He "Digesteth Harde Yron"
Although the aepyornis or roc that lived in Madagascar, and the moa are extinct, the camel-sparrow, linked with them in size--the large sparrow Xenophon saw walking by a stream--was and is a symbol of justice. This bird watches his chicks with a maternal concentration-and he's been mothering the eggs at night six weeks--his legs their only weapon of defense. He is swifter than a horse; he has a foot hard as a hoof; the leopard is not more suspicious. How could he, prized for plumes and eggs and young used even as a riding-beast, respect men hiding actor-like in ostrich skins, with the right hand making the neck move as if alive and from a bag the left hand strewing grain, that ostriches might be decoyed and killed! Yes, this is he whose plume was anciently the plume of justice; he whose comic duckling head on its great neck revolves with compass-needle nervousness when he stands guard, in S-like foragings as he is preening the down on his leaden-skinned back. The egg piously shown as Leda's very own from which Castor and Pollux hatched, was an ostrich-egg. And what could have been more fit for the Chinese lawn it grazed on as a gift to an emperor who admired strange birds, than this one, who builds his mud-made nest in dust yet will wade in lake or sea till only the head shows. . . . . . . . Six hundred ostrich-brains served at one banquet, the ostrich-plume-tipped tent and desert spear, jewel- gorgeous ugly egg-shell goblets, eight pairs of ostriches in harness, dramatize a meaning always missed by the externalist. The power of the visible is the invisible; as even where no tree of freedom grows, so-called brute courage knows. Heroism is exhausting, yet it contradicts a greed that did not wisely spare the harmless solitaire or great auk in its grandeur; unsolicitude having swallowed up all giant birds but an alert gargantuan little-winged, magnificently speedy running-bird. This one remaining rebel is the sparrow-camel.
From The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore. Copyright © 1961 Marianne Moore, © renewed 1989 by Lawrence E. Brinn and Louise Crane, executors of the Estate of Marianne Moore.
Born in 1887, Marianne Moore wrote with the freedom characteristic of the other Modernist poets, often incorporating quotes from other sources into the text, yet her use of language was always extraordinarily condensed and precise
Date Published: 1961-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/he-digesteth-harde-yron