Nemerov’s “The Blue Swallows”

I wouldn’t classify Howard Nemerov as a nature poet because only a small percentage of his poems are about nature, but I bought his Collected Poems because I liked the poems I read in The Blue Swallows (1967), and my favorite poem in that collection is the title poem, which may very well turn out to be my favorite poem in the entire book, though I have another hundred pages to read:


Across the millstream below the bridge
Seven blue swallows divide the air
In shapes invisible and evanescent,
Kaleidoscopic beyond the mind’s
Or memory’s power to keep them there.

“History is where tensions were,”
“Form is the diagram of forces.”
Thus, helplessly, there on the bridge,
While gazing down upon those birds—
How strange, to be above the birds!—
Thus helplessly the mind in its brain
Weaves up relation’s spindrift web,
Seeing the swallows’ tails as nibs
Dipped in invisible ink, writing…

Poor mind, what would you have them write?
Some cabalistic history
Whose authorship you might ascribe
To God? to Nature? Ah, poor ghost,
You’ve capitalized your Self enough.
That villainous William of Occam
Cut out the feet from under that dream
Some seven centuries ago.
It’s taken that long for the mind
To waken, yawn and stretch, to see
With opened eyes emptied of speech
The real world where the spelling mind
Imposes with its grammar book
Unreal relations on the blue
Swallows. Perhaps when you will have
Fully awakened, I shall show you
A new thing: even the water
Flowing away beneath those birds
Will fail to reflect their flying forms,
And the eyes that see become as stones
Whence never tears shall fall again.

O swallows, swallows, poems are not
The point. Finding again the world,
That is the point, where loveliness
Adorns intelligible things
Because the mind’s eye lit the sun.

Animal metaphors are so deeply ingrained in not only our literature but our very language that it is far too easy to think of them metaphorically, “Seeing the swallows’ tails as nibs/ Dipped in invisible ink, writing.”

There’s also a natural tendency to see ourselves reflected in nature, or at the very least, like the Puritans, to think that God reveals himself to us through nature, “Poor mind, what would you have them write?/ Some cabalistic history/
Whose authorship you might ascribe/ To God?”

You’d be forgiven if you thought that this was my favorite poem simply because blue-colored tree swallows are one of my favorite photographic subjects:

Tree Swallow

but, like Nemerov, I’d argue that photographs are not

The point. Finding again the world,
That is the point, where loveliness
Adorns intelligible things
Because the mind’s eye lit the sun.


Things are going to be a little hectic around here the next two weeks as Dawn and Rich’s babysitter is off to Hawaii for two weeks. That means I’ll have Lael full time for half of the next two weeks, and I’m not going to waste that time ignoring her.

We went to the Point Defiance Zoo today in what turned out to be pretty much a driving rain storm. Luckily we spent most of the time inside the Aquarium and there’s not much rain there. The good thing was we had the zoo almost to ourselves, including the lunch room and the carousel.

I’d fully intended to come away with some photos, but it was so dark and so wet that I didn’t even take my camera.

And, of course, I didn’t have enough time to read the next section of Nemerov’s poems, so that will have to wait until tomorrow.

I have found time to play Scrabulous on Facebook, a story in itself. I’ve avoided sites like Facebook for quite awhile since I prefer reading blogs to texting people.

But when Theresa Williams sent me an invitation and she hadn’t been posting nearly as much at her site, I decided to join. Then Will Humes of One Thing I Know wrote an entry inviting anyone who belonged to Facebook to join him in a game of Scrabulous, and I was hooked. I used to love Scrabble, but couldn’t always find the time to sit down an play a game. Online you can make a play whenever you have time, and though I’m sure I’ve forgotten some great moves when I had to wait until the next day for my move, I love the convenience of playing online.

In fact, I’d love to have several games going. So, I’d invite any of my readers who belong to Facebook to join in by initiating a new game with me.

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