A bit of a mis-nomer this title. Should be something like:
Where are the observation poems on owls?
I was reading Owl, by Jean Whitfield and I couldn’t recall any other specific poems on observation of owls by other poets……..I thought there must be lots, by Clare or Edward Thomas, maybe Tennyson and Wordsworth et al. Here I admit to small knowledge of current poetry, performance or otherwise; and very limited on likes of Motion, Armitage, Cope, Plath and others of the myriad of now established poets or recent past ones. But historically there seem to be very few, as few as the rare sightings of owls by the likes of average me! Note: Since I first published this I have found a poem by Vita Sackville-West that is about owls….. but sneaks in a little human thought at the end: It is included as the last entry…..
Owl by Jean Whitfield from ‘Moments’, Bakery Press
Composed by the roadside
he weighed a level branch down
knowing he was beautiful
the clear white sweep of him
tufted ears and round orange head
he blinked his eyes
rested iron claws easy
let us see enough of him
and finding undercurrents
lifted slowly, wafted wide wings
poised in the even air
figure skated on the breeze
allowed himself to fall
a small space gracefully
and rolled the lazy evening
forward and backward
over the hump in the road
he hung on those sunken eyes
swung over the field-hedge
Poured down from that low sky
– was gone.
A strong image that gives us an image of an owl in flight. Artists often draw them as such, often in silhouette. Yes owls exist in poems; briefly, as hoots or eyes or metaphysically wise, but why haven’t I found many ‘naturalist’ views of that simple, beautiful bird? Well, maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough so will keep searching. Another possibility is that as they are nocturnal hunters they have not been observed like other birds. Surely Clare or other ‘naturalist’ poets would have seen them well enough?
If anyone can point me to a poet, ideally pre 1930, with an owl poem to their name (and title) then I would much appreciate the help. Also, any current poets that have an Owl poem/s that they can send and authorise to be published on Poetryparc and Wordparc sites then I will sort some out for inclusion on future pages. (Copyright will be retained by the author). Suggested closing date is end of January 2018: this is not a competition, it’s an opportunity! Email: wordparc@gmail subject ‘Owls’
full details and available via:
and search for : The Barn Owl
isbn 978 1 873580 89 9 hb
The Owls by Charles Baudelaire
Under the overhanging yews,
The dark owls sit in solemn state,
Like stranger gods; by twos and twos
Their red eyes gleam.
Motionless thus they sit and dream
Until that melancholy hour
When, with the sun’s last fading gleam,
The nightly shades assume their power.
From their still attitude the wise
Will learn with terror to despise
All tumult, movement, and unrest;
For he who follows every shade,
Carries the memory in his breast,
Of each unhappy journey made.
The poem above is a variation of the wise or mystical owl as they sit in a churchyard. Not actively designated as such but of an ‘attitude’ that you might be wise to follow as ‘shades’ can be interpreted as many things, not only churchyard ‘happenings’.
I did find Ted Hughes’ The Owl: a short poem and purely owl but a briefest of image, and likely true. A glimpse, much like sightings can be, I suppose. An accurate description but an air of mystery is hinted at by the contrasting colours and time between first and last final two lines. ‘a fine dust’ raises the question of ‘what is it?’ The disjointed lines are another way of keeping the reader slightly off-balance. In the last line the subject, the owl, is just not there in the light of day. The whole poem, simple observation written with a poet’s eye.
The Owl by Ted Hughes (faber & faber)
The path was purple in the dusk.
I saw an owl, perched,
on a branch.
And when the owl stirred, a fine dust
fell from its wings,
the owl quaver.
And at dawn, waking,
the path was green, in the
addedd poem: V. Sackville-West. From. Selected Poems, Hogarth Press. 1941
Each dusk I saw, while those I loved most
Chattered of present or alien things,
The rhythmic owl returning like a ghost
Across the orchard cruising on wide wings.
She went, she came, she swooped, she sought the height
Where her young brood hid snoring for the mouse;
Tirelessly weaving on her silent flight
Between the laden branches and the house,
Soft and nocturnal, creamy as a moth;
But to the timorous small colony
Crouched in the grass, as fatal as a Goth
Ranging the plains in armed panoply.
Such beauty and such cruelty were hers,
Such silent beauty, tallness with a knife;
Such innocence and fearlessness were theirs,
The little denizens intent on life,
That, terror swooping on my heart’s alarm,
I wondered what dire spirit, hushed, adrift,
Might go abroad to do my loves most harm,
Silent and pouncing, ruinous and swift?
Notes: likely to have been written early or just before WW2 so the last lines’ sentiment could have been prominent in everyone’s minds…. Also, the word ‘snoring’ in second line of second verse seems wrong to me, maybe a misprint(?) but I cant fathom what it replaces…..