Hero's Poetry Journey, week 9
Hello, Poetry Friend
My allies in this hero’s poetry journey are birds. I am currently journaling through an illustrated anthology of poems about birds edited by Billy Collins titled Bright Wings. I like my allies to have wings.
We can’t do this alone. We need allies who can give us the thing we most need and don’t have in ourselves for this journey. In my case, I need a darkling thrush to bring me hope. Because Hope, that four-letter word, has been oh-so difficult for me.
I blame Julia Cameron and The Artist’s Way and this one little sentence: "I now accept hope.” It seems that when my Thursday morning poetry group takes turns reading that section aloud, I usually get this sentence.
Hope can be hard to accept when you’re several stages into Trials, and it’s only getting more Trial-ly.
I have some really, really great friends. The kind who listen to my latest hopeless update and offer back hope with a capital H.
One friend, who I walk with each week, asked if I could come over instead, since her husband was out of town and she needed to stay and guard her sleeping little ones. My big news — I’d heard from one of my children. I’d been wrong about everything. I’d made every wrong mothering choice possible, and everyone in our small town knew. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard people say of us, “Oh, we want nothing to do with them.” My friend served me toast and tea and listened.
And then her kids woke up. For reasons I can’t explain, they seemed excited to see me.
They were “small, / In blast-beruffled plume” of pajamas. One scrolled through my phone and asked me to explain all the photos. One brought me their latest art project. One told me all about school. I came to that house with “so little cause for carolings,” but these birdies could not stop twittering.
The Darkling Thrush
I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.
The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.
– Thomas Hardy
“The Darkling Thrush” by Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy’s poem has become one of my absolute favorites since I first learned it by heart in 2020, during a season in which most of the world felt hope-less. Here was a reckless bird with impeccable fashion sense, pointing me away from “terrestrial things” to “joy illimited.”
I cannot always reach joy on my own, perhaps because I am not a thrush. I am haunted by “tangled bine-stems” and “broken lyres.” But as often as I can, I write outside. When I can’t, I write by a window, so I can see and hear my avian allies. They always know where to find “Some blessed Hope.” Even “some” will do.
Read Hardy’s poem. Jot down what you notice, what you like, what you don’t, what questions you have, and at least one way in which the poem speaks to your soul.
Write about your allies. What animal are they like? (Bonus points if it’s a bird, but choose a specific bird.)
Read Hardy’s poem aloud. Pick one phrase or line or stanza you can tuck deep in your heart.
Write your own haiku about this stage of your hero’s poetry journey. (Mine is at meganwillome.com, and it’s actually a quatrain. I blame Hardy for making me want to rhyme.) If you like, email me what you write.
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