NOVEMBER
1996

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

11-14-96

Poems For Two Voices Are 'Joyful Noise'

Row, row, row your boat! There are probably very few English-speaking children who do not recognize that line as the beginning of a song. This type of song is called a round, where different parts are being sung at the same time. Most of us have, at one time or another, belted out those words as someone else just as enthusiastically sang “gently down the stream!”

Paul Fleischman has captured the magic and energy of round singing in his poems written for two voices. First he published “I Am Phoenix,” a collection of poems about birds. His next effort in poems for two voices was “Joyful Noise,” which is about insects.

Fleischman has included a lot of biology in his poems. The short life of the mayfly — about 24 hours as an adult — is chronicled in “Mayflies.” In the words of the poet, “Your moment, Mayfly month. Your hour, Mayfly year. Your trifling day, Our life.”

The attraction of the moth to the flame, a common topic of the poets' pen, is the biological reality of “The Moth's Serenade.” The fatal attraction: the porch light.

On the other hand, light serves a useful purpose for fireflies — an attraction for mates. According to Fleischman, firefly light “is the ink we use” while night “is our parchment.” These fireflies are “insect calligraphers, practicing penmanship.” They are “six-legged scribblers of vanishing messages.”

In “Honey Bees,” the difference between worker bees and the queen is emphasized. To the worker, being a “bee is a pain.” It means guarding a hive, taking out trash, collecting nectar, feeding grubs. On the other hand, the queen is fed and groomed and has a single job — laying eggs. To her, that's “the best of all lives!”

The miracle of water striders is addressed, and the water striders are proud of being able to walk on water! It's not a miracle, but a matter of surface tension. Another water insect, the water boatman, is compared to the oarsmen of a six-man racing shell.

The fact that insects can't continue their cold-blooded ways during the winter months is the theme of “Requiem.” The first killing frost lives up to its name as all kinds of insects, katydids, grasshoppers, praying mantises and crickets are granted “rest eternal.”

The miracle of metamorphosis is chronicled in “Chrysalis Diary.” The shed skin of the caterpillar indicates that the insect has moved to the chrysalis stage in which it will survive the winter and its snow and cold. Come spring and the greening of the trees and the singing of the birds, the life within the chrysalis is reshaping to become — you guessed it — a butterfly!

Fleischman has proven that the insect world is very poetic!

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Andrea McCann