Unheard Sonnets

Heard melodies are sweet enough for me
those unheard are too tempting, far too good
much better than a mortal thing can be
elf candles in the night, a magic wood
the perfect thing, enticing me unheard
that moment of distilled and joyous bliss
when everything is poised upon that word
that touch, that sight, that sound, that one true kiss
that fairy fruit – no, give me honest bread
this world still fair and green, not dull and grey
no perfect time that taints the wholesome rest
impossible, but yet I yearn, I dread
fearing regret I’ll fear to seize the day
my soul is torn between the good and best.

The measured time of good, the careful life
doled out content in still unruffled calm
of waters that run slow, unstirred by strife
or flashing joy alike, and do no harm.
Heard melodies, each measured timely note
comes rippling out from pipes, each safe and known
without the danger tearing at the throat
of daring to draw breath and sing my own.
Behind defences, towering walls of thorn,
behind my small hedged steps, I can remain
and trouble no one, opening no door,
live safe and sure in twilight, for no dawn
will ever burst my heart with joy and pain
of knowing life, or what I’m living for.

But what is life I do not dare to live?
What good to mark each moment safely past
endured in quiet safety as I give
each day to death, and welcome it at last?
For though the best, that music of the soul,
holds hazard very close, though I risk all
to live in each drawn breath, and to be whole;
in unheard music, I may fail and fall.
To chance is not to win, nor yet to gain
but while I live I shall, for I shall strive
to do my best each moment, to be true
to all I am, both heard and unheard strain
to know joys great and small, to be alive
to do the work that’s wide enough to do.

Jo Walton 1998, Swansea.