On looking into the mirror one afternoon

An old buzzard once came and he knocked on my heart,
And politely he asked to come in for a while.
He had said he was looking for carrion to eat,
“Oh no problem”, I answered, and gave him a smile.

Then I opened my door to that buzzardly beast
And I set him to table:  “What is it you´d like?”
“Perhaps some old rabbit, or hens for a feast?
Perhaps you like fish?  I have mackerel and pike!”

But naught of all that for that grizzly old buzzard.
He winked, and then shook his bald head on his neck.
“I was hoping”, said he, “perhaps for some other…
Do you not have some old human heart I could peck?”

“Because rabbits, you know, are a delicious meal,
And fishes and hens are my habitual plate,
But nothing´s enough for this old buzzard since
Of a lonely and tired human heart once I ate!”

How I looked at that buzzard with his blood-shot eyes,
His pink straggly neck and his big gangly beak!
How I looked at his talons encrusted inside
With mud and with blood… and he asked “Won´t you speak?”

Well, I wondered one moment as he motioned to stay,
Then I heard, as he sat in his chair with such ease,
“I have come to your table, and say what you may,
You know I´m expected.  Garcon, service please”.

So slowly, reluctantly, I reached for my heart,
For I thought it would not be polite to refuse,
And so funny, that bird seemed as familiar to me
As the image I see in the mirror I use

So I reached for my heart… then I grabbed for his neck,
And I choked it two times, then I twisted it four.
“You miserable old buzzard, this heart´s not for you!
Out, out of my soul!” I cried, “Out, out of my door!”

 

Poet’s Note: The inspiration of this poem is not “The Raven” by Poe, as some have believed, but Thomas Hardy’s brilliant “I Look into my Glass”

Fr. Bruce Wren, born in 1962 in the small town of Cottonwood, Idaho, current serves as Chaplain of the Chicago Chapter of the Lumen Institute, Section Director to the Chicago Regnum Christi Men’s section, chaplain to the Catholic Professionals of Illinois, spiritual director for many religious and lay people, and helps regularly at several parishes in the Chicago Diocese. He also devotes regular time to the feminine congregations of the Missionaries of Charity, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the Rosary Hill Dominican Sisters. He has published one book of poetry, “Fending off the Dragon Fire”, available at Amazon.

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14 Responses

  1. C.B. Anderson

    If this is metrical poetry, then please explain what meters you have endeavored to employ. It’s difficult to scan. but I don’t want to piss you off. I just want to know what methodology drives your verse. Rhymes and counted syllables do not metrical poetry make.

    Reply
  2. Tell IT LIKE IT IS

    Not everyone counts beans like you, C.B. Anderson. You need to head back to the garden.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      But it does seem that some people don’t count at all. If one’s intention is to write metrical poetry, then it behooves one to measure the lines, for otherwise the result is nothing more than “free verse” with occasional end rhymes. I don’t mind necessary metrical substitutions, but if an attentive reader can’t scan the feet, then we are talking about prose masquerading as verse. It’s really not that difficult to get the meter right, but it seems that so many people just don’t want to put in the effort. Read Richard Wilbur’s collected works, and then tell me about counting beans. Until then, I refuse to apologize for being a purist.

      Reply
  3. David Hollywood

    This is a rather enigmatic and testing poem. I have tried it a couple of times and its sinister topic conjures for me all sorts of ideas from folklore, mythology, religious connotations and on wards from there. Certainly gives pause for thought and thank you for the opportunity.

    Reply
  4. Charles Southerland

    Anapestic tetrameter, I should think, C.B. That’s the way I hear it.

    Not bad, Bruce.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Charlie,

      Yes, many, but not all, of the lines are, as you say, anapestic tetrameter. Initially I asked the author what his intention was in regard to meter, but got no answer except the suggestion that I go back to my garden. I would have done that anyway, because pole beans are a big part of the produce I try to grow for myself.

      Reply
  5. Wilbur Dee Case

    In “The Old Buzzard,” Mr. Wren attacks the theme of growing old. And though his theme is Hardyesque, as in “I Look into my Glass,” he has replaced Hardy’s iambic trimetres, punctuated by iambic tetrametres, with, as Mr. Southerland has corrected pointed out, loose “anapestic tetrametres.” Hardy’s poem also tangles with the conflict of growing old, and at the end leaves a rather intense feeling of regret.

    “And shakes this fragile frame at eve
    With throbbings of noontide.”

    But Mr. Wren’s concluding stanza is more dynamic, if less metrically precise. In fact, I am reminded of Poe’s “The Raven,” near the end, when the narrator cries out:

    “Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”

    However, the Raven never leaves.

    Hardy’s last lines remind me of Macbeth, when he says, leaving his predominant iambic pentametres behind:

    “My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
    Shakes so my single state of man
    That function is smothered in surmise,
    And nothing is but what is not.”

    Shakespeare’s language is frequently brilliant. In Macbeth’s soliloquy notice the placement of “shakes,” the alliteration of the s’s, in the second line afterwards, on accents, the breaking of the metre at “smothered,” the press towards iambic tetrametres, and the concluding intellectual concision. As an afterthought, one of the themes in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” is the battle between man and beast.

    In Mr. Wren’s poem, the narrator attacks the buzzard,

    “So I reached for my heart…then I grabbed for his neck,
    And I choked it two times, then I twisted it four.
    ‘You miserable old buzzard, this heart’s not for you!
    Out, out of my soul!’ I cried, ‘Out, out of my door!'”

    In line two, the alliteration of the t’s is effective, and for me the best line of the poem, followed by two lines of dramatic intensity, where the metre breaks and the repetition sh(outs! which perhaps caused some wonderment for Mr. Anderson.

    Yet, it is good Mr. Anderson is counting beans—Thoreau did so too—and he is correct that rhymes and counted syllables do not make “accentual” metrical poetry; however, lest we forget, practically all of the major classical poets from Homer and Hesiod through to Ovid, Statius and beyond, counted their syllables, and that made their metres great. In some ways, we English-language poets are pikers when it comes to metre.

    Reply
  6. Tell IT LIKE IT IS

    C.B. Anderson,

    My point is you are a bully and not a very good poet yourself. Lay off. This is not a poetry workshop.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      I endeavor to serve no master but the truth. I call ’em like I see ’em. If you can’t stand the heat…. Though it may be the case that I am “not a very good poet,” my current publisher said that she is delighted to have the opportunity to publish my second book of poetry, and I think I’ll trust her judgment. As for being a “bully,” bully is in the eyes of the beholder, and that’s telling it like it is. I myself would rather receive pointed negative criticism than be accorded lavish undeserved praise — all day long. The former makes me better, but the latter simply reinforces my bad habits.

      Reply
  7. Fr. Richard Libby

    I enjoyed it very much, Father Wren. Well done!

    Please, everyone, let’s keep calm.

    Reply
  8. Bruce E. Wren

    Hello everyone. I forgot to sign in for the commentaries, so this is the first time I (the author) have ever seen any of these comments. So, here are my thoughts:

    1) I am very grateful for ALL the comments on this post. Positive and thoughtful critique are always welcome: how else are we to learn? In fact, I am honored that anyone takes any time to even do it!
    2) The meter was meant to be, as some have noticed, anapestic tetrameter. For example, in the first stanza, I scan it in this way (accented thus ‘ the stressed syllable):

    An old búz/zard once cáme /and he knócked/ on my heárt,
    And polít/ely he ásked /to come ín/ for a whíle.
    He had saíd/ he was loók/ing for cár/rion to eát,
    “Oh no prób/lem”, I án/swered, and gáve/ him a smíle.

    It is true that I didn’t follow this meter strictly, it is at times a bit “loose”, but usually that was meant to be for effect (for example, in: “You know I´m expected. Garcon, service please”, I deliberately left the normal meter to suggest a “jarring” effect on the listener. Perhaps it wasn’t effective).

    3. The poem was meant to be a bit facetious, as one commentator put it, “quirky”. Funny and disturbing at the same time. Don’t know if that worked either.

    4. To Mr. C.B. Anderson, I don’t know who asked him to return to counting beans, but that was not me. Thank you for your comments.

    Bruce Wren

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Bruce,

      I’m relieved that you don’t count me a bully. And let me just say that metrical variations can be risky. I try to avoid them, lest a reader find that I haven’t put in the necessary work. (That’s why we call it formal poetry.) The unsigned comments to my comments are a bit mysterious, but I have an idea of who wrote them.

      Reply

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