© 2008 - Une réalisation Symbiose Informatique - Création graphique : Sucré Salé     fr    us

The Bird Path

Collected longer poem
Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh and London, 1989.

Author’s presentation

     This book (“collected longer poems 1964-1988”) marked my return to English-language publishing.
     Along with the longer poems of my earlier books, The Cold Wind of Dawn and The Most difficult Area, it gathered in poems from books that, after my break with Britain in 1967, had appeared (in bilingual editions) in Paris, books such as Le Grand Rivage, Mahamudra, Atlantica, Les Rives du silence.
     Its title refers in the first instance to a movement of migration across the territories. But, on a more intellectual level, the term “the bird path” has a long tradition behind it, going back to shamanism, where “the bird path” represents the path of the spirit from the personal and the social to the cosmic, and present in the meditative context of Chinese Ch’an where it indicates the movement of a mind free of simple identity, simple location and simple direction.
     I made the connection beween these “outlandish" notions and the local context by a reference to an old Celtic text, the Story of Branwen: “You will be a long time on the road, but in Harddlach you will be rejoycing seven white years and the birds of Riannon singing to you over the water.”

Interpretations of a Twisted Pine

I started off
by growing up
like everybody else

Then I took
a bend to the south
an inclination east
a prolongation north
and a sharp turn west

Now, approaching me
be prepared for grotesquerie

there are more than pines in my philosophy

Yes, I’m something more than a pine
I’m a cosmological sign

I’m idiomatic
I’m idiosyncratic

I’m pre-socratic

I’m maybe Chinese too

like Li Po, Tu Fu
and Mr Chuang-tzu

I live quietly
but storms visit me
I do a metaphysical dance
at the heart of existence

The branches of my brain
are alive to sun and rain

my forest mind
is in tune with the wind

Behold the mad pine
stark on the sky-line.

In the Nashvak Night

A summer night on the Labrador
in the twilight watching countless birds
settled and asleep
only a few still on the wing –
that passing flight of Sabine Gulls

is this a death
or the prelude to another life ?
the question is all too heavy
breenges into this rippling silence
like a bull into china
better simply to wait
taking pleasure in the twilight

tongues of water
tongues of water from the Labrador
running up the bays and fiords
lapping against the archaean rocks
will say the poem beyond the questioning

the birds are asleep
geese, duck, brant, deal, plover
all are asleep
as though this land were one great sanctuary

a place to rest
on the long trail of the migrations

a place to rest

here in the stillness
halfway between the Old World and the New
moving in deeper
ever deeper
into a world
that is neither old nor new

a world
neither old nor new
on the bird path
feeling it out


dawn comes
with the cry of the wild goose.

The Bird Path is the first substantial edition to appear in its original English. […] Heaney, who knows about cadence, is quoted on the dust-jacket as finding Bird Path “erudite, elemental, big and bold… the kind of poetry MacDiarmid hoped for”. The collection’s scale and sustained pitch of world-music certainly emulates the Joycean MacDiarmid of A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle. But while MacDiarmid […] came to recognise without curing his writing’s besetting deficiency of rhythmic pulse, White abounds in rhythmic inventions. His book contains even more of the kind of poetry W. C. Williams wanted, […] and unlike most of William’s disciples on both sides of the Atlantic (unlike, indeed, most poets I can think of) White seems to have found his mature style and voice quite independently of any master.  The living poet he most closely resembles and parallels is another who is disgracefully neglected here, Gary Snyder. Both aspire to, and with a wonderful frequency and ease inhabit, that air of fresh breath and perpetual greening of the spirit that might just save us yet. To switch from the banalities of so-called leaders and headlines to White in full flight is to levitate in pure delight.
     Michael Horovitz, The Spectator

One word used of White by several admirers is “unclassifiable”. […] But to seek to go beyond classification is not to be unclassifiable, and White belongs clearly in a tradition, mainly American, which includes writers like Emerson, Whitman, Henry Miller and Gary Snyder. These people, like White, have been influenced by Eastern mystical ideas, without ceasing to belong in the Western world or be aware of science and the problems of modern life. All, in different ways, tend to repudiate much of mainstream Euro-American literature ; they wish to live with both sensual and intellectual intensity […]. White is not “unclassifiable” : he belongs, at his best, very impressively, in a great modern tradition.
     D. M. Black, Chapman, n° 65.