Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Spreading the Awesome: Neil Gaiman's "Instructions"

I was so inspired by Elana's idea to spread the joy of awesome new books that I decided to spread the awesome all week long. This week, I'm going to feature my recent most favorite movie, poem, song, and television show. Yay for spreading the awesome!

Today, I'm featuring a poem. Long time readers will know my favorite poem of all time is Ted Kooser's "Tattoo."

But today I'm going to go a slightly different route. Today I'm going to feature a poem that I've only just heard of (thanks, Heather!), by an author/poet more well known for his novels than his poetry.

You might have heard of him before. Neil Gaiman.

His recently published poem, "Instructions" speaks to the part of me that love fairy tales not for the happily ever after, but for the danger.

It's important to remember that bit, I think. That fairy tales are dangerous. That the happily ever after only comes sometimes, and then, only after the dragon.

This poem isn't beautiful in the way, say, a sonnet is beautiful. The rhyme and rhythm don't sing. It's not beautiful in the way Ted Kooser's poetry is beautiful--it doesn't make my skin tingle, it doesn't make me feel as if an emotion is a universal cry of the world.

Instead, this poem is beautiful because it speaks the truth in a way only fairy tales can.

(I highly recommend you watch and listen to the poem below, but if you can't get the YouTube to work, I've reprinted it as well. You could also check out the illustrator's notes.)


by Neil Gaiman

Touch the wooden gate in the wall you never
saw before.
Say "please" before you open the latch,
go through,
walk down the path.
A red metal imp hangs from the green-painted
front door,
as a knocker,
do not touch it; it will bite your fingers.
Walk through the house. Take nothing. Eat
However, if any creature tells you that it hungers,
feed it.
If it tells you that it is dirty,
clean it.
If it cries to you that it hurts,
if you can,
ease its pain.

From the back garden you will be able to see the
wild wood.
The deep well you walk past leads to Winter's
there is another land at the bottom of it.
If you turn around here,
you can walk back, safely;
you will lose no face. I will think no less of you.

Once through the garden you will be in the
The trees are old. Eyes peer from the under-
Beneath a twisted oak sits an old woman. She
may ask for something;
give it to her. She
will point the way to the castle.
Inside it are three princesses.
Do not trust the youngest. Walk on.
In the clearing beyond the castle the twelve
months sit about a fire,
warming their feet, exchanging tales.
They may do favors for you, if you are polite.
You may pick strawberries in December's frost.
Trust the wolves, but do not tell them where
you are going.
The river can be crossed by the ferry. The ferry-
man will take you.
(The answer to his question is this:
If he hands the oar to his passenger, he will be free to
leave the boat.
Only tell him this from a safe distance.)

If an eagle gives you a feather, keep it safe.
Remember: that giants sleep too soundly; that
witches are often betrayed by their appetites;
dragons have one soft spot, somewhere, always;
hearts can be well-hidden,
and you betray them with your tongue.

Do not be jealous of your sister.
Know that diamonds and roses
are as uncomfortable when they tumble from
one's lips as toads and frogs:
colder, too, and sharper, and they cut.

Remember your name.
Do not lose hope — what you seek will be found.
Trust ghosts. Trust those that you have helped
to help you in their turn.
Trust dreams.
Trust your heart, and trust your story.
When you come back, return the way you came.
Favors will be returned, debts will be repaid.
Do not forget your manners.
Do not look back.
Ride the wise eagle (you shall not fall).
Ride the silver fish (you will not drown).
Ride the grey wolf (hold tightly to his fur).

There is a worm at the heart of the tower; that is
why it will not stand.

When you reach the little house, the place your
journey started,
you will recognize it, although it will seem
much smaller than you remember.
Walk up the path, and through the garden gate
you never saw before but once.
And then go home. Or make a home.
And rest.


Bish Denham said...

Stunning! I was there, on the journey. Recognized I'd been there before. Thank you for sharing.

salarsenッ said...

Quite interesting. I do so appreciate a good poet.

Matthew Rush said...

That was lovely in a very simple kind of way. Thanks Beth.

Indigo said...

Thanks for sharing both poems. I had not read either before this.

Double thanks for the posting the words to Gaiman's poem. It helps when you deaf and can't hear the video. (Hugs)Indigo

Slamdunk said...

Interesting verse--thanks for sharing.

Ian said...

A wonderful poem because of its simplicity and truth.

Typical Neil Gaiman, always making it look so easy.

Thanks Beth

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Oh, what a beautiful poem! Thank you for sharing it, I feel a little stranger than before, but in a good way.

Christine Fonseca said...

So great - thanks for posting this!

Janet Johnson said...

Thanks for sharing! I'm a lover of fairy tales too. I agree, the ending is not what makes them great. :)

Yat-Yee said...

Such an unusual and touching poem. WE recognize the fairy tale elements right away, but more than that, we recognize the truth about living.

Trust your story.

Myrna Foster said...

Thanks, Beth! What a beautiful poem.

Jemi Fraser said...

I really liked that!! Thanks for sharing :)

Angela said...

Wow, thank you for this, Beth!

Kelly said...

That man is FULL of talent!

Demon Hunter said...

Thanks for sharing. Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. :-D

Did you see the picture of Neil and I on my blog? December 2009. :-D

Heather Zundel said...

Oh, Beth.

I love this poem, it speaks so much of the universality fairy tales have. I love his instructions

"Remember your name.
Do not lose hope — what you seek will be found.
Trust ghosts. Trust those that you have helped
to help you in their turn.
Trust dreams.
Trust your heart, and trust your story."

best. I'm glad it touched you. I'm glad that was something I could share.

Missed Periods said...

Wow. I really really loved that. Actually, I am going to read it again right now.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I love, love, love Neil Gaiman and listening to him read his work is one of my great pleasures. Thanks for posting this incredible piece.

Yamile said...

Thanks for sharing this. i love Neil Gaiman, the rock star of writers.