On the death of a bird


Last night, a small bird came to our back deck to die.

We went out to grill, and there it was - old, and clearly in its final moments. We brought it some water, which was refused. I said a prayer, and told it not to fight too hard, and we left it to its course, checking occasionally to see if the time had come. It was not a gentle, nor quick death. The birds sang in the yard, a song of silence, and I was compelled to find something to mark this lone being's solitary and inevitable passage. 

This is what I found, and was somewhat comforted. 


Death of the Bird

 by Alec Derwent Hope


For every bird there is this last migration;

Once more the cooling year kindles her heart;

With a warm passage to the summer station

Love pricks the course in lights across the chart.


Year after year a speck on the map, divided

By a whole hemisphere, summons her to come;

Season after season, sure and safely guided,

Going away she is also coming home.


And being home, memory becomes a passion

With which she feeds her brood and straws her nest,

Aware of ghosts that haunt the heart's possession

And exiled love mourning within the breast.


The sands are green with a mirage of valleys;

The palm tree casts a shadow not its own;

Down the long architrave of temple or palace

Blows a cool air from moorland scarps of stone.


And day by day the whisper of love grows stronger;

That delicate voice, more urgent with despair,

Custom and fear constraining her no longer,

Drives her at last on the waste leagues of air.


A vanishing speck in those inane dominions,

Single and frail, uncertain of her place,

Alone in the bright host of her companions,

Lost in the blue unfriendliness of space.


She feels it close now, the appointed season;

The invisible thread is broken as she flies;

Suddenly, without warning, without reason,

The guiding spark of instinct winks and dies.


Try as she will, the trackless world delivers

No way, the wilderness of light no sign;

Immense,complex contours of hills and rivers

Mock her small wisdom with their vast design.


The darkness rises from the eastern valleys,

And the winds buffet her with their hungry breath,

And the great earth, with neither grief nor malice,

Receives the tiny burden of her death.


A burden, and a gift.