Richard Wilbur: All These Birds

                Agreed that all these birds,
Hawk or heavenly lark or heard-of nightingale,
        Perform upon the kitestrings of our sight
        In a false distance, that the day and night
        Are full of wingèd words
                                                   gone rather stale,
                That nothing is so worn
                As Philomel’s bosom-thorn,

                That it is, in fact, the male
Nightingale which sings, and that all these creatures wear
        Invisible armour such as Hébert beheld
        His water-ousel through, as, wrapped or shelled
        In a clear bellying veil
                                                 or bubble of air,
                It bucked the flood to feed
                At the stream bottom. Agreed

                That the sky is a vast claire
In which the gull, despite appearances, is not
        Less claustral than the oyster in its beak
        And dives like nothing human; that we seek
        Vainly to know the heron
                                                     (but can plot
                What angle of the light
                Provokes its northern flight.)

                Let them be polyglot
And wordless then, these boughs that spoke with Solomon
        In Hebrew canticles, and made him wise;
        And let a clear and bitter wind arise
        To storm into the hotbeds
                                                     of the sun,
                And there, beyond a doubt,
                Batter the Phoenix out.

                Let us, with glass or gun,
Watch (from our clever blinds) the monsters of the sky
        Dwindle to habit, habitat, and song,
        And tell the imagination it is wrong
        Till, lest it be undone,
                                                 it spin a lie
                So fresh, so pure, so rare
                As to possess the air.

                Why should it be more shy
Than chimney-nesting storks, or sparrows on a wall?
        Oh, let it climb wherever it can cling
        Like some great trumpet-vine, a natural thing
        To which all birds that fly
                                                     come natural.
                Come, stranger, sister, dove:
                Put on the reins of love.

from Richard Wilbur: Collected Poems 1943-2004 (2005) (p. 366-7)



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