Monday, August 01, 2005

Poem of the Week 8/1/2005: Kingfisher


That kingfisher jewelling upstream
seems to leave a streak of itself
in the bright air. The trees
are all the better for its passing.

It's not a mineral eater, though it looks it.
It doesn't nip nicks out of the edges
of rainbows. - It dives
into the burly water, then, perched
on a Japanese bough, gulps
into its own incandescence
a wisp of minnow, a warrior stickleback.
- Or it vanishes into its burrow, resplendent
Samurai, returning home
to his stinking slum.

Norman MacCaig

Good Evening to my wonderful friends and family! How are you all? Had a pleasant night? I hope so! Mine was long and tiring, and I have to go right back to work bright and early tomorrow morning. This might seem like the worst time to launch into a Poem of the Week close-read, but it is, in fact, probably the best. There are things more refreshing than sleep for me, and reading poetry is one of them. Plus, if I don't do something like this after working so much, I begin to stop feeling... anything. Anything other than some form of bland resentment and mechanical movement. Sometimes I feel like all I do at work is move; it's purposeless. So reading a poem will be the best remedy for that. Plus, I miss the poem of the week!

I mention the pointless motion inherent server assistant-ing because it clarifies what "Kingfisher" does for me, and why. First and foremost, it rattles me. My job's mindlessness highlights the intensely original, vivid diction and imagery; who knew "jewel" was a verb? And what might it mean to jewel? Actually, "jewel" is a verb, but usually only for an actual jeweler. The kingfisher jewels by leaving "streak
[s] of itself," which implies that it is a jewel. Jeweling along could also be a pun on "tooling along." Just a thought. The following lines "The trees / are all the better for its passing" does several things. As an image, we can imagine that perhaps the flying bird has left strings of gems or even simply color across the forest. It also brings to light the lasting effect something truly beautiful can have. Sunsets, people, ruins, ocean, stars, kingfishers: these things stick with us. Perhaps beauty is over-rated, or can be, but why not let it be? I know that imagining a kingfisher nicking the edges of a rainbow enriches my life and my senses, so let's overrate it. Just for now.

Some people may not like the end of this poem; after the earth/air images preceding it, the thought of a "stinking slum" is not necessarily welcome. However, this may be MacCaig's way of grounding the beauty. Or perhaps his idea of true beauty is a grace and verve with a base, with a frame of reference. This isn't all he could be doing, however. Cynically, he could be trying to sour the entire poem, showing us that, in the end, beauty is a facade. It has no bearing on a life's core and distracts us from the way of things. And, alas, this can easily be true. But where would this poem be without the exquisite imagery? What I take from "Kingfisher" is that beauty is literally vital, but it requires some kind of ballast or reference point.

Thank you all for chugging along through my sentences (I know they get wordier as I get tireder), and I hope that you enjoyed the latest installment of the poem of the week! The next ones will certainly be actually on time.


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