The Shortest and Sweetest of Songs: the shortest poem in the world?

A couple of days ago, browsing in a poetry book I came across a short poem. I never realised a poem could be so short! Keeping this intro short, I hope you enjoy the brief read! 

Short, Sweet, and Succinct

The Shortest and Sweetest of Songs is a poem by Scottish Victorian author George MacDonald. It is short. And when I say short, I mean short! It is very short. Extremely short. The title is longer than the poem.

Are you sitting comfortably? Have you made sure you will not be disturbed or interrupted while you read his poem? Do you have enough time?

The Shortest and Sweetest of Songs  

Come
Home.

George MacDonald 1824-1905

George MacDonald

George MacDonald was a children’s writer. He was friend and influencer to Lewis Carrol who regarded MacDonald as a literary master after reading his fantasy novel ‘Phantastes’ (1858). It was this book that helped establish MacDonald as the ‘father of fantasy writing’. The list of the famous literary names he mentored and inspired is long, and full of better known names than his. A veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of the literary elite of the time—J. R. R. Tolkien, Mark Twain, J. M. Barrie, Walter de la Mare, etc.

“Work is not always required. There is such a thing as sacred idleness.”

—George MacDonald

Why expend energy writing a long poem when a short one will suffice?

by William Jeffrey, albumen print, circa 1852-1860

MacDonald was also a Church minister delivering fervent sermons that were met with little enthusiasm. Because of this, and ill health (asthma, pleurisy and TB), he resigned from pastoral duties, and went in search of fresher air in other climes. He and his large family settled in Bordighera, Liguria, Italy, where he built a house naming it “Casa Correggio” (House of Courage).

Performances and recitals

At the Casa Correggio he formed a cultural hub, entertaining visitors and locals, presenting plays and readings.
I wonder if he ever recited his poem ‘The Shortest and Sweetest of Songs’? What was the audience’s reaction? Was there silence at the end? A long pause before they erupted into thunderous applause?—or was it received with a similar lack of enthusiasm to his early sermons?

I am fascinated by the idea of performing such a short poem in public. Not many lines to learn, anyway!

Short and Shorter

You might think that George MacDonald’s poem is short, yet it is not the shortest poem in the world. It is beaten by Gavin Ewart’s poem The Lover Writes a One-Word Poem (short poem, long title). The poem is romantic. A love poem expressing his passion for his amour.

The Lover Writes a One-Word Poem

You!

Gavin Ewart 1916-1995

I wonder who ‘YOU!’ was?

Gavin Ewart

Inspired and influenced by Modernist poets T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, Gavin Ewart wrote his first successful poem at 17, titled The Phallus in Wonderland. Philip Larkin thought he was great!

“The most remarkable phenomenon of the English poetic scene… has been the advent, or perhaps I should say the irruption of Gavin Ewart”

— Philip Larkin

Gavin Ewart fought in the Second World War and wrote the poem ’When a Beau Goes in’ during active service. I find this poem touching. Perhaps the subject of his poem—the ‘You!’ in ‘The Lover Writes A One-Word Poem’ is someone he knew on the battlefield?

When a Beau Goes in

“When a beau goes in,
It makes you think,
Because, you see, they always sink
But nobody says ’Poor lad’
Or goes about looking sad
Because, you see, it’s war, it’s the unalterable law.”

Gavin Ewart – WW11
Despite successes during their lives,  neither  Gavin Ewart or George MacDonald are quite as famous today as their illustrious friends and contemporaries. Their former fame seems to be fading into history…

Short, shorter, and shortest?

Inspired and influenced by these two poets George MacDonald and Gavin Ewart, I wrote an equally short poem to match theirs! The title is ‘Self-possession in a Time of Doubt and Uncertainty’.

My poem is about identity! One expressing a sense of self. A state of being one. 

It shall be a poem that depends on how you, the reader, interpret and feel about it. It can be significant in how you envisage yourself. Are you self-effacing or self-confident?

I dedicate this serious work to everyone who believes in themselves.
If you don’t think you believe in yourself, perhaps add a question-mark at the end, instead of the full-stop? or an exclamation! (*by changing the punctuation you will alter the entire meaning of this poem). Whatever you decide, say it with conviction and cast away disbelief and BELIEVE! 

How to read this poem

Take a confident positive stance. Plant your feet firmly down on the floor. Hold your head up high with your neck stretching upwards and the top of your scalp reaching for the sky. Pull yourself up. Pose in a powerful position and stand tall (or sit). Keep your back straight, and your shoulders down, head up, buttocks in, chest out, and raise your chin! (I learnt these important instructions from my ballet tutor).
This posture will show self-confidence and assertiveness. Then. Read the words (oops, I mean word!). And project your voice!
Be brave! And shout this new poem out, LOUD!

Self-possession in a Time of Doubt and Uncertainty

I.

Lesley Scoble – September 2021

Have I just written the shortest poem in the world?

Take care and keep safe.

See you shortly 😊

Acknowledgement

The book in which I discovered the short poems of William MacDonald and Gavin Ewart is the wonderful ‘A Poet for Every Day of the Year’, Edited by Allie Esiri. Published by Macmillan Children’s Books. ISBN 978-1-5290-5482-8

4 comments

  1. William MacGonagall could have done with taking a few lessons from George MacDonald! Your poem is definitely short, and has the merits of scanning and rhyming. Or not. Next challenge: the poetic equivalent of John Cage’s ‘Four Minutes, Thirty Three Seconds’ 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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