I cannot sing, because when a child, 
   My mother often hushed me. 
The others she allowed to sing, 
   No matter what their melody. 

And since I’ve grown to manhood
   All music I applaud, 
But have no voice for singing, 
   So I write my songs to God. 

I have ears and know the measures, 
   And I’ll write a song for you, 
But the world must do the singing 
   Of my sonnets old and new. 

Now tell me, world of music, 
   Why I cannot sing one song? 
Is it because my mother hushed me
   And laughed when I was wrong?

Although I can write music, 
   And tell when harmony’s right, 
I will never sing better than when 
   My song was hushed one night. 

Fond mothers, always be careful; 
   Let the songs be poorly sung. 
To hush the child is cruel; 
   Let it sing while it is young. 

Related Poems

The Poet and His Song

A song is but a little thing,
  And yet what joy it is to sing!
In hours of toil it gives me zest,
And when at eve I long for rest;
When cows come home along the bars,
  And in the fold I hear the bell,
As Night, the shepherd, herds his stars,
  I sing my song, and all is well.
 
There are no ears to hear my lays,
No lips to lift a word of praise;
But still, with faith unfaltering,
I live and laugh and love and sing.
What matters yon unheeding throng?
  They cannot feel my spirit’s spell,
Since life is sweet and love is long,
  I sing my song, and all is well.
 
My days are never days of ease;
I till my ground and prune my trees.
When ripened gold is all the plain,
I put my sickle to the grain.
I labor hard, and toil and sweat,
  While others dream within the dell;
But even while my brow is wet,
  I sing my song, and all is well.
 
Sometimes the sun, unkindly hot,
My garden makes a desert spot;
Sometimes a blight upon the tree
Takes all my fruit away from me;
And then with throes of bitter pain
  Rebellious passions rise and swell;
But—life is more than fruit or grain,
  And so I sing, and all is well.

Dear Mama (4)

when did we become friends?
it happened so gradual i didn't notice
maybe i had to get my run out first
take a big bite of the honky world and choke on it
maybe that's what has to happen with some uppity youngsters
if it happens at all

and now
the thought stark and irrevocable
of being here without you
shakes me

beyond love, fear, regret or anger
into that realm children go
who want to care for/protect their parents
as if they could
and sometimes the lucky ones do

into the realm of making every moment
important
laughing as though laughter wards off death
each word given
received like spanish eight

treasure to bury within
against that shadow day
when it will be the only coin i possess
with which to buy peace of mind

My Mother Was No White Dove

no dove at all, coo-rooing through the dusk
and foraging for small seeds
My mother was the clouded-over night
a moon swims through, the dark against which stars
switch themselves on, so many already dead
by now (stars switch themselves off
and are my mother, she was never
so celestial, so clearly seen)

My mother was the murderous flight of crows
stilled, black plumage gleaming
among black branches, taken
for nocturnal leaves, the difference
between two darks:

a cacophony of needs
in the bare tree silhouette,
a flight of feathers, scattering
black. She was the night
streetlights oppose (perch
for the crows, their purchase on sight),
obscure bruise across the sky
making up names for rain

My mother always falling
was never snow, no kind
of bird, pigeon or crow