‘Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher’ is a popular poem, much anthologized and studied. It embodies the poet’s search for a poetics, which would help him redeem himself in his eyes and in the eyes of God. The message of the poem is clear, ‘The best poets wait for words’: the best poets begin to write poetry only when they are truly inspired or when they experience a moment of illumination or enlightenment, only then do the right poetic words come to them. This waiting is not so simple. The poet cannot while away his time, but like the careful birdwatcher, has to remain ever alert. The gift of poetry comes at the cost of eternal vigil. The poets have to remain poised in that state of tension. ‘To force the pace’ is to compel oneself to make haste. ‘Never to be still’ is never to remain motionless, but to be always on the move. ‘Or women’ are of those who study women and those who pursue the women they love.
‘The hunt’ is the search for birds or the desire to win a woman’s heart. ‘Patient love relaxing on a hill’ is to assume an attitude of patience and relaxation while watching birds or women. ‘A timid wing’ is a transferred epithet where the idea of a bird being timid is suggested. ‘Until the one who knows that she is loved’ is for the man to wait for the woman to respond to his love out of her own accord, and should not force himself upon her. ‘In this the poet finds his moral proved, Who never spoke before his spirit moved’: In the examples of the bird watcher and the lover, the poet would find the right parallels and would be able to draw a moral for his own guidance. The poet’s view that waiting patiently ultimately brings its reward is vindicated.
The ‘deserted lanes’ are the untrodden pathways where one can see rare birds. ‘Remote and thorny like the hearts dark floor’ is the simile used obscurely and probably means the unexplored depths of human heart, just as there may be faraway and distant seashores with thorny bushes that are inhabited by rare birds. The idea of labour and hard-work is implied here with regard to a bird watcher in search of rare birds and to a poet in search of the right words. ‘And there the women slowly turn around, Not only flesh and bone but myths of light’: Only after undergoing an arduous journey may the lover get some response from the woman. The woman then becomes for him not just a being of flesh and blood, but appears as a radiant spirit which is not so much real, but mythical and imaginary. She is no longer a mere physical presence. The poet has thus glorified love as well as the woman who eventually responds to a man’s love.
‘With darkness at the core’ is the center of the woman’s personality which is shrouded in darkness even after she has been transformed into a radiant spirit; she still continues to be a mystery or an enigma. ‘And sense is found By poets lost in crooked, restless flight’ refers to the poets find meaning and significance in things even when they have been puzzled and perplexed earlier, like a bird which has lost its way; this illumination comes only after patiently waiting for the right moment. A third element which is that of love is also introduced in the poem. Courtship, bird watching and poetry, thus become related. In each case, the attitude that is recommended is of passive alertness, not of anxiety, hurry, aggression, or hyper-activity. The more one is agitated, the less one gains. The one who is loved is not pursued like a quarry, but watched with such intensity and patience that she ultimately risks surrendering. There is no action, no exercise of will, in a poet, a lover, or a birdwatcher, but patient waiting itself a strategy in order to achieve the goal.