Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The nimble frolic of terns

"Don't think just now of the trudging forward of thought,
but of the wing-drive of unquestioning affirmation.

It's summer, you never saw such a blue sky,
and here they are, those white birds with quick wings,

sweeping over the waves,
chattering and plunging,

their thin beaks snapping, their hard eyes
happy as little nails.

The years to come -- this is a promise --
will grant you ample time

to try the difficult steps in the empire of thought
where you seek for the shining proofs you think you must have.

But nothing you ever understand will be sweeter, or more binding,
than this deepest affinity between your eyes and the world.

The flock thickens
over the rolling, salt brightness. Listen,

maybe such devotion, in which one holds the world
in the clasp of attention, isn't the perfect prayer,

but it must be done, for the sorrow, whose name is doubt,
is thus subdued, and not through the weaponry of reason,

but of pure submission. Tell me, what else
could beauty be for? And now the tide

is at its very crown,
the white birds sprinkle down,

gathering up the loose silver, rising
as if weightless. It isn't instruction, or a parable.

It isn't for any vanity or ambition
except for the one allowed, to stay alive.

It's only a nimble frolic
over the waves. And you find, for hours,

you cannot even remember the questions
that weigh so in your mind."

I feel myself so fortunate to have the company of terns to waste a few hours with. Like sanderlings on the beach in fall and winter, the terns have a rhythm to their movements, appropriate to the season and my mindset somehow, that lets me wander to the most playful of places.

Watching them is something of a seduction; my sense of time is lost to the lullaby of the rising tide... there in the glare of the bay is a promise and I sit and watch it becoming. My eye falls on the pilings and wonders at their history... are there treasures hidden below or ruins? The sky is almost too big and the sun too bright to take in all at once, so I follow this one bird dipping in and out of glare and shadow, in and out of water and air, suspended, finally, somewhere between hope and reality.

"Terns" by Mary Oliver


bobbie said...


NCmountainwoman said...

I've never read this poem before, but I love it! So aptly describes the "frolic" of the terns. I can almost hear the tide and the terns calling.

dguzman said...


Oh--I wanted to tell you that I got a copy of Hal Borland's Homeland: A Report from the Country the other day at our local charity bookstore. Can't wait to read it, having read so many neat Borland quotations on your blog.

LauraHinNJ said...

Bobbie: Great poem, isn't it?

NCMountainWoman: Yeah... love those sounds.

Delia: I don't have that one - share some once you've read it!