We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Women's Poetry: Two Bird Poems · 12 April 05

My dear Fanny,

Here are two fine poems. First the beauty and celebration:

"Extinct Birds" by Judith Wright

Charles Harpur in his journals long ago
(written in hope and love, and never printed)
recorded the birds of his time’s forest
birds long vanished with the fallen forest
described in copperplate on unread pages.

The scarlet satin-bird, swung like a lamp in berries,
he watched in love, and then in hope described it,
There was a bird, blue, small, spangled like dew.
All now are vanished with the fallen forest.
And he, unloved, past hope, was buried,

who helped with proud stained hands to fell the forest,
and set those birds in love on unread pages;
yet thought himself immortal, being a poet.
And is he not immortal, where I found him,
in love and hope along his careful pages?
the poet vanished, in the vanished forest,
among his brightly tincted extinct birds?

Then the reality check.

"The Way Out" by Fleur Adcock

The other option’s to become a bird.
That’s kindly done, to guess from how they sing,
decently independent of the word
as we are not; and how they use the air
to sail as we might soaring on a swing
higher and higher; but the rope’s not there,

it’s free fall upward, out into the sky;
or if the arc veer downwad, then it’s planned:
a bird can loiter, skimming just as high
as lets him supervise the hazel copse,
the turnip field, the orchard, and then land
on just the twig he’s chosen. Down he drops

to feed, if so it be: a pretty killer,
a keen-eyed stomach weighted like a dart.
He feels no pity for the caterpillar,
that moistly munching hoop of innocent green.
It is such tender lapses twist the heart.
A bird’s heart is a tight little red bean,

untwistable. His beak is made of bone,
his feet apparently of stainless wire;
his coat’s impermeable; his nest’s his own.
The clogging multiplicity of things
amongst whch other creatures, battling, tire
can be evaded by a pair of wings.

The point is, most of it occurs below,
earthed at the levels of the grovelling wood
and gritty buildings. Up’s the way to go.
If it’s escapist, if it’s like a dream
the dream’s prolonged until it ends for good.
I see no disadvantage in the scheme.

Shelley and Leopardi, Loren Eisley, and Bronte’s Catherine Earnshaw—and probably many other poets have dreamed of the ecstasy and beauty and freedom and joy of being a bird.

Once Jim and I woke in the morning and heard the birds. It was 5 am. He had to go to work because these imbecile generals get a kick out of insisting everyone turn up at 7 somewhere or other dressed to the nines. What else do they exist for? I said, "Goddamn noisy birds!" and put the pillow over my head to keep out the noise and my sudden awareness of the light. To which he replied, "A jocund chorus!"

And then another time we woke and I said how I’d love to be a bird, how joyful they seem, how happy, listen to them chirp, and he said they are saying, "This is my branch," "No this is my branch," "No this is my …."

And then one day he said, "I look at a (proverbial half-filled) glass and say, I could pour stuff into that; you look at a glass and say, how little I have left to drink."

Nonetheless Wright’s landscape of the mind and art is heart-achingly beautiful and Adcock’s got a point.


Posted by: Ellen

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