Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron                                                                          Photo by Mark Seth Lender


The Heron

The heron stands in water where the swamp
Has deepened to the blackness of a pool,
Or balances with one leg on a hump
Of marsh grass heaped above a musk-rat hole.

He walks the shallow with an antic grace.
The great feet break the ridges of the sand,
The long eye notes the minnow's hiding place.
His beak is quicker than a human hand.

He jerks a frog across his bony lip,
Then points his heavy bill above the wood.
The wide wings flap but once to lift him up.
A single ripple starts from where he stood.

—Theodore Roethke (1908-1963)



Great Blue Heron springs all legs and wings right beside me.  By reflex, the shutter clicks – and he is captured in the only way you can. Tall as a man (almost), and wings a full fathom wide, despite his size he is colored to vanish when he looks straight at you from a screen of winter-bare marsh elder and gray-brown spartina. That eight inch beak is nearly level with your eyes. It is mostly fish that need to fear it, though insects are fair game, and mice, and voles, and snakes - anything small enough to devour.  And some things that are much too big, even for Great Blue.  I once saw a young heron eat a full-grown eel, head first, like a sword swallower. Except, this sword would not stay down. Finally it did and the bird stood there in a daze, perhaps as much amazed as satisfied.  

Mark Seth Lender

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"The Heron" by Theodore Roethke from Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke. Reprinted with the permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc.