The Shepherd’s Flute

by Elouise

An Amy Carmichael poem for Valentine’s Day–with brief comments from me, especially for you!

The Shepherd’s Flute

Once, being of a flute in need,
The Heavenly Shepherd sought
Until He found a bruisèd reed;
It was as if He thought
It precious; for aloud said He,
“This broken reed will do for me.”
It heard the kind word wonderingly,
Being a thing of naught.

And then that Lover of sweet sound,
No single note to lose,
Himself repaired the reed He found,
Well skilled such things to use.
This done, a happy melody
He whistled through it; “Now,” said He,
“This flute of mine shall stay by me.”
Thus He His flute did choose.

He said, “I play My country airs
The which do some displease;
But others listening, find their care
To pass and sweet heartease
Begin to blossom; and,” said He
Unto His flute, “Thou, dear, with Me,
Wilt, making gentle ministrelsy,
Be comforter to these.”

“Be comforter!”  O bruisèd reed,
Dost seem a thing apart
From usual life of flowery mead?
What if, by His great art,
Perceiving what thou know’st not, He
Saith even now, “Yea, thou shalt be,
O broken reed, a flute for Me”?
O broken life, take heart!

Amy Carmichael, Mountain Breezes: The Collected Poems of Amy Carmichael, p. 339; © 1999, The Dohnavur Fellowship, published by Christian Literature Crusade. First published in Made in the Pans (1917) and Rose from Brier (1933)

Three comments on the poem.

Sought out, on purpose
The Heavenly Shepherd searches for a broken (bruised) reed. Being bruised makes the reed valuable to the Shepherd, who doesn’t want to lose one single sweet note. From beginning to end, Amy Carmichael uses verbs that make this abundantly clear. The Shepherd seeks for and choses this reed because it’s broken (not in spite of this). The Shepherd finds it precious and worthy, and skillfully repairs it. This Lover of sweet sound tries out a little tune on the repaired reed, finds it more than adequate, and gives it a new name–My flute! Treasured and ready for whatever comes next.

Chosen for a special purpose
The Shepherd’s music is simple and sweet. Some won’t like these little tunes played on a flute made of a once-broken reed. Others will find it comforting and pleasant. In fact, hearing the Shepherd’s tunes will bring them to life, like spring and summer wild flowers blooming in a meadow. The bruised reed never expected to become a comforter! It’s way outside the flowery meadow life the bruised reed is used to. Amy Carmichael speaks to the flute. She suggests the Heavenly Shepherd knows exactly what the flute can do. The closing line has, it seems, a double reference. First to the once-broken reed, and second to those will be found and comforted by the Shepherd’s music.

Made in the Heavenly Shepherd’s image
Finally, the images used in the poem are important: The Heavenly Shepherd, that “Lover of sweet sound,” composer and performer of the Shepherd’s own simple ‘country airs’ played on a repaired flute. This language isn’t just about God; it’s about us as bearers of God’s image. Yes, we’re broken reeds. As God’s handiwork we convey a bit of what the Heavenly Shepherd offers. It happens when we play the Shepherd’s simple tunes on our repaired flutes. Sometimes they comfort those ready to be found and repaired just as we have, and still are each day.

Take heart, Dear Readers! Happy Valentine’s Day!

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 February 2015