My Life

My Life


A. D. Hope’s poem “The Death of the Bird” seems to me one of the great lyric poems in English of the twentieth century. It is a recognized anthology piece in Australia, of course, but my impression is that outside the continent Hope’s poetry is not very well known and that few even of the most serious readers of English poetry are acquainted with “The Death of the Bird.” In contrast to so many lesser poets of the twentieth century, Hope’s artistry is deeply hidden, and what makes this poem so powerful, moving, and original is not easy to explain. What follows is an essay in the original sense of the term – an attempt to make clear to myself my own reactions to a poem that I have grown to cherish. In “The Death of the Bird,” Hope writes as if he were simply imparting information to the reader, conveying a thought-process that has taken form in his mind and that has immediately engendered the language by which it can be made accessible: 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. The poet’s thought-process finds its form in elegiac quatrains (i.e., quatrains of iambic pentameter with alternating rhyme), as Gray’s does in the Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, a poem from which the elegiac quatrain takes its name and which must have had an important influence on Hope. The movement of ideas in “The Death of the Bird” is clearly demarcated by sentences, and every quatrain, with only one exception, ends in a period, so that grammar and form are almost completely congruent (here too the resemblance to Gray’s Elegy is


striking). Of course, the period around 1950 when “The Death of the Bird” was written saw a neo-classical revival, partly as a result of Eliot’s influence; but in contrast to so many...

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