This was just a crow

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My Crow

A crow flew into the tree outside my window.
It was not Ted Hughes’s crow, or Galway’s crow.
Or Frost’s, Pasternak’s, or Lorca’s crow.
Or one of Homer’s crows, stuffed with gore,
after the battle. This was just a crow.
That never fit in anywhere in its life,
or did anything worth mentioning.
It sat there on the branch for a few minutes.
Then picked up and flew beautifully
out of my life.

Raymond Carver

I first came across this poem sometime in the late 80s. I had devoured Fires: Essays, Poems, Stories (Picador, 1986) and was making busy with everything else of Carver’s I could get my hands on.

‘My Crow’ comes from In a Marine Light (Picador, 1998), Carver’s first full-length collection of poems to be published in Britain, drawing on the US collections Where Water Comes Together with Other Water and Ultramarine.

It halted me in my tracks.

This is not an exaggeration. The book kept me company in the peripatetic life I was leading then, on commutes between student accommodation, school placements and the place I still called ‘home’, where I was born and brought up and where my parents still lived.

The poem, of course, was about none of these things. Poems being what they are, it was also about all of them.

I loved the joke that is not quite stated, the simple and cheeky idea that Homer’s and Ted Hughes’s and Pasternak’s crow somehow have nothing on the crow of the speaker, the one that is sitting in the tree right outside the window of the room where the poem is being written.

Like a model of sane thinking, these inter-textual crows are allowed space to enter the poem, with all their grand and baggy influence, before being quietly shown the door. In this way the poem practises both noticing and acceptance which are at the heart of all engaged and creative thinking.

Margaret Boden calls this kind of thinking ‘merging’, where one space or domain or space is fused or merges with another. These days we might call this a mash-up. Other art forms (think of film, comedy and rap) have been doing it for years.

For all of that, what I most cherish is the poem’s bare-handedness. The lines are plain but awkward to say aloud, which is the point: the crow ‘never fit in anywhere in its life,/or did anything worth mentioning.’ It is a lesson in natural object as adequate symbol, in this case of all things ‘innocent, hapless, forsaken’, to use Theodore Roethke’s phrase. There is no fanfare or flag waving round the back of the poem saying ‘Notice me!’

In uniting writer and reader in the act of noticing, the curious effect of the poem is that it leaves the latter, rather than the speaker, the more noticed.

 

16 comments

  1. Alison Peacock

    Dear Anthony
    Your poetry and your thought provoking posts enter my inbox periodically. They sit there and wait, demanding nothing. Yet when I take the time to look at them I find myself changed.

    Keep flying into my life. Thank you.

    Alison

    Like

  2. mark granier

    Thanks Anthony, I really like where this is going. One thing though. Lines 6 & 7 seem rather unnecessary and also inaccurate (or even dishonest). I could understand if he’d said the crow did not fit into the speaker’s own life, but how can he possibly know whether it ‘fit in anywhere in its life, / or did anything worth mentioning.’? Surely the point is that the crow fits in just fine in its own life, as all non-human creatures do, and whether what they do is or isn’t ‘worth mentioning’ is completely beside the point. Or maybe I missed something.

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    • Anthony Wilson

      Hi Mark. Thanks so much for this. One way of looking at it is to see the crow doing nothing of note -until this poem. A kind of guilty thing surprised, as Wordsworth would say. Another is to wonder, as I think you are, if the poet is not just having his cake and eating it… Another -though RC does not go to town on this, though he could have done- is to see a tentative link between his life (until writing) of no note whatsoever. I like all three, though I suppose the latter most of all. I guess we will never know. As ever, I am so grateful you stopped by. Sun shining here, A

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  3. Fiona Quilty

    Isn’t a Pike a ‘Pike’ and a Fox a ‘Fox’ until it isn’t!
    Does the poem explain that poems, the written word, like the crow, are ordinary until the thought becomes reality and changes others lives when read. The flight of the crow, landing on the tree is the passage of words as we read them. the journey? Do words become ordinary until they mean something?
    I bought a typewriter to help me write. I have to think of every word. Ted Hughes ‘Thought Fox’ springs to mind.
    Rambling. Thanks for this post

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    • Anthony Wilson

      Of course you are right Fiona. It is ‘just a crow’ till it goes into the poem and becomes a ‘Crow’ (or fox etc.).
      That is the paradox and the mystery that keeps me coming back for more. I’ll never understand it, but I do love it.
      As ever with thanks and best wishes
      Anthony

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  4. Jeff Schwaner

    Yeah, I like this poem! As one who has never been a big Carver fan, I would surmise the awkwardness is just plain Raymond Carver and not a conscious stylistic element in the poem. That being said, Carver’s voice as it is was perfectly right for this poem; the crow shudders off the weather the way that Carver’s poem shakes off all its literary precedents–simply by being what it is.

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    • Anthony Wilson

      Thank you so much. ‘Simply by being’ is something I could learn a lot from each day. I’d like more of my poems to merely be, and fewer to feel they have to say anything. Most of the time I want them to shut up.
      Always a pleasure to hear from you,
      Anthony

      Like

  5. andreakbeltran

    Reblogged this on Andrea Beltran and commented:
    I’m always in awe of Carver and what he accomplishes in 12 lines or less. And while the crow “never fit in anywhere in its life,/or did anything worth mentioning,” it gave us this fleeting moment with the speaker, and equally, ourselves as readers experiencing the poem. Thanks for this post, Anthony.

    Like

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