Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher by Nissim Ezekiel

To force the pace and never to be still
Is not the way of those who study birds
Or women. The best poets wait for words.
The hunt is not an exercise of will
But patient love relaxing on a hill
To note the movement of a timid wing;
Until the one who knows that she is loved
No longer waits but risks surrendering –
In this the poet finds his moral proved
Who never spoke before his spirit moved.

The slow movement seems, somehow, to say much more.
To watch the rarer birds, you have to go
Along deserted lanes and where the rivers flow
In silence near the source, or by a shore
Remote and thorny like the heart’s dark floor.
And there the women slowly turn around,
Not only flesh and bone but myths of light
With darkness at the core, and sense is found
But poets lost in crooked, restless flight,
The deaf can hear, the blind recover sight.

Summary and Analysis

The poem is extracted from Nissim Ezekiel’s fourth volume of poems that appeared in 1965 under the name The Exact Name. Nissim Ezekiel is a poet of self-exploration and so he has carved out a poetic place for the tininess of the soul. The acute sense of this smallness, the sense of one‘s insignificance to the world, is an important motif in modernist Indian English poetry.

Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher, a much admired poem, reveals the poet‘s search for poetics which would help him to transform himself in his own eyes and also in the vision of the Almighty. The poem is about learning to be a poet and the message of the poem is very clear – ‘The best poets wait for words‘. It is only when they are truly inspired or when they experience the moments of illumination or enlightenment that proper words take shape in their writing. The poet uses the templates of ‘lover‘ and ‘birdwatcher‘ from whom the poet has to learn his craft. The waiting of the poet, of course, is not an effortless one. Like a keen birdwatcher, he has to remain very alert for the perfect time. It is at the cost of eternal vigil that one is blessed with the gift of poetry and so even during the time of tension and apprehension the poet has to remain calm and poised. Though a poet has always to be on the move he should not be desperate. Like a birdwatcher waiting tolerantly for the perfect catch or like a lover waiting patiently for his true love, the poet should wait for the perfect words.

Ornithologists and lovers do not scuttle their way towards their destinations; they rather wait for the appropriate moment. Likewise, the art of poetic diction also does not result, at times, even after much thought. Just as an ornithologist waits for a bird patiently to identify its movements and specifically categorize and describe the bird and a lover waits patiently for his lady love to submit to him without much commotion, similarly, a poet must proceed with great resolve for his poetic perception to comply with him. The poet makes use of two apt metaphors, the first a bird for the ‘flight of imagination’ and, second-the ladylove as a source of inspiration. ‘The hunt‘ is the search for birds or the desire to win a woman‘s heart. ‘Patient love relaxing on a hill‘ is to assume an attitude of patience and relaxation while watching birds and ‘until the one who knows that she is loved‘ indicates that a man should wait for a woman to respond to his love and should not force himself upon her. In these examples of the birdwatcher and the lover, the poet finds the right parallels between the two and tries draw a moral for his own guidance as a poet.

The poet is of the opinion that waiting patiently brings in excellent results and kind rewards. Therefore it is perfect endurance or slow movement that results in completion. If the bird- watcher needs to watch rare species of birds he has to go to remote places, deserted lanes or near the river. He has to watch in silence at the desert or coastal areas. If a man anticipates a constructive reaction from his beloved, he has to wait till she is no longer just ̳flesh and bone‘ but they are one in soul. The lady no longer is just a mere physical presence but goes to the extent of becoming mythical and imaginary. It is in her enigma that a lady‘s beauty lies and so the lover has to wait patiently and hopefully for the correct time; similarly poets will be lost if they are reckless and in hurry in their poetic flight. When poetry comes from true poetic spirit, it is so powerful that it has the capability to make the blind see and the deaf hear. Ezekiel to some extent echoes Philip Sidney‘s definition of poetic creation that genuine inspiration comes from one‘s heart and not from external considerations.

Thus for all the three aspects, poet, lover and birdwatcher two things should be taken into consideration – first, patient waiting for the correct time and second, taking the pains to go out of the way to achieve something special.

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