The Task "The Bird That Flutters Least Is Longest On The Wing"

Denise Levertov

"The Bird That Flutters Least Is Longest On The Wing"

Context: This quotation is taken from that section, or book, of The Task entitled "The Winter Walk at Noon." The poet intersperses meditations on many topics with descriptions of the English countryside during a winter noon when snow blankets all the earth, except the places beneath the forest trees. Toward the end of this book, which is the last section of the poem, he meditates upon the end of creation and invokes the aid of God, Who will bring the end and the restoration of man. The poet, having been forced out of an active life by severe mental illness, seeks to vindicate the life, in spiritual terms, of the human being who has lived a life of retirement from the usual activities and pace of the world. He notes that the world scorns the pleasures of the retired person, as he overlooks the world's pleasures for what is beyond. The poet then explains why the spiritual man is not interested in the usual activities of this world.

He seeks not hers, for he has proved them vain.
He cannot skim the ground like summer birds
Pursuing gilded flies, and such he deems
Her honours, her emoluments, her joys;
Therefore in contemplation is his bliss,
Whose pow'r is such, that whom she lifts from earth
She makes familiar with a heav'n unseen,
And shows him glories yet to be reveal'd.
Not slothful he, though seeming unemploy'd,
And censured oft as useless. Stillest streams
Oft water fairest meadows; and the bird
That flutters least is longest on the wing.
Ask him, indeed, what trophies he has raised,
Or what achievements of immortal fame
He purposes, and he shall answer–None.
His warfare is within.