The Enigmatical Beauty of Each Beautiful Enigma

Above the forest of the parakeets, A parakeet of parakeets prevails, A pip of life amid a mort of tails. (The rudiments of tropics are around, Aloe of ivory, pear of rusty rind.) His lids are white because his eyes are blind. He is not paradise of parakeets, Of his gold ether, golden alguazil, Except because he broods there and is still. Panache upon panache, his tails deploy Upward and outward, in green-vented forms, His tip a drop of water full of storms. But though the turbulent tinges undulate As his pure intellect applies its laws, He moves not on his coppery, keen claws. He munches a dry shell while he exerts His will, yet never ceases, perfect cock, To flare, in the sun-pallor of his rock. THE BIRD WITH THE COPPERY, KEEN CLAWS WALLACE STEVENS When I was a girl in my twenties, I had no idea what to make of Wallace Stevens’ mid-life poem “The Bird with the Coppery, Keen Claws.” I had come to feel indebted to Stevens’ work; I knew there was always a valuable presence inside every poem. But I postponed thinking about “The Bird” because it seemed too surreal, too unrelated to life as I understood it. The birds I knew in verse, from Shakespeare’s lark to Keats’ swallows. were mostly “real” birds, easily metaphorical birds, flying and singing. Stevens’ enigmatic bird, by contrast, was not recognizably drawn from the real thing. The bird is offered as a parakeet, but resembles no real parakeet, if only because he is the “parakeet of parakeets,” a Hebrew form of title for a supreme ruler (“King of Kings, Lord of Lords”) and because he is characterized, Platonically, as “perfect.” I couldn’t make sense of the described qualities of the “bird” because they were wholly inconsistent with those

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