's gone
and it's hard listening to no voice
when you're all alone

so take a hundred lighted candles with you
when you walk on the moon
and quickly quickly tie a knot in the river
before the water's gone
and listen for my voice, if for no other
when you're all alone

"That was great." said my son, very seriously. I like it too.

I was surprised at this poem's appearance in this anthology because I knew it before, from Aiken's short story "A Long Day Without Water." It is a very sad story, and not being one to linger over sad bits, I never fully appreciated this song as a "poem." Checking my copy of the story (which appears in A Harp of Fishbones and Other Stories, 1972), I see to my even greater surprise that the second verse isn't in the story. Where did the missing verse come from?

The Kennedys say the poem is from Not What You Expected, another short story collection (1974), where the same story appears. Perhaps Aiken added the second verse then. Taking the question up with google, I found that she wrote quite a bit of poetry, so possibly I will be posting more from her on future Fridays.

Talking Like the Rain got its name from a quote taken from Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen, and printed at the beginning of the book:

One evening out in the maize field, where we had been harvesting maize, breaking off the cobs and throwing them on to the ox-carts, to amuse myself, I spoke to the field labourers, who were mostly quite young, in Swahili verse. There was no sense in the verse, it was made for the sake of the rhyme...
It caught the interest of the boys, they formed a ring around me. They...waited eagerly for the rhyme, and laughed at it when it came. I tried to make them themselves find the rhyme, and finish the poem when I had begun it, but they could not, or would not, do that, and turned away their heads. As they had become used to the idea of poetry, they begged: "Speak again. Speak like rain." Why they should feel verse to be like rain I do not know. It must have been, however, an expression of applause, since in Africa rain is always longed for and welcome."

I am longing for rain right now myself.

The Poetry Friday Round Up is at Chicken Spaghetti today!


  1. That's a beautiful poem. Thanks for posting it.
    I've read Aiken books/short stories for many years without ever coming across that poem or that story.

  2. I agree with you and your son; that is a wonderful poem. I like the Dinesen quote too - isn't she amazing.

  3. THAT is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing it. I want to be a person like rain. I love that, it deserves a poem itself.

    (And thanks, too, for the link to Fidra blog. I am grasping for all of the links to used bookstores and libraries that I can.)


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