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Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher -- Nissim Ezekiel

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul
(Poem #1735) Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher
 To force the pace and never to be still
 Is not the way of those who study birds
 Or women. The best poets wait for words.
 The hunt is not an exercise of will
 But patient love relaxing on a hill
 To note the movement of a timid wing;
 Until the one who knows that she is loved
 No longer waits but risks surrendering -
 In this the poet finds his moral proved
 Who never spoke before his spirit moved.

 The slow movement seems, somehow, to say much more.
 To watch the rarer birds, you have to go
 Along deserted lanes and where the rivers flow
 In silence near the source, or by a shore
 Remote and thorny like the heart's dark floor.
 And there the women slowly turn around,
 Not only flesh and bone but myths of light
 With darkness at the core, and sense is found
 But poets lost in crooked, restless flight,
 The deaf can hear, the blind recover sight.
-- Nissim Ezekiel
I've never been a big Ezekiel fan. I see why he's so important to Indian
English poetry and am happy to pay him the respect due to a literary
ancestor who made so much of what followed (Mahapatra, Ramanujan, Kolatkar)
possible, but I'm generally unimpressed by his poems. I find him a little
too desperately modern, as if he were writing more out of a desire to be
witty or different than from any real poetic vision.

Which is why it's somewhat ironic that this should be the one exception -
the one poem of his that I truly treasure. To be honest, I don't even like
the whole poem - I think the last few lines are kitschy and trite, but I'm
willing to overlook that for the sake of that breathless, exquisite first
paragraph (and the first five lines of the second one). I cannot think of a
poem where a fairly complex triple metaphor is carried off more
effortlessly, more gracefully. The images of poet, lover and birdwatcher
seem to fuse seamlessly together; the effect is almost visual - like
watching a camera fade gently from one to the other. The language itself
seems relaxed, patient. The clever rhyme pattern combines with the ebb and
flow of the lines to give that first paragraph a strangely lilting,
uplifting quality, combined with a sense of great peace.

But it's not just the sound or the imagery of the poem that makes this poem
work, it's also the idea. To find the one common trait between these three
very different activities is genius enough, but Ezekiel expresses them
beautifully, finding exactly the right phrases to make the comparison come
alive. And there is, in that idea, something deeply moving (at least for
me). This is not a poem I admired simply for its beauty or wit, this is a
poem that has stayed with me through the years, become a part of the way I
think and act and feel. It's a poem that comes back to me every time I find
myself trying too hard to write; it's a poem that informs my

"In this the poet finds his moral proved / Who never spoke before his spirit
moved", Ezekiel writes. This is one of the few times in all his poems that I
think he's seriously sticking to that advice; and the evidence is,
literally, overwhelming.


[1] I've never been much for bird-watching, so that's one part of this poem
I can't really speak to.

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