May 3, 2003

A Parrot

by May Sarton

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Poem: "A Parrot," by May Sarton from Collected Poems 1930-1973 (W. W. Norton & Co.).

A Parrot

My parrot is emerald green,
His tail feathers, marine.
He bears an orange half-moon
Over his ivory beak.
He must be believed to be seen,
This bird from a Rousseau wood.
When the urge is on him to speak,
He becomes too true to be good.

He uses his beak like a hook
To lift himself up with or break
Open a sunflower seed,
And his eye, in a bold white ring,
Has a lapidary look.
What a most astonishing bird,
Whose voice when he chooses to sing
Must be believed to be heard.

That stuttered staccato scream
Must be believed not to seem
The shriek of a witch in the room.
But he murmurs some muffled words
(Like someone who talks through a dream)
When he sits in the window and sees
The to-and-fro wings of wild birds
In the leafless improbable trees.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of singer, actor Bing Crosby, born Harry Lillis Crosby in Tacoma, Washington (1903). He starred in a series of musicals in the 1930's, but many critics think his best performances are in the road movies he made in the 1940's with his golf-buddy Bob Hope, including Road to Morocco (1942). In 1944, a director asked him to play a priest in an upcoming film, but Crosby, a devout Catholic, thought that playing a man of the cloth would be bad taste. The director insisted, and Crosby ended up winning an Academy Award for his performance in the movie Going My Way (1944). After he starred in the musical White Christmas (1954), the title song became his trademark, and he sang it on television almost every holiday season.

It's the birthday of Italian political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli, born in Florence (1469). He was a statesman and ambassador, but in 1513 he was accused of conspiring against the government. He was thrown into prison and tortured, but he never admitted his guilt. When the government finally released him, he went into exile, and wrote a book called The Prince (1532), in which he described how an ideal ruler should accept that he lives in an immoral world, and use whatever means he could to secure order in his country. He wrote, "Since it is difficult to join them together, it is safer to be feared than to be loved when one of the two must be lacking."

It's the birthday of folk singer Pete Seeger, born in New York City (1919). His mother was a violinist and his father was a musicologist. As a teenager he rebelled against his parents' love of music, and decided he wanted to be a painter. But the first time he heard the sound of a banjo at the Folk Song and Dance Festival in Asheville, North Carolina, he fell in love with folk music and dropped out of Harvard.

It's the birthday of the "Godfather of Soul" James Brown, born in a one-room shack in the pinewoods of Barnwell, South Carolina (1928). His family gave him up for dead after his delivery, because he wasn't breathing or moving, but his aunt Minnie picked him up and blew into his mouth, and he screamed for the first time. As a singer, he became known for his scream. He also developed a sequence in his live performance, in which he collapsed to the floor exhausted, but as members of his band helped him off the stage, he suddenly threw off their arms, as though he'd been resurrected, and continued on with the show. He began a recording career with a song called "Please Please Please" (1956). It was a huge hit, and went to number six on the R & B charts. He went on to record such songs as "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" (1965) and "I Got You (I Feel Good)" (1965).

It's the birthday of poet, novelist and essayist May Sarton, born Eléanore Marie Sarton in Wondelgem, Belgium (1912). Sarton published many novels in her lifetime, including Faithful Are the Wounds (1955) and collections of poetry like A Private Mythology (1966). But she is perhaps best known for her published journals, including Journal of a Solitude (1973). She wrote, "These are not hours of fire but years of praise,/The glass full to the brim, completely full,/But held in balance so no drop can spill."

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