My Father Piped Songs of Pleasant Glee

Blake, frontispiece to "Songs of Innocence"

Blake, frontispiece to “Songs of Innocence”

The four Bates brothers have arrived in Sewanee and have been gathered around my father all day waiting for the end. He has had moment of consciousness but, for the most part, is oblivious to his surroundings. Nevertheless, I spent some time reading to him from a 19th century poetry anthology I happened to have with me.

He appeared to respond most favorably to William Blake’s Songs of Innocence. As I read the introductory poem–our roles reversed from when I had been small–I felt that I was thanking him for how he had been the piper of my childhood. Here it is:

Piping down the valleys wild,
Piping songs of pleasant glee,
On a cloud I saw a child,
And he laughing said to me:

“Pipe a song about a Lamb!”
So I piped with merry cheer.
“Piper, pipe that song again;”
So I piped: he wept to hear.

“Drop thy pipe, thy happy pipe;
Sing thy songs of happy cheer!”
So I sung the same again,
While he wept with joy to hear.

“Piper, sit thee down and write
In a book, that all may read.”
So he vanished from my sight,
And I plucked a hollow reed,

And I made a rural pen,
And I stained the water clear,
And I wrote my happy songs
Every child may joy to hear.

When I was a child, I surrendered entirely and utterly to the poems that my father wrote for us and to the stories that he read. Like the child in the poem, sometimes I laughed delighted, as I did with Tom Sawyer and Milt Gross’ Nize Baby. Sometimes I sobbed, as I did with the endings of Kate Douglas Wiggins’ The Birds’ Christmas Carol, Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid,” and Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

When he read to us, he relived his own childhood innocence. Together we experienced pure, unadulterated joy.

Go in peace, my beloved piper.

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  • sue

    What a wonderful gift your father gave you in the love of literature, Robin. It has been like those gifts one receives in fairy tales – the sack of food that never runs out while the hero is on his quest.

  • Barbara

    Blessings on you all, Robin! I’ll be holding you all in prayer.such wonderful memories as a legacy!


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