David Lewis Paget

(22.11.1944 / Nottingham, England/live in Australia)

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Swan Song


Her hair was as black as a starling's tail,
Her cheeks as pale as a swan,
Her eyes, like two slim moonstones, glowed
And her mouth was the Holy Grail.
She'd played in the dirt of the village street
So long ago, so long...
She'd swum in the pools of the mountain stream,
But now, that girl had gone.

While I still rise with the early bird
To tend to my father's fields,
As the only son of an only son
I watched the woman leave.
She cried sweet tears as she said farewell
And vowed to come back, and soon,
But the village streets of a western town
Hold nothing for Ling Xiaodan.

The weeks went by, then the months and years
And I heard of her now and then,
She was dressed in expensive clothes, I heard,
She was driving a shiny car;
She was seen at the Beijing Opera
By a man who worked at the door,
'She glided by like a Queen, ' he said,
'As her dress trailed long on the floor.'

And her wai po, down in the village square
Would brag of her daughter's girl,
'She will snare some man with a million yuan, '
She said, 'not a farmer's son.
Go home to your fields and forget her now,
She's not for an also-ran! '
And laughed, as the tears sprang into my eyes
For the love of Ling Xiaodan.

She came back once to the village street
To her home, as ever we must,
But carefully held her dress up high
To avoid the rubbish and dust,
I stood at the side and she looked at me,
Then turned, looked quickly away,
For Ling Xiaodan and a farmer's son
Had nothing at all to say.

But I saw her once before she left,
Alone by the mountain stream,
Her eyes were sorrowful, in remorse,
Remembering how we'd been.
'I loved you once, as a child, ' she said
'But the world is harsh, and grey...
We do what our fathers want us to,
And my father sent me away.'

I sat by her then, and held her hand,
Stroking her neck, and hair,
And kissed the cheek, so pale and wan,
And I cried in a deep despair.
'You must get on with your life, ' she said,
'Get a wife and a baby son;
I leave tomorrow to see the man
That my father has met in town.'

I heard that she'd wed a businessman,
And cried in the quiet gloom,
My dream had died by the mountain stream,
On that day, in the afternoon.
She worked in a shop her husband owned,
So they said, but I never heard
'Til the body was brought back home again,
That the love of my life was dead.

It seemed that she'd sold her favours there
In the rear of a grimy store,
To any man with the change to spare
While her husband played Mah Jongg.
He'd gambled his fortune, and lost it all
While his wife kept the fool from jail
With what she earned with her hands and hair,
And a mouth like the Holy Grail.

But then, a man who was ill or mad
Put his grimy hands at her throat,
And squeezed the life from the darling neck
That I'd once both loved, and stroked.
They buried her up on the mountainside
By the stream, in sight of her home,
And from where I stand in the paddy fields
I can see her pale white stone.

She'd played in the dirt of the village street
So long ago, so long...
She'd swum in the pools of the mountain stream,
But now, that girl had gone.
I married a woman I barely knew
And she bore me a black-haired girl,
With eyes like two slim moonstones, and...
A mouth like the Holy Grail.

10 March 2006

Submitted: Thursday, March 09, 2006
Edited: Monday, November 03, 2008

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  • Kevin Patrick (7/30/2013 8:48:00 PM)

    Phenomenal story, I was swept in the rhythm of this desperate tale of love and loss, you wax amazing lyrical words.
    This was truly a wonderful story. Concise and alive, its sad where you got the inspiration from but at least in some way that innocent women lives on in this work (Report) Reply

  • Diana Van Den Berg (7/30/2013 1:52:00 PM)

    A sensitive, beautiful ballad, that held my attention from the first word to the last. I read all the comments, including your response about its origin. It is so sad that so much manmade misery grips the world in such a stranglehold, not just in China, but also in so many other corners of the globe too, in some form or other, whether in macrocosm or microcosm... (Report) Reply

  • Robert Bartlett (7/30/2012 10:32:00 PM)

    I just read this poem for the first and only time. It is impressive and as I read it, I found the cadence to be similar to two different ballads that I learned in my youth. One was the Ballad of East and West by Rudyard Kipling and the other was The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service (?) . [I haven't reviewed either of them for many years, but I think Robert Service was the author.] I liked the story, except for the description of the subject's daughter in the final stanza, which is overly reminiscent of the visage accorded to the childhood sweetheart who ended up as a working girl. I guess my parental sensitivity kicked in!
    I'd still give it a 10. (Report) Reply

  • Tiger Lily (7/30/2012 6:34:00 PM)

    Very moving poem. Such a sad story behind it, but you've immortalized it beautifuly. (Report) Reply

  • David Lewis Paget (7/30/2012 10:16:00 AM)

    Thank you everyone for your kind comments. The idea came to me from an article I read in the China Daily, during a year teaching there, about a young married couple who'd borrowed 30,000 yuan to get married, then had difficulty paying it back. The groom went to Beijing to earn more money while the bride, unknown to him, worked as a prostitute, But she kept a diary, and in it constantly wrote how much she loved her husband. Then she was murdered by a customer, and the groom came back, heartbroken to bury her. He found the diary. I changed the story somewhat to underline how difficult it is for Chinese girls to marry the man of their choice.
    David Lewis Paget (Report) Reply

  • Ingeborg Von Finsterwalde (7/30/2012 9:14:00 AM)

    I felt deeply touched by this wonderful poem and by the beauty and sadness in every line. My mind could picture the scene and follow it to the very end. Thank you so much for sharing… (Report) Reply

  • Pranab K Chakraborty (7/30/2012 7:45:00 AM)

    Beautiful catastrophe has been put with this writing. Love returns again......It's the reality of life. Never lost any true passion. Simply it changes its time, shape and shadows. Nice writing. (Report) Reply

  • Valerie Dohren (7/30/2012 7:43:00 AM)

    Wonderful poem telling an enthralling tale of love and loss - a great write, very much enjoyed the read. (Report) Reply

  • Captain Cur (7/30/2012 6:58:00 AM)

    Fabulous write of love, won and lost, by the world
    of status and social dysfunction. (Report) Reply

  • Rachel Gao (8/20/2009 8:53:00 PM)

    David, thank you for inviting me to see you poem.I like narrative poem, your poem is telling the real story, , .how did you get the idea?
    chinese children were bound to obey their parents in the past time.actually the same thing still exists, especially in village, and many girls have 'father problem'
    they dont have the love from their father which they deserve.they are insecurity, naive, dreamy in man.SO many chinese girls are immature, or some of them think money will make up with the sense of love. (Report) Reply

  • Charles M Moore (3/9/2006 8:30:00 PM)

    This is awesome, a stunning piece of work, I am not worthy.loved every word,10 is not enough. Charlie. (Report) Reply

Read all 18 comments »

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