For every Bird a Nest

Wood Lark Nest And Egg - A Natural History of the Nests & Eggs of British Birds, 1855, Francis Orpen Morris
Background Image: Wood Lark Nest And Egg – A Natural History of the Nests & Eggs of British Birds, 1855, Francis Orpen Morris

David Preest suggests this poem may be about Emily’s ambitions as a poet. She often writes about writing and as these poems were often private for her she was free to dream of the pleasures wrapped up in “Ah aristocracy!” Yet the poem has two poles: one where the “Wren” builds it nest perhaps “too high”, and the “modest” “Lark” who builds their nest on the ground. Thus perhaps Emily is trying to reconcile desire with humility.

Formally this poem is rather interesting, especially the rhyme scheme and her use of slant rhymes. The poem follows an AAB CCB structure through every stanza, yet the final 2 stanzas about the “modest” “Lark” who is “not ashamed” to build its nest “upon the ground” relies on slant rhymes to make it work, as if she were the Lark who was satisfied with the utility of the words to build her nest / poem and was not too choosy enough to make the fit perfectly as they do in the first four stanzas where the rhymes are perfect, except for “high” and “aristocracy” which might suggest the “Wren” reaching beyond its means.

The final stanza leaves the reader wondering which bird she is talking about: does she mean to suggest the Wren “Does so rejoice” the most, or is it the “Lark”? The use of the word “Yet” to begin the final stanza seems to imply that she is speaking about the “Wren” – the “yet” sets up a distinction from the Lark’s “modest” behavior and recalls us back to the “Wren”. Yet I think she is talking about both birds and what both birds seem to represent for her. While the “Wren” has airs for “aristocracy”, and the “Lark” is fine living on the ground, Emily ends the poem with an implied question of who does “rejoice” more as if she is unsure which bird she should model her own behavior after. Both have made their home and are comfortable to lay their eggs in their respective nests so they must both be good enough for each bird, but is one actually better?

Thus Emily may be struggling with her own ambitions as a writer in that while she writes modestly in her home and without (hardly ever) publishing, she also dreams of greater fame and recognition. Is it enough to work in secret without seeking vanity through fame, or should an artist share their work with the world and, as a consequence, have praise heaped upon them. Emily certainly knows she is talented enough as a poet – just consider the final stanza’s imagery of the birds (or the poet) “Dancing around the sun” which not only suggests the birds in the sky, but also our time on earth as we dance “around the sun” every year. She is suggesting we only have a brief amount of time, but that we should enjoy it, but there is even embedded in the poem the allusion to Icarus (through the aspirations of the “Wren” in stanza 3) who flew “too high” to the sun.

I wonder how much pain it caused her as she was wrestling with knowing that she was aware of her talents as a poet but not wanting to seem vain or, like the “Wren” aspiring “too close” to the sun.