Search This Blog

Monday, September 19, 2011

Number 266:Richard Wilbur 'A Barred Owl"

A Barred Owl

The warping night air having brought the boom
Of an owl’s voice into her darkened room,
We tell the wakened child that all she heard
Was an odd question from a forest bird,
Asking of us, if rightly listened to,
“Who cooks for you?” and then “Who cooks for you?”

Words, which can make our terrors bravely clear,
Can also thus domesticate a fear,
And send a small child back to sleep at night
Not listening for the sound of stealthy flight
Or dreaming of some small thing in a claw
Borne up to some dark branch and eaten raw.

-- Richard Wilbur

Hap Notes: The Barred Owl has many names but is probably best known popularly as the "hoot owl." You may remember the poem we did earlier this year by Jimmy Carter where he mentions the distinctive "who cooks for you" call of the bird. They also make an alarming assortment of caws and gurgly purrs. They sound like this: which, by the way, could be pretty scary if you are a kid in bed at night hearing it, as Wilbur's daughter is in the poem.

The owls have a wing span which is between 2 and 4 feet and their flight is swift and relatively soundless. Here's a video from the Cornell Ornithology Lab where Science Editor Laura Erickson with pictures by Gerrit Vynn explain how people are awakened by these birds:

The owls are beautiful but Wilbur is also making a point about how we diminish our fears by assigning terms or phrases to our to them which give them a humorous or whimsical quality, like saying that the owl is saying "who cooks for you" or calling bears "cuddly" and turning them into stuffed toys. The reality is that the natural world has a set of checks and balances that we sometimes would find hard to digest (no pun intended). Of course we can also augment our fear with words. They are very powerful in our lives.

This poem is Wilbur at his most Frost-like, Frost being a poet he knew and by whom he was influenced. The poem has a dark humor like Frost as well as the trademark natural observation.

We talked about Richard Wilbur before. You can find it

No comments:

Post a Comment