Longing for ‘The Veery’

May 17, 2013: My mom had given me a book, ‘The Oxford Book of American Verse’ (1927) last summer. I love some old print books as the content simply cannot easily be found today. One of my favorite poems in the book is ‘The Veery’. I think on this poem often.

The Veery by Henry Van Dyke (1895)
The moonbeams over Arno's vale in silver flood were pouring,
When first I heard the nightingale a long-lost love deploring.
So passionate, so full of pain, it sounded strange and eerie;
I longed to hear a simpler strain,—the wood-notes of the veery.

The laverock sings a bonny lay above the Scottish heather;
It sprinkles down from far away like light and love together;
He drops the golden notes to greet his brooding mate, his dearie;
I only know one song more sweet,—the vespers of the veery.

In English gardens, green and bright and full of fruity treasure,
I heard the blackbird with delight repeat his merry measure:
The ballad was a pleasant one, the tune was loud and cheery,
And yet, with every setting sun, I listened for the veery.

But far away, and far away, the tawny thrush is singing;
New England woods, at close of day, with that clear chant are ringing:
And when my light of life is low, and heart and flesh are weary,
I fain would hear, before I go, the wood-notes of the veery.

To me this poem speaks about desire and longing. A special personal longing, whether it is a loved one, a paramour, a call to the outdoors, or a woodland companion, the veery. Dyke’s poem takes a sad and almost desperate turn at the end. “And when my light of life is low, and heart and flesh are weary, I fain would hear, before I go, the woodnotes of the veery.” Dyke points out to us that time is limited and that the things that we cherish, that we have carried a torch for, if they do not leave us, we will leave them. By the last line I am always so sad and it makes me reflect.

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