Poem of the Day: ‘Voices of the Air’
The New-Zealand-born Mansfield experienced her greatest surge of literary output as her early death from tuberculosis closed in upon her.
The New-Zealand-born writer Katherine Mansfield (1888–1923) experienced her greatest surge of literary output as her early death from tuberculosis closed in upon her. Though her fiction had begun appearing in print as early as 1910, the final years of her life saw the publication of such major stories as “The Garden Party.” Her poems, including today’s selection, “Voices of the Air,” were published after her death. This poem, in tetrameter quatrains with an abab rhyme scheme, invokes the beauty of small insect songs, heard against the droning chords of the sea.
Voices of the Air
by Katherine Mansfield
But then there comes that moment rare
When, for no cause that I can find,
The little voices of the air
Sound above all the sea and wind.
The sea and wind do then obey
And sighing, sighing double notes
Of double basses, content to play
A droning chord for the little throats—
The little throats that sing and rise
Up into the light with lovely ease
And a kind of magical, sweet surprise
To hear and know themselves for these—
For these little voices: the bee, the fly,
The leaf that taps, the pod that breaks,
The breeze on the grass-tops bending by,
The shrill quick sound that the insect makes.
With “Poem of the Day,” The New York Sun offers a daily portion of verse selected by Joseph Bottum with the help of the North Carolina poet Sally Thomas, The Sun’s associate poetry editor. Tied to the day, or the season, or just individual taste, the poems will be typically drawn from the lesser-known portion of the history of English verse. In the coming months we will be reaching out to contemporary poets for examples of current, primarily formalist work, to show that poetry can still serve as a delight to the ear, an instruction to the mind, and a tonic for the soul.