Gregory Given

March 17  1953 - December 31  1992

The Old Astronomy Lesson


It is impossible to say just what I mean

But as if a magic lantern threw the thoughts in patterns on the scene,

From the north and from the south and from the west

The  many birds flocking migrate

One with another identical, the breast

Of each like the others.

Like their brains and feet. Trembling the pale skies vibrate

With the earth-bound turning of the pages

Of Birds of North America bound in leather

More dark more old more new than that

Binding The Tall Proud Wonder of the Cat.

Hounding footprints near immemorial heather,

The Elementality

Of the raging weather,

As such winds do, like angry mothers,

Never turns another face;  simply cages

The wandering lost. As for this,

It is like this, formulated thus,

Among the little and more little proud things of doggerel,

The sensate things that men create.

But Forfeiting a forthcoming pun, from the

West and from the North and from the south

Names just as well the yawning mouth

of the turbulent river as the direction

In which birds gather to migrate.


And Children, Bright, reading less complicated books of natural history,

Learn of Turdus this and the Great Horned that

Before the annals of the cat.

Little children At night, tend in groups to observe the stars

With wonder communicated through held hands.

Children In daylight, can easily be spotted

By their little colored overcoats

Making possible

A mothers positive identification.

While perpetually In its particular orbit, biding the eternal hour,

Striding the ancestral path, turning back, going forth

As from the west and the south and from the north

Birds congregate with cries win the pale skies overhead,

The lone leopard walks. Its skin is hunted.

By the vulture on the carcass,

It is interrogated. In the silence of the veldt

The question forms itself as the heat of the day

Which sits round the kill, grinning,

Coming before and after:

Will this child who strayed out of civilization

Be eaten by a predator or by a scavenger?

Regard its coat, the leopard answers turning,

To the bird or o the heat it cannot know,

And pronounce then what such skin attracts.

The bird travels with decision on its back

To the astonishment of the mighty mountains where, Cathayan,

In droves, large cats perambulate

Their breathing perambulating clocks and instruments

Their footfalls measuring the space between skulls and time

Their tails when they sit curling on the curled

Rope, guide book, canteens and pelvic decoration.

They know from the east

Birds migrate over decent memories

Of children playing in the wilderness.


Before and after

To her footmen of varying loyalties

Queen Victoria, who was never

At any time Himalayan, said,

Ah, my foes and oh, my friends,

The laureate plays with words again.

At another time, through the telescope

She spied a star holding hands

With its neighboring aura, regarding

Her with wonder, wide-eyed.

She was never to do the telescope

Much afterwards, preferred on her lap

To follow the score

Of Sir Arthur Sullivans Ruddigore.