Monday, March 08, 2010

...and with ah! bright wings

House guests brought me as a gift Billy Collins' spanking new anthology of poems about birds, Bright Wings, splendidly illustrated with paintings by David Allen Sibley, who you may know from his Sibley Guide To Birds. Collins is himself a poet of considerable renown, twice Poet Laureate of the United States. The book is beautifully produced by Columbia University Press, and I have been curled up all morning enjoying the feathered flights of many of my favorite poets: Marianne Moore, Mary Oliver, Amy Clampitt, Elizabeth Bishop, Howard Nemerov, Wallace Stevens, and more.

Who, watching birds, hasn't wished to be a poet? The hummingbird, there! at the slipper-flower blossom, a blur of wings, stealing fuel with his soda-straw beak -- it's not science he evokes but breathless excitement. And the mischievous bananaquit, hopping from branch to branch in the white torch tree, waiting for her turn at the feeder -- one wishes then for a gift of rare words, not some dry and abstract ornithological treatise, but a song of praise, an Ode To Joy, a Hallelujah Chorus.

Oh! how one wishes to rise into their element, to loose the hawsers that anchor us to earth, to dive, to dart, to dance at the tips of twigs in the buttonwood tree, to cruise out there along the shore like the osprey, riding gifts of air. But even poets must rue the way their words stay pasted on the page. Howard Nemerov's Blue Swallows ends:
Swallows, swallows, poems are not
the point. Finding again the world,
That is the point, where loveliness
Adorns intelligible things
Because the mind's eye lit the sun.