Lullabies should be no surprise


Where does our poetry come from? William Shakespeare’s birthday last April 23 brought his sonnets to mind. It is said imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I have written many parodies of Shakespeare’s sonnets (about 45) which have appeared on this page.

Other than schoolbooks and literature anthologies, what are some other sources of poetry? My reading tells me few people ever open up a poetry book, let alone buy one after formal schooling is over. We do hear poetry including lyrical, modern, love, and social commentary in current recorded music as I alluded to in a recent Saipan Tribune Opinion page commentary during Black History Month. So aside from the world of nature and our own lives as a source for living and breathing poetry in a literal and figurative sense, lullabies should be no surprise.

Since human speech began, lullabies and songs of love have been used, sung, hummed to and for everyone we love. Whether used to “lull” someone to sleep, calm someone down, or celebrate life, mental growth, and the need for sleep and rest, lullabies should be no surprise. 

All languages and cultures have gorgeous tranquilizing lullabies in their respective repertoire. National choirs from Poland, Hungary and other Eastern European countries have recorded many traditional lullabies in their respective language. Lullabies from all over the continent of Africa have lulled millions of babies to sleep. A Chinese lullaby sung in Putonghua has a father singing to his sleeping son about how the boy’s head reminds him of a head of cabbage. It brings me to tears every time I hear it. A well-known Irish lullaby, the Connemara Cradle Song or Connemara Lullaby, is sung throughout the English-speaking world.

My new favorite lullaby is John of Dreams. It was originally an Italian love song, then used by Tchaikovsky in his Pathetique symphony. Words were written to the melody by Bill Caddick. Find it on Lullabies for Love: A Celtic Collection to Benefit One Home Many Hopes, Kenya. I often think of Freddie Aguilar’s song Anak as a modern lullaby and Saipan’s David Peter (Talumwaar) beautiful song Pution Oracion in the same vein.

Here is a lullaby I wrote on Admiralty Island in Alaska back in the mid-’70s while doing geological exploration. We flew into the mountainside site by helicopter. We were drilling core samples, looking for high-grade nickel and copper sulfides in an ultramafic rock complex. Long daylight hours allowed for two shifts in the summer. When the shift changed and noisy generators and drills were shut off I would often hear but not see little birds sing. I thought about how their life and environment would change if a mine were to be put in there in the mountains. The island  lies in the Alexander archipelago within the 14-million-acre South Tongass National Forest. It is quite remote, with only a few very small villages and has more Alaskan grizzly bears than people. There are also many North American bald eagles along its coastline.

Lullaby for A Little Bird on Admiralty Island 
good night little bird you’ve sung your last word
and tucked your beak underneath your wing
I’ll work through the night and by mornings first light
be ready to hear you sing.
we are drilling for ore and pulling up core
right underneath the nest where you live
we might put in a mine in a few years time
and your babies would hear the drilling rigs hum
but we might not find any thing worth a penny
and the forest would be yours till Kingdom come
so good night little bird you’ve sung your last word
and tucked your beak underneath your wing
I’ll work through the night and by morning’s first light
be longing to hear you sing.

Joey 'Pepe Batbon' Connolly

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