Friday, August 15, 2008

Burnt birds

The burnt bird as an emblem of 20th century destruction appears in the work of two major poets: Pablo Neruda and Zbigniew Herbert. Neruda uses the image in his 'Oda al Átomo' ('Ode to the Atom')

La aurora
se había consumido.
Todos los pájaros
cayeron calcinados.

'The dawn had been consumed. All the birds burned to ashes' (Margaret Sayers Peden's translation).

Herbert uses a fractured version of a similar image in his poem 'Dom'. The last four lines are:

dom jest sześcianem dzieciństwa
dom jest kostką wzruszenia

skrzydło spalonej siostry

liść umarłego drzewa

which in English goes ...

home is a cube of childhood
home is a small bone of emotion

the wing of a burnt sister

the leaf of a dead tree

(my translation)

Herbert's approach to the image is more complex; there's an almost cubist re-assembling of imagery that has already appeared in the poem ... 'the cheek of a sister', 'dry ashes of a nest' so the poem has a tight interwoven structure analogous in effect to a piece of Baroque keyboard music.