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Juanita Hall – Bali Ha’i

An evening pause: From the 1958 movie of the great Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, South Pacific.

I first saw this movie as a child when I was around five years old. I didn’t understand the story really, and was especially puzzled by some lyrics, especially because my young mind took them very literally. (Just consider “I’m going wash that man right out of my hair!”)

What I do remember was that this song became one of my favorites throughout my early childhood. In hearing it recently again, I was struck by something I clearly remember, from that childhood. The song is about the draw of love and desire, which is what Bali Ha’i partly represents. However, Hammerstein’s lyrics refer to more, to the greater magic hidden in life everywhere, the mystery that lies behind the black, you might say. It is a theme he repeated in many of the songs he wrote for Richard Rodgers..

What struck me now was how I clearly remember, as a child of five, being very aware of this second somewhat sophisticated meaning. At first I was a little surprised that a child of five could comprehend such concepts, but then as Wordsworth wrote,

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
and not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

As a child I knew nothing of the sexual draw of Bali Ha’i, but I understood its mystical nature quite naturally. I have since spent my life trying to hold onto those “clouds of glory,” because they help connect us better to the enigma that is existence.

This version uses Juanita Hall’s own voice, from an earlier recording. For the movie they dubbed her singing because Rodgers no longer thought her aging voice sounded right.

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