In Louis Simpson’s lyrical ballad “The Bird,” the poet attempts to appeal to both the intellect and the fashion of the day. This poem was published in A Dream of Governors (1959), the first of Simpson’s poetry collections to be divided into sections. The fourth section, “The Runner,” contains “The Bird,” one of the six poems relating to World War II in the volume. Because Simpson intertwines fantasy with the gruesome realities of war in “The Bird,” it differs from the other five.
This ballad-like lyric of World War II is divided into seven parts and tells the tale of Heinrich, a German private assigned to a concentration camp. The poem has twenty-eight quatrains, and the second and fourth lines are in regular, iambic trimeter. The first and third lines use feminine rhymes and end, therefore, with an unaccented, additional syllable. The final result of the quatrains—the abab rhyme scheme, the three-stress lines, and the meters—is a rhythm that is singsong. The controlled result is appropriate for a poem about a soldier who has a prescribed military life and little say in or understanding of what is happening to him. The regular rhythm also suggests the structured cadence of marching, an activity common to most soldiers. The experiences are set in Germany, but the lack of control over one’s life is a common occurrence for enlisted people everywhere.
The first part of “The Bird” presents the German...
(The entire section is 470 words.)