On Wings of Song: Poems About Birds (Everyman's Library)

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From backyard to barnyard, from hawks to hummingbirds, from pelicans to peacocks, from Coleridge's albatross to Keats's nightingale to Poe's raven-all manner of feathered beings, the inspiration for poetic flights of fancy through the ages, are gathered together in this delightful volume.

Some of the winged treasures: Emily Dickinson on the jay; Gertrude Stein on pigeons; Seamus Heaney on turkeys; Tennyson on the eagle; Spenser on the merry cuckoo; Amy Clampitt on the whippoorwill; Po Chü-i on cranes; John Updike on seagulls; W.S. Merwin on the duck; Elizabeth Bishop on the sandpiper; Rilke on flamingoes; Margaret Atwood on vultures; the Bible on the ostrich; Sylvia Plath on the owl; Melville on the hawk; Yeats on wild swans; Virgil on the harpies; Thomas Hardy on the darkling thrush; and Wallace Stevens on thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird.

EXCERPT:

"Seagulls"
by John Updike


A gull, up close,
looks surprisingly stuffed.
His fluffy chest seems filled
with an inexpensive taxidermist's material
rather lumpily inserted. The legs,
unbent, are childish crayon strokes--
too simple to be workable.
And even the feather-markings,
whose intricate symmetry is the usual glory of birds,
are in the gull slovenly,
as if God makes them too many
to make them very well.

Are they intelligent?
We imagine so, because they are ugly.
The sardonic one-eyed profile, slightly cross,
the narrow, ectomorphic head, badly combed,
the wide and nervous and well-muscled rump
all suggest deskwork: shipping rates
by day, Schopenhauer
by night, and endless coffee.

At that hour on the beach
when the flies begin biting in the renewed coolness
and the backsliding skin of the after-surf
reflects a pink shimmer before being blotted,
the gulls stand around in the dimpled sand
like those melancholy European crowds
that gather in cobbled public squares in the wake
of assassinations and invasions,
heads cocked to hear the latest radio reports.

It is also this hour when plump young couples
walk down to the water, bumping together,
and stand thigh-deep in the rhythmic glass.
Then they walk back toward the car,
tugging as if at a secret between them
but which neither quite knows--
walk capricious paths through the scattering gulls,
as in some mythologies
beautiful gods stroll unconcerned
among our mortal apprehensions.



John Updike on "Seagulls":

My distinct memory is that I was pondering gulls while lying on Crane Beach in Ipswich when the first stanza came over me in a spasm of inspiration. Penless and paperless, I ran to the site of a recent beach fire and wrote in charcoal on a large piece of unburned driftwood. Then I cumbersomely carried my improvised tablet home. It must have been late in the beach season, and my final stanzas slow to ripen, for the poem's completion is dated early December.

"Excellent. . . . [Disch's] greatest work-a writer's writer's success." --"The Village Voice
"A robust writer . . . a virtuoso." --"The "New York Times Book Review
"Startlingly original. . . . A cause for jubilation." --Harlan Ellison
"A superb book." "--Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
"One of the most remarkably talented writers around." --"The Washington Post Book World
" Big, solid and immensely enjoyable." --David Pringle, "Science Fiction: The Best 100 Novels

 

J. D. McClatchy is the author of five collections of poems: Scenes From Another Life, Stars Principal, The Rest of the Way, Ten Commandments, and Hazmat . He has also written two books of essays: White Paper and Twenty Questions. He has edited many other books, including The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry, Poets on Painters and Horace: The Odes. In addition, he edits The Voice of the Poet series for Random House AudioBooks, and has written seven opera libretti. He is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has taught at Princeton, UCLA, and Johns Hopkins, and is now a professor at Yale, where since 1991 he has edited The Yale Review. He lives in Stonington, Connecticut.

Everyman's Library

0.77" H x 6.52" L x 4.44" W

256 pages

hardcover