The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Carolyn Kizer first published “The Great Blue Heron” in Poetry magazine as a poem of fifty-five lines and three irregular stanzas. When it was later reprinted in Mermaids in the Basement, she split the middle section, creating a fourth stanza. She has dedicated the poem to “M.A.K.” These initials and the dates that follow them, as well as the content of the poem, confirm that this is an elegy, a long, sustained poem of mourning, for her mother, Mabel Ashley Kizer, who died in 1955 in her seventy-fifth year. The tone is serious and melancholy. The speaker in this first-person poem seems to be Kizer herself, as references to “my mother” also suggest. The youthful vision of the heron may likewise be autobiographical.

In the first stanza of the poem, the speaker remembers the day when, as a child on the beach near the family’s vacation home “Some fifteen summers ago,” she saw a solitary great blue heron standing “Poised in the dusty light” and was struck by this prophetic apparition. Her startled response, “Heron, whose ghost are you?” indicates the intensity of this experience. Her body reacted as if in physical shock as she stood in “the sudden chill of the burned.” Even though the child raced to find her mother in the house and bring her back to the beach, “the spectral bird” had vanished from sight. The mother, however, called her attention to the heron in soundless flight above the trees, afloat on...

(The entire section is 500 words.)