During the Festival I took my dad to see Paul Kelly at the Town Hall. Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds was a stunning arrangement of poems to music, poems about birds from Emily Dickinson, WB Yeats, Judith Wright, Gerard Manley Hopkins and several others. The Yeats – Leda and the Swan - had me crying, the way the string instruments and resounding piano echoed the violent rape was quite astounding.
The performance felt liturgical, biblical, emotional. I was wide-eyed for the entirety.
I saw Kelly and Alice Keith perform Shakespeare’s Sonnets at the State Library of NSW a few years ago, his love for poetry and his endless creative spark driving these new pieces was just as special then as now.
It was AD Hope‘s The Death of the Bird that moved me most though. One of the first poems I committed to heart at 17 for year eleven English, certain lines still come to mind when I’m driving home at dusk and see the migration. I love the way Kelly framed the poem, the great natural world, our sense of belonging, the centrality of place, the tyranny of distance. I’ve always found it to be a beautiful and desperately sad poem.
The Death of the Bird
For every bird there is this last migration:
Once more the cooling year kindles her heart;
With a warm passage to the summer station
Love pricks the course in lights across the chart.
Year after year a speck on the map, divided
By a whole hemisphere, summons her to come;
Season after season, sure and safely guided,
Going away she is also coming home.
And being home, memory becomes a passion
With which she feeds her brood and straws her nest,
Aware of ghosts that haunt the heart’s possession
And exiled love mourning within the breast.
The sands are green with a mirage of valleys;
The palm-tree casts a shadow not its own;
Down the long architrave of temple or palace
Blows a cool air from moorland scarps of stone.
And day by day the whisper of love grows stronger;
That delicate voice, more urgent with despair,
Custom and fear constraining her no longer,
Drives her at last on the waste leagues of air.
A vanishing speck in those inane dominions,
Single and frail, uncertain of her place,
Alone in the bright host of her companions,
Lost in the blue unfriendliness of space,
She feels it close now, the appointed season:
The invisible thread is broken as she flies;
Suddenly, without warning, without reason,
The guiding spark of instinct winks and dies.
Try as she will, the trackless world delivers
No way, the wilderness of light no sign,
The immense and complex map of hills and rivers
Mocks her small wisdom with its vast design.
And darkness rises from the eastern valleys,
And the winds buffet her with their hungry breath,
And the great earth, with neither grief nor malice,
Receives the tiny burden of her death.
- AD Hope