A Blind and Deaf Poet

I shall be telling the story of Helen Keller and her teacher later.
Today I want to show excerpts from one of the poems she wrote as an adult,after she had been to university and travelled and met many of the world's notable people.

Helen was struck down with an undiagnosed 'brain fever' as a 19- month old child; the illness left her totally deaf and blind.

She had not learned to speak, and in fact did not know what words were.
Her world was frightening chaos until she met her teacher.
The story of her education and later achievements is amazing.
It is hard, in fact impossible,to know how Helen understood the world.
She only knew words as shapes made by fingers.

How did she understand 'blue', or a mountain?

The poem contains ideas which reflect a depth of thought I would admire in any seeing and hearing individual; from Helen, who dragged herself out of a wordless, inexplicable darkness, it is a work of wonderful imagination,its true meaning beyond my power of comprehension.

I found the book years ago in Sextons, my favourite second-hand bookshop in Brighton.
It cost five decimal pence.
The photographs, as far as I can see, are actually of Helen herself, which adds a great deal to the value of the poem for me.

I shall select small excerpts from the book and add suitably posed pictures.

                                        THE CHANT OF THE STONE WALL
Come walk with me, and I will tell
What I have read in this scroll of stone;
I will spell out this writing on hill and meadow.
My hand is upon the stones, and the tale I fain would hear
Is of the men who built the walls,
And of the God who made the stones and the workers.

I follow the windings of the wall
Over the heaving hill, down by the meadow brook,
Beyond the scented fields,by the marsh where rushes grow.
The wall is builded of field-stones great and small
Tumbled about by frost and storm,
Shaped and polished by ice and rain and sun;
Some flattened,grooved, and chiselled By the inscrutable sculpture of the weather;
Some with clefts and rough edges harsh to the touch.

The apple-tree by the wall sheds its blossoms about me -
A shower of petals of light upon darkness.
From Nature's brimming cup I drink a thousand scents;
I take the top stone of the wall in my hands
And the sun in my heart;
I feel the rippling land extend to right and left,
Bearing up a receptive surface to my uncertain feet;
I encounter a chaos of tumbled rocks.
Here they are scattered like sheep,
Or like great birds at rest.

Sing, prophetic,mystic walls,of the dreams of the builders;
Sing in thundering tones that shall thrill us
Sing in renerving refrain of the resolute men,
Each a Lincoln in his smouldering patience,
Each a Luther in his fearless faith,
Who made a breach in the wall of darkness
And let the hosts of liberty march through.

Calm, eternal walls,tranquil, mature,
Which old voices, old songs,old kisses cover,
As mosses and lichens cover your ancient stones,
Teach me the secret of your serene repose;
Tell of the greater things to be.
When love and wisdom are the only creed,
And law and right are one.
Sing that the Lord cometh, the Lord cometh,
The fountain-head and spring of life!
Sing that the Lord shall build us all together,
As living stones build us, cemented together.

May he who knoweth every pleasant thing
That our sires forewent to teach the peoples law and truth,
Who counted every stone blessed by their consecrated hands,
Grant that we remain liberty-loving, substantial, elemental,
And that faith, the rock not fashioned of human hands,
Be the stability of our triumphant, toiling days.

It is hard to believe that the poem (which is much, much longer than this) was written by someone who lost all sight and sound at 19 months; who learnt her words by touch, whose abstract ideas were built I know not how, who identified cities by their smell,who obtained a degree,wrote books, travelled the world, campaigned for the end of capital punishment and supported women's suffrage.....

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