Wednesday, April 09, 2014

National Poetry Month: Week 2

Continuing the celebration of National Poetry Month, Coleman Barks shares the poem "Hummingbird Sleep" that inspired the title of his latest poetry collection, HUMMINGBIRD SLEEP (2013, pg. 79).

Hummingbird Sleep
A hummingbird sleeps among the wonders.
Close to dark, he settles on a roosting limb
and lowers his body temperature
to within a few degrees of the air's own.

As the bird descends into torpor,
he assumes his heroic sleep posture,
head back, tilted beak pointing to the sky,
angling steep, Quixotic, Crimean.

This noctivation, the ornithologist word for it,
is very like what bears do through the winter.
Hummingbirds live the deep drop every night.
You can yell in his face and shake the branch.

Nothing. Gone. Where? What does he dream of?
He dreams he is the great air itself, the substance
he swims in every day, and the rising light
coming back to be his astonishing body.

About the Poem
I am told that the science here is accurate, that hummingbirds do go into a hibernative state each night. The poem is meant to celebrate the "deep drop" we all do each night that restores and renews us. The word "Crimean" may seem strange here, and oddly taken out of the current news. It refers to Tennyson's poem, "The Charge of the Light Brigade," and the hopeless heroism of those raised swords charging the cannons of the Russian positions.

About the Poet
Coleman Barks is the best-selling translator of The Essential Rumi The Soul of Rumi, and Rumi: The Book of Love and author of numerous volumes of poetry including Winter Sky: New and Selected Poems, 1968-2008 (Georgia). He taught creative writing and American poetry in the English Department at the University of Georgia for thirty years and currently lives in Athens, Georgia.

For more information about National Poetry month, visit For more poetry from the UGA Press, visit the poetry section of our website here.