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Saturday, 18 June 2011

D. H. Lawrence: Humming-Bird


Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera): Ernst Haeckel, in Kunstformen der Natur, 1904 (image by Rasbak, 11 March 2006)

I can imagine, in some otherworld
Primeval-dumb, far back
In that most awful stillness, that only gasped and hummed,
Humming-birds raced down the avenues.

Before anything had a soul,
While life was a heave of matter, half inanimate,
This little bit chipped off in brilliance
And went whizzing through the slow, vast, succulent stems.

I believe there were no flowers then,
In the world where the humming-bird flashed ahead of creation.
I believe he pierced the slow vegetable veins with his long beak.

Probably he was big
As mosses, and little lizards, they say, were once big.
Probably he was a jabbing, terrifying monster.

We look at him through the wrong end of the telescope of Time,
Luckily for us.

Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera), Baeza, Ecuador: photo by Sid Dunkle, 24 September 2006 (Slater Museum of Natural History, University of Puget Sound))

Skeleton of Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera): photo scan by Slater Museum of Natural History, University of Puget Sound

D.H. Lawrence: Humming-Bird: from Birds, Beasts and Flowers, 1923


Anonymous said...

"Humming-birds raced down the avenues." That and the rest of the poem and post are just so great. Before BTP, Lawrence's poetry was a distant, but pleasant, memory for me. Some anthologized poems of his were assigned to me in 9th grade English (along with lots of bedrock wonderful material) and they reached me immediately, of course, because of their apparent clarity in relation to older works and their somewhat wry humor. Now, years later, I am still enjoying them here, but enjoying them more deeply. As for humming-birds themselves, they are simply wonders of the world. The top image reminds me of a Christmas tree ornament we own and treasure.

TC said...

Curtis, I'm with you on Lawrence.

Those prehistoric avenues, along with the astonishing ending, really "make" this one for me.

Lawrence's poetic "star" may have been fogged out in the many later waves of academic dullness and willed obscurity, but the tension and intensity, the contact with the creaturely and the archaic, the revelation of psyche in the insistent repetitiveness of the rhythms, the reminder that there have been and always will be worlds both before and beyond and within "our" businesslike commonplaces -- who else among the poets have given us this?



". . . in some otherworld. . ."

"We look at him through the wrong end of the telescope of Time."


grey whiteness of fog against invisible
top of ridge, quails calling from field
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

events in time, subject not
situated in it present

some then, sometimes beyond
all bounds, whether to

grey white clouds reflected in channel,
shadowed green pine on tip of sandspit


Been reading about the literary hummingbird craze of the 19th century. Tom you probably already know all this, but some of Dickinson's poems contained subtle references to, metaphors taken from and descriptions of hummingbirds. The painter Martin Johnson Heade was known at the time for his h-birds as much as his stormy landscapes and marshes.

TC said...

Their whizzing brilliance dazzles and bewilders. A green-throated beauty was sipping from a fuchsia out back two mornings ago, oblivious to the roaring traffic.

The thing about those exotic long-billed Ecuadoran hummingbirds that astonishes most, looking at the scan of the skeleton, is that the bill is three times as long as the body.

Imagine staring into a huge version of that in the midst of the prehistoric rush hour.