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Posts Tagged ‘William Butler Yeats’

[with poems by Jonathan Revere, Maggie Dietz, William Butler Yeats ]

Actually, that’s a Herring Gull.

Day 7 of our Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness adventure and Josh and I are feeling pretty fit in the lead canoe this morning. We’re almost across Ima Lake to our next portage, the other two canoes lagging. A quarter mile to starboard on a high bluff we spy a campsite of Girl Scouts watching and waving. We paddle our manly J-strokes and pay no attention to the big rocky crag jutting up out of the lake to port.

Until Fury rains from the skies.

Actually, more like flaps and squawks. Atop the crag one big frizzed-out Herring Gull chick gangles from its nest and Mom & Dad are divebombing our canoe. Josh and I whoop and splash and all but capsize as we invent a whole new series of paddle strokes.

We finally manage 50 yards of headway; the attackers call truce and return to the nest. Josh and I take a break while we check our heads for gull guano. The Girl Scouts seem to be convulsing – dreadful concern or laughter? And here come Matt and Greg and Little Brad around the point. They’re fixated on the Girl Scouts. They haven’t even noticed us.

Josh and I scull the canoe around and take a sighting. Hmmm. Direct line from us to the crag to oblivious canoe number two.

“Hey guys! Here we are! This way!”

Matt, Greg, and Brad are twenty feet from the crag when the gulls open fire. The guys cower so far below the gunwales they can’t even get a paddle into the water. It’s a couple of minutes before Josh and I can even breathe for laughing, then we start hollering that they’re going to have to put some distance between themselves and that rock.

The guys end up paddling with their hands, scrunched down in the canoe like drowned haversacks. Finally they catch up to us and they ain’t laughing. Or showing their faces to the Girl Scouts. At least we can’t see any fresh blood.

The five of us cool off for a minute. We look back. Around the point come Everett and Big Brad in canoe number three. Hmmm.

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Gull Skeleton

In the first verse I find his skeleton
nested in shore grass, late one autumn day.
The loss of life and the life which is decay
have been so gentle, so clasped one-to-one

that what they left is perfect; and here in
the second verse I kneel to pick it up:
bones like the fine white china of a cup,
chambered for lightness, dangerously thin,

their one clear purpose forcing them toward flight
even now, from the warm solace of my hand.
In the third verse I bend to that demand
and – quickly, against the deepening of the night,

because I can in poems – remake his wild eye,
his claws, and the tense heat his muscles keep,
his wings’ knit feathers, then free him to his steep
climb, in the last verse, up the streaming sky.

Jonathan Revere

POETRY magazine, April 1971, The Poetry Foundation.

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Seasonal

Summer-long the gulls’ old umbra cry
unraveled ease
but certain waves went by, then by.
The sky shook out the days.

The seabirds’ hunger rose in rings,
flung rock-clams to their shatterings,
raked gullets full, the bone-bills scraped.

High noon: oceans of time escaped.

++++++++++ *

All winter we slept benched together,
breakers, sleepdrunk children in a car
not conscious where they go.

We kneaded bread, kept out the weather,
while old suspicions huddled by the door,
mice in the snow.

++++++++++ *

In spring, the leaving bloomed—
oak leaf unfurled, a foot, resplendent
vigorous, aching to shake loose
but still dependent.

One morning moongreen loaves
rose into bones that rose to lift
our skin like sleeves,
our time together’s revenant.

++++++++++ *

Perennial fall, come cool the cliffs,
bring quiet, sulfur, early dark.
Represent as you must: dusk, dying, ends
and row us into winter’s water:

The body, wind-whipped, forms stiff peaks,
ice settles in the marrow bone.
At the chest, the live stone breaks against the beak,
beak breaks against stone.

Maggie Dietz

from Perennial Fall. Copyright © 2006 by Maggie Dietz. Reprinted in POETRY magazine online, The Poetry Foundation.

 

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On a Political Prisoner

She that but little patience knew,
From childhood on, had now so much
A grey gull lost its fear and flew
Down to her cell and there alit,
And there endured her fingers’ touch
And from her fingers ate its bit.

Did she in touching that lone wing
Recall the years before her mind
Became a bitter, an abstract thing,
Her thought some popular enmity:
Blind and leader of the blind
Drinking the foul ditch where they lie?

When long ago I saw her ride
Under Ben Bulben to the meet,
The beauty of her country-side
With all youth’s lonely wildness stirred,
She seemed to have grown clean and sweet
Like any rock-bred, sea-borne bird:

Sea-borne, or balanced in the air
When first it sprang out of the nest
Upon some lofty rock to stare
Upon the cloudy canopy,
While under its storm-beaten breast
Cried out the hollows of the sea.

William Butler Yeats

reprinted in POETRY magazine online, The Poetry Foundation.

 

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Yeats wrote On a Political Prisoner at the beginning of 1919 as the Anglo-Irish war for independence was about to explode. It refers to a woman he admired and loved (scholars differ on her exact identity) who had been imprisoned for her strong nationalistic beliefs. Yeats supported Irish home rule but had become disenchanted with radical politics, and the poem reflects that ambivalence in describing the woman’s mind as bitter, abstract thing while still admiring her patience and gentleness in befriending the gull.

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The Terror of Gull Rock occurred in June, 1996 when I and my son Josh as co-leader shepherded a little crew of Boy Scouts through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. Nine days on the water, 28 lakes traversed, 33 portages (carrying packs and canoes) = 70 miles afloat and afoot. We lived to tell the tales and there were plenty of tales. Thank you for all that paddling and for eating my cooking to Everett, Greg, Matt, and Brad, and to Big Brad our summer intern. There ain’t no place more glorious than the middle of nowhere.

 

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