I cycled to the lake this evening and the water was very still. The pine trees, gilded by the late sun, mirrored themselves perfectly. Then a fish jumped and flopped and splashed and the ripples circled out, a perfect bulls eye, eventually hitting the bank and folding in on themselves. It reminded me of this poem, by a 19th/early 20th century Australian poet who lived and wrote poems near the country town where I grew up. He was a farm labourer and largely uneducated. This poem is a bit awkward in places but I like it anyway.

The Crane is my neighbour

John Shaw Neilson

The bird is my neighbour, a whimsical fellow and dim;
There is in the lake a nobility falling on him.

The bird is a noble, he turns to the sky for a theme,
And the ripples are thoughts coming out to the edge of a dream.

The bird is both ancient and excellent, sober and wise,
But he never could spend all the love that is sent for his eyes.

He bleats no instruction, he is not an arrogant drummer;
His gown is simplicity – blue as the smoke of the summer.

How patient he is as he puts out his wings for the blue!
His eyes are as old as the twilight, and calm as the dew.

The bird is my neighbour, he leaves not a claim for a sigh,
He moves as the guest of the sunlight – he roams in the sky.

The bird is a noble, he turns to the sky for a theme,
And the ripples are thoughts coming out to the edge of a dream.

Claire Souter made a painting inspired by it.

I also thought of this poem, which I wrote about ten years ago and remember word for word. (Not surprising really as it is a silly little thing.) I wrote it about a lake not far from Penola, with which Neilson had some connection, and I was thinking about him and his lake and his ripples at the time.

I am the lake’s reflection
said the curved moon
leaping like a silver fish
in blue, late afternoon.

For me, there is still something magical and improbable about lakes. Perhaps as I come from such a dry country, where things marked as lakes on maps are often just sand flats or salt flats waiting for rain. ‘Lake’. There is something marvelous about it – the image, the word. The thought of all that still water beneath the stones and the trees.


5 thoughts on “Lakes

  1. You just reminded me instantly of something long forgotten,
    how much I loved and revered my Derwent pencils, sorting them, using them, smelling their wood. And they were called “lakeland” and had a picture of a lake on the tin….I remember being transported by the very thought of a whole land of lakes.
    Since I got them for Christmas i as probably 40C when I opened the present…

  2. Beautiful! Did you know Derwent pencils come from the Lake District in England? I’ve seen signs to the pencil museum near Keswick but I’ve never been there…

    I thought of you yesterday when I went swimming in one of the lakes. I brought my goggles with me and had a go at freestyle but couldn’t swim in a straight line! Also the dark murky water was a little spooky when I peered down into it…

  3. I would think that in a lake you could swim in whatever nice lines you wanted.
    I’m not a big fan of murky water myself….

    And yes, i did know about the pencils being made in the Lakes District, I remeber the penny dropping when I was there (“oh, here I am in Lake land!”)

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