Invective Against Swans
In praise of dragonflies

Exactly a year ago I started this blog with a piece in praise of crows, which mentioned that greatest of crow-poets, Ted Hughes. So today, in celebration of the Invective anniversary, I give you dragonflies, and Hughes again. On a walk over Blaxhall Common this morning, I encountered (along with my fellow poets Anne Berkeley and Sue Rose, who took the picture) this fine male Emperor, Anax imperator. Sometimes a thing is so perfect, so beautiful in itself that you don’t need to write about it; it’s just there, making a simple walk significant. And you couldn’t do better than this poem, which is all about the issues of trying to capture nature in art (but Hughes manages to nail it, of course):

 

How To Paint A Water Lily

A green level of lily leaves
Roofs the pond’s chamber and paves

The flies’ furious arena: study
These, the two minds of this lady.

First observe the air’s dragonfly
That eats meat, that bullets by

Or stands in space to take aim;
Others as dangerous comb the hum

Under the trees. There are battle-shouts
And death-cries everywhere hereabouts

But inaudible, so the eyes praise
To see the colours of these flies

Rainbow their arcs, spark, or settle
Cooling like beads of molten metal

Through the spectrum. Think what worse
is the pond-bed’s matter of course;

Prehistoric bedragoned times
Crawl that darkness with Latin names,

Have evolved no improvements there,
Jaws for heads, the set stare,

Ignorant of age as of hour—
Now paint the long-necked lily-flower

Which, deep in both worlds, can be still
As a painting, trembling hardly at all

Though the dragonfly alight,
Whatever horror nudge her root.