Kingfishers and Kites

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

—Gerard Manley Hopkins, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”

Were said bird to burst spontaneously
into flames and drop down dead before me,
a burnt-offering albatross, still I
would not know the kingfisher from the kite.

For we have lost the vocabulary
that speaks true Words to virtuality;
that owns reality consistent with
created nature. We have lost the Myth

and the making. Our constructs, synthetic
clay bricks without straw, crumble to a thick
wind-driv’n loess that chokes imagination:
sans inspiration—disdivination.

The potter’s wheel, under a dervish hand,
whirls a mad centrifuge, flinging dust and
grit and kingfisher burnt-dead ash about
the disordered heavens—earthen doubt.

The center cannot hold, the bonds decay,
the ancient unities dissolve away:
name and act and being. Alas, the kite
and kingfisher, not I, still know, despite.

(July, 2018)


Poet’s Notes on last stanza:

“The center cannot hold”: Yeats, “The Second Coming”

“bonds”: In Latin, religere to bind

“name and act and being”: Cf. the theory of language proposed by Owen Barfield in Poetic Diction




It is, we are told, an apocryphal
tale, and therefore, not fit matter for the
deposit of faith as canonical.

Yet it is an imagining (more’s the
pity) that does not demand the willing
suspension of our disbelief, nor the

uneasy tolerance of bedev’ling
heterodoxies that lack coherence
or integrity. Rather, distilling

life into art, it is an adherence
to the truth of what could have been: delight
in creation, a childlike exuberance

that breathes into fashioned clay, spirit, flight.
After all, He did it before; how then
can we deny child Jesus His birthright?

And though that gift is not given to men,
imago dei, we imPersonate.
Not a lifeless clay-bird, but alive when

I found the loon—unlovely, desolate,
and wounded sore. The dogs would have devoured
it; I chose instead to commiserate,

for both our redemptions. Thus was I dowered
with empathy for earthly creatures’ loss,
by the Mariner’s yarn empowered.

The loon, blood-cousin to the albatross;
poetry, consanguine with the Logos.

(April 2019)


Poet’s Notes:

“Aprocryphal tale”: There is an unverified story (therefore non-canonical for the purposes of Catholic belief) of the child Jesus creating a clay bird that He brought to life by breathing into it. This tale appears in similar forms in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (thought to be of Gnostic origin) and in the Koran.

“He did it before”: All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3) In Catholic theology, Christ, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, is understood to be the Incarnate Creator who accomplishes the work of Creation.

Imago dei: Literally, “the image of God”

Mariner’s yarn: “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Logos: literally “word” Christ is identified as the Logos in the Gospel of St. John. The concept of “word” had religious connotations before St. John: to the Greeks the logos was the universal principle which animates and rules the world; to the Jews of the Old Testament it represented the creative act as the word of God.


Denise Sobilo’s work has previously been published by the St. Austin Review; The Imaginative Conservative; Jesus the Imagination; and The Antioch Review.

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14 Responses

  1. James Sale

    I like these poems very much indeed; technically they are very ambitious, and to find Yeats, Hopkins and the little known (now) Owen Barfield cited as sources in the Kingfishers and Kites is remarkable indeed. I have not encountered Denise’s poetry before that I can recall, but I think that this is very important work and would like to see lots more of it. Congratulations on some remarkable ideas and constructions in these two poems. Your Muse speaks.

    • Denise Sobilo


      Thanks for your kind words re: the above selections. You will find that I am very much an old Western man, as defined by C.S. Lewis. (cf. my poem “Old Western Man” published by Joseph Pearce in St. Austin Review.)

      I wrote some poetry as a callow youth but stopped for a long period of domesticity (wife and mother). When those roles were no longer my priority, as was the natural progression, I was called again. I have only recently began seriously writing poetry and both my choice and treatment of subject matter as well as my convictions regarding form have been altered radically by the circumstances of my life and by said numinous conversion experience. I am heartened by the response to my work so far.

  2. C.B. Anderson

    Denise, these poems were fantastic, the type of work that lingers in the mind and deserves to be re-read again and again to savor the richness of the language. I almost expected sprung meter in the first one, iambs be damned. I have not read any poems, here or anywhere else, that were this good in a long time. Harking back to James Sales’ comment, I have a copy of Barfield’s SAVING the APPEARANCES on my bookshelf that deserves a third reading. In the first poem, I assume that “kite” means some sort of vulture. Here in America we only have “vulture” and “buzzard.” You have given me cause to try harder when it comes to my own inadequate verses.

    • Denise Sobilo

      I yield to Hopkins in the matter of sprung meter. Yes, the kite in question is the bird, another illustration of our (mine as well) lack of familiarity with the natural world vs. the virtual one. I have not read the Barfield book you mentioned; will try to see if I can locate a copy. And thanks for your compliment.

      • Monty

        I prefer neither, CB; to me, they’re both extraterrestrial. I reckon I could just about stomach the sight of your offering if a hyphen were inserted: de-divination. But I can’t condone such behaviour.

        If I personally wanted to describe one or some possessing little or no divinity, I’d use ‘proper’ words like: Grounded In Reality.. or Rooted In The Now.

  3. Denise Sobilo

    I stand by disdivination. It is the prerogative of the poet to expand the meaning of words (Barfield). The sense of godlessness is indeed intended in this usage, but other connotations and denotation of the term divination, are to be comprehended in its meaning, as well–for example, one of the definitions offered by the Free Dictionary (online), that of an intuitive perception; instinctive foresight.

    • Monty

      You can stand by it for as long as you wish, Denise; but I feel certain that you’ll eventually have to sit down.

      • Denise Sobilo

        You display a literal rather than a metaphorical mindset in your comments and criticism. Is that also a characteristic of your verse?
        I shall eventually have to die, too, but until then, my principles shall uphold me.

      • Monty

        It may or may not be “the prerogative of the poet to expand the meaning of words” (I say it may not be; we have no right to do so, and no need to do so. If we mean one thing, we use a certain word; if we mean something else, we then use a different word . . we don’t try to change the original word into something it’s not).. but that’s not the issue here. The issue is your act of taking an existent word: ‘divination’, and adding the letters ‘dis’ to render it into a non-existent word.

        Of course you’re free to do what you wish with words, and you can add any letters to any words for your own personal use; but if you choose to put such a word in the public domain . . you shouldn’t be surprised if someone questions its validity.

  4. Denise Sobilo

    An illustration of the above-mentioned principle, from Tolkien who was himself influenced by Barfield:

    “Good Morning!” said Bilbo, and he meant it. The sun was shining, and the grass was very green. But Gandalf looked at him from under long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his shady hat.

    “What do you mean?” he said. “Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?”

    “All of them at once,” said Bilbo. “And a very fine morning for a pipe of tobacco out of doors, into the bargain.

    “Good morning!” he said at last. “We don’t want any adventures here, thank you! You might try over The Hill or across The Water.” By this he meant that the conversation was at an end.
    “What a lot of things you do use Good morning for!”

    • Denise

      This is for Monty. You might be surprised to learn the number of words brought into existence by poets. (I believe it is Shakespeare who holds the record.) An entertaining book by Owen Barfield, “History in English Words,” illustrates this phenomenon.
      I am not surprised that anyone would question anything in my poetry; a bit of irritation, like Socrates’ gadfly, is an underlying intent.
      And I will make the additional comment that perhaps the principle might be better understood if I included the term to recover in my statement: “it is the prerogative (and the duty) of the poet to expand the meaning of words and to recover their original metaphorical meanings” would more closely echo Barfield’s theory.

      • Monty

        You’ve lost me, Denise.

        My initial qualm concerned your claim that poets have the right to “expand the meaning of (existing) words”.

        You’ve now moved the goal-posts to “poets having the right to bring new words into existence”; that’s a different thing altogether (and, incidentally, something with which I also disagree. The way I see it: it’s the duty of a poet to use the language to its fullest extent . . not add to it).

        As for your additional claim that “it’s the duty of a poet to recover a word’s original metaphorical meaning”: I’m dumbfounded! Words don’t have “original metaphorical meanings”; words only have original meanings . . which humans subsequently use as metaphors.

        I’m mighty content that Barfield’s theory was no more than that: a mere theory . . and shouldn’t be taken any more seriously than that.

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