Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Monday, 9 June 2014

John Shaw Neilson






Most readers will have heard of Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson, at school, and encountered their works in popular culture, but mentioning the name of John Shaw Neilson would likely generate a blank look.

Yet this poet, a contemporary of Lawson and Paterson, wrote some exquisite material.

When you consider the life he lived, and the area he was brought up in – always marginal country, and often in the grip of drought, the lyrical intensity of his work is breathtaking.

It begs to be put to music, and Paul Kelly did just that.

Hence the clip above.

Jimmy Little also covered it.

I saw Kelly perform it live in the Empire Theatre in Toowoomba during the Foggy Highway tour, and he did Neilson and this work justice.

The Poem - 

Surely God was a lover
When He bade the day begin
Soft as a woman’s eyelid
Fine as a woman’s skin
Surely God was a lover
All burning with desire
When He called the night to come down
And set the day on fire
Surely God is a lover
Surely God is a lover
Surely God was a lover
When He made the driving rain
A woman must have left Him
Weeping in a waste of shame
Surely God was a lover
With the madness love will bring
He wrought while His love was singing
And put her soul in the spring
Surely God was a lover
When He made the trees so fair
In every leaf a glory
Caught from a woman’s hair
Surely God was a lover
You can see it in the flowers He grows
His love’s eyes in the violet
Her sweetness in the rose
Surely God was a lover

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