.

A portent for our loss, this bird, so nigh
Its end. The slowly creeping dusk had dared
It to emerge, its doughty spirit bared,
Eyes bright as lightning in a sullen sky.
The lesser creature never questions why
It lives in constant fear nor why a bird
Must needs defend a life it never cared
To own. For birds don’t ask to live or die.

Nor she. As heaven-sent so heavenward
She went. And how on earth did she afford,
In midst of her own dying, empathy?
As modesty denied her charity:
For kindly deeds she wrought but nought professed
We here commend her spirit with the blest.

.

.

Peter Hartley is a retired painting restorer. He was born in Liverpool and lives in Manchester, UK.


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21 Responses

  1. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Peter, it’s lovely to see you back with a heart-touching and beautiful poem. Firstly, I like the comfort of the biblical reference in the title and your light and graceful touch with the sparrow comparison, especially the lines; “Nor she. As heaven-sent so heavenward/She went.” The last four lines of the sonnet remind me of the kindnesses I’ve witnessed by people who thought more of others’ plights than they did their own. I can promise you that although I may not have said at the time, those selfless and beautiful acts live on in my heart and shape my thoughts today.

    Thank you and all good wishes to you.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Susan,
      Thank you for your very kind and helpful remarks. I wrote that little poem more than three years ago but the apparently unnecessary suffering of dying animals, while they appear so brave in human terms (but is this simply that they know no other way to be?), remains a leitmotiv in so many of my verses. Thank you again, as ever, for your appreciation.

      Reply
  2. Margaret Coats

    Nice clear octave on the sparrow, Peter, but then you throw a thought-provoking spanner in the sestet. “And how on earth did she afford,/In midst of her own dying empathy?” As you punctuate this, “afford” has to be an intransitive verb, meaning “advance,” or in particular, “advance forward.” That is, you ask how she progressed to being a blest spirit.

    But what I wanted to do was find a direct object for “afford,” and thus I needed a comma after “dying,” to ask how she could afford empathy while dying. Her empathy was dying, of course, only because she was dying. She did not need to buy empathy; she simply persists in modest acts of charity. A good stop-and-think sentence, full of meaning whether “afford” has a direct object or not. I hope I’ve read it right.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      I, too, found the second stanza nearly impossible to parse. Who was it who said that poetry is meant to be read, not deciphered?

      Reply
      • Peter Hartley

        And all for the want of a comma. I don’t know who it was who said that but he or she must have been a very clever chap(ess).

    • Peter Hartley

      Margaret,
      Thank you for your comment and very thoughtful scrutiny of my poem. The interpretative difficulties might have been resolved had I remembered to insert the paired comma after “dying” that I placed after “afford”. There was no direct object intended for the word “dying,” which is meant as a gerund in the context. Incidentally I wrote “did she afford” rather than “could she afford” to avoid confusion and eliminate the possibility that she didn’t. Thank you as ever, Margaret, for your vigilance. I try to be punctilious about punctuation, as CBA (below) will be the very first to readily confirm, but I often come unstuck.

      Reply
  3. Yael

    A poem to fit the day, by coincidence. I had to bury a favorite and named yard-bird today who died of old age. She was hatched right here on our farm and she gave us seven years’ worth of lovely greenish-blue eggs. I will recite your poem over her grave, thank you!

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Dear Yael, I am sorry to hear of your yard-bird. I am attached to our resident cardinals and woodpecker, and apart from giving us the gift of their presence, they just make us smile. The world would be a sadder place without them, so I know how you feel. May she rise to greenest pastures and rest in peace.

      Reply
      • Peter Hartley

        Susan,
        Hear hear. And Evan, many thanks for correcting the blunders in both the original entry and my response, and many thanks indeed for the very felicitous choice of painting above it.

    • Peter hartley

      Yael, I should be most honoured if my poem were read out at your bird’s funeral. Bird life is virtually zilch here apart from the magpies that have virtually put paid to every other species, but on the canal nearby we have three pairs of nesting swans, tufted duck, mallard, coot, heron and moorhen. Too big for the magpies to molest.

      Reply
  4. Jeff Eardley

    Peter, you have been away too long. As someone who once collided with a Canada goose on a bicycle (me, not the goose) only to unavoidably ride over its neck, I empathise with this completely. I have buried many garden birds over the years and have always lamented the passing of these little guys who give us so much pleasure. Thank you again, I really enjoyed reading this.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Thank you Jeff. I haven’t had any contretemps with geese that I can recall. Every time though, as a child, when my parents took a particular route in the car I used to have to shift a mute swan called Percy that seemed to live permanently on the tarmac just beyond the same dangerous bend. I remember the first time how I shot up in the air with it, being completely unprepared for its airiness. It gives the lie to the old factoid that a swan can “break a man’s arm” with its wings.

      Reply
  5. Julian D. Woodruff

    Dear Mr. Hartley,
    You’ve likely given the matter more thought than I have, but it seems to me that animals care very much to hold on to the lives they are given (not that they are aware that they do). A well written and thought-provoking sonnet nonetheless. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Julian,
      Thank you very much for your comment. I wrote some time ago apropos a similar comment to yours that probably even a garden slug, if given free choice in the matter, would prefer to attend my funeral rather than its own. And who could blame it?

      Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Jeff
      Hahahahahachortleha ha ha ha ho ho hee hee guffaw. (I’ve had fifty years to think of that one and failed).

      Reply
      • Jeff Eardley

        Peter, the Swan, Percy must now be considered a garden bird. By the way, thank you for educating me on the word “gerund.” Would I be correct in saying that “Swan-throwing by small children is a lovely pastime” contains one. Best wishes Peter, I am laughing myself now.

    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Jeff, that is just hilarious… although, the fact that I even know who Percy Thrower is, informs me I’m on the brink of full maturity. 🙂

      Reply
      • Peter Hartley

        Jeff – A gerund is a noun consisting of a verb with an “ing” suffix that enables it, as a verbal noun, to act as a noun or the name of an action like, “My kicking swans is an activity from which I derive immense pleasure” or “My hacking the limbs off small working-class children gives me some relief from life’s ineffable wearisomeness.” The kicking and the hacking are both gerunds but there are many fascinating facts about gerunds that I don’t understand, eg why is it an anagram of gazunder minus A-Z?

  6. Jeff Eardley

    Peter, I seem to recall that a Gazunder is a Liverpudlian creation. Would I be right in saying that a Gazinterplunker is what goes into the Gazunder?

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      I don’t know but when aboard ship and using an under-bunk thunder box one must be careful to dunk dunderfunk only in one’s own gazunder.

      Reply

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