Waking to the wind gusting the trees outside the window, I thought of Christina Rossetti.

The wind is like a great spirit. It is not just imagination that it stirs something in us. In children too. They never sit calmly in school when a wind gets up.

The Rossetti lines in my mind were: ‘Who has seen the wind? / Neither you nor I’ and the last line of the stanza ‘The wind is passing by’. I had invented line three and somehow arrived at ‘But when the light moves in the leaves’. The poet’s original line is much better ‘But when the trees bow down their heads’.

On Christina Rossetti’s Wikipedia page it says she she is ‘perhaps best known for her long poem ‘Goblin Market’, her love poem ‘Remember’ and for the words of the carol ‘In the bleak midwinter’.  But I think ‘Birthday’ (‘My heart is like a singing bird’) must rank high among remembered poems.  And I just found ‘Uphill’ which I had forgotten I knew and loved, but now I know it certainly influenced at least one poem I wrote myself. Then there is ‘Twice’ which I had also forgotten but shouldn’t have. I must go back to Christina Rossetti, though perhaps a ‘Selected’ is best. In the complete poems you get lost somewhere in misery and religiosity – or at least I did when I was last immersed.

But she has done that magic thing that some poets do – planted a snatch of lines I can’t and won’t forget: the earworm. Enough always to bring me back. I will be saying this poem inside my head all day, like it or lump it. Thank you, you compilers of so-called ‘children’s poems’, in which I must first have found this lyric by Christina Rossetti. Without you, I doubt I would be writing this blog right now. Or remembering the lines that lead me to other lines that lead me everywhere I happily go.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.




4 thoughts on “WHO HAS SEEN THE EARWORM?”

  1. This is one of the poems from my childhood that I still hold, in its entirety, in my mind. I used to say the poem to my children, and now to my grandchildren. I like the new take Nell gives to the third line of the second verse, and I agree with her that the original is better. “But when the trees bow down their heads” has a deliberate slow grandeur you have to respect. Is it that each word is a monosyllable, demanding its own space, making you notice the extra beat and slowing you down? Is it the clear recognisable image of trees bending in the wind? The personification? The implication of a very important person/thing ‘passing by’? You can wonder and analyse, but then you have to put all that aside and just say the poem. Aloud.

    PS I wonder how many people thought at first sight that Nell’s subject was EARTHWORMS. Well, why not?

  2. I like ‘Who has seen the earthworms?’ Now if I’d only thought of that…

    Isn’t it lovely when two people remember the same poem with the same[i] glow[/i]? I love that.

  3. I think the word ‘earworm’ carries a negative connotation, and I’m not sure using it about a line in a poem one loves or cannot forget is apt, unless in some sense you were using it metaphorically?

    Sorry to be so pedantic.



  4. Perhaps my connotations are crossed, Tristan. I actually like the term, though in musical terms yes, it carries the connotation of a tune that can drive you nuts. But the sound in the original German — Ohrwurm — I find it endearing really. And there is something about a line of poetry that follows you around and won’t go away — it works in a similar way to me. I hear it over and over and over but I don’t mind hearing it. Also I don’t in the least mind you being pedantic. I am pedantic too.

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