I don’t read a lot of poetry so the poems I do like are visually evocative enough to stay with me. Arthur Rimbauds’ Crows is one of my long time favourites. ‘Armada Dark’, ‘battered villages’, ‘yellowed ponds’, words that are so visually rich they snagged my giddy mind. Its darkness and gloominess appeals and the drama of the language adds richness and depth that is all too suited to our turbulent times. Thinking of the crow as a portent brought back a memory of a long ago English class on MacBeth so I did a little bit of digging and found a menagerie of doom: Owls and Sparrows, Kites and Falcons as well as the Crow. The Crow is a catch-all name for Rooks, Ravens, Choughs and Magpies- charmingly called Magot-Pies in Shakespeares times. Maggoty Pies (as I will now call them) are of course long recognised as soothsayers. How many of us silently rattle off that childhood rhyme on seeing one or more of them?
One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy….
I know any time I see a Maggoty Pie, I always look for a second one. True to my memory though MacBeth, that blood soaked and passionate tragedy, has some of the best lines about Crows…
The raven himself is hoarse /
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan /
Under my battlements.
Light thickens; and the crow/
Makes wind to the rooky wood;
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse;
While night’s black agents to their preys do rouse.
(Rooky wood!Isn’t that wonderful?)
Stones have been known to move and trees to speak /
Augurs and understood relations have /
By magot-pies and choughs and rooks brought forth /
The secret’st man of blood.
But I have digressed!Here finally is Rimbaud…Happy new Year…despite the near universal hoarseness of ravens…
Lord, when the open field is cold,
When in the battered villages
The endless angelus dies–
Above the dark and drooping world
Let the empty skies disclose
Your dear, delightful crows.
Armada dark with harsh cries,
Your nests are tossed by icy winds!
Along the banks of yellowed ponds,
On roads where crumbling crosses rise,
In cold and gray and mournful weather
Scatter, hover, dive together!
In flocks above the fields of France
Where yesterday’s dead men lie,
Wheel across the winter sky;
Recall our black inheritance!
Let duty in your cry be heard,
Mournful, black, uneasy bird.
Yet in that oak, you saints of God,
Swaying in the dying day,
Leave the whistling birds of May
For those who found, within that wood
From which they will not come again,
That every victory is vain.