Hjalmar’s Saga (a poem by Jerry Siegel)

Photo by Richard Bartz*

“A forest bird never wants a cage.”

– Henrik Ibsen


Jerry, my husband, wrote this poem many years ago. “Hjalmar’s Saga” carries very special personal meaning for me, but it is also very accessible on a surface level, which is why I am sharing it on this blog. This is the poem’s first publication.

Indeed, Henrik, you’ve made your point about
Zoology. The male wild duck survives
When in captivity, grows fat, appears
Content, remains quite placid, resting in boxes
Or on pillows. Paired with suitable tame stock
He may, with proper fostering, be induced
To nest, to mutter happy quacks, to father
Ducklings captive from the shell. He will,
Of course, not fly, but rather waddle, box
To nest and back in endless circuits, like
Some feathered friar, lost in thought. He never
Knows passion, wit, or blue horizons – curls
Restive, his family close, and sleeps much.
What you propose – to open wide the door
And see if he will, offered but the choice,
Now flee his attic woods – a dangerous
Experiment maybe. Perhaps he will
Remain. A well smelt nest stays warm and safe;
You’ve said as much. Outside will be – unknown.
And if he goes, he goes in peril. A captive
Duck can lose his bearings, stay aground,
Awaiting execution by a passing
Cat, a swift impalement on a hunter’s
Aim. And yet the chance exists. He may
Spread out his dormant wings,
Move them slowly once. Again. Ascend
At first to go alone unless by chance
Another lonely one, alive and wild
And disenchanted with her flock,
Appears by his side. That moment, he is
Lost to us – become again a wild duck.
They pause in recognition captive birds
Will never know. They tune in momentary
Response to vibrations old as the gods of life
That brought them together – pause – mate
In a magic midair ritual;
Hang there, radiant against the sun,
Wingtip to wingtip, and soar.

– April 1980


Hjalmar’s Saga,” copyright 1980-1014 by Jerry Siegel, may not be reprinted or reposted without permission of the poet.

*Be sure to visit Richard Bartzs Wikimedia page. Stunning wildlife photography!


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