Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Florsheim or an Ovenbird: Choose Your Weapon

The initial entry in this blog employed the 'avian conceit' - climate change is forcing birds around the globe to seek a diminishing habitat, just as I, entering geezerdom and an enforced retirement, am feeling more and more like the gray-headed bush shrike pictured here, i.e., not exactly perky, head down, wondering what shoe is next to fall.

 "Waiting for Florsheim"

Apropos of this lapse (or flight, if you prefer) into metaphysical poesy and the Donnesean conceit, a friend sent me Robert Frost's "The Ovenbird," seeing my conceit and upping me one, explaining that she'd been feeling more like her bird than like my bird. Frost's own conceit was as nothing to his avian conceit:
There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would sing and be as other birds,
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
is what to make of a diminished thing.

It strikes me that this bird's inquiry, by Frost's account, anticipates my own in composing these literary bijoux"The question that he frames in all but words / is what to make of a diminished thing.Or at least could be taken as anticipating the same.  I'm of two minds about it.

(It may have occurred to you, in a random moment or a feverish attempt to orient yourself, that reading a blog about birds and poetry is a little bit like watching replays of Ernie Kovacs' poet laureate and proto-homosexual Percy Dovetonsils. What, you may well ask, am I letting myself in for? I assure you, nothing further from my mind.)
 Percy Dovetonsils, Poet Inebriate

There is inevitably a diminishment in such change, the passing of what was in itself good and pleasurable. Leaves fall, pear blossoms perish, summer becomes autumn, the passage of everything fragile and ethereal, including life for that matter. It's the Heraclitean eye, but only by half. You can't step into the same river twice. But that's half-true really, because it is the same river, just with different water in it. It's important to see what Heraclitus saw, that change is a cycle that comes around, that there are wheels within wheels. We see it as diminishment because sometimes we just don't have the time allotted to see what comes around, to appreciate the continuity in it.  The change itself, as Heraclitus understood it, was the continuity of things, the tension of opposite forces that makes everything collapse and reconvene. So the ovenbird sees only half the picture. It's the poor sod waiting for the Florsheim to drop on him who probably won't be disappointed.  But he's only half right as well, since if he gets beaned it's only because he didn't get out of the way. Waiting isn't what he should have been doing.

No, rather than taking things as diminished, there is the other approach as instanced in the post-Romantic raving of Dylan Thomas which I will not quote at length ("wise men, wild men, good men, grave men, etc.") except  the immortal choral postlude:
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light .

Or, throw the shoe back. 

Shoes Worth the Wait

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