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written on terrestrial things
January 2, 2009 1:31 PM   Subscribe

Former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky (re)posted Thomas Hardy's "The Darkling Thrush" to Slate. Discussion ensued, and became very lively when National Book Award winner Mark Doty observed that the poem contains an overt homage to an earlier poem by Keats. Guggenheim fellow Mark Halliday, MacArthur fellow Jim Powell and Annie Finch chime in. An opportunistic Billy Collins (also a former Poet Laureate & Guggenheim fellow) even showed up, attracted by the discussion of a "bird poem." A fascinating look at some of the finest American poets geeking out over poems that were hits before your mother was born.
posted by eustacescrubb (24 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nice catch, eustacescrubb. Thank you!
posted by everichon at 1:40 PM on January 2, 2009


I wonder why Billy Collins wrote his post in all caps. Tsk. Poets--not scrutable!
posted by everichon at 1:42 PM on January 2, 2009


It's absurd to arraign Hardy for projecting human consciousness into his thrush -- his work is everywhere full of the contrary awareness and the poem depends on our understanding the distance between speaker & bird

wat
posted by plexi at 1:43 PM on January 2, 2009


So the title of Billy's next anthology is TIME FOR SOME STORIES?
posted by Verdant at 1:56 PM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ah bird poems. A good post could be made of just links to and between them. They are one of the primary tropes of English (or any) verse.

My favorite: by Johnny Milton.

Important to note that many cuckoo's are brood parasites who can disguise their calls to replicate the songs of many other birds, including nightingales, in order to kill and replace their young.

The bird is almost always the poet, or poetry's source...any more in-depth interpretation is best left to the experts.

PS: I'm pretty sure Collins is trolling there.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:08 PM on January 2, 2009


THE BOOK WILL BE UNLIKE THE (MANY) OTHER BOOKS OF BIRD POEMS IN THAT IT WILL BE ILLUSTRATED BY DAVID SIBLEY AND IT WILL CONTAIN AVIAN INFORMATION NORMALLY FOUND ONLY IN FIELD GUIDES. THE MARKET IS BIRDERS WHO READ POETRY (THERE SEEMS TO BE AN OVERLAP HERE, NOT SURPRISINGLY.) SO, THE POEMS HAVE TO BE VERY SPECIES-SPECIFIC (NOT JUST "I SAW A BIRD") AND SHOULD TAKE THE BIRD AS THEIR SUBJECT, RATHER THAN JUST USING THE BIRD METAPHORICALLY. NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS PREFERRED.

Huh? Omitting the ornithological notes and replacing Sibley with Mel Hunter, Collins' project sounds very similar to the late Hayden Carruth's The Bird/Poem Book, which collects descriptive, species-specific poems about North American birds. As the Amazon reviewer points out, even Carruth, an editor of extreme talent, couldn't scrape together more than 26 poems that fit the criteria; I'm not particularly optimistic that Collins will outdo him.
posted by Iridic at 2:08 PM on January 2, 2009


Hark, where my blossom'd pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray's edge—
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!

Robert Browning, from that "O to be in England" poem.
posted by steef at 2:51 PM on January 2, 2009


Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate,
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.

- T. S. Eliot, "Burnt Norton"

Nice find, eustacescrubb. I only wish that I were better in tune with natural birdsongs to appreciate the allusions in poetry.
posted by Doktor Zed at 3:10 PM on January 2, 2009


Everybody knows that the bird is the word.
posted by the bricabrac man at 3:45 PM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Walt Whitman watches two eagles have sex:


Skirting the river road (my forenoon walk, my rest)
Skyward in air a sudden muffled sound, the dalliance of the eagles,
the rushing amorous contact high in space together,
The clinching interlocking claws, a living, fierce, gyrating wheel,
Four beating wings, two beaks, a swirling mass tight grappling,
In tumbling, turning clustering loops, straight downward falling,
Till over the river poised, the twain yet one, a moment's lull,
A motionless still balance in the air, then parting, talons loosing,
upward again on slow-firm pinions slanting, their separate diverse
flight,
she hers, he his, pursuing.

(from Leaves of Grass)
posted by the bricabrac man at 3:51 PM on January 2, 2009


Yet another source for "The Darkling Thrush," first pointed out by G. B. Tennyson. The author is the now-decanonized John Keble, who was one of the nineteenth century's most popular religious poets (and thus as likely an influence as Keats). Keble barely escapes Hardy's poem alive.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:00 PM on January 2, 2009


Excellent find, eustacescrubb. Let us pray that Billy Collins adopts the davesecretary style in his future poetry, as well; it would be so treasurous:

SO I WAS SITTING IN A MAN'S
LEATHER RECLINER READING A VOLUME
OF VOLTAIRE AND I WONDERED
WHAT WOULD VOLTAIRE HAVE TO SAY
ABOUT THIS FIELD OF WHEAT
THAT IS VISIBLE THROUGH MY WINDOW?
RIPE? NO! ROLLING? NO! THE ANSWER
IS TAWNY.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 4:02 PM on January 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


Pinksy wrote a piece of Interactive fiction called Mindwheel. It's hard to find these days, and somewhat crap as a game, though excellently written. It may be found via the usual methods
posted by Sparx at 7:03 PM on January 2, 2009


I'd sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk.
posted by kenko at 7:47 PM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


...that forum system is terrible.
posted by kenko at 7:52 PM on January 2, 2009


...that forum system is terrible.

agreed. State's discussion/commentary format is all but useless.
posted by stargell at 10:12 PM on January 2, 2009


Billy Collins couldn't be a bigger douchebag. All caps? Seriously?
posted by bardic at 12:00 AM on January 3, 2009


Billy Collins couldn't be a bigger douchebag. All caps? Seriously?

CAPS LOCK IS CRUISE CONTROL FOR COOL
posted by Mikey-San at 12:51 AM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nice find! Minor gripe: why did you link "Guggenheim fellow Mark Halliday, MacArthur fellow Jim Powell and Annie Finch" to Wikipedia entries instead of their comments, which (given the appalling commentary format) are, if not impossible to find, more bother to find than I feel like taking?
posted by languagehat at 5:52 AM on January 3, 2009


and also to continue languagehat's gripe -- I'm always so disappointed by Slate's Fray, because I feel like it could be an amazing site for discussion and exchange like Metafilter. Instead, the fragmentation that happens because everyone makes a separate 'topic' makes everything way too chaotic, and in my opinion, discourages participation..
posted by suedehead at 8:23 AM on January 3, 2009


Thanks, that's very interesting!

Pinsky seems to share the same concerns: "I'm hopeful that for future "classic poem" discussions we will find a happy medium and better communication or navigation among threads or postings. A somewhat smaller maze, with more conduits and cross-tunnels, maybe."
posted by ersatz at 11:45 AM on January 3, 2009


My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird
posted by rmless at 2:06 PM on January 3, 2009


Should have included a link to The Windhover, the best bird/Jesus poem around.
posted by rmless at 2:09 PM on January 3, 2009


I might as well, being in Iceland and all, post The Pipit by Icelandic Romantic poet Jónas Hallgrímsson. The translation comes from Dick Ringler's excellent Jónas Hallgrímsson site which include a lot of his quite good translations. I made a post about the site a while ago. Anyway, here's a video of a meadow pipit bathing and here's the the poem:


The Pipit


Out in the fields, one autumn,
when easy southern breezes
blew, I blew into straw-blades,
blissfully making whistles.

Later a brute wind blustered,
bracing men to face danger.
They made me sit inside then,
sullen, dull, with the women.

I feared the freezing blizzard,
fretted about my pet ram
and Toppa too, my stripling
two-year-old colt, my jewel.

These were my joys, my gentle
jealously treasured pleasures;
I thought they both, that bitter
biting cold night, might perish.

By dawn the wind had dwindled.
Day broke, brilliant but chilly.
We suited up and set out
to search the blowing snowfields.

My ram and tripping Toppa,
the two I loved unduly,
fetching but foolish creatures,
floundered around the ice-slopes.

I felt at fault. I needed
to feed my pets, to lead them ---
both of my youthful beauties ---
back unharmed to the farmstead.

What happened next? I'm happy
to hail our frail endowments:
men have, though hopelessly evil,
a heart that God imparted.

I saw, deep in a snowdrift
somewhere among the hummocks ---
cowering --- an olive-colored
crippled meadow pipit.

Frozen fast to the mosses,
flight and hiding denied it,
the weary creature watched me,
wary with fear and terror.

If God had suddenly sent me
psalm-singing angels who promised
rams by the ton and twenty
Toppas, I swear, declaring:

Out in Iceland, a little
ardent boy could hardly
aim at imitating
Abraham's brave behavior.

But now, zealously kneeling,
knees in the freezing snowdrifts,
he lay down flat and let his
lips brush the thin, cold pinions.

Unfaltering mercy melted
the maiming, laming fetters
those ranting winds of winter
had wound around our darling.

Surely "our darling" --- surely!
for sheer affection yearly
hurries the happy pipits,
heading back to our meadows.

--- Bolting aloft, it lilted
its love to God above me;
down below, but not downcast ---
deep in joy! --- I sat weeping.

-------

Frozen in fate's dark blizzard,
felled to the earth --- quite mirthless ---
I'd flourish were my Father's
informing breath to warm me!
posted by Kattullus at 8:18 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


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