Monday, September 6, 2010

Something for the birds

Haven't done poetry corner here for a while. This is something by light verse poet Phyllis McGinley. The note is hers.

Text for Today
A cheerful poem written upon reading in the New York Times that Dr. Robert Cusheman Murphy, of the Museum of Natural History, has discovered on Bermuda several specimens of the cahow, a bird believed to be extinct since 1620

Amid the dark that rims us now,
Beset by news we cannot cherish,
Let us consider the cahow--
That petrel which refused to perish,
In spite of gossip it had gone
The way of auk and mastodon.

Three hundred years ago or more,
It built its nest, it spent its slumbers,
At ease upon Bermuda's shore
In innocent, prolific numbers
A creature of the coral reef
Credulous, gentle, and naïf.

But then the hungry settlers came
To find those pastures stern for plowing.
The bird was edible and tame,
So everybody went cahowing,
Till by and by, beside the water,
There were no more cahows to slaughter.

"Alas!" cried all the scientists, 
"Alas, career so brief and checkered!"
They crossed "cahow" from off the lists
And wrote "extinct" upon the record.
And man could boast another feat
Of rendering nature obsolete.

But all the while, with stealth and skill
(Necessity become its motto),
The shrewd cahow was nesting still
On lonely rock, in cave and grotto;
Invincibly, and by some plan,
Three hundred years outwitting man.

O brave cahow, so stubborn-linked
To your own island, palmed and surly!
I'm happy you are not extinct,
But got espied by Dr. Murphy.
You lend me hope, you give me joy,
Whom Total Man could not destroy.

You give me joy, you lend me hope
(At any rate, what hope is bred on);
Fpr surely if a bird can cope
So cunningly with Armageddon,
And, snug in umimagined dens,
Wait out its season for returning,
Why, so can Homo sapiens
Tomorrow when the planet's burning--

Can flee, root, cower, scrabble, strive,
And rear its progeny. And survive.
Amid our ills that seem incurable,
Cahow, you make me feel more durable.


susan said...

That was wonderful :-)

Ben said...

Yes indeedy. It was kind of a bitch preserving McGinley's indents in HTML, but in the end I think it was worth it. This deserves to be read.