Apr 30, 2011

Langston Hughes’ “Daybreak in Alabama," Two New Birds

Where's the birdie?

April 29: Langston Hughes’s “Daybreak in Alabama” « Knopf Doubleday - Poem-a-Day

Except for “Dream Deferred,” I’ve never had much luck in connecting to Langston Hughes. But thanks to Knopf’s tribute to Poetry Month, today I read and liked Hughes’ “Daybreak in Alabama.” Maybe it’s worthwhile to remember good things and think good thoughts about Alabama and the rest of the Southeast as they struggle to recover from the most violent tornadoes in forty years.

Perhaps in that vein, I feel lucky to have discovered two more life birds today (though I don’t keep count): the blue-gray gnat catcher and the ruby-crowned kinglet.

I confess to the sin of pride in having found them in their tangles of brush. The gnat catcher betrayed himself with his repetitive, one-note, gurgling peep. We had a nice conversation; he agreed to pose, then changed his mind—repeatedly. Pose and flit, pose and flit. So I'm very lucky to have caught him.

The ruby-crowned kinglet below was a visible busy-body in a thicket among some swamp water. In the corner of my eye, I first thought he was a butterfly, but I kept looking. Is there a life lesson there? That ridiculous little red patch on his head probably has some evolutionary advantage in wooing. Maybe it's like men's plaid pants in the 1970s. 

I’ve recently heard a couple of poets say that witnessing—that highfalutin, almost mystical form of observation—amounts simply to paying attention, honestly close attention. We must shut up and observe. I’m only so-so at it, but when I succeed, the payoff feels tremendously good.

For one thing, it seems as if things are coming together, like the various colors of hands and earth in Hughes’ “Daybreak in Alabama.” For another thing, I like the colors, patterns and shadings of the tangles of brush before complete greening obscures them. Buds are nice, but those browns, grays, and lines should be enough to please anyone. If I then find a bird who is, intentionally or not, making himself the interesting center of attention in that tangle, I’ve seen something that matters, and it's been a good day.

April 29: Langston Hughes’s “Daybreak in Alabama” « Knopf Doubleday - Poem-a-Day



Anonymous said...

I'll come back to read the poem, because just now, I'm all about witnessing your birds. These delight me, B52.

Gerald (SK14) said...

the knat-catcher looks very much like the bird we call a coal-tit.

PJ said...

The real power of that poem is the forgiveness in it. Alabama race relations has such a violent history, it's astonishing that Hughes could step back and see the beauty of life.

Testify, you did. The picture of the kinglet is on my desktop, it's really wonder-full.

Banjo52 said...

AH, thanks as always, even when you challenge.

Gerald, welcome and thanks for the info. I'll be visiting your site.

Paula, I just discovered today that your blog is back! Great. And thanks about the kinglet. Wow. I can only guess why discovering these little guys felt so good. Each is a first, yes, and each posed fairly well. But I think it's also the way we discovered each other and the talks we had.

About Hughes, yes, I was pleased and surprised by that too.

For the flip side, everyone, if you haven't read his short, short "Dream Deferred" (sometimes titled "Harlem") give it a google. It's one haunting poem (and the source for the title of Lorraine Hansberry's fine play, A Raisin in the Sun).

Jeff M said...

Let's see some Jim Harrison poetry on here, Banjo! Merwin would be good. Throw some Lorca our way --- they were all about witnessing the subtle shifts and presentations in the world.

Banjo52 said...

Jeff, Yeats is on deck, but keep hounding me, maybe every other week.

Merwin has so many devotees--I must be missing something. And it's not that I DISlike him . . . . Ditto Lorca. Well, let's save all that for when I do get them up. Ditto for whatever I find on Harrison. Any recommendations?

Brenda's Arizona said...

Almost missed this.
The ruby crowned kinglet is awesome. His red patch, a crown? Interesting. Do you reference back to a certain birding/guide book, Banjomyn? I love the midwest/east birds vs our west desert birds.

Hughes - maybe it depends on how/who teaches it/who introduces you to it. I was introduced to Langston Hughes by a high school english teacher - who saw Hughes as someone who spoke for her. She made us all see that he spoke for us too. Same for James Baldwin...

Love the photos!

Banjo52 said...

Brenda, I have three or four books and use whatever's handy. Peterson and National Geographic for sure. I was surprised at how easy it was to find Mr. Blue-Gray.

I think my problem with Hughes and some others (like W.C. Williams) is that they sound flat, blank, un-musical (which is ironic, since he wanted to feel like jazz) and sometimes not imagistic enough. Fortunately there are exceptions like this. So much depends on which poems one is guided to. I'd never seen this one before Knopf gave it to me.

Banjo52 said...

Jeff, what's happened to visitor comments at Ohio River Life?

Lovers' Lane