Monday, November 21, 2011

Elegy

A poem in Eavan Boland’s, Outside History, “On the Gift of The Birds of America by John James Audubon,” begins “What you have given me is, of course, elegy.” When I read it I thought immediately of my wife Katharine’s telling me about her reading of old bird guides. Even one published as recently as fifteen years ago is already a sad reminder of the past, she said, because it describes a world that no longer exists—the size of flocks, the range of birds, and even some individual species. With Audubon’s Birds the world elegized is more than a century and a half in the past. Elegy, writes Boland in this poem, is “the celebration of an element/which absence has revealed,” where “the pine siskin and the wren are an inference,” along with the hawk and the tern, of the rest of the past these colored drawings elegize.

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