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Featured Poem: Deep in the Quiet Wood by James Weldon Johnson

Written by Rachael Norris, 15th June 2020

This week in our special series of Featured Poems, Erin Carlstrom, The Reader's London Development Manager, shares her thoughts on Deep in the Quiet Wood by James Weldon Johnson.

While looking for something to read during Loneliness Awareness week, I came across this poem and felt the combination of the quiet wood and musical harmonies like a balm.

Although there’s no mention of loneliness in the first two lines, I feel it in ‘the din of life’—it feels grimy, trudging, unspectacular, unnoticed.  Like a cog in ‘the clashing discords’ with no sense of the whole. But among the peaceful wood this discord becomes harmony. Where the discords and the din create separation, there’s a coming together in the harmonies. They are felt as much as heard; as the soul bathes in silence the harmonies bubble up and swell in the palpitating solitude. It’s that phrase ‘palpitating solitude’ that I like most. Solitude feels life giving—opposed to the life taking of loneliness—as though we are at the very heart of something that is throbbing through not only us, but all the earth around as well. We are part of something, not simply listening to the sound of the music, but part of the choir where the soul is invited to ‘run the whole gamut of the wondrous scale’.

Too often our voices and ideas clash against one another and the earth around us, isolating us from each other. But there’s a sense of belonging—the antithesis of lonely—in the harmonies.  The notes are not the same, but the differing voices come together, learning their part first through listening, to create something bigger instead of battling against one another in discord.

Deep in the Quiet Wood

Are you bowed down in heart?
Do you but hear the clashing discords and the din of life?
Then come away, come to the peaceful wood.
Here bathe your soul in silence. Listen! Now,
From out the palpitating solitude
Do you not catch, yet faint, elusive strains?
They are above, around, within you, everywhere.
Silently listen! Clear, and still more clear, they come.
They bubble up in rippling notes, and swell in singing tones.
Now let your soul run the whole gamut of the wondrous scale
Until, responsive to the tonic chord,
It touches the diapason of God's grand cathedral organ,
Filling earth for you with heavenly peace
And holy harmonies.

By James Weldon Johnson

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