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Oh where do you winter, wood thrush?


Oh where do you winter, wood thrush?

In the heavens, I’d have you say.

When summer leaves are broad and lush

You flute in the full light of day,

But high!—so high in the poplars,

I’ve never once seen you in song;

You might have flocked down from the stars

And brought divine music along—


Mysterious music, so spare

And sublime, a ghostly bell choir’s

Whose ringing chimes ascend like prayer

Beyond my human desires.

No other bird this side of birth

Sings scales as sacred and pure,

And no true song is home on Earth;

You raise yours to the azure.


In the woods when dark is falling

You alone of the birds exalt;

Through shadows I follow your calling

Like the flutes of a mystery cult;

And deep and deeper you lead me

Through the dim as the moon is pearled,

To your haunts in the heights of a tree—

If you're even here in the world.


Then one day I spy you, wood thrush,

In the ferns were you came to abide

The heat of midday—but ahush,

Just as in my birdwatcher's guide:

Quiet, furtive, russet above

The white speckled breast; a dark eye shone.

The spirit of mystical love

In flesh and feather and bone.


A sign from your side, secret bird—

I yearned for such revelation,

And in your Zen-master silence heard

A silent annunciation,

From where there are no prayers, no fears,

No illusion of sorrow and pain,

No there at all, when all of our tears

Are home once again in the rain.


Then you rose from the dim and dissolved

In the canopy’s splendorous green,

Where the truth of your quiet devolved

On the chorus too high to be seen,

And the scales you practice till fall

When you flock from this one world we know

To your winter's performance for all

Where the stars are sparkling below.

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