Stephen Fuller *** Poetry, Essays

‘My Little Wren Friend,’ An Analysis of a Poem

This week I analyze the poem, “My Little Wren Friend” and begin by offering it again with no revision as by the time I posted, it had taken on its ‘final’ form (original post: https://fullbeardlit.org/2019/11/24/my-little-wren-friend/):

My Little Wren Friend

Watching me,
Have I removed your home or
Do I
Make a home more beautiful?

Either way, here is a tree.
A walnut tree
That needs recovering,
Beautiful and tall

Wrapped around hills
Calling:
“Climb!”
Climbing…

Now… watch me,
Little wren,
Do you see the hardness
In a man at work

Changing the view
After the view
Cluttered by brush and weeds
Had become too much?

Where did this poem come from? One autumn day in my new home in Northern United States, I took to an aesthetic recovery of a beautiful, large, black walnut tree just outside the front door. The previous owners of the house had let the brush grow up around the tree and used the area as a drop zone for yard debris, steel posts used for chicken wire fences, some barbed-wire, and metal frames for vines. Two branches that had partially snapped off either due to a heavy wind storm or a lightning strike hung precariously yet still too attached to fall without human intervention. I looked at this tree and thought: “My first project.” As I dug out the brush, excavated the metal, and finished the demise of the falling branches I discovered 5 beautiful, large flat rocks that now stand out as a feature of what will be a garden for flowers and vegetables that will grow in the juglone toxin that fills the soil around walnut trees. Winter came early, as highlighted in Halloween Dressed up as White Christmas, and the remainder of the larger projects and their potential for poetry will have to wait until spring.

One of the days while hard at work, a wren would sit on the detritus and watch me. It would fly away at appropriate times like when I would get too close or had to move some of the pile it had made its perch. Eventually, I would load up the trailer of the lawn tractor and move the brush to its designate spot away from the main yard. The wren would follow me and continue to monitor this strange human’s behavior. Back and forth we went until all the brush I had dug up that day had been cleared and moved. On the trip back to the shed to house the tractor, I stopped, pulled out my phone, opened up ‘Notes’ and began to type. A very common first step in my creative process.

Here’s the thing, the hours spent working in the yard, I choose music to accompany me, this day it was the Minnesota band Cloud Cult, and let my mind wander and reflect on whatever it needs to process. I know the yard work is done when both body and mind are ready to rest after their labor. The distinct feature of the uber-indie and environmental-activist band Cloud Cult is how their music uses as a centerpiece the tragic death of the lead singer’s two-year-old son many years ago. On this day, I found their music cathartic for my own emotionally charged mental meanderings. You see, a couple of years ago I made some choices that resulted in dramatic changes in my life and have left me estranged from my oldest son. This estrangement governs much of my day-to-day actions as I wake and like a Stoic work hard to do my very best in the belief that someday when my son returns to me I will be able to stand confident and proud of the man I have become in the aftermath. In the meantime, I still grieve daily and some days I need to listen to Cloud Cult to hear an empathetic voice over the angry one that still too often yells at me in my own head.

My Little Wren Friend was written for my son. The flow of the poem goes like this: the wren is my son and he watches me as I tear apart the area around the tree. I wonder if I am tearing apart his home or making a new one that will be more beautiful for the necessary changes needing to be made. Knowing that I cannot answer this question for him, I get to work on what needs doing: this beautiful, tall tree needs to recover. As the tree begins to emerge from the brush, the hills behind it become framed by its branches and, as all hills do, call me to climb them. So, I do, because I am ready now to keep climbing after being uncertain that I wanted to anymore for a couple of years. So I return to my wren and ask him another question, an appeal: do you see me? And an affirmation: I am hard at work, hardened but now a man clearing the mess that I had made around this tree, now fully a symbol of my own person and of my own persistence in spite of the storms that tore down some branches.

Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes of House Wren at a nest box, from The Burgess Bird Book for Children, 1919

2 Responses to “‘My Little Wren Friend,’ An Analysis of a Poem”

  1. -Eugenia

    I find it fascinating that you shared such a wonderful in-depth story about your poem. My curiosity is sparked because I wonder if this is not so common for many writers. Meaning, do writers have a serious purpose behind their words or are they just spilling words?

    I enjoyed your analysis immensely and hope all goes well.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • S Francis

      Thank you so much Eugenia for both reading and offering these comments.

      When I first started writing I would preserve every word like it was a sacred text. At some point I remember staring at something I had written and asking “what am I ACTUALLY trying to say with this poem?” And started to break it down into something very different than before. I remember the moment very clearly; I was on a ship, laying in my “rack” as we call a bed at sea, and I was so energized by the work I was doing I could barely get to sleep. I fell in love with the craft.

      Since then I save every thing i have written and every revision. Mostly these “spill words” moment become more free… I don’t worry anymore about how I am saying anything and just let the conscious and subconscious brains work it out on the page. Some stuff gets discarded in revision but can become a seed for a collaboration or a shorter poem like a haiku or something.

      What I am trying to do with this blog is show how both these first drafts and the revisions have meaning. The revisions I love doing because I can connect my own thoughts with the poets and artists I love and it makes them part of a broader dialog of verse that goes someplace deeper for me.

      Like

      Reply

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