“Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher”, included in the volume The Exact Name (1965) is one of the best and most beautiful of Ezekiel’s poems. The poem which shows how Ezekiel has travelled a long way since the romantic idealism of A Time to Change (1952), tells us the secrets of poetic creation.
The title which is reminiscent of Shakespeare’s ‘the lunatic, the lover and the poet’ in his A Midsummer Night’s Dream, puts the poet, the lover and the birdwatcher on a level. While Shakespeare put them together because all of them were ‘of imagination compact’, Ezekiel finds another common denominator in his group, namely that all the three are given to patient silent waiting and that they show the same sensitivity to experience.
The following observation made by Indernath Kher will be a useful introduction to the poem:
“In this complex symbolic construct, several of Ezekiel’s themes and concerns blend into one another. The poem reveals the nature of the poetic perception through the network of a highly fecund metaphor in which the images merge into each other like lovers in the act of love. The poet or the birdwatcher begins by defining the mood in which all those who study birds or women must place themselves — birds or women symbolize freedom, imagination, love and creativity. A posture of stillness is recommended, because it is in stillness that one listens to the stirrings of the soul, a necessary pre-requisite to the study of freedom and creativity. That is why the best poets always wait for words from the centre of stillness before they articulate their experience”.
This is almost a summing up of the essential ideas which run through the poem.
1.3: The best poets wait for words: Ref to the note on 1.57 in Back ground casually
1. 4-5: The hunt is not an exercise of will…. hill: The artist who is “subjected to the rigours of experience goes about making steady observations about life and waits for the right moment of utterance”. (Anisur Rahman). His experience is analogous to that of the lover and the birdwatcher. Note how the poet has beautifully worked out a set of images moving on three interpenetrating levels.
11. 7-8: Until the one…. surrendering. The poet has not waited in vain, for the right word appears in a concrete and sensuous form. Its appearance is analogous to the appearance of a woman who knows that she is loved and hence instantly surrenders. Success in both is the outcome of sincerity and devotion and neither can be achieved through haste.
11. 9-10: In this the poet…spirit moved: This is the ‘moral’ that is proved. The poet was right in having been patient and silent till this hour of triumph.
(Note that this poem is written in iambic pentameter in two closely-rhymed ten-lined stanzas. The poem is shackled in the old traditional form. The rhyme scheme followed is abb aac dc dd.
11.12- 16: To watch the rarer birds…. heart’s dark floor. “In order to possess the vision of the rarer birds of his psyche, the poet has to go through the ‘deserted lanes’ of his solitary private life; he has to walk along the primal rivers of his consciousness in silence or travel to a far off shore which is ‘like the heart’s dark floor’ ” (Indernath Kher).
1.15: thorny ground: Refers to the arduous nature of the poet’s mission.
1.16- 18: And where the women…. darkness at the core: The slow curving movements of the woman have a sensuous appeal. But the poet sees in them promise of an apocalypse. They are “myths of light” whose essential darkness or mystery remains at the centre of the creation itself.
1.18-20: and sense is found…. recover sight. Pursued with sincerity and devotion, art or poetry is “elevated to such remedial heights where the deaf can hear, the blind recover sight”. (Anisur Rahman).
It should be noted that while the early poems of Ezekiel were in free verse, the poems of The Unfinished Man show purposeful stylized, high regularity. From the mid 1960s, however, his poems were written for oral delivery. We find in them the poetry of the spoken voice more than that of the printed page.