In this episode, Alan reads and discusses the poem "A Grackle Observed" by Lisel Mueller.

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Poetry to the Brim - Episode 10: “A Grackle Observed” by Lisel Mueller
In this episode, Alan reads and discusses the poem “A Grackle Observed” by Lisel Mueller. --- Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/poetrytothebrim/support

Transcript

Hello everyone. You're listening to Poetry to the Brim.

Today I'll be reading the poem "A Grackle Observed" by Lisel Mueller. This one is originally from her 1965 collection Dependencies. I’m reading it from a copy of her New and Selected Poems entitled Alive Together which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1997.

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"A Grackle Observed" by Lisel Mueller

Watching the black grackle
come out of the gray shade
into the sun, I am dazzled
by an unexpected sheen,
yellow, purple, and green,
where the comb of light silkens
unspectacular wings—
until he, unaware
of what he means at this one
peculiar angle of sun,
hops back to his modest dark
and leaves the shining part
of himself behind, as though
brightness must outgrow
its fluttering worldly dress
and enter the mind outright
as vision, as pure light.

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So in this poem, the speaker considers what true observation and silence might entail, taking the case of watching a grackle in the sun. We find that there’s more to observation of a grackle than just seeing the apparent colors change from how sunlight strikes his wings. For the speaker, the grackle, by “leav[ing] the shining part / of himself behind” is a metaphor for a different understanding of brightness. Brightness is more than just what gives off or reflects light; it’s a metaphor for the understanding that human minds might have, if only for a moment, while watching something as common as a grackle. And this brightness is available if we are able to notice and accept more than simply the apparently shiny objects of the world: in other words, what is beyond appearance, what is formless.

One interesting thing I noticed in this poem is how much Mueller is doing with sound. There’s a ton of rhyming going on. Most lines have end rhymes with an adjacent line, such as “sheen” / “green,” “dark” / “part,” and “outright” / “light”  but there seems to be no observable pattern. The non-adjacent first and third lines end with “grackle” and “dazzled” respectively, forming a slant rhyme. Lines that end with “shade,” “unaware,” and “dress” are outliers in that they are not rhymed.

There’s also some internal rhymes that buttress the poem in the first two lines and the second-to-last line. In the first two lines, there are two slant rhymes: in the first line “black grackle” and then “gray shade” in the second line. And then, in the second-to-last line, there’s the phrase “mind outright.” But in the final line, we see no internal rhyme. For me, this difference stands out, and in a way, the brightness that “enters the mind outright / as vision, as pure light” makes the “vision” and the “pure light” stand out so as to amplify the poem’s conclusion. This is another great example of form enacting or enhancing the content, as we’ve seen in previous poems on the podcast.

And in addition to sounds, there’s really some great phrasemaking going on in this poem. The “comb of light silkens unspectacular wings.” And the grackle is “unaware / of what he means at this one / peculiar angle of sun.” Peculiar angle of sun, I love that.

Anyways, I really enjoyed this one. It’s such a short but wise and effective poem that seems to say a lot about silence and understanding.

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"A Grackle Observed" by Lisel Mueller

Watching the black grackle
come out of the gray shade
into the sun, I am dazzled
by an unexpected sheen,
yellow, purple, and green,
where the comb of light silkens
unspectacular wings—
until he, unaware
of what he means at this one
peculiar angle of sun,
hops back to his modest dark
and leaves the shining part
of himself behind, as though
brightness must outgrow
its fluttering worldly dress
and enter the mind outright
as vision, as pure light.

--

Thanks for listening to Poetry to the Brim. If you enjoyed the show, please share it with a friend or two who might also enjoy it. If you read the poem differently and would like to share your thoughts with me or just have general suggestions about the show, I'd love to hear. Feel free to message me on Twitter (@acyanlight) or Instagram (@acyanlight), or email the show at poetrytothebrim@gmail.com.

Also, you can find a full transcript of the episode on the website at podcast.poetrytothebrim.com. There, you can also subscribe to stay up to date by email for when I release a new episode, as well as find ways to support the show.

Alright. Thanks again! Until next time.

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Citations

1. Mueller, Lisel. “‘A Grackle Observed.’” Alive Together: New and Selected Poems, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 1996, pp. 61.