By Amy Clampitt 1920–1994 Amy Clampitt
Like the foghorn that’s all lung,
the wind chime that’s all percussion,   
like the wind itself, that’s merely air   
in a terrible fret, without so much   
as a finger to articulate
what ails it, the aeolian
syrinx, that reed
in the throat of a bird,
when it comes to the shaping of   
what we call consonants, is   
too imprecise for consensus   
about what it even seems to   
be saying: is it o-ka-lee
or con-ka-ree, is it really jug jug,
is it cuckoo for that matter?—
much less whether a bird’s call   
means anything in
particular, or at all.

Syntax comes last, there can be   
no doubt of it: came last,   
can be thought of (is
thought of by some) as a   
higher form of expression:   
is, in extremity, first to   
be jettisoned: as the diva   
onstage, all soaring
pectoral breathwork,
takes off, pure vowel
breaking free of the dry,   
the merely fricative
husk of the particular, rises   
past saving anything, any   
more than the wind in   
the trees, waves breaking,   
or Homer’s gibbering   
Thespesiae iachē:

those last-chance vestiges   
above the threshold, the all-
but dispossessed of breath.

Amy Clampitt, “Syrinx” from The Collected Poems of Amy Clampitt. Copyright © 1997 by the Estate of Amy Clampitt. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

Source: The Collected Poems of Amy Clampitt (Alfred A. Knopf, 1997)

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Poet Amy Clampitt 1920–1994

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Nature, Animals

 Amy  Clampitt


Upon publication of her book of poems The Kingfisher in 1983, Amy Clampitt became one of the most highly regarded poets in America. Born in rural Iowa and raised on a farm, she studied first at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, and later at Columbia University and the New School for Social Research in New York City. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Clampitt held a variety of jobs and attempted unsuccessfully to write novels, . . .

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SUBJECT Nature, Animals

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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