Monday, January 13, 2014

"Most Beauteous of All the Race That Skim the Wave or Soar in Space"

Because I said so!

I love watching the wood ducks! This winter there were ten pairs living by the Little Union Canal in Eagle, Idaho. They are much prettier and daintier than the mallards. This female looks a little shrewish, but usually, she just looks sweet, with her white teardrop-shaped eye makeup. Below is a Poem from The Past that I found--where we find so much--with my search engine. I was just explaining to someone the other day about the classes I took around 1992 to learn how to use a search method called GOPHER, where you typed UNIX commands at the prompt and found a lot of machine language, and lists. At the time I thought it was very exciting, and took all the trainings available through the library. Carol Tefft, from the Los Altos Library Branch was another librarian who was early interested in this. Carol died this year, sadly, and I know her beautiful grandchildren will miss her very much. I will always remember how excited Carol was about a program called Visicalc that made calculations for you. At a couple of the Library Branch Head meetings, she almost wouldn't shut up about it. It ran from a 5 1/4 inch floppy disc, and you had to load the program every time you used it, but she saw how promising it was.

Now things are a lot easier and here, after this Memory Thread, is the wood duck poem that was published in 1886. The poet is Isaac McClellan, a schoolmate and contemporary of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which places him quite squarely among the giants of that era of American literature. He was also famed as a hunter and outdoor sportsman, both in America and abroad. But, even though he shot a lot of waterfowl, he also recognized their beauty. This poem has been posted on the site, a source of sporting equipment.

The use of iambic tetrameter, with its regular four-stress line, means that the poem (as most others of the time) has a regular, easy-to-read quality that many people recognize as poetry. One of my grandsons would definitely prefer that my own poems rhymed and had a more regular rhythm. Now we can see how parts of this are a little forced and artificial-sounding to our ear. Yet children love this sound in poetry and can still be captivated by its rhythm, as long as they love to hear you read and the TV is turned off, and they are to young for their own cell phones. I am enjoying this while it lasts, even it sometimes I feel like a dinosaur because of my lifelong long of books. I might not use a word like "lakelet" any more, but I think it is quite pretty.


In May-time, when the lilac-plumes
Droop from the branch their purple blooms;
When chestnuts clap their leafy hands,
And every bud with joy expands;
When in the moist, sequester'd nooks
Of woods is heard the call of brooks,
The wood-duck builds its downy nest,
Secure from prowling schoolboy's quest.

The swampy, shallow creeks they haunt,
Where thick woods o'er the waters slant,
Whose interlacing branches make
A dusky evening in the brake;
And there their little nests are made
In hollow mossy log decay'd,
Or where the woodpecker had bored
The crumbling bark to hide his hoard,
Fast by the stream whose ripples beat
The tree-roots of their close retreat.

Most beauteous of all the race
That skim the wave or soar in space,
With plumage fairer than the rays
The bird-of-paradise displays,
A mottled purple gloss'd with green,
All colors in the rainbow seen;
No tropic bird of Indian skies
May rival thy imperial dyes.

Least wary of all fowl that wing
O'er salty bay or inland spring,
They haunt the pond whose reedy shore
Extendeth by the farmer's door,
Or rivulet whose waters trill
Their melodies below the mill;
And here the ambush'd gunner lies
To gather in his lovely prize.

Fair are thy haunts, O bird that glows
With hues of violet and rose,—
By lakelet, by transparent stream,
Fair as the landscape of a dream,
Fair with the drooping groves that throw
Their shadows o'er the current's flow;
Fair with the bordering slopes that lave
Their grasses in the crystal wave,—
The crystal wave reflecting back
The sky-cloud drifting on its track,
Where morn and eve enfold their wing
Celestial, and the bluebirds sing.

McLellan, Isaac. Poems of the Rod and Gun. New York: Henry Thorpe, 1886.

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