The Sparrow

(To My Father)

 

This sparrow

            who comes to sit at my window

                        is a poetic truth

more than a natural one.

            His voice,

                        his movements,

his habits--

            how he loves to

                        flutter his wings

in the dust--

            all attest it;

                        granted, he does it

to rid himself of lice

            but the relief he feels

                        makes him

cry out lustily

            which is a trait

                        more related to music

than otherwise.

            Wherever he finds himself

                        in early spring,

on back streets

            or beside palaces,

                        he carries on

unaffectedly

            his amours.

                        It begins in the egg,

his sex genders it:

            What is more pretentiously

                        useless

or about which

            we more pride ourselves?

                        It leads as often as not

to our undoing.

            The cockerel, the crow

                        with their challenging voices

cannot surpass

            the insistence

                        of his cheep!

Once

            at El Paso

                        toward evening,

I saw--and heard!--

            ten thousand sparrows

                        who had come in from

the desert

            to roost.  They filled the trees

                        of a small park.  Men fled

(with ears ringing!)

            from their droppings,

                        leaving the premises

to the alligators

            who inhabit

                        the fountain.  His image

is familiar

            as that of the aristocratic

                        unicorn, a pity

there are not more oats eaten

            nowadays

                        to make a living easier

for him.

            At that,

                        his small size,

keen eyes,

            serviceable beak

                        and general truculence

assure his survival--

            to say nothing

                        of his innumerable

brood.

            Even the Japanese

                        know him

and have painted him

            sympathetically,

                        with profound insight

Into his minor

            characteristics.

                        Nothing even remotely

subtle

            about his lovemaking.

                        He crouches

before the female,

            drags his wings,

                        waltzing,

throws back his head

            and simply--

                        yells! The din

is terrific.

            The way he swipes his bill

                        across a plank

to clean it,

            is decisive.

                        So with everything

he does.  His coppery

            eyebrows

                        give him the air

of being always

            a winner--and yet

                        I saw once,

the female of his species

            clinging determinedly

                        to the edge of

a water pipe,

            catch him

                        by his crown-feathers

to hold him

            silent,

                        subdued,

hanging above the city streets

            until

                        she was through with him.

What was the use

            of that?

                        She hung there

herself,

            puzzled at her success.

                        I laughed heartily.

Practical to the end

            it is the poem

                        of his existence

that triumphed

            finally;  

                        a wisp of feathers

flattened to the pavement,

            wings spread symmetrically

                        as if in flight,

the head gone,

            the black escutcheon of the breast

                        undecipherable,

an effigy of a sparrow

            a dried wafer only,

                        left to say

and it says it

            without offense,

                        beautifully;

This was I,

            a sparrow.

                        I did my best;

farewell.

 

--William Carlos Williams

 

            -328-

 

A Bird came down the Walk—

He did not know I saw—

He bit an Angleworm in halves

And ate the fellow, raw,

 

And then he drank a Dew

From a convenient Grass—

And then hopped sidewise to the Wall

To let a Beetle pass—

 

He glanced with rapid eyes

That hurried all around—

They looked like frightened Beads, I thought—

He stirred his Velvet Head

 

Like one in danger, Cautious,

I offered him a Crumb

And he unrolled his feathers

And rowed him softer home—

 

Than Oars divide the Ocean,

Too silver for a seam—

Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon

Leap, plashless as they swim.

 

c. 1862                                    E. Dickinson

 

 


    To a Waterfowl

 

            Whither, 'midst falling dew,

While glow the heavens with the last steps of day,

Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue

            Thy solitary way?

 

            Vainly the fowler's eye

Might mark thy distant flight, to do thee wrong,

As, darkly seen against the crimson sky,

            Thy figure floats along.

 

            Seek'st thou the plashy brink

Of weedy lake, or marge of river wide,

Or where the rocking billows rise and sink

            On the chafed ocean side?

 

            There is a Power, whose care

Teaches thy way along that pathless coast,--

The desert and illimitable air,

            Lone wandering, but not lost,

 

            All day thy wings have fanned,

At that far height, the cold thin atmosphere;

Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land,

            Though the dark night is near.

 

            And soon that toil shall end,

Soon shalt thou find a summer home, and rest,

And scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bend,

            Soon, o'er thy sheltered nest.

 

            Thou'rt gone, the abyss of heaven

Hath swallowed up thy form, yet, on my heart

Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou has given,

            And shall not soon depart.

 

            He, who, from zone to zone,

Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,

In the long way that I must trace alone,

            Will lead my steps aright.

 

                        --William Cullen Bryant


            -311-

 

It sifts from Leaden Sieves—

It powders all the Wood.

It fills with Alabaster Wool

The Wrinkles of the Road—

 

It makes an Even Face

Of Mountain, and of Plain—

Unbroken Forehead from the East

Unto the East again—

 

It reaches to the Fence—

It wraps it Rail by Rail

Till it is lost in Fleeces—

It deals Celestial Vail

 

To Stump, and Stack—and Stem—

A Summer’s empty Room—

Acres of Joints, where Harvests were,

Recordless, but for them—

 

It Ruffles Wrists of Posts

As Ankles of a Queen—

Then stills its Artisans—like Ghosts—

Denying they have been—

 

c. 1862                 —Emily Dickinson  

 


            Desert Places

 

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast

In a field I looked into going past,

And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,

But a few weeks and stubble showing last.

 

The woods around it have it—it is theirs.

All animals are smothered in their lairs.

I am too absent-spirited to count;

The loneliness includes me unawares.

 

And lonely as it is that loneliness

Will be more lonely ere it will be less—

A blanker whiteness of benighted snow

With no expression, nothing to express.

 

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces

Between stars—on stars where no human race is.

I have it in me so much nearer home

To scare myself with my own desert places.

 

                                    —Robert Frost

 

            Design

 

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,

On a white heal-all, holding up a moth

Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth—

Assorted characters of death and blight

Mixed ready to begin the morning right,

Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth—

A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,

And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

 

What had that flower to do with being white,

The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?

What brought the kindred spider to that height,

Then steered the white moth thither in the night?

What but design of darkness to appall?

If design govern in a thing so small.

 

                        —Robert Frost

 


            Inscription for the Entrance to a Wood

 

Stranger, if thou has learned a truth which needs

No school of long experience, that the world

Is full of guilt and misery, and hast seen

Enough of all its sorrow, crimes, and cares

To tire thee of it, enter this wild wood

And view the haunts of Nature.  The calm shade

Shall bring a kindred calm, and the sweet breeze,

That makes the green leaves dance, shall waft a balm

To thy sick heart.  Thou wilt find nothing here

Of all that pained thee in the haunts of men

And made thee loathe thy life.  The primal curse

Fell, it is true, upon the unsinning earth,

But not in vengeance.  God hath yoked to guilt

Her pale tormentor, misery.  Hence these shades

Are still the abodes of gladness: the thick roof

Of green and stirring branches is alive

And musical with birds, that sing and sport

In wantonness of spirit; while, below,

The squirrel, with raised paws and form erect,

Chirps merrily.  Throngs of insects in the shade

Try their thin wings and dance in the warm beam

That waked them into life.  Even the green trees

Partake the deep contentment; as they bend

To the soft winds, the sun from the blue sky

Looks in the sheds a blessing on the scene.

Scarce less the cleft-born wild-flower seems to enjoy

Existence than the winged plunderer

That sucks its sweets.  The mossy rocks themselves,

And the old and ponderous trunks of prostrate trees

That lead from knoll to knoll a causey rude

Or bridge the sunken brook, and their dark roots,

With all their earth upon them, twisting high,

Breathe fixed tranquility .  The rivulet

Sends forth glad sounds, and, tripping o’er its bed

Of pebbly sands or leaping down the rocks,

Seems with continuous laughter to rejoice

In its own being.  Softly tread the marge,

Lest from her midway perch thou scare the wren

That dips her bill in water.  The cool wind,

That stirs the stream in play, shall come to thee,

Like one that loves thee nor will let thee pass

Ungreeted, and shall give its light embrace.

 

                                    —William Cullen Bryant