Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"And all the beauty of the fair May morning seemed like a blotted page"

Celia Thaxter wrote a number of poems for children featuring bird life; they can be a bit moralistic (they are supposed to be instructive after all) but unlike the work of many of her contemporaries, the moral doesn't completely weigh down the lyrical. Nevertheless, they are not necessarily bright and cheerful. She includes poems about an owl eating a chickadee and a shrike devouring her pet canary, "Rupert" (the shrike, the poem ends, was donated to the Agassiz Museum!)

My favorite is "Under the Light-house," inspired by what must have been a personal experience of the disastrous consequences of lighthouses during migration (similar to the effect of night-lit skyscrapers today.) The matter-of-fact sadness is unleavened, in my opinion, by her attempt at religious consolation at poem's end. Here's the text:


Susan W. said...

Describing poems like that as not necessarily bright and cheerful is quite an understatement. That is a tragic poem if ever I saw one - it almost brought tears to my eyes. I would never have let my children read such a thing, but it was written in a very different age. They had distinctly different ideas about child-rearing and life in general back then.

Peter Oehlkers said...

As far as I can tell, it was first published in the 1870s in St. Nicholas Magazine. I think it's one of the earlier accounts of the tragic dimension of human-bird relations. St. Nicholas around this time sponsored a "Bird Defenders" club (maybe the first of its kind), loosely associated with the SPCA and its magazine, Our Dumb Animals.