Preface: In Wednesday January 17th Workshop "The Occasions of Poetry", Robert Pinsky told
the class that if this was a year's workshop, he would have the students invent a new
form and write a poem each week using that form. He then suggested that we try to use
one word in a poem incorporating it as a noun, verb, adjective, with different
shades of meaning. Do it so that it's not so obvious for the reader. He said that
we should explore the word's etymology and its usage historically in the Oxford
English Dictionary, a reference we should consult often. When Pinsky read the list
of students to bring in a poem next week, he said, "Peter are you going to bring in
a poem?" I said "Yes" but didn't know what to write. Then I recalled my extraordinary
experience with the Maguari Stork at the San Francisco Zoo on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006.
The stork bent its neck 180º backwards touching its back to my utter amazement.
I related this story on my "Crowned Crane"
web page on Nov. 29, 2006. Sometime later I found a loose label from a Vlasic Dill
Spears pickle jar in my refrigerator. The Vlasic Logo appears to be a Stork that is
relishing a pickle. It was as though the Maguari Stork was still talking to me.
So I visited the San Francisco Zoo again on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2006. This time the stork
appeared listless and tired. After repeated attempts to exhort the stork to bend
his head to touch his back, I began pumping my arms and stomping my feet to Native American
dancing and chanting "Heh! Ye! Heh! Ye!" The stork finally responded to my chants
and did his 180º backwards head-tilt. As I was about to leave his cage, the stork
gave one more amazing performance he spread out those black and white wings of his
like a giant oriental fan to a flurry gust of wind, then flew to the top of a tree. It was
truly a symphonic moment that caught me by surprise.
And ever since, I feel the inspiration of flight within me,
resolving to write a haiku each day to capture insights coming my way. Also,
because of the Maguari Stork, I requested to work at Foothill College as a
Computer Lab Consultant on Thursday instead of Wednesday (my assignment last semester),
since the San Francisco Zoo has free admission on the first Wednesday of each month.
When I learned of Robert Pinsky's Poetry Workshop at Stanford on Wednesdays, I felt
as if this was another gift from the Maguari Stork. So I'm writing my first full-length
poem of 2007 in honor of him. These notes are for my references
in elucidating some points of the poem.
I begin to sing my sacred windsong
"Whoo, Whooh, Whoo, Whoo, Whooh!"
This song came to me during my Medicine Walk at Mt. Shasta
(July 27, 1989) while meditating in a forest grove during a
week of journal writing with Nina Holzer. She told me
that's my sacred windsong to treasure. Whenever I see
a hawk in the sky, I would chant it. Often the hawk
would circle over me before flying away.
stomping my feet like Bacchus on grapes
Bacchus or Dionysis
was the God of wine. He is viewed as the promoter of civilization,
a lawgiver, and lover of peace. He's also the patron deity of
agriculture and the theatre. He is the son of Zeus and Semele.
I've included him here because Bacchus dances in ecstasy during
wine festivals. I was trying to get the lethargic stork to come
to life by my chanting and dancing. I noticed this stanza didn't
have the word "back" like the others in this poem, so added
Bacchus as a substitute. (See
coin of Sicilian Naxos, circa
530 BC with Dionysus inscription and image of grapes)
some Hopi dance chanting "Heh Ye! Heh Ye!"
This is a Native American chant that I learned from
Charlie Thom "Red Hawk", Medicine Man from Mt. Shasta, during
Sweat Lodges conducted by him (1989). Charlie is a Karuk
Medicine Man, but I've used "Hopi" here to resonate with
the Hoopoe bird in the final stanza, since the Hoopoe led
the Conference of Birds to enlightenment in Attar's 12th century poem.
song of white & black
When the Maguari stork spread his wing out, it was a beautiful
sight to behold the black and white feathers resembled
patterns of an intricate Oriental fan in that gust of wind.
But it was a symphonic surprise like Haydn's
nicknamed "The Surprise" because of a sudden loud chord in the theme of the variation-form
second movement after a tranquil opening. The music then returns to its original quiet
dynamic. Also the stork's white & black wings
remind me of the Tao symbol of Yin-Yang reflecting the moment at hand.
It was dusk as the day departs with sunset ushering in the darkness of night.
flying to the topmost branch of a tree,
his surprise parting gift to me that day.
I didn't expect the Maguari Stork to fly after reading
News article of Nov. 29: "Because the Los Altos Hills-based bird can still fly,
it is doubtful it came from a zoo, Healy and other zoo officials said. Zoo birds have their
wings pinioned when they are young, a surgery where one of the wings is made shorter than
the other." This way, zoo birds can't fly away. But the Maguari Stork showed me that day
that he could indeed fly!
back home in Brazil
Maguari storks live in marshy ground, savanna ponds, and cultivated fields
in lowland areas near sea level in South America, east of the Andes,
from Venezuela to Argentina. Maguari storks breed in June through
November in the Ilanos; August through October in southern Brazil.
resting in a Philosophical Back Garden
This phrase was inserted after this poem was written. During my 5th revision,
I looked up the word "back" in the Oxford English Dictionary
as Pinsky had suggested to the class in finding different shades of meaning
for the words we use in our poems. To my surprise I found "Philosophical Back Garden"
used by John Keats in the OED. I set out at once to find The Letter of John Keats, Volume 1,
edited by Hyder Edward Rollins in the Stanford stacks [PR4836.A5776.v.1]. The book was
just 66 paces from where I was sitting. Here's the OED citation & Keat's letter #72
written to James Rice on Tuesday, March 24, 1818, and postmarked Teignmouth, MR 26 1818 (pp. 254-257):
OED definition of "back": 1818 KEATS Let. 24 Mar. (1958) I. 254
To have a sort of Philosophical Back Garden.
My dear Rice,
Being in the midst of your favorite Devon, I should not by rights,
pen one word but it should contain a vast portion of Wit, Wisdom,
and learning for I have heard that Milton ere he wrote his Answer
to Salmasius came into these parts, and for one whole Month, rolled
himself, for three whole hours in a certain meadow... What a happy thing
it would be if we could settle our thoughts, make our minds up on any
matter in five Minutes and remain content that is to build a sort
of mental Cottage of feelings quiet and pleasant to have a sort of
Philosophical Back Garden, and cheerful holiday-keeping front one
but Alas! this never can be: for as the material Cottager knows there are
such places as France and Italy and the Andes and the Burning Mountains
so the spiritual Cottager has knowledge of the terra semi incognita of
things unearthly; and cannot for his Life, keep in the check rein
Or I should stop here quiet and comfortable in my theory of Nettles.
Attar's Conference of the Birds
The Conference of the Birds
(Mantiq at-Tayr) is a book of poems in Persian by
Farid ud-Din Attar (1142-1220) of approximately
4500 lines. The poem uses a journey by a group of 30 birds, led by a hoopoe as an allegory
of a Sufi sheikh or master leading his pupils to enlightenment.
Besides being one of the most beautiful examples of Persian poetry,
this book relies on a clever word play between the words Simorgh
a mysterious bird in Iranian mythology which is a symbol often found in Sufi
literature, and similar to the phoenix bird and si morgh
meaning "thirty birds" in Persian. Its most famous section is
(I was surprised to find "back" cited in this quatrain):
Come you lost Atoms to your Centre draw,
And be the Eternal Mirror that you saw:
Rays that have wander'd into Darkness wide
Return and back into your Sun subside
Hoopoe sharing ancient wisdom
Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
is in the same order of near passerine birds as the
bee-eaters. It is about 27 cm long with a 46 cm wingspan. Its black,
white, and pink color are quite distinct. Its erratic flight is like that
of a giant butterfly. The song is a trisyllabic "oop-oop-oop", which gives
rise to its English and scientific names. In Greek mythology, a man,
was transformed into the form of a Hoopoe. The character is featured in
In Islam, Hoopoe is associated with
King Solomon (in Arabic, the Prophet Sulaiman) and the Queen of Sheba visit
"And he reviewed the birds, then said: How is it I see not the hoopoe or is it that he is of the absentees?"
In Chinese poetry, the Hoopoe is depicted
as a celestial messenger often bearing news of the spring. The Hoopoe is
generally considered auspicious in China due to its unique beauty.
The Hoopoe plays a central role in Attar's Conference of the Birds,
a 12th century Persian poem, guiding thirty other birds in their pilgrimage
to enlightenment. My two encounters with the Maguari stork made me feel
that he could play a similar role guiding others to wisdom and illumination.
like Nils on the backs of wild geese
The Wonderful Adventures of Nils
is a fiction work (1906-1907) by
Selma Lagerlöf (1858-1940), a Swedish writer,
and 1909 Nobel Laureate.
The book is about a young lad, Nils Holgersson, whose "chief delight was to eat and sleep,
and after that he liked best to make mischief". He takes great delight in hurting the animals
in his family farm. A run-in with a tomte (elf/gnome) sees him shrunken and able to talk with animals.
Wild geese take him on an adventurous trip across all the historical provinces of Sweden
observing in passing their natural characteristics and economic resources. At the same time
the characters and situations he encounters make him a man. The image of Nils on a goose's back
appears on a 65 öre bright blue Swedish 1971 postage stamp (Scott #747A) as well as their
20 kronor banknote (1992).
Selma Lagerlöf was the first woman awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature (1909). In reading
Nobel Banquet Speech today, I'm touched at her humility in accepting this great honor. On
the train ride to Stockholm, she tells her daydream of meeting her deceased father in Heaven.
She asks him how could she pay the heavy debt to all those who've helped her in her writing
"What do I not owe to them, to their mischief and mad pranks! And the old men and women
sitting in their small grey cottages as one came out of the forest, telling me wonderful
stories of water-sprites and trolls and enchanted maidens lured into the mountains.
It was they who taught me that there is poetry in hard rocks and black forests."
Tears welled up my eyes when I read this and I say to myself:
"Selma you have poetry in your heart!"
(Haiku, Jan. 21, 2007
I'm uplifted flying with the Maguari Stork
I ended my first version of this poem with the lines: "And if you wish to meet
a sage, just visit / San Francisco Zoo and the Maguari Stork." But then
I remembered Selma Lagerlöf's story of Nils and felt that the Maguari Stork
had lifted me up that day to see greater vistas. Since legends have storks bringing
babies into this world, I too felt reborn and refreshed just as Selma experienced
in her childhood. I recall many years ago reading about Selma's
Memories of My Childhood Selma was paralyzed at the age of three and a half and couldn't
walk. Her parents took her to the baths at Strömstad, hoping the spa would heal
their small invalid. The seacoast town had many ships and fishing boats. Their landlady's
husband was a captain of a ship which had come back from a long sea voyage. The five year-old
Selma learned that the captain had a bird of paradise on board. Selma thought paradise had
something to do with God, and wondered whether the exotic bird could heal her. In her
eagerness, she forgot her weakness and walked to the captain's cabin and saw
the exotic bird. Her parents attributed Selma's cure to the sea air and the spa of
Strömstad. But Selma thought it was the Bird of Paradise that had cured her.
[I found this story summarized in Hanna Astrup Larsen's Selma Lagerlöf
in the Stanford stacks (PT9770.L3.1975), some 36 paces from my computer desk.]
Perhaps it was this childhood memory that prompted Selma to write The Wonderful
Adventures of Nils, where the boy Nils Holgersson was lifted aloft by wild geese
all over Sweden learning about its history and folklore during that aerial journey.
Likewise I've learned much from the Maguari Stork at the zoo, while writing this
poem and these notes.
While compiling these Notes, I also learned:
Selma Lagerlöf was born Nov. 20, 1858 at Mårbacka, Värmland, Sweden.
The $40,000 Nobel Prize award made it possible for Selma Lagerlöf to purchase Mårbacka,
the estate near East Amtervik in Varmland, where she was born. It had been sold after her father's death.
Here, with the scene ever before her, she wrote Mårbacka (1922), the memoirs of her
family and her own early years. When Selma lost her ability to walk in childhood, the husky nurse,
Back-Kaisa carried her around
for two years.
Use of words "back", "black", "acrobatic", "Bacchus" in this poem:
I noticed that the words "back", "black", and "acrobatic" were used 8 times
in my first version of this poem. Since Pinsky suggested that we use a word
several times througout our poem with different shades of meaning, I expanded
on these words with each new revision:
Version 1 (8),
Version 2 (10),
Version 3 (12),
Version 4 (14),
Version 5 (16)
This poem was inspired by my two visits to the San Francisco Zoo and my interactions
with the Maguari Stork. After the poem was completed, I realized that I had not
consulted any books on the myth and symbolism of storks. So I'm adding some extra
info from these books in my library. I'm joyful to learn that the stork is associated
with noble qualities in most cultural traditions. That the stork also symbolizes
wisdom is particularly meaningful to me as I continue to learn much from him.
Stork: With the eagle and ibis, the stork is a destroyer of reptiles,
in their baleful aspects, and is thus a solar bird; but, as an aquatic creature
and a fisher, it is associated with the waters of creation. Children 'brought by
the stork' are embryonic in the womb of Mother Earth and the creative waters and
are found by the fishing storks. The stork also symbolizes the coming of Spring
and new life and is a bird of good omen. Chinese: Longevity; happy and
contented old age; filial piety, the recluse, dignified, aloof and secluded.
Christian: Chastity; purity; piety; prudence; vigilance. As the harbinger
of Spring it was used as a symbol of new life in the coming of Christ and his
Annunciation. Egyptian: Filial piety; the stork was thought to nourish
its parents in old age. Greek: In the mysteries the stork goddess
represented archetypal woman, the bringer of life, the nourisher. An attribute
of Hera. Roman: Piety; filial devotion; an attribute of Juno.
[J. C. Cooper,
An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols,
Thames & Hudson, London, 1978, pp. 161-162]
Stork: This bird, dedicated to Juno by the Romans, was a symbol
of filial piety. It is also an emblem of the traveller. In the allegory
of 'Great Wisdom', two storks are shown facing each other and flying
within a circle formed by the figure of a snake (Bayley).
[J. E. Cirlot,
A Dictionary of Symbols,
Philosophical Library, NY, 1962, p. 300]
Note: Serpent biting its tail is called
Masonic Emblems & Trade-marks:
The aim and intention
of the famous printer whose mark is reproduced
herewith was evidently to carry on the traditional Great Wisdom,
whose emblem, the serpent, surrounds a pair of storks. These birds
symbolised "filial piety" by reason of the care and solicitude which
they were supposed to exercise towards aged storks, and "filial piety"
as defined by Confucius an expert on that subject means
"carrying on the aims of our forefathers." (Footnote: H. A. Giles,
Religions of Ancient China, p. 32. It is not improbable that
this notion of doing as our fathers have done is the explanation of
the nursery lore that it is the storks who bring the babies.)
The Lost Language of Symbolism,
Citadel Press, NY (1st Ed.: London, 1912), p. 10]