"What the Ear Said"
Text by Leon Wing
Poem by Oliver de la Paz
A scene from the play God's Ear by Jenny Schwartz
What the Ear Said
Nothing to hear in that hollow. Not boats,
not the cadence of boats and their oars.
Not wood and water and the ferry
to island in a storm, not rain. Not
the repetition of rain and the often loved
sound of trees. Or the sea.
Or the open mouth receiving. Not the lean
of the grief-struck against an oxcart or the low
of the dog caught in that rain. Again
the sound of the heart in the throat, and the too soon
lapse of breath. Again the beat of the foot
against the floor—the speech of the bed-creak
or the priest. Not to hear a cloak or some ghost.
Not moon. Not door. Not the entered shoes of a beautiful
stranger and her door, her moon.
Oliver de la Paz
from Furious Lullaby
Southern Illinois University Press
Copyright © 2007 by Oliver de la Paz
This is very strange when you and I know that this body’s organ, the ear, is meant, in strict scientific and biological terms, to receive auditory sensations. Or simply put, our ear is meant to hear sounds.
However, this poem by the Filipino poet Oliver de la Paz has turned things around, and he has made this organ speak. That’s why there is “Nothing to hear in that hollow.” In the pause following, could this Ear be straining to do this, what it is meant to do? Well, no, the line, next, is saying the first of many “not”s: “Not boats,/ not ../Not ..Not/the repetition." And many, many more.
The alliteration in “hear” and “hollow” offers a sensation of mere breath and no sound. The Ear cannot even hear the music in the “cadence of boats and their oars.”.
The Ear might not be able to hear all these, but the w alliteration and the rhythm in “Not wood and water and the ferry/ to island in a storm, not rain.” make our ears hear (in our head if we are reading that line silently) the rise and fall of the water lapping against the wooden ferry. And, there is a storm, as opposed to just rain. We hear the pitter-pattering rhythm in “the REpeTItion of RAIN”.
Again, the Ear cannot hear but it is aware there exist “sound of trees”, “the low/of the dog”, “sound of the heart in the throat”, “beat of the foot/against the floor—the speech of the bed-creak/or the priest.”.
Before the poem comes to its end, the poet repeats “Nothing to hear” in “Not to hear a cloak or some ghost”; as some kind of rounding off. The last two lines repeats “not” in succession, in a regular rising (penultimate line), then falling (last line), and, finally rising, rhythm: “Not MOON. Not DOOR. Not the ENtered SHOES of a BEAUtiful/ STRANger AND her DOOR, her MOON.”
“moon” and “door” in the penultimate line directly reflect, or mirror, “door” and “moon” in the last line. Like some reflection on the water, the symmetry of those images, together with the rise-fall-rise rhythm, is nearly perfect.
The rhyming in the repetition of “moon” also reflects “soon” in “the sound of the heart in the throat, and the too soon/ lapse of breath.” This is so that we can link “entered shoes of a beautiful/stranger” to “Again the beat of the foot/against the floor”.
The Ear itself is not mentioned in the poem, but we get the echo of it in repeats of "hear". Also, we hear echoes - internal and other rhyming - in "boats" and "throat" and "cloak", "rain" and also "Again" and "against", "trees" and "seas", "oars" and "door", and of course "door" and "moon". We see - and hear - a universe of symmetry acting out, connecting, inside this poem.
Something to ponder: why has la Paz personified the Ear? Is the Ear some kind of higher being, someone all-seeing, ubiquitous, perhaps? What's more, the Ear did foresee the beautiful stranger's shoes beating against the floor.