Monday, January 24, 2011

Windhover

We have an osprey that patrols our shore. He sails to the south, then, an hour later, we see him riding north. Where the sea air meets the land it rises, and he rises with it, lifted by the shove of salt on his broad white wings. When his keen eyes spot a prey he plunges feet first into the water, and, if successful, takes his dinner to the top branch of a casuarina pine.

They call them fish hawks here.

It's at moments like this -- the osprey's effortless, flapless flight, the power, the grace -- that I wish I were a poet. The science of aerodynamics takes us only so far. The prose of the field guide feels stuffy and dry. In the introduction to his anthology of poetry about birds (Bright Wings, beautifully illustrated by David Allen Sibley), Billy Collins writes: "The genre of poetry makes its true appearance at the very point along the line of verbal expression where the possibilities of prose have been exhausted. The job of poetry, we might say, is to make sure that prose is never allowed to have the last word."

Let's give Hopkins the last word:
I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
      dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
      Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
      As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
      Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, –- the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!