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If by Joni Mitchell and Rudyard Kipling

Posted on Nov 24, 2008 by

In the park of the golden buddha
If you can fill the journey
Of a minute
With sixty seconds worth of wonder and delight
The Earth is yours
And Everything that’s in it
But more than that
I know
You’ll be alright
You’ll be alright.

Just one minute.  Sixty seconds.  That’s all.

But first, for just a moment, a note on a poem I didn’t choose.  It’s November, not long before Thanksgiving, and I was trying to think of a poem that speaks to gratitude.  The first poem that came to mind was the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins about dappled things.  I was thinking how naming might have something to do with gratitude.  Naming being the first step.

I found the poem.  It’s called Pied Beauty.  And it’s a nice poem with truly lovely images:

Skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow
Rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim

But the poem as a whole struck me as not quite as inclusive as what I was looking for—

And then I was listening to music the other day and came upon this rendering of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, If, which begins as he does but with a few slight changes.

Rudyard Kipling’s first stanza:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,

Joni Mitchell’s first verse:

If you can keep your head
While all about you
People are losing theirs and blaming you
If you can trust yourself
When everybody doubts you
And make allowance for their doubting too.

So the men in the first stanza of Kipling’s poem become everybody.  And the line breaks change, and some punctuation.

I went looking for something that might speak to Ms. Mitchell’s thoughts in adapting Kipling’s poem and found a nice piece at the library on her website.

About this song, If, she writes:

My friend called me up and read this Rudyard Kipling poem to me over the phone. As soon as I heard it, it resonated with me, and I wanted to set it to music. I love the opening line: ‘If you can keep your head/While all about you/People are losing theirs and blaming you.’ So, I wrote down the words, went to my house in Vancouver and made a song out of it. It’s the only song that I wrote up there on the guitar.The poem is written from a soldier’s perspective, so I rewrote some of the poetry. Kipling wrote, ‘If we can fill the journey/Of a minute/With 60 seconds worth of distance run/Then you’ll be a man, my son.” I disagree with him, philosophically speaking, that endurance gives you the inheritance of the earth. My experience tells me that the earth is innocence, with wonder and delight, which is renewable. The blue heron on my property flies overhead, and I’m a 3 year old. I’m filled with wonder and delight. So I rewrote that part of the poem as ‘If you can fill the journey/Of a minute/With 60 seconds worth of wonder and delight.’ Kipling’s version is macho; I wanted to get the feminine principle into the poetry.

This morning I’m grateful for many things and one of them is poetry, this poem in particular.  I’m grateful that Joni Mitchell took this quite wonderful old poem and made it new.


Of interest:

A link to lyrics of this song at Joni Mitchell’s website.

Joni Mitchell on Youtube talking about Shine and her creative process.  Includes clips from a ballet which features her music.

Picture is painting by Joni Mitchell: In the Park of the Golden Buddha from her website.

Also of interest—-here is Joni Mitchell, describing, in her liner notes, the first track on Shine, an instrumental piece called One Week Last Summer:

I stepped outside of my little house and stood barefoot on a rock. The Pacific Ocean rolled towards me. Across the bay, a family of seals sprawled on the kelp uncovered by the low tide. A blue heron honked overhead. All around the house the wild roses were blooming. The air smelled sweet and salty and loud with crows and bees. My house was clean. I had food in the fridge for a week. I sat outside ’til the sun went down. That night the piano beckoned for the first time in 10 years. My fingers found these patterns that expressed what words could not. This song poured out while a brown bear rummaged through my garbage cans.  This was originally titled ‘Gratitude,’ and it was the first piece I wrote for this album.