It’s that time of the year once again – a turning over of the old with the new – an ushering of yet another year. Time for new resolutions – a breaking of old cliches and the hackneyed, a tearing down of the trite and tiresome. As most of us would most likely be keeping a vigil until 12 midnight, I’d like to share some of my favorites from the book The Night of the Whippoorwill with you.
The whippoorwill. I didn’t even know about whippoorwills until I opened this book. I have been raised with the sounds of cars, jeepneys, and traffic – very citified lass. I did not have the privilege of listening to whippoorwills in the evening. It didn’t take me long to find these images that introduced me to the beauty of this bird who gives an odd whistling cry in the woods at night.
A book of the night. I was immediately enchanted by the introduction written by Nancy Larrick, a distinguished educator from Winchester Virginia. She is a founding member of the International Reading Association and has compiled 22 anthologies of poetry for young readers (source: jacketflap of the book):
The Night of the Whippoorwill is a collection of poems that celebrate the night – old poems from people who sang of the night long before scientists turned their telescopes on the sky, and songs from modern poets caught up in the continuing mystery and enchantment of the night.
I also consider myself a child of the night. While I enjoy mornings and the gentle rays of dawn while everyone else is asleep – I find the midnight clouds and starlit heavens more exquisite. I was enamored by the poets of Lapland who described the North Star as “a nail on which the heavens are hung” as cited by Nancy. The Polynesians also described the stars as “jewelled pillars that hold up the sky” – spectacular, stunning images in your mind’s eye.
While most of the selected poems found in the book did not ‘speak’ to me or move me as much as I thought it would, there were several that caught my eye. There’s one by James Kirkup who described the evening clouds like
a white Persian Cat – It lies among the stars with eyes almost shut, lapping the milk from the moon’s brimming dish
Made me sigh. There is also James Skofield’s Nightdances which made me want to skip and fly out into the night sky – the rhythm of the wind guiding my swaying – my hair flying freely. Night Song by Eve Merriam has also made me want to put my head in the soft clouds as “the dolphins/ Of darkness arise from the deep.” I was also taken by the haiku from the Society Islands describing the Milky Way as a “sail of a great canoe” and J. W. Hackett’s description of the night as a “concert of colors.”
There were also several poems that captured the enduring sense of loss and desolation one can only feel during the night time and the melancholy in the harbor’s eyes as seen in Carl Sandburg’s Lost and Virginia Schonborg’s Song of Ships. There is also Claudia Lewis’ “purple pumpkin” of a night “laced with a silver web.” My absolute favorite, though is Karla Kuskin’s Where Would You Be?
Where would you be on a night like this With the wind so dark and howling? Close to the light Wrapped warm and tight Or there where the cats are prowling? Where would you wish you on such a night? When the twisting trees are tossed? Safe in a chair In the lamp lit air Or out where the moon is lost? Where would you be when the white waves roar On the tumbling storm-torn sea? Tucked inside Where it’s calm and dry Or searching for stars in the furious sky Whipped by the whine of the gale’s wild cry Out in the night with me?
Captivating images. One of the things that worked best for me in this book is the artwork. The illustrations just made me go ooooh and aaaah each time I turn a page, that I couldn’t get myself to return the book in our library’s bookshelves. I knew I had to feature it here and share it with everyone else. Just plain gorgeous. The illustrator David Ray is a self-taught artist born and raised in Appleton Wisconsin. He moved to New York to begin a career in painting when he became a young man and has been regularly exhibited in New York galleries (source: jacketflap of the book). Here are some of the images that I thought you might enjoy.
Have a wonderful New Year’s Eve to everyone. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.
The Night of the Whippoorwill. Poems selected by Nancy Larrick and illustrated by David Ray. Philomel Books, New York, 1992. Book borrowed from the library. Book photos were taken by me.