"He sang in houses when the birds were still" (James Wright)

I only have a copy of Wright's Collected Poems (which doesn't actually have all of his poetry in it -- buyer beware) so what follows is not a complete list of the mentions of birds in his poetry.


Each line here is from one of his poems. I won't use quotation marks, as that'd look like a swarm of flies.


Please note that the list for gulls is a bit deceptive, as most of the gulls are in one poem.


In case you're curious, I think my favourite bird is the "great white bird unknown to the police."


Bird

And hear the birds beneath your eyes

till all the birds lie down

A frozen bird lay down among the dead weeds

He sang in houses when the birds were still

Banished to bloom, and bear the birds’ desire

Of mine that beats above you like a bird

The birds have not forgotten

You must not mix this pair of birds

The genuine ecstasy of climbing birds

Those clean dark glides of Dionysian birds

Some of the birds awake in vines

How could you flit away to fellow birds

Farther than birds for whom I did not care

I walked, like a folded bird, about the towers

A tiny bird bathed in a bowl of air

Of birds beginning in her voice

Some where the race of whittier birds survive

The mouse goes snooping, and the bird

One hand became a bird

The birds resolved to hands

Below me, roaring elegies to birds

Woman or bird, she plumes the ashening sound

I stammer like a bird, I rasp like stone

Grew kind as possible to the wrack-splayed birds

in blowing wind, a bird-song rose

A bird, a reptile, any fiercer thing?

And break an enemy’s heart, quick as a bird

And a bird, unbodied soul

Woman or brilliant bird

Serpent or bird or pure untroubled mind

A bird cries in bare elder trees

White birds from the outskirts of the night

In music like delicate birds

The crowns of white birds rise

by white birds.

By some great white bird unknown to the police

Is to get one of those lazy birds awake long enough

A scarecrow that stands up and suddenly turns into a bird

Strange bird

A bird whistles me

There goes that bird that whistled me down here

A dead bird the color of slate

I heard your grass birds, fluting

Till the bright grass birds come

Wings of strange birds that are burning

What the hell are we supposed to do with these birds?

That the strange fowl provide for us like one hillside of the sea


Sparrow

The sparrow’s throat goes hollow

Rain drowns the sparrow’s tongue

Though sparrows alone are left

The sparrows flocked away to see the race

A sparrow hung a wire about its breast

(The tanager, the sparrow)

Burling the sparrows out of sound

Some sparrows chirped on a tree

SPARROWS IN A HILLSIDE DRIFT

And in the secret shelters of sparrow feathers fallen on the

For confused sparrows


Tanager

Tanagers float away

And why it does not float with tanagers?


Swallow

With waterfalls and swallow’s sound

Mirror of swallows’ nests. The stars


Catbird

Now catbird feathers plume the apple mound

And silkened every catbird cry

Be careful of holes, the catbird said


Starlings

And starlings drowse to winter up the ground

A splayed starling

Grasses where the starlings cry


Gulls

And gulls remember cries they made

Over the bridges, the gulls collect and fly

Hundreds of gulls descending to the froth

A hundred gulls decline to nothingness

But high in a cloud, a single naked gull

But gulls ensnare me here

Sun on the bone-hulled galleons of those gulls

Lapsing like dead gulls’ brittle wings and drowned

Than seagulls disembodied in the drag

Upbore the plume and body of one gull

Of fishermen and gulls

I hunt the large feathers of gulls


Pigeons

Quivering pigeons foul his broken face

Where pigeons nest aloof

Out of an open window pigeons flew

fall in the hole, the pigeon swore


Robin

The starlight calls the robin home

Gauzed as a robin, where the tree

Nudging the robins windward there


Swan

The swans retire beneath their wings

Following the white swan through the hedge

They bow as shyly as wet swans. They love each other.

THREE SENTENCES FOR A DEAD SWAN

My black Ohioan swan

Closing my eyes, I look for hungry swans

Of forgotten swans


Owl

The owl scritches alive

Except an owl sang half a mile

Arms of an owl nailed to the southern sky

An owl’s wings hovered, bare

An owl rises

An owl’s eyelids fall

The cold owls throwing

Who is he? A little white barn owl from Hudson’s bay

I want an owl to poise on my grave

Or at least send me the owl’s feather


Chicken

Chicken. How can I tell you what it is

Chicken. The sound is plain

The hens are still getting settled

Their women cluck like starved pullets

She chased the chickens out and swept the floor

And pitch the chickens’ heads to hungry dogs

A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home


Swift

Look up and see the swift above the trees

What makes the chimney swift approach the sky

Swift. He hardly flies on brains

A mere barn swift


Quail (including bobwhites)

A quail implored a hollow for a home

The quail began to trill and flute away

And see the meadow where the quails lie down

And, when you sang, the quail began to cry

The whistle of stones, the quail’s cry in the grass

Hearing bobwhites flute their love

My master called for bobwhites on his knees

Or a bobwhite whistles invisibly


Dove

And a slow dove fluted for nothing

Of girl and dove

for the slow fluting doves

And the doves crackle out of doors

I can hear rabbits and mourning doves whispering together

Slope into whitecap doves

As the new eggs of the mourning dove

On the solitude of the mourning dove’s young


Heron

And the night-herons nests

Herons fly low too

The blue heron has gone there this evening

THE SMALL BLUE HERON


Crow

Indifferent to a solitary crow

Than a crow’s dreaming face


Other Birds

Quick parakeets trill in your heavy trees

Of the field mouse, hedgehog, moth and hawk

Canaries sung. Then everything was gone

Hobos, and whip-poor-wills

A gnat from a lark? Alone

A brilliant bluejay is springing up and down, up and

A pheasant flutters, and I turn

The Irish cockatoo

Butting the baby ducks before their climb


Recent Posts

See All

I find myself doubling back to Triomf. It’s not really a favourite, but I found a comparison between it and Mrs. Dalloway pretty darn interesting. Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and van Niekerk’s Triomf each f

The * mid-paragraph is important; please don’t read the first paragraph without also reading the one that follows. Quite a few years ago, I came across a local magazine in Cape Breton, which is a regi