Thursday, December 2, 2010

Still Citizen Sparrow by Richard Wilbur

Introduction and Theme

Still Citizen Sparrow is a direct shot to the modern civilized people who uphold the views that vulture is an ugly and evil animal. The poet counters the argument and believes that although vulture is believed to be a filthy and dirty animal, yet she is endowed with the rarest qualities ever gifted to any other bird.
It is vulture, which hovers the whole sky and watches natural environment and keeps it clean. Vulture was also present at the time of Prophet Noah when he preached his people and was rejected by them. Ordered by Allah, he built a boat, his people jeered at him, but he put all samples of living organism in his boat. The Great Deluge appeared and destroyed every non-believer. The same vulture was with him when Noah’s boat landed at the mountain and initiated a new age of enlightenment. People never come to terms with vulture, but the poet gives a long speech containing good words on the qualities of this animal. The poet avers that some animals though look ugly outside, yet are beautiful for their traits. The real beauty is of good action, not of outer physical charm.

Because vulture builds a new world by cleaning the environment, it is associated with the prophet Noah who also built a new world. In this way, vulture becomes symbolic of the beginning of a new world of faith and gives us message that we must also be builder of a new world in which we should contribute as much as we can.

A Critique of Still Citizen Sparrow

The poet supports the creature, which is thought to be the ugliest creature. The poet attacks the common perception of people about this bird and presents his arguments in favor of this animal. He gives the bird masculine qualities and addresses him as ‘He’ rather than ‘It’, which shows the importance of vulture in the poet’s mind and in the human kingdom. Though vulture looks ugly, bald-headed and always living on dead rotten flesh of various stinking animals, yet it has a beauty which no animal, bird or human being can match. That virtuous or beautiful quality is cleanliness, which according to Islam is half completion of faith.

The Sparrow is still citizen only outwardly beautiful, but performing no practical function in society. On the other hand, the great responsibility of disposing of the city waste is left on the vulture. The also criticizes the modern man who whose angle of vision needs to corrected and who may welcome clean and beautiful guests at his home, but shun the trash collectors, as a result of whose efforts, the environment is made clean and beautiful.

The bravery of vulture is also evident when the whole earth was submerged in water and this vulture flew and flew over the surface of water, this venture could have killed the sparrow, but it was vulture who sacrificed for them all (other animals, bird and humans beings) and made the earth once again a living abode by cleaning the rotten stinking flesh. This is the real inward virtue of vulgar for which he should be remembered rather than for his physical appearance.
Development of Thought
The physical description of the vulture

If you see the vulture cruising in the sky, its movement is so attractive, its wings so wide, it looks almost regal. It doesn’t have to move its wings. None among the birds is so powerful and fine vulture. The poet says,
And at the tall

Tip of the sky lie cruising. Then you’ll see

That no more beautiful bird is in heaven’s height,

No wider more placid wings, no watchfuller flight;

He shoulders nature there, the frightfully free,
It seems so free and bearing the burden of the world upon his shoulders because its wings and shoulders are so strong. The ordinary world of birds cannot imagine the way it flies up in the air. The poet’s description of the vulture develops a soft corner among the human beings for the vulture and we begin to love this bird for his not only physical qualities, but also moral virtues.
Double Standards of People

Still Citizen Sparrow is an animal poet is highly symbolic and satirical of modern man’s angle of perception, which he is habitual to adopt. The poet says,
Pardon him, you

Who dart in the orchard aisles, for it is he

Devours death, mocks mutability,

Has heart to make an end, keeps nature new.
The poet attacks the sparrow angrily and tells the sparrow to mind his language about the vulture and be respectful to him. The sparrow lives in orchards, wide and open furrows. How can you judge the real worth of vulture? Ordinary people and birds are afraid of the rotten dead meat of animals; vulture is courageous and takes up steps to perform the last rituals of the dead beings. But we are timid; we stay back and simply mock the people who perform such great duties. We are selfish and cowardly and they are brave and responsible. It is a tribute to vulture because he cleans what we have made dirty and evil by our own actions and actually the dirt have expelled from our existence and so we are dirty, not those who are also forward to clean. This is their highness and dignity and they deserve our respect. These people include: gutter cleaners, dusters, trash collectors and sweepers who don’t find respectable status in our society while they are more respectable than us. We only dandy our beauty and boast of our physical appearance and don’t even imagine how filthy dirty nature will become without their existence.

The poem exposes the double standards of people. We respect those who spread rubbish, but hate those who clean it. Actually, dirty are the people who spread dirt and respectable are those who clean it. The whole society is in disorder.
Religious Symbolism

The uses religious symbolism to bring round the same theme and point. The poet says,

Thinking of Noah, child heart, try to forget

How for so many bedlam hours his saw

Soured the song of birds with its wheezy gnaw,

And the slam of his hammer all the day beset
Noah was regarded mad by people, but the hero’s intelligence and understanding is far more superior to that of an ordinary man. The other birds kept on chirping, but the hero was not deflected from his mission. People called him crazy, but he didn’t stop. So man should be committed to his mission. Self-restrain is important. Noah’s journey was not pleasant when he looked down he saw destruction and death everywhere. It was only a heroic mind that could feel this pain. The poet through this religious symbol wants to bring before us an important point. The world is divided into two kinds of people: those who observe and those who perform, those who talk and those of act, those of sleep and those who wake and those of think and those who act. It is unto us what line of race we want to choose.
Talk and Action

Sparrow symbolizes talk and vulture symbolizes action. Throughout the poem, the poet uses various words to keep the sparrow shut, which is at all times babbling and chirping aimlessly. The poet satirically attacks the sparrow,
Pardon him, you

Who dart in the orchard aisles, for it is he

Devours death, mocks mutability
And he further says,
Forgive the hero, you who would have died

Gladly with all you knew; he rode that tide

To Ararat
Action speaks louder than words could be taken as the message of the poem. The sparrow’s repeated chirpings produce no healthy effect on the environment; rather it may distract the attention of those who are busy with their studies or engaged in a serious task. Merely talks bring no results; action in human life is important which brings development and welfare. Our nature is constantly in change, this change causes pollution, filth and stench, which can only be resolved with proper action. Vulture shoulders responsibilities effectively and puts humanity to shame for its passivity and lethargic state.
Style, Technique and Imagery

Wilbur’s approach in this poem is fresh and fine. He uses animal imagery like Ted Hughes, but his treatment is different. The symbol of Noah bracketed with the Vulture is superb and reinforces the concept. The poem has been divided into four line stanzas each one bringing up a new aspect of vulture, his qualities and function. The rhyme scheme is striking and classical. The four-line stanza rhymes as a b b a. The diction is forceful and proves the poet’s point of view effectively. The diction and use of such words as: lumber, cruise, rotten office, frightfully free, the slam of his hammer and rocked give a cinematic vision of the overall story of the vulture’s world.
Still Citizen Sparrow is a thought-provoking poem and proves intellectual genius of Wilbur who is famous for writing, which we may call intellectual poems. The poet believes that we must give the devil his due. Though vulture is physical ugly and is found on trash eating dirty items, but there are also two sides to every thing and we must take up the good side. We must look at the bright side of the picture rather than the black one.

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