Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry: Explained, SPARROW, by ANDREW MOTION



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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

SPARROW, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography


The poem "Sparrow" by Andrew Motion employs an elegiac tone to lament the decline or disappearance of the sparrow, which once was ubiquitous in both rural and urban settings. The language is decidedly modern, devoid of ornamentation, perhaps reflecting the plainness yet intricacy of the bird it describes. The poem serves as a dirge not just for the bird but also for the environments and lifestyles that have been overshadowed by urban development and habitat destruction.

The structure is almost list-like, resembling the repetitiveness found in many a poetic lament or elegy, and perhaps mimicking the often-overlooked yet repetitive presence of the sparrow in human life. It is divided into three main parts, each starting with the phrase "No longer," which emphasizes the finality and irreversible change that has occurred. There is a rhythm in this repetition, reminiscent of the consistent chirping of a sparrow that is no longer heard.

The themes of the poem are multi-fold. There's a sense of loss, not just of the sparrow but of various lifestyles and environments it once inhabited. The poem engages with the transformation of natural landscapes and urban settings, subtly commenting on environmental issues, including the endangerment and extinction of species due to human activities. The sparrow is depicted through various roles: "country clubber," "city slicker," and "daily greeter," illustrating its adaptability and ubiquity. Yet, the very adaptability and commonality that should ensure its survival are insufficient in the face of rapidly changing ecological landscapes.

Stylistically, Motion uses colloquial and informal terms like "barn bouncer" or "traffic dodger," which make the bird familiar and accessible, reflecting its once-common nature. There's a certain irony here; the everyday language contrasts starkly with the weighty theme of loss. Each term used to describe the sparrow is a mini-poem in itself, a vivid image that captures a particular aspect of the bird's existence. The absence of the bird is felt strongly precisely because it was once so embedded in daily life.

The poem's provenance also adds depth to the analysis. Andrew Motion, a former British Poet Laureate, has often engaged with themes of nature and loss. Written in a contemporary setting, the poem is more poignant against the backdrop of an ongoing global ecological crisis. The sparrow serves as a symbol, a barometer of environmental health, whose absence warns of larger, more catastrophic losses.

In summary, "Sparrow" by Andrew Motion is a compelling contemporary elegy that encapsulates themes of loss, change, and environmental decline. Its simple structure and language convey complex issues with an evocative clarity, serving as a poignant reminder of what has been lost and what stands to be lost if humanity continues on its current path.


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