The Great Blue Heron

By Carolyn Kizer 1925–2014 Carolyn Kizer

M.A.K. September, 1880-September, 1955

As I wandered on the beach
I saw the heron standing   
Sunk in the tattered wings
He wore as a hunchback’s coat.   
Shadow without a shadow,   
Hung on invisible wires   
From the top of a canvas day,   
What scissors cut him out?   
Superimposed on a poster   
Of summer by the strand   
Of a long-decayed resort,   
Poised in the dusty light   
Some fifteen summers ago;   
I wondered, an empty child,   
“Heron, whose ghost are you?”

I stood on the beach alone,
In the sudden chill of the burned.
My thought raced up the path.   
Pursuing it, I ran
To my mother in the house
And led her to the scene.
The spectral bird was gone.
But her quick eye saw him drifting   
Over the highest pines
On vast, unmoving wings.
Could they be those ashen things,   
So grounded, unwieldy, ragged,   
A pair of broken arms
That were not made for flight?   
In the middle of my loss
I realized she knew:
My mother knew what he was.

O great blue heron, now
That the summer house has burned   
So many rockets ago,
So many smokes and fires
And beach-lights and water-glow   
Reflecting pinwheel and flare:   
The old logs hauled away,   
The pines and driftwood cleared   
From that bare strip of shore   
Where dozens of children play;   
Now there is only you
Heavy upon my eye.
Why have you followed me here,   
Heavy and far away?
You have stood there patiently   
For fifteen summers and snows,   
Denser than my repose,
Bleaker than any dream,
Waiting upon the day
When, like grey smoke, a vapor   
Floating into the sky,
A handful of paper ashes,
My mother would drift away.

Carolyn Kizer, “The Great Blue Heron” from Cool, Calm, and Collected: Poems 1960-2000. Copyright © 2001 by Carolyn Kizer. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P. O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368-0271,

Source: Poetry (April 1958).


This poem originally appeared in the April 1958 issue of Poetry magazine

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April 1958
 Carolyn  Kizer


Poet, essayist, and translator Carolyn Kizer was born in 1925 in Spokane, Washington. Raised by a prominent lawyer and highly educated mother, Kizer’s childhood was suffused with poetry. Of her development as a poet, she noted to the Poetry Society of America: “My parents were both romantics: father favored the poems of Keats; mother went for Whitman. No evening of my childhood passed without my being read to. But I think my . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Animals, Death, Relationships, Nature, Youth, Living, Family & Ancestors

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Poetic Terms Imagery, Elegy, Metaphor

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