POETRY: Birdcage Walk by Thomas Merton

Birdcage Walk by Thomas Merton


One royal afternoon
When I was young and easily surprised
By uncles coming from the park
At the command of nurses and of guards,

I wondered, over trees and ponds,
At the sorry, rude walls
And the white windows of the apartments.

“These,” said my uncle, “are the tallest houses.”


Yes, in the spring of my joy
When I was visibly affected by a gaitered bishop,
Large and unsteady in the flagged yard,
Guards, dogs and blackbirds fled on every hand.

“He is an old one,” said uncle,
“The gaiters are real.”


Rippled, fistfed windows of your
Dun high houses! Then
Come cages made of pretty willows
Where they put the palace girls!
Green ducks wade slowly from the marble water.
One swan reproves a saucy daughter.

I consider my own true pond,
Look for the beginning and the end.
I lead the bishop down lanes and islands.


Yes, in the windows of my first existence
Before my yawns became seasons,
When nurses and uncles were sure,
Chinese fowl fought the frosty water
Startled by this old pontifex.

“No bridge” (He smiled
Between the budding branches),
“No crossing to the cage
Of the paradise bird!”

Astounded by the sermons in the leaves
I cried, “No! No! The stars have higher houses!”

Kicking the robins and ganders
From the floor of his insular world
The magic bishop leaned his blessing on the children.


That was the bold day when
Moved by the unexpected summons
I opened all the palace aviaries
As by a king’s representative
I was appointed fowler.

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