Monday, July 11, 2011

"Bluejay" by Robert Francis and Jan Prentice

"Backyard Bird:  Bluejay," a 6 x 8" oil painting by Jan Prentice

Whenever I see Jan Prentice's beautiful "Bluejay" painting, I'm always reminded of Robert Francis's poem by the same name.


So bandit-eyed, so undovelike a bird
to be my pastoral father's favorite--
skulker and blusterer
Whose every arrival is a raid.

Love made the bird no gentler
nor him who loved less gentle.
Still, still the wild blue feather
brings my mild father.

As it did for Mr. Francis, "still the wild blue feather" brings MY blue-eyed father to mind.  He and mom loved birds as much as my husband and I do.  Because our home abuts the Cockaponsett State Forest, bluejays and other birds wake us every morning, now that warm weather is here and our windows are open.  They may be noisy, but jays are so beautiful in their colorful attire.

Robert Francis's poem was first published in 1959.  In April of 1976, I met him at a poetry reading in Northampton, Mass.  He  gave me one of the150 copies, which had been beautifully illustrated and  printed at  Pennyroyal [Press] by Barry Moser.   Do you know the work of this world renowned artist and sculptor?   Well, that framed poem has always been in view somewhere in my home ever since.

Mr. Francis was a lovely man.  I once visited him at his home in Amherst with my two young children.  They played in his yard while he and I sipped his homemade blackberry wine out of small glasses that had once held cheese spread.  As we chatted under the trees, he told me of his friendship with Robert Frost, who had died in 1963.   Francis died 24 years later, long after I had moved from Massachusetts.

If you are interested in more information on Robert Francis, I took the following from:

Robert Francis, born in Upland, Pennsylvania in 1901. He was educated at Harvard University. After graduating, he moved into a small house in Amherst, Massachusetts that he named "Fort Juniper", inspiring editors at the University of Massachusetts Press to name their poetry award the Juniper Prize. His autobiography, The Trouble with Francis (1971), recounts in alarming detail the construction of this retreat, even including a ledger of materials and their cost down to the last nail, as though the poet were driven to prove his frugality.

In The Satirical Rogue On Poetry, his curious collection of witticisms, criticisms and aphorisms, Francis included a short essay called "Poetry and Poverty." Here he cited the poet, Robert Herrick, whose cottage garden provided sufficiency for a modest board: "Or pea, or bean, or wort, or beet, Whatever comes, content makes sweet." From his own experience Francis proposed that "a young poet just out of college and not yet married might consider a Herrick sort of life for a few years. Like Herrick he could grow the pea, the bean, the wort, the beet, and like Herrick, he could keep a hen. Rough clothes, old clothes, would be fine. A good half the day or half the year he could have clear for himself and his poetry. Even if he didn’t wholly like such a life, it might be better than going hungry in New York or Paris. He could always move to the city whenever his income permitted…. He might, of course, like it. He might decide to stay on. Healthy, solvent, and independent, he might find cottage life good for him, and being good for him, good for his poetry as well." He was sixty-seven when Satirical Rogue appeared in 1968. He lived another nineteen years, long enough to see his collected poems in print, and to produce a final slender volume, Late Fire, Late Snow, which contains several of his finest lyrics.

During his writing career, Francis served as Phi Beta Kappa poet at both Tufts and Harvard. A world traveler, he often journeyed to Europe, at one time teaching at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon.

Francis' poems are widely varied in form and subject, though a kind tone permeates much of his work. His first collection of poetry, Stand with Me Here (1936) was followed by nine other volumes, including The Orb Weaver (Wesleyan University Press). His complete poetic texts can be found in Collected Poems: 1936-1976 (1976). Prolific in many genres, Francis also produced a novel, We Fly Away (1948), and essays. In 1957, he received the Rome Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Robert Francis died in July, 1987.

No comments: