The Kingfisher

By Amy Clampitt 1920–1994 Amy Clampitt
In a year the nightingales were said to be so loud
they drowned out slumber, and peafowl strolled screaming   
beside the ruined nunnery, through the long evening   
of a dazzled pub crawl, the halcyon color, portholed   
by those eye-spots’ stunning tapestry, unsettled
the pastoral nightfall with amazements opening.

Months later, intermission in a pub on Fifty-fifth Street   
found one of them still breathless, the other quizzical,   
acting the philistine, puncturing Stravinsky—“Tell   
me, what was that racket in the orchestra about?”—
hauling down the Firebird, harum-scarum, like a kite,   
a burnished, breathing wreck that didn’t hurt at all.

Among the Bronx Zoo’s exiled jungle fowl, they heard   
through headphones of a separating panic, the bellbird   
reiterate its single chong, a scream nobody answered.   
When he mourned, “The poetry is gone,” she quailed,   
seeing how his hands shook, sobered into feeling old.   
By midnight, yet another fifth would have been killed.

A Sunday morning, the November of their cataclysm   
(Dylan Thomas brought in in extremis to St. Vincent’s,   
that same week, a symptomatic datum) found them   
wandering a downtown churchyard. Among its headstones,   
while from unruined choirs the noise of Christendom   
poured over Wall Street, a benison in vestments,

a late thrush paused, in transit from some grizzled   
spruce bog to the humid equatorial fireside: berry-
eyed, bark-brown above, with dark hints of trauma   
in the stigmata of its underparts—or so, too bruised   
just then to have invented anything so fancy,
later, re-embroidering a retrospect, she had supposed.

In gray England, years of muted recrimination (then   
dead silence) later, she could not have said how many   
spoiled takeoffs, how many entanglements gone sodden,   
how many gaudy evenings made frantic by just one   
insomniac nightingale, how many liaisons gone down   
screaming in a stroll beside the ruined nunnery;

a kingfisher’s burnished plunge, the color   
of felicity afire, came glancing like an arrow   
through landscapes of untended memory: ardor   
illuminating with its terrifying currency
now no mere glimpse, no porthole vista
but, down on down, the uninhabitable sorrow.

Amy Clampitt, “The Kingfisher” 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 (1997)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Amy Clampitt 1920–1994

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Nature, Living, Sorrow & Grieving, Animals, Poetry & Poets

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 Amy  Clampitt

Biography

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, . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Nature, Living, Sorrow & Grieving, Animals, Poetry & Poets

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.