e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

The poetry of herons

After posting about heronries and including a haiku of my own in the post, I started to wonder what other poets had to say about herons.

One of the first ‘heron’ poets I discovered when I googled was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His poem, The Herons of Elmwood, is very Longfellowian and isn’t really about herons, but about a fellow poet.

He describes the herons at the end of the day:

Silent are all the sounds of the day;
Nothing I hear but the chirp of crickets,
And the cry of the herons winging their way
O’er the poet’s house in the Elmwood thickets.

Most of the rest of the poem is taken up with exhortations to the herons to sing to the poet as they pass over.

Listening to recordings of the sounds of herons, I came to the conclusion that either Longfellow wasn’t a great naturalist or he didn’t much like the poet of Elmwood thickets. But who am I to say that a flock of large birds croaking and honking overhead at twilight isn’t inspirational.

Carolyn Kizer admitted she didn’t know much about The Great Blue Heron of her poem. She asks:

Heron, whose ghost are you?

and uses her sighting of the bird as a complex metaphor for death and the hereafter, among other things.

Paulette Alden, writing about the destruction of a heronry (along with many human homes) in her blog, included three poems about the birds. In Wanting Sumptuous Heavens by Robert Bly the heron

… … … standing on one leg in the bog
Drinks his dark rum all day, and is content.

I’ve never thought of herons as drinkers.

None of the poems I found were totally about herons. These large, untidy, slightly grumpy looking birds seem able to stand for many different things.


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