That question isn’t the start of a joke or a riddle. It just came to mind idly a few days ago when I was wandering in Wireless Hill Park, admiring the wildflowers, and in a momentary hallucination it seemed to me that a clump of kangaroo paws embodied a flock of florid, scrawny parrots. It was as if they’d materialised from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, that ancient mythological poem in which rain-soaked mushrooms can turn abruptly into humans, humans into birds or trees, and so on.
It struck me that springtime shares something fundamental with poetry: both are processes of transmutation. Just as spawn can metamorphose into tadpoles and then into frogs, or naiads into dragonflies, or bulbs into irises, so too a poem can draw imagery from the physical world and render it into figurative language.
Season of sudden metamorphoses –
it’s on again! So many things
shape-shifting, switching, swift to change.
No transformed creatures more bizarre than these:
a crowd of mutant crested cockatoos,
their bodies thinned to skinny stalks,
their heads a splash of gaudy pigments,
faces all flushed, with startling green hairdos.
This is also a season for pairing up, a time when previously flighty individuals are more liable to become a twosome, like the couple of nest-building honeyeaters outside my window right now, or the ‘lover and his lass’ in the springtime song from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. And poetry, in its own way, performs a kind of matching and mating as well: it brings objects, perceptions, feelings, images and sounds into new conjunctions. I wrote the following poem about this several years ago. I think of it as a sonnet, though it doesn’t follow a traditional rhyming pattern and the symmetrical balance of its two stanzas differs from the usual octet/sestet sequence.
First light cracks. Before the sun can touch
the upper surfaces, a ticking starts
in the green blood of hidden green canals
as plaited fibres wake to creak and flex.
Networking messages are on the move
toward the air front. Leaves get ready to lift
and face the great gold magnet. Let it roll!
The watchers feel bliss flutter, billow out –
a self-unfurling sudden as the spill
of buds from branches on a time-lapse film.
Spring’s things go bright with flagwag. Twigs perk up,
stretching akimbo. Seasonal semaphore
sends warm regards. This couple will turn over
leaves that seem new enough to live forever.