Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

The Darkling Thrush

December 31, 2010

 

Hermit Thrush - USFWS Photo

We leave you on the last day of the first decade of the 21st Century in the capable hands of Thomas Hardy and the poem he wrote on the eve of the 20th Century. Nothing could be better than ringing in a new year with the sound of a thrush’s song.

 

I leant upon a coppice gate

When Frost was spectre-grey,

And Winter’s dregs made desolate

The weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky

Like strings of broken lyres,

And all mankind that haunted nigh

Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be

The Century’s corpse outleant,

His crypt the cloudy canopy,

The wind his death-lament.

The ancient pulse of germ and birth

Was shrunken hard and dry,

And every spirit upon earth

Seemed fervourless as I.

 

At once a voice arose among

The bleak twigs overhead

In a full-hearted evensong

Of joy illimited;

An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,

In blast-beruffled plume,

Had chosen thus to fling his soul

Upon the growing gloom.

 

So little cause for carolings

Of such ecstatic sound

Was written on terrestrial things

Afar or nigh around,

That I could think there trembled through

His happy good-night air

Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew

And I was unaware.

Bird Songs When Living Alone

November 12, 2010

Galway Kinnell, the poet wrote a series of poems he calls “When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone.” Birds, and a pet snake, appear in many of them. In the seventh of the series he writes:

the least flycatcher witching up “che-bec!”

or the red-headed woodpecker clanging out his music

from a metal drainpipe, or a ruffed grouse drumming

“thrump thrump thrump thrump-thrump-

thrump-thrump-ru-rup-rup-rup-rup-r-r-r-r-r-r”

deep in the woods, all of them in time’s unfolding

trying to cry themselves into self-knowing -

one knows one is here to hear them into shining,

when one has lived a long time alone.

I’m not so sure I agree with his implication that the birds lack “self-knowing” but I won’t deny the beauty of the poem or the marvelous descriptions of the bird songs.

And speaking of bird songs, Enature has a fun test for anyone who wants to take it. You type in your zip code and five birds from your region will test your knowledge of their songs. It’s fun.

The Pencil

October 23, 2010

Harold Ross, the legendary founder and editor of the world’s best magazine, The New Yorker, was renown for his tightness when it came to office supplies and equipment. When E.B. White, probably the best writer at the world’s best magazine, was late with a piece, Ross sent him a note that said:

Mr. White:

If you get that story done, I’ll take steps to get you a new cushion for your chair.

H.W. Ross

Harold Ross in the Copyright-Expired Olden Times

On another occasion Ross bumped into Dorothy Parker, also a staff writer, at a restaurant and asked her why she wasn’t back in the office working. She responded, “Because someone was using the pencil.”

That’s been the problem here at The Fat Finch lately. Every time I sit down to write a post somebody else has the pencil.

Heedless, the wild world marched on without taking the slightness notice of the paucity of Fat Finch posts. Billions of birds migrated and are already on their winter feeding grounds. The southern hemisphere, now grabbing most of the sunlight falling on the planet, also has most of the birds. The Rocky Mountains are hunkered down, awaiting the first blast of winter, which is late this year. Most of the Aspens north of New Mexico have shed their leaves and stand naked now, awaiting cold north winds and the storms that the jet stream will soon blow their way. Rocky Mountain Aspen have had a good year. SAD, “Sudden Aspen Decline” seems to have slowed and fewer trees died this year. And we humans seem to have isolated the cause of SAD: drought and heat. And that’s not good news in the long run, the world keeps getting warmer and the southwestern United States keeps getting drier. Someone has even noted that the value of municipal bonds in the southwest may decline as worries about water supplies increase. Phoenix may have all the water rights it needs, but you can’t drink water rights.

It’s been raining in San Diego and that means the jet stream has finally begun its autumn meanderings above the earth and the Bermuda High is horsing around south of the Azores. Up in the Yukon the mainly birdless trees are thinking of Robert Service who wrote in his poem, “The Pines”:

We sleep in the sleep of ages, the bleak barbarian pines;

We pillar the halls of perfumed gloom;

We plume where the eagles soar;

The North-wind swoops from the brooding Pole, and our ancients crash and roar; . . .

Gain to the verge of the hog-back ridge where the vision ranges free;

Pines and pines and the shadow of pines as far as the eye can see;

A steadfast legion of stalwart knights in dominant empery.

Sun moon and stars give answer: shall we not staunchly stand,

Even as now, forever, wards of the wilder strand,

Sentinels of the stillness, lords of the last, lone land?

It is so cold and dark in the wintertime Yukon that even the air tries to escape, blowing southward in the autumn; helping the Yukon’s Peregrine Falcons on their way to Chile, 8,000 miles away. They make the trip in about sixty days, averaging between forty and sixty miles an hour. Bereft of falcons, the Yukon River will freeze now and not care at all what I have to say about it.

Our physical store is likewise migrating south this winter, relocating about a mile south of its current location. We’ll update you on that in a future post. But our virtual store will stay where it is. Seasons mean nothing in the world-wide-web. Weather is of no consequence there; only ones and zeroes matter.

And you’ve kept reading. Thank you. We’re hunkering down for winter too, so there will more time to write. Besides, I’ve got the pencil now.

I could use a new chair cushion though.

__________________________

The stories about H.W. Ross come from the October 4, 2010 issue of The New Yorker, in a brief piece announcing that the magazine will now be available as an application on the iPad.

The Hummingbirds Return

April 7, 2010

Archy

It is spring and we await our first hummingbird here at the Fat Finch. Hummingbirds, according to the Aztecs, were the reincarnated souls of dead Aztec warriors. There was a time, about a century ago, when many humans believed in  transmigration of souls into animals. The American writer Don Marquis used his fictional cockroach Archy to poke a little fun at the belief. Archy was a cockroach that lived in the newsroom at the New York Sun newspaper where Marquis worked. Archy had been a human who wrote free verse and, when he died, transmigrated into the body of cockroach as punishment. He communicates by throwing himself bodily on the keys of Mr. Marquis’s typewriter. He can’t capitalize anything because of the necessity of holding down the shift key on the typewriter at the same time striking the key of the letter to be capitalized. Nor did he waste energy or time attempting punctuation.

Aztec Jaguar Warrior on his way to Hummingbird Status

Marquis wrote during Prohibition, that time long ago when alcoholic beverages were banned in the United States. It was also a time of wide-spread belief  in ghosts and spiritualism.

But some things haven’t changed in the intervening century: We still love hummingbirds, even if fewer of us believe in ghosts. Here from his poem entitled “ghosts”

you want to know
whether i believe in ghosts
of course i do not believe in them
if you had known as many of them as i have
you would not
believe in them either
perhaps i have been
unfortunate in my acquaintance
but the ones i have known
have been a bad lot
no one could believe in them
after being acquainted with them
a short time . . . .

i remember talking to one of them
who had just worked his way
upward again he had been in the
body of a flea and he was going
into a cat fish
you would think he might be
grateful for the promotion
but not he
i do not call this much of an advance
he said why could i not
be a humming bird or something
kid i told him it will
take you a million years to work your
way up to a humming bird . . . .

Archy was not so ambitious as to try for a hummingbird. He was content with something less exalted:

personally my ambition is to get
my time as a cockroach shortened for
good behavior and be promoted
to a revenue officer
it is not much of a step up but
i am humble . . . .

The revenue officer Archy refers to is not the tax man but the revenue officer who spent his days and nights trying to eradicate boot-legged liquor in those far off days when the government tried to protect us from our vices.

Working our way up to hummingbirds, we’ve put out our feeders. Some Broad-tails have been seen on the outskirts of our city and we’re ready for our first visitors. They’ll arrive any day now. The seasons here march along; the Sandhill Cranes replaced by hummingbirds until autumn, when the cranes fill the void left by departing hummingbirds, the skies bringing year-round joy.

The Geese and Cranes are Heading North

February 19, 2010

Come, fill the Cup, and
in the fire of Spring
Your Winter garment of Repentance Fling
The Bird of Time has but a little way to fly — and Lo!
The Bird is on the Wing

Omar Khayyam

From “The Rubaiyat” ca. 1122

_____________________

Paying for “Birds of America”

February 4, 2010

Our last post was about John James Audubon self-publishing Birds of America. It cost him more than $115,000.00. Today that would be more than two million dollars. Some of you may have wondered where he got the money.  After all, he was a draft-dodging, illegal immigrant from France. Apparently the poet Steven Vincent Benet wondered too, so he wrote this poem:

Some men live for warlike deeds,
Some for women’s words.
John James Audubon
Lived to look at birds.

Pretty birds and funny birds,
All our native fowl
From the little cedar waxwing
To the Great Horned Owl.

Let the wind blow hot or cold,
Let it rain or snow,
Everywhere the birds went
Audubon would go.

Scrambling through a wilderness,
Floating down a stream,
All around America
In a feathered dream.

Thirty years of traveling,
Pockets often bare,
(Lucy Bakewell Audubon
Patched them up with care).

Followed grebe and meadowlark,
Saw them sing and splash.
(Lucy Bakewell Audubon
Somehow raised the cash).

Drew them all the way they lived
In their habitats.
(Lucy Bakewell Audubon
Sometimes wondered “Cats?”)

Colored them and printed them
In a giant book,
“Birds of North America” –
All the world said, “Look!”

Gave him medals and degrees,
Called him noble names,
Lucy Bakewell Audubon
Kissed her queer John James.

Ending a Decade

December 29, 2009

The year is drawing to an end. In fact, a whole decade draws to a close. According to the pundits I’ve been reading this week, it must not have been a very good one either.

In case you’ve been reading the same pundits, here is an antidote straight from Emily Dickinson:

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without
the words,
And never stops at all.”

Hope

Prayer to the Snowy Owl

November 16, 2009

Out here, it’s the Season When Thunder Sleeps and the snows of winter begin to fall. Up north, in the Arctic, it grows dark.

But that does not mean all life, or even all bird life halts up there in the dark.  To remind us of that, here is John Haines’ wonderful poem about Snowy Owls:

snowy-owl-prints

Prayer to the Snowy Owl

Descend, silent spirit;
you whose golden eyes
pierce the grey
shroud of the world—
Marvelous ghost!
Drifter of the arctic night,
destroyer of those
who gnaw in the dark—
preserver of whiteness.

____________________________
The painting of the Snowy Owls is by Roger Tory Peterson.

A Tiny Sparrow

September 20, 2009

Birds have inspired a lot of music.  Think of the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”, Vivaldi’s summer movement of “The Four Seasons”, the 3rd movement of Dvorak’s “American ” String Quartet, Williams’ “The Lark Ascending”.  The list goes on and on.  Here is a bird-inspired traditional folk song lamenting an unfortunate love.  Mary Travers sang it well and made you imagine that she wished to be a tiny sparrow.  Like bird song, her voice helped purify our ears.

The Song of a Canyon Wren

August 31, 2009

Here is a part of one of the nicest poems about bird song you’ll ever read, written by that Sage of Nature, Gary Snyder.  This is why we listen to birds.

Canyon Wren by Joan Mayer, NPS

Canyon Wren by Joan Mayer, NPS

The Canyon Wren

I look up at the cliffs
But we’re swept on by                   downriver
the rafts
Wobble and slide over roils of water
boulders shimmer
under the arching stream
Rock walls straight up on both sides.
A hawk cuts across that narrow sky
hit by the sun,

We paddle forward, backstroke, turn,
Spinning through eddies and waves
Stairsteps of churning whitewater.
above the roar
hear the song of a Canyon Wren.

A smooth stretch, drifting and resting.
Hear it again, delicate downward song
Descending through ancient beds. . . .

These songs that are here and gone,
Here and gone,
To purify our ears.
_____________________________
Here is a link so you too can listen, at least, to a recording.  May it inspire you to get out there and hear one for yourself.


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