Reflections on Robert Frost’s “Ovenbird,” and “First Song,” by Matthew Murrey
“There is a song that everyone has heard.” That is how Robert Frost begins his unique sonnet, “The Ovenbird.” Of course, you’d be right to protest; not everyone has heard the bird. But a lot of the North American continent has. The little “mid-wood bird,” as Frost calls her, ranges as far as Florida, the Caribbean, and the tip of South America when the North gets cold in winter.
So I suppose if Frost wanted to be exact, as poets rarely do, he could say that the bird’s song is one that many of us in the “New World” may have had opportunity to hear. But I don’t think he was going for a scientific approach here. First of all, the poem is thought by certain critics and scholars to be a response to some discussion or argument, possibly in poetry itself to which we are not privy. And further, in that way the bird becomes symbolic of something else, of poets perhaps, of those who sing in the dead leaves of pre-autumn woods, wondering, “what to make of a diminished thing.”
But you’ll have to follow the links above to learn about the Ovenbird, and read Frost’s poem, along with the literary discussions that have surrounded it these many years. Tonight I am more interested in another poet, and quite probably an entirely different bird. I want to introduce you, if you haven’t met them already, to poet Matthew Murrey, and the bird outside his window.
I discovered Matthew earlier today while researching journals, contests, and publishers, plotting my submission goals. I first found his poem “Coyotes” in Tinderbox Poetry Journal. And from his bio I moved on to his website, where I saw tonight’s poem on his home page.
Let’s not get involved in the discussion of symbolism, or the speculation about just which species of bird is singing. If it were carrying on outside my window at five in the morning, it would likely be the local and loud American Robin, but even if Matthew’s poem is a response to Robert Frost’s, the species hardly matters.
What matters is how this poem gave me the little shiver that I long for when reading poetry. How about we let it speak for itself this evening, without further commentary. Or better yet, and I hope Mr. Murrey doesn’t mind, I’d like to read it to you. Please click here to read along.
“First Song,” by Matthew Murrey.
First published in Poetry East #66, Fall 2009 (reprinted in #70, Spring 2011)