“The Wild Duck” by John Masefield

“Twilight. Red in the west.
Dimness. A glow in the wood.
The teams plod home to rest.
The wild duck comes to glean.
O souls not understood,
What a wild cry in the pool;
What things have the farm ducks seen
That they cry so – huddle and cry?

Only the soul that goes.
Eager. Eager. Flying.
Over the globe of the moon,
Over the wood that glows.
Wings linked. Necks a-strain,
A rush and a wild crying.
A cry of the long pain
In the reeds of a steel lagoon,
In a land that no man knows.”
from “Ballads and Poems (1910)

In the 1950’s in a letter to a female violinist who became a regular correspondent throughout his last years, Masefield writes:

” The verse is about Great Hampden Common in Buckinghamshire. There used to be a duck farm on the hill there, and every night the wild duck used to come over & cry to the tame ducks to up and come along, & all the tame ducks were in a great twitter and trouble at it. The wild duck came in great waves (I suppose migrations getting ready).

No-one could forget the incident of September dusk and the wild flights in the air putting madness of excitement & terror into the myriad ducks in the pens. They wanted to come but dared not and could not, and the wild ones could not understand, and came again and again to call them – a strange wonder.” From “John Masefield- Letters to Reyna” edited by William Buchan. Buchan and Enright Publishers 1983.

I find that whole imagery both profoundly haunting and rather sad.


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