Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I wasn't a literature major and I don't think I ever took a poetry class. Though I certainly recognize glorious language, I often have to have a poet's allusions, or rhythms for that matter, pointed out to me. I'm just a bit of a lunk in that department (though I have my favorites, like John Donne). But I was taken with the bittersweet cleverness of the following exquisite poem by 17th century American poet Anne Bradstreet. I came across it in a Karen J. Winkler article in The Chronicle Review: A Weekly Magazine of Ideas (April 10, 2009) but the full work is readily accessible on the Web:

I had eight birds hacht in one nest,
Four Cocks were there, and Hens the rest,
I nurst them up with pain and care,
No cost nor labour did I spare
Till at the last they felt their wing,
Mounted the Trees and learned to sing.
Chief of the brood then took his flight
To Regions far and left me quite.
My mournful chirps I after send
Till he return, or I do end.

Anne Bradstreet, from "In Reference to Her Children," 1659

I admit it, I don't instantly understand whether the "Chief of the Brood" refers to her firstborn (son) or to the children's father. (On investigation, I find those knowledgeable about her life say the reference is to her oldest son.) In either case, it appears that all eight chicks survived to fledge, in itself extraordinary in her day. And these are just the first 10 of 94 lines...

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