A Bird came down the Walk

emily dickinson“A Bird came down the Walk” is a short poem by Emily Dickinson that tells of the poet’s encounter with a worm-eating bird.  It was first published in 1891 in the second collection of Dickinson’s poems.

 

 

A Bird came down the Walk
by Emily Dickinson

A Bird came down the Walk—
He did not know I saw—
He bit a 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.

Emily Dickinson was a prolific private poet, however, fewer than a dozen of her nearly eighteen hundred poems were published during her lifetime and the work that was published while she was alive was usually altered significantly by the publishers to fit the conventional poetic rules of the time.  Her poems are unique for the era in which she wrote; they contain short lines, typically lack titles and often use slant rhyme as well as unconventional capitalization and punctuation.

Many of her poems deal with themes of death and immortality.

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Edgar Allan Poe– Death of Annabel Lee

“Annabel Lee” is the last complete poem composed by Edgar Allan Poe.  It was written in 1849, but was not published until shortly after his death that same year.

This poem follows Poe’s favorite theme: the death of a beautiful woman; which Poe called, “the most poetical topic in the world”.  His frequent use of this topic most likely stems from the repeated loss of women throughout his life, including his mother, Eliza Poe, his foster mother Frances Allan and his wife, Virginia (who died two years prior to the composition of this poem).

It is unclear who Annabel Lee is, however, local legend in Charleston, SC tells the story of a sailor who met a woman named Annabel Lee.  Her father disapproved of the pairing and the two met privately in a graveyard before the sailor’s time stationed in Charleston was up.  While away, he heard of Annabel’s death from yellow fever.  Because he did not know her exact burial location, he instead kept vigil in the cemetery where they had often secretly met.

 

Annabel Lee
by Edgar Allan Poe

 
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the winged seraphs of Heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulcher
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half to happy in Heaven,
Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of  those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darkling–  my life and my bride,
In her sepulcher there by the sea—
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Donne’s The Flea…

John Donne’s poem, The Flea, is a somewhat humorous, but heroic, attempt by the speaker of the poem to convince his beloved to “lay” with him.  Donne’s ability to compare unlikely images (premarital sex and a flea) as symbols of love and romance exemplify metaphysical poetic mode (conceit).

The speaker in his poem is extremely interested in experiencing relations with his love; his love is not.

In a last ditch attempt to attain his goal, he contends that the flea that bit him- bit her too; therefore, they are already joined in the marriage bed through a blending of their blood, “Mark but this flea, and mark in this, How little that which thou deniest me is”.

His love eventually kills the flea, despite his protests.  At this, he again turns the argument around, telling her that her killing of the flea (and the high minded ideals that come with the blending of their blood) did not hurt her honor; therefore, neither would it be harmed by sleeping with him.

 

The Flea, by John Donne

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is;
It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be;
Thou know’st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead,
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pampered swells with one blood made of two,
And this, alas, is more than we would do.

Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, nay more than married are.
The flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is;
Though parents grudge, and you, w’are met,
And cloistered in these living walls of jet.
Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that, self-murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, has thou since
Purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it sucked from thee?
Yet thou triuph’st, and say’st that thou
Find’st not thy self, nor me the weaker now;
‘Tis true; then learn how false fears be:
Just so much honor, when thou yeild’st to me,
Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.

 

This poem was published posthumously in 1633.

John Keats…TO AUTUMN and his own inevitable winter

To Autumn was one of John Keat’s last poems; he died one year after it was published.  What makes this particular poem so moving is the context in which it was written.  Keats was dying, slowly, from consumption as he wrote this piece.  His focus on autumn, the ripest of all seasons… the time when all life reaches fruition… corresponds with his own condition in such a way!

Keats attempts to trap autumn in all its fullness; to stop the apple from falling from the tree… as he desires to keep himself from his own inevitable winter.  Alas, as the apple falls… so does he.

Happy Birthday John Keats!

To Autumn
by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid they store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

And I, cut off from the world, remain… Alone with the terrible hurricane.

William Cullen Bryant is considered one of the most accomplished and popular American poets of the first half of the 19th century.  He was an early proponent of Romanticism in American literature and his work is often compared to English Romantic, William Wordsworth.

    

The Hurricane
by William Cullen Bryant (1854)

            Lord of the winds! I feel thee nigh,
I know thy breath in the burning sky!
And I wait, with a thrill in every vein,
For the coming of the hurricane!
 
            And lo! On the wing of the heavy gales,
Through the boundless arch of heaven he sails;
Silent and slow, and terribly strong,
The mighty shadow is borne along,
Like the dark eternity to come;
While the world below, dismayed and dumb,
Through the calm of the thick atmosphere
Looks up at its gloomy folds with fear.
 
            They darken fast; and the golden blaze
Of the sun is quenched in the lurid haze,
And he sends through the shade a funeral ray—
A glare that is neither light nor day,
A beam that touches, with hues of death,
The clouds above and the earth beneath.
To its covert glides the silent bird.
While the hurricane’s distant voice is heard,
Uplifted among the mountains round,
And the forests hear and answer the sound.
 
            He is come! He is come! Do ye not behold
His ample robes on the wind unrolled?
Giant of air! we bid thee hail!—
How his gray skirts toss in the whirling gale;
How his huge and writhing arms are bent,
To clasp the zone of firmament,
And fold at length, in their dark embrace,
From mountain to mountain the visible space.
 
            Darker- still darker! The whirlwinds bear
The dust of the plains to the middle air;
And hark to the crashing, long and loud,
Of the chariot of God in the thunder-cloud!
You may trace its path by the flashes that start
From the rapid wheels where’er they dart,
As the fire-bolts leap to the world below,
And flood the skies with a lurid glow.
 
            What roar is that?—‘tis the rain that breaks
In torrents away from the airy lakes,
Heavily poured on the shuddering ground,
And shedding a nameless horror round.
Ah! well known woods, and mountains, and skies,
With the very clouds!—ye are lost to my eyes.
I seek ye vainly, and see in your place
The shadowy tempest that sweeps through space,
A whirling ocean that fills the wall
Of the crystal heaven, and buries all.
And I, cut off from the world, remain
Alone with the terrible hurricane.

Baudelaire’s THE ALBATROSS…. the Poet versus Himself

Charles Baudelaire’s The Albatross, is a stirring description of his own feelings on being a man and a poet.

Baudelaire compares “the poet” to an Albatross: for as beautifully graceful as the majestic bird is in flight, it is equally as awkward and ridiculed while on the ground; as is the Poet-  who reaches into the mystical heavens to touch life itself- only to feel ugly, ridiculed and misunderstood by those around him.

The Albatross
by Charles Baudelaire (translated William Aggeler 1954)

Often, to amuse themselves, the men of a crew
Catch albatrosses, those vast sea birds
That indolently follow a ship
As it glides over the deep briny sea.

Scarcely have they placed them on the deck
Than these kings of the sky, clumsy, ashamed,
Pathetically let their great white wings
Drag beside them like oars.

That winged voyager, how weak and gauche he is,
So beautiful before, now comic and ugly!
One man worries his beak with a stubby clay pipe;
Another limps, mimics the cripple who once flew!

The poet resembles this prince of cloud and sky
Who frequents the tempest and laughs at the bowman;
When exiled on the earth, the butt of hoots and jeers,
His giant wings prevent him from walking.

Baudelaire is credited with coining the term, “modernity” to designate the changing nature of beauty in modern, industrializing Paris during the 19th century.  His most famous work, Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil) was first published in 1857.

Ode to Guilt… a Dark Pleasure

Ode To GUILT

Your melancholy song in my head
And on my soul, Of things
Once said and truth untold;
Melancholy tunes upon my breast,
Haunt my waking day and nightly rest.

Since my youth, you’ve suckled me;
Held me close, vampirically.
My dark sun!  Old friend of none!
Mother of my sorrow–
You nurture the dusk of tomorrow.

Oh Guilt! Dark pleasure!
Black candle in the joy of life;
Your dark light runs thru my veins.
Dear friend, only you remain;
On the coldest days, the warmth you feign.

How close you hold my secret pain!

Constant are you who stay with me,
And hold those bonds
That keep me from free;
Heavy shadow on my steps,
In your darkness, I reflect.

Longtime friend, your roots run deep,
In your branches, my secrets keep,
In your leaves, my sorrow flows,
In your bark, my darkness grows;
Trapped inside you, is my soul.