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Poetry is a sky dark with wild-duck migration. - Carl Sandburg|
In poetry, the elements a poet writes about (weather, time of day, profession, landscape, plants, animals) are chosen for a reason. Largely because they symbolize, or are a metaphor for, the point the poet is trying to make.
Birds, by their very nature, symbolize many things: the fredom of flight, the ethos of a wanderer or a predator, or the ephemral nature of their lives. Their seasonal migration, their mating, nesting, and nurturing behaviors. The emergence from an egg into the world.
And then there is an additional layer of possible meaning - specific birds suggest specific things: the magesty of eagles, the elegance of swans, the mischievesness of crows or magpies, robins as hearalds of spring, kingfishers (halcyon birds) as survivors, nightingales and larks as songbirds, cuckoos as a symbol of infidelity, skylarks as symbols of the ephemeral nature of life and happiness.
Delve into the selections below for a sampling of how poets make frequent use of winged things.
- The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins
And the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
- The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy
A song of hope amidst the gloom.
- Robin Redbreaast by William Allingham
- The Kingfisher by W. H. Davies
IT was the Rainbow gave thee birth,
And left thee all her lovely hues;
- Sonnet to the Redbreast by John Codrington Bampfylde
- Stanzas by John Gardiner Calkins Brainard
- Nightingales by Robert Bridges
- To a Waterfowl by William Cullen Bryant
- The Eagle by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
A very short, but very dramatic description.
- Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats
- The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe
Technically this is not about a bird. It is about obsessing over lost love, but the bird provides the torturing refrain.
- Meadowlarks by Sara Teasdale
Birdsong as a metaphor for joy.
- To a Skylark by Percy Bysshe Shelley
- The Owl Critic by James T. Fields
A very bad taxidermy job. Or maybe not . . .
- The Cardinal Bird by William Davis Gallagher
- The Blue-bird by Alexander Wilson
- The Loon by George Charles Selden
- Owl Against Robin by Sidney Lanier
A characterization at length.
- To the Mocking-Bird by Richard Henry Wilde
- Birds of Passage by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
And above, in the light
Of the star-lit night,
Swift birds of passage wing their flight
Through the dewy atmosphere.
- What Bird So Sings by Thomas Dekker
- To the Oriole by Herbert Salisbury Hopkins
- The Wild Swans at Coole by William Butler Yeats
- The Woodcock and the Daw by John Heywood
- The Fisherman's Hymn by Alexander Wilson