I knew Rilla was enjoying The Bat-Poet, but I didn’t realize how much until this afternoon, as we neared the end of the book. She turned to me with furrowed brow and said, “When we finish, will we be able to read it again?”
I told her sure we could, and she heaved a mighty sigh of relief.
I’ve noticed that the older girls can’t help but be drawn into the story if they pass through the room where Rilla and I are reading. It’s a soft and gentle tale, rather quiet, with velvety-rich language. Oh, I just love Randall Jarrell. His mockingbird and chipmunk have such personality, and the introspective, yearning bat is a kindred spirit—really. He composes poems. He longs to be able to pour forth a magical, uplifting song like the mockingbird’s, but he can’t sing. He finds himself fitting observations into words and phrases, lyrical and perceptive lines of poetry. But oh, how he doubts himself. The mockingbird’s cool, clinical analysis—“It was clever of you to have that last line two feet short”—leaves him bewildered and longing for an audience who is moved by his words. When, after hearing the bat’s poem about an owl, the chipmunk shivers and vows to go underground before dark from now on, the little bat is deeply gratified: he knows his words have had an impact.
His poems move and shiver me, too—
All day long the mockingbird has owned the yard.
As light first woke the world, the sparrows trooped
Onto the seedy lawn: the mockingbird
Chased them off shrieking. Hour by hour, fighting hard
To make the world his own, he swooped
On thrushes, thrashers, jays, and chickadees—
At noon he drove away a big black cat.
Now, in the moonlight, he sits here and sings.
A thrush is singing, then a thrasher, then a jay—
Then, all at once, a cat begins meowing.
A mockingbird can sound like anything.
He imitates the world he drove away
So well that for a minute, in the moonlight,
Which one’s the mockingbird? Which one’s the world?
I know that mockingbird.
I know that bat, too.
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Smoke, blooms, books
Reading the 20th Century