It was once thought that swallows
wintered on the moon,
or morphed into field mice
beneath the autumn swoon

of clouds, or slept beneath
wavelets on the floor
of shadowy ponds and lakes
until the sudden lure

of springtime roused them from
the kingdom of the dead.
Early Christians believed
they swirled around the head

of Jesus, giving comfort
as he bore his heavy cross,
or they were harbingers
of heaven after loss.

Today I look above
the eaves as autumn blooms
in the deep well of the sky,
my house’s empty rooms

echoing only wind,
the memory of their song.
They have flown south for winter,
which here is dark and long.

2009. First published in The London Magazine

 

Leo Yankevich’s latest books are The Last Silesian (The Mandrake Press, 2005) Tikkun Olam & Other Poems (Second Expanded Edition), (Counter-Currents Publishing, 2012), and Journey Late at Night: Poems & Translations (Counter-Currents Publishing, 2013). He is editor of The New Formalist. More of his work can be found at LeoYankevich.com.

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8 Responses

  1. J. Simon Harris

    A lovely poem, very well composed. I like the juxtaposition of the final two stanzas against the first four; all the past theories about sparrows in the winter, and then we’re brought into today. The final two lines, with the matter-of-fact declaration of what the sparrows actually do (fly south for winter) followed by the lonesome suggestion that the winters are dark and long wherever the poet is, are simple but powerful. Mr. Yankevich has yet to disappoint me.

    Reply
  2. Reid McGrath

    Not many poems call to me from my Inbox and draw me out of my newly domesticated and prosaically professional life, but this one did. Fist pump.

    Reply
  3. James Sale

    The ending – They have flown south for winter,/ which here is dark and long. – seemingly prosaic, yet instead a pure understatement of the whole human condition. Beautiful. I note too that ‘the head // of Jesus’ crosses the central axis of the poem; that’s a deft touch.

    Reply
  4. Sally Cook

    Dear Count Leo —

    The clear, faceted quality of this poem echoes the understated design of the illustration. .
    I think what I appreciate more than anything about your work is that you are not a poem maker, rambling on in meter with little to offer but simple descriptive phrases and bumpy meter.

    What you write is so carefully crafted, it always leaves those who read it wanting more.

    Just one more of your beautiful images, for which I thank you..

    Sally Cook-

    Reply
  5. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    It really is a grand poem, with the empty rooms of the house expressing a spiritual emptying which in many ways is the first condition of the contemplation of Christ’s passion, which makes me think a little of St. John of the Cross’s “my house being now all stilled.” The autumnal notes add to the undeniable lyricism.

    “Le regard du poète” is upward into the “deep well of the sky,” so already we are in that all-important verticality characterizing the Ars Poetica Nova. Note also the date of the poem, keeping in mind that Yankevich truly belongs to the timeline of this important literary development which, although having origins in the 1990s, begins to flourish and is still flourishing in our own century.

    We are also grateful that the poet has provided a recording of the poem in his own voice, which I highly recommended as it gives the best idea of how the prosody actually comes together. The human voice should always have priority over the page in our consideration of Ars Poetica Nova poetry since the entire movement is based on a return to poetry’s first rites in song.

    Reply
  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    One technical comment. It may seem minor, but part of the force and momentum of this poem is the fact that five out of the six quatrains end with enjambment over to the start of the next quatrain. This provides a subtle but perceptible linkage, both in sound and in meaning, for the entire piece.

    And yet you’d be amazed at how many people think that, in a series of quatrains, each final line should be end-stopped. Why they think this, I don’t know. But this poem shows that there is no such requirement, and that enjambment from quatrain to quatrain can be perfectly smooth and fluent.

    Reply

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