Poetry for Christmas #4 – Christmas Sparrow by Billy Collins

Christmas sparrowI don’t mind if you have not read my Christmas poetry posts. I would rather you had, of course, as it keeps the stats looking healthy, and I honestly think you might have missed the opportunity to escape for a moment. Poetry offers an alternative vision to a consumer society seemingly possessed by some December demon requiring the emptying of bank accounts and the bringing on of breakdowns. So many seem to be going down with one ‘lurgy’ or another, forced as we are into crowds of the germ-ridden desperate to get the last of one toy or the first of some new gadget…

Billy Collins

Billy Collins

So I persist in forcing these moments of respite into your inbox, or onto your social media streams and just hope that perhaps this is THE moment you get a quiet time to sit and reflect on the shortness of the days, the sentiment of the season and the world outside the scramble of the queues and the swiping of the bank cards. Today’s poem (#4) is by one of my favourite contemporary poets – American, Billy Collins –  who has featured on this blog before. His writing seems so natural and effortless, and although he himself apparently dislikes the word ‘accessible’ he is for me one of the poets I would recommend to those who call themselves confirmed poetry-haters, in an effort to convince them that they simply haven’t found the right poet for them.

This poem is called Christmas Sparrow and I think I love it most because it reminds me of a Ladybird book I read to my children when they were small, called The Christmas Robin. It is that interaction of the animal and the human that affects us as little else can – a genuinely natural response to counteract all the unnatural goings-on of the festive season. The line ‘I could feel its wild thrumming/against my palms…’ as a contrast to the stark artificiality of the  ‘decorated tree’ where the  sparrow is ‘breathing there/ among metallic angels, ceramic apples, stars of yarn…’ creates a vivid image of a terrified little bird, caught among the branches of something that should be its natural habitat. Anyway, I love it, and hope you enjoy it too..

Christmas Sparrow

The first thing I heard this morning
was a soft, insistent rustle,
the rapid flapping of wings
against glass as it turned out,

a small bird rioting
in the frame of a high window,
trying to hurl itself through
the enigma of transparency into the spacious light.

A noise in the throat of the cat
hunkered on the rug
told me how the bird had gotten inside,
carried in the cold night
through the flap in a basement door,
and later released from the soft clench of teeth.

Up on a chair, I trapped its pulsations
in a small towel and carried it to the door,
so weightless it seemed
to have vanished into the nest of cloth.

But outside, it burst
from my uncupped hands into its element,
dipping over the dormant garden
in a spasm of wingbeats
and disappearing over a tall row of hemlocks.

Still, for the rest of the day,
I could feel its wild thrumming
against my palms whenever I thought
about the hours the bird must have spent
pent in the shadows of that room,
hidden in the spiky branches
of our decorated tree, breathing there
among metallic angels, ceramic apples, stars of yarn,

its eyes open, like mine as I lie here tonight
picturing this rare, lucky sparrow
tucked into a holly bush now,
a light snow tumbling through the windless dark.

Billy Collins

Do let me know what you think, and share here any of your own festive favourites.


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8 Responses to Poetry for Christmas #4 – Christmas Sparrow by Billy Collins

  1. MarinaSofia says:

    OK, I’ll bite! With Christmas at Mel’s by Cj Heck. A very unusual Christmas poem but I think it does encapsulate a bit the spirit of Christmas – or at least in its present reduced form.

  2. zanyzigzag says:

    Wow, this might be my favourite so far! “the enigma of transparency” is just perfect…

  3. zanyzigzag says:

    And I love the focus on the (in our society, at least) rare connection between domesticity and the wild – which is pretty much perfectly embodied by the cat, being is the agent that has brought the two worlds together – as cats so often do! Okay I’m rambling – basically this poem caused me to have many thoughts and I liked it very much!

    • keatsbabe says:

      So pleased you liked this one! Billy Collins is so terrific I keep finding poetry of his I want to share. You are right – the cat plays a really significant role in this poem, and with that noise in the throat it really comes alive…

  4. This is such a lovely poem, Suzie. I don’t think I was aware of this one!

  5. David Knell says:

    Hi Ms. Grogan,
    I’ve read somewhere’s that Leo Tolstoy wrote “as long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields”. I love the poets ability to sort through the language, toss it in a collander, and serve the palatable truth.
    I do believe this connection to the living should be more than a respite. It should be a reson de tre`. Let us connect to other living things, breaking the myth that we are like the cat, preferring Christmas turkey to Christmas salad. The truth is we are herbivores, and when we accept this truth we will take a step closer to peace on earth.

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