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Bird Life: A Triptych

No thought, as that of mine, to complete the bare/Purpose of their being, which is to feed and breed,/Become another edible, leave another seed.”


When the lawns are done, the sparrows arrive

Like shift work, twenty or thirty, to pull and tear

At the base of the grasses in a diminutive,

Composite body: They are nervous there,

Preferring the seeming abstraction of the air,  

As it might be the ungroundedness of mind, yet need

No thought, as that of mine, to complete the bare

Purpose of their being, which is to feed and breed,

Become another edible, leave another seed.


I watch their doings as if it were to participate

In things via the act of contemplation—to ignore

For the moment my own appetite to mate,

Gormandize, or my use to come as store

Of waste and nutrient (some rebate for

The earth for my rapaciousness)—

Yet, if this is use of consciousness, it is more

Than exists in necessity, and yet looks less

Than I, a thinking being, should profess.


But where does thought meet responsibility—

Or how overcome the conflict in the fact of mind?

If mind is my own and yet is given me 

Does it free me from, or more exactly bind

Me to, the natural—place me forward of or behind

The meanderings of this or that feeding bird?

The ambiguity remains in me and humankind:  

I think a dislocation, the sparrows graze unperturbed,

Yet I can send the whole flock flying with a word.


In Water

It delights me to see how the garden birds send

Sprays, splashes, fountains, of bright water high

Into the air, as the bustling numbers attend

To bathing—to see the flung water overfly 

The dish, showering, shining on—as if to liquify—

The surrounding flowers: turning these 

Too to actors in a theatre of the aquatic—nothing dry—

As if all so easily given is given to please:

The birds, water, watcher, the carrying breeze.


This is to imagine a marvelous wholeness made

As Pindar thought, of what is best, of water:

The whole—in this little sense of unity—one parade

Of pleasure in simply being wet, a sampler

Of a kind of paradise, one made without scripture,

Dogma, faith, belief, salvation, but of exuberance

In the here and now, in the very facts of nature:

Our part, to embrace the felicities of chance,

So adding our motion to some universal dance.


If this was all there were to it. But it is not—

To think at all, to be human, is to know more:

That the birds bathe when—because—it is hot—

Such is reason: and must it escape itself to adore,

Unreasonably, this small beauty? For Pindar saw 

Too that after water the real preference is gold:

Such an inconstant thing, the mind—almost a flaw

In nature, ever seeking in thought to mould

What is to what is not, add its heat to what is cold.  



The rain hits hard and heavy, as it has all day—

And the garden furniture moved under cover

Of the veranda becomes an open aviary:

The struts of tables, chairs, forming useful shelter  

And scaffolding for sociability, a structure

As freely donated as forestry in which to chat,

Squabble, spatter droppings with the unconcern ever 

The natural right of transient tenants—splat, 

Splat—or less of tenantry perhaps than aristocrat.


Oh for the freedom of breeding—of nature, class—

To have all that exists plainly made available,

Purposed even, for one’s privileged use:

And would not this be wholly natural—

To align one’s mind, not with the artificial

In the human, but with the world’s luxuriance?

To accept the gift of life and all that’s material

As it is—unthinking—and have no distance

Between the real and its mental semblance?


The birds on the veranda have no doubt—

No means to doubt—that my veranda stuff

Is given as part of the world’s practical layout,

And my thinking, could they hear it, so much guff:

But mind was given too, no shelter, but to tough

Things out whatever the environment,   

And though a part of the whole, and as rough

As its use and the whole may be, as deficient

As its grasping is, it seeks a perch in the permanent.


Harold Jones is a New Zealander, who was educated at Cambridge University, where he was awarded an Exhibition to read English. His poetry has been widely published in literary journals in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, and it has won the acclaim of pre-eminent critics and poets: among them, Ted Hughes, who wrote, “I hear a real voice, a real movement of mind cutting through resistances.” In the United States, his poems appear in Merion West and VoegelinView.

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