This morning, as I listened to the rain and absorbed the green gloom, I read more about birds. Today I learned about birds’ unique and highly efficient respiratory systems. Small lungs and a series of air sacs around their bodies that store extra air and act as bellows–typically they have 9 sacs. Birds that fly higher might have more sacs, birds that do a lot of deep diving, less–birds who dive in the water need to be less buoyant. I love thinking about how birds are made up of so much air. I was wondering how much air–what percentage of their bodies is air–but I couldn’t find anything. Instead I found an article about the new record holder for the longest continuous flight: the common swift can stay in the air for 10 months straight! Common swifts raise their chicks for 2 months in Scandinavia, then migrate to sub-Saharan Africa. Wow. I also read that they are lost and “pathetic-looking” when on the ground. Awkward, clumsy, and easy prey.
It’s fun (and maybe a little dangerous because I could wander forever through bird facts) to learn more about birds–to devote attention to these “little dinosaurs” that I have often ignored in the past. And it’s satisfying to move past the generic concept of “birds”, to explore more involved, specific understandings of swifts or cardinals or two birds I read more about today:
guillemot: a deep diving bird that lives on the Arctic coast + rocky shores of Canada and Maine and looks almost like a duck except it’s black with some white and has bright red legs
albatross: a high soaring bird with the largest wing span of birds–11 to 12 feet–who flies long distances, often without even flapping their wings, through the fiercest storms, and that has tubes–called “tubenose”–in and just above their bills that remove salt so they can drink seawater
Speaking of the albatross, I came across the name while searching for “poems about birds” and “bird metaphors in poems”: Bird Metaphors in Writing. The albatross is often used as a symbol of burden or curse. This meaning comes from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.
I’ve always thought of the albatross as the burden, as an annoying, pesky bird. But it’s not. It was thought to be good luck for sailors and it’s beautiful and graceful and impressive to see with its long wingspan. The burden is not the albatross, but the sailor’s reckless, immoral act of shooting it. It’s almost as if the albatross is killed twice, first by the sailor/ancient mariner and second by the harmful, negative metaphor it must bear!
Wow, this is a long poem. At some point while reading it I had the idea of challenging myself to memorize it–that was when I thought I was close to being done, but wasn’t. 143 verses. Could I do it? Not sure, but maybe I’ll try to start it and see if it’s possible?I like the challenge because ever since I started memorizing poems, I’ve read about how it used to be required in school, sometimes even this ridiculously long poem. Memorizing this poem could serve as the “final exam” for my memorizing exercises?!
update, 1/2 a day later: Today I memorized the first 10 verses (40 lines), which is 1/2 of the first part of 4. I will experiment with practicing while I’m running tomorrow (may 28).
From the article, “Why We Should Memorize”:
Much of our daily lives would be dizzyingly unrecognizable to people living a hundred years ago: what we wear and what we eat, how we travel, how we communicate, how we while away our leisure time. But, surely, our occasional attempts to memorize a poem would feel familiar to them—those inhabitants of a heyday of verse memorization. Little has changed. They, too, in committing a poem to memory, underwent a predictable gamut of frustrations: the pursuit of stubbornly elusive phrases, the inner hammering of rote repetition, tantalizing tip-of-the-tongue stammerings, confident forward marches that finish in an abrupt amnesiac’s cul-de-sac.Why We Should Memorize
The author mentions the frustrations, but I also think of the joy that happens when you suddenly remember the word or the phrase you’d forgotten. I’ve found many more discussions of forgetting/losing words than of remembering them. Why is that?
trestle turn around
Sunny, bright, and cold. Brr. I wore shorts, and warmed up by the end, but at the beginning my hands and feet were cold. Was distracted by an approaching runner that turned around in front of me. She was going about the same speed so I just had to follow her. And I did until we reached the hill from under the lake street bridge and I powered up it faster. I ran faster partly because I sometimes do that when climbing hills and partly because there was a group of elementary school kids biking up the hill and, without realizing it, I decided to race them. Of course, once I passed her, I had to keep going faster so she didn’t catch up, which messed up my plan for an easy run.
All of these encounters distracted me as I tried to recite “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in my head. Earlier today, while looking for an audio version of the poem, I found Ian McKellen’s wonderful recitation of it and discovered that there is an earlier, and in my opinion better, version of the poem. It’s from 1797, while the one I had been memorizing is from 1817. Most of the lines are the same, but there are a few different verses, with different lines that I think are helpful for me as I try to not just memorize the poem but convincingly try to tell the story of it from memory. Even though the popularly accepted/known version is from 1817, I’m memorizing the 1797 version.
Anyway, I attempted to recite this version as I ran. Difficult with all of the distractions. I can’t remember if I made it through all of the lines or what I thought about any of them. I struggled with this stanza, one of the few that is different in the 2 versions: “He holds him with his skinny hand/He quoth—There was a ship /Now get thee hence, thou gray beard loon!/Or my staff shall make thee skip!” In looking at it, I realized the problem: I had memorized it wrong and had quoth he at the end instead of ship; everytime I got to the line that ends skip it sounded wrong. Of course it did; it’s supposed to rhyme with ship!
Here’s the version I’m using: The Original Lyric Ballads Version of Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
And here’s a link to Ian McKellen reciting the poem (the video is 30 minutes long! Yikes): Ian McKellen reads “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”