Whatever the bird is, is perfect in the bird.
Weapon kestrel, hard as a blade’s curve,
thrush round as a mother or full drop of water,
fruit-green parrot wise in his shrieking swerve-
all are what bird is and do not reach beyond bird.
Whatever the bird does is right for the bird to do-
Cruel kestrel dividing in his hunger the sky,
thrush in the trembling dew beginning to sing,
parrot clinging and quarrelling and veiling his queer eye-
all these are as birds are and good for birds to do.
But I am torn and beleaguered by my own people.
The blood that feeds my heart is the blood they gave me,
and my heart is the house where they gather and fight for dominion-
all different, all with a wish and a will to save me,
to turn me into the ways of other people.
If I could leave their battleground for the forest of a bird
I could melt the past, the present and the future in one
and find the words that lie behind all these languages.
Then I could fuse my passions into one clear stone
and be simple to myself as the bird is to the bird.
Judith Wright (1915-2000) – from ‘The Gateway’ 1953
The stanzas have a rhyming scheme ‘abcba’. The first two stanzas deal with the nature of certain birds balanced by the next two which are a reflection on the shortcoming nature of humanity in comparison. This poem opens JW’s book of bird poems which contains many detailed and beautifully presented bird illustrations adjacent to the poem text. Clearly JW had a knowledge and respect for birds.
Considering her lamentation, and to put it poetically, we don’t find an eagle trying to convert a sparrow – except where an eagle is not an eagle. But although birds have evolved over many years to adapt to a changing environment they are not always nice to one another. A prime example is the cuckoo. And many birds are protective of their own space. But on the main I think JW is quite right in regarding a certain harmony in the life patterns of different bird varieties.
And of course there are no conversion attempts akin to humanity. And humanity has a mind of its own far beyond the predicable actions associated with bird life. She may have been talking about herself not being able to be herself – others from many different directions wanting her to walk their ways, as well as on the international scale of different countries and religions seeking prominence over one another with little tolerance.
But what she is saying in this poem was very applicable to the white response of her day in trying to change the life pattern of the aboriginal population. This is an ongoing issue when trying to progress economic advancement at the same time marrying an ancient culture into the ways of a dominant European existence.
Judith Wright was an Australian environmentalist as well as a poet and very much an advocate for the rights of the aborigine. Here is a link to her on Wikipedia.