Tuesday, 4 November 2014

I had a little nut tree


I had a little nut tree
Nothing would it bear
But a silver nutmeg
And a golden pear

The King of Spain's daughter
Came to visit me
And all for the sake
Of my little nut tree

I danced over ocean
I flew over sea
And all the birds in the air
Couldn't catch me


These are the words, as I recall them, of an especially evocative nursery rhyme which (for me) attains to a high level of lyric poetry - and evokes that yearning joy of Sehnsucht.

The decontextualized, uncompromising, unexplained, pared-down quality; is caused (I think) by the tendency of oral transmission and pure memory to focus on the striking imagery - and the rest gets washed away or garbled.

This is what makes the great nursery rhymes, folk songs and ballads so effective - yet the effect cannot be contrived, unless by a poet with a child's gift of directness: William Blake, Stevie Smith for instance.

I feel as if I know exactly what has happened here, and it happened to me! - it is a child's dream of pure escape from a dull, hopeless and desperate situation, into wonder, ecstatic delight and boundless optimism.


This version has the lovely tune I knew - with slightly different words. Ideally it should be sung by a boy's voice.


Adam G. said...

Dreams sometimes have that same stripped down, contextless quality.

I dreamed a nursery rhyme once:

Hear the clarks of Pondicherry,
shouting loud and shouting wary,
Five gold horns my master made,
but one of them he made of clay

It looks like gibberish, but I have never been able to forget it, and when I recall it, its like recalling a glimpse of the secret soul of the world.

I think there's a deep connection from the matter of this post and your post about Platonism as the religion of intellectuals.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Adam - Yes, that dream has it exactly.