Sunday, November 20, 2011

A poetic visitor

Hermit Thrush in Central Park on 10/31/11

Though the Hermit Thrush is not an uncommon bird in Central Park during the migration seasons, it is a special bird in American literary history. Walt Whitman considered the Hermit Thrush to be a symbol of the American voice, poetic and otherwise, in his elegy for Abraham Lincoln, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd."

In 1865 the poet wrote in his notebook "[Hermit Thrush]. . . sings oftener after sundown sometimes quite in the night / is very secluded / likes shaded, dark, places in swamps . . . his song is a hymn . . . he never sings near the farm houses—never in the settlement / is the bird of the solemn primal woods & of Nature pure & holy"

A few lines from verse 4 of Whitman's great elegiac poem about the death of Abraham Lincoln:

In the swamp in secluded recesses,
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.

Solitary the thrush,
The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.

Song of the bleeding throat,
Death’s outlet song of life, (for well dear brother I know,
If thou wast not granted to sing thou would’st surely die.)