“may my heart be open to little birds” by e.e.cummings

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it’s sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

–ee cummings

A very straightforward poem , so much like cummings. Two images are interesting. The first one is , of course “the little birds” , a startlingly simple use of a “direct” kind of imagery but very effective. Cummings is obviously talking about the thousand and one little things of life we tend to ignore in our lives which give us so much happiness .The birds bring to your mind the vigorous and fleeting nature of their movement and the way they enter their nests and fly out of them , their little bodies perpetually in movement. These are the real secrets of life and their singing is better to hear than knowledge .If you do not hear them you have grown old..The second ,not so important image is the poet’s mind strolling about hungry and fearless -even if it is sunday may I be wrong meaning the Sunday morals and religion should not blind you to the interesting things of life .Whenever men are right they are not young .Apparently it is the religious righteousness that takes away the youthfulness of life distracting you from the various little happinesses of life.

“may myself do nothing usefully” is an amusing thought . The poet feels the essential worldliness of living as a useful member in the society and making a living robs you of the countless little pleasures of life, the little birds singing in your heart..He has been a fool who has “failed to pull all the sky over him with one smile”. .He has failed to resort to escapism(pulling all the sky over him) in his pursuit of the material successes and in the process failed to take notice of the little birds.

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“Lady on a balcony” by Rilke

Suddenly she steps, wrapped into the wind,
brightly into brightness, as if singled out,
while now the room as though cut to fit
behind her fills the door

darkly like the ground of cameo,
that lets a glimmer through at the edges;
and you think the evening wasn’t there
before she stepped out, and on the railing

set forth just a little of herself,
just her hands, -to be completely light:
as if passed on by the rows of houses
to the heavens, to be swayed by everything.

(Translated by Edward Snow)

This is another fine example of Rilke’s exquisite use of visual imagery . There is , to begin with, a suddenness in the way the lady steps onto the balcony and is “wrapped into the wind”. One can imagine her garments flowing as the wind has suddenly wrapped her . She has also stepped ‘brightly’ into the brightness as steps out from the darkness of the room into the daylight .Now comes a most beautiful image .The room as though cut to fit behind her fills the door. Wonderful visual imagination .Imagine we are looking at the lady from ,say, the balcony of another house and as she comes out of the door ,which has so far remained closed, suddenly a dim view of the room would present itself before you through the door which slowly opens filling itself with a fragment of the room .As the door fully opens the fragment slowly expands to become a much larger view of the room as the door fully opens.

The second visual image is the “cameo”. The cameo means an object shown in relief; in this case the lady on the balcony, seen from the vantage of another balcony appears in relief against the darkness of the room . “you think the evening wasn’t there /before she stepped out “ is a wonderful expression. It suggests that suddenly the evening has come into focus because you are looking at the lady on the balcony in the evening and in the context of the evening , she appearing like a cameo against the background of the physical space of the room as well as against time.

Lastly she appears with her hands resting on the railing like a cameo appearing against the rows of houses below her balcony and on all sides as though the rows of houses are passing on “her hands “ resting on the balcony railing , in luminous outline, to the heavens!