Lake Morning in Autumn
Before sunrise the stork was there
resting the pillow of his body
on stick legs growing from the water.
A flickering gust of pencil-slanted rain
swept over the chill autumn morning:
and he, too tired to arrange
His wind-buffeted plumage,
perched swaying a little
neck flattened, ruminative,
beak on chest, contemplative eye
filmy with star vistas and hollow
black migratory leagues, strangely,
ponderously alone and some weeks
early. The dawn struck and everything
sky, water, bird, reeds
was blood and gold. He sighed.
Stretching his wings he clubbed
The air; slowly, regally, so very tired,
aiming his beak carefully climbed
inclining to his invisible tunnel of sky,
his feet trailing a long, long time.
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Author biography and socio-political setting
Livingston was born in Malaysia in 1932, but moved with his family to South Africa at the age of 10. A marine biologist by training, he has produced several collections of poetry, starting with The Skull in the Mud (1960). He has also published poems in literary magazines overseas, and his poetry has attracted quite a wide audience. His volume of collected poems, A Ruthless Fidelity, published posthumously (after his death) in 2004, confirms the high regard in which his poems are held. He typically addresses the themes of nature (in an African setting) and man’s place in relation to the natural world. During the 1970s and 1980s he avoided writing poetry that was directly political, and insisted on rigour (strictness) and craftsmanship in poetry.
As the title suggests, the poem explores a particular natural scene, focusing on a stork. The bird is initially at rest, perhaps exhausted by its long migration from the northern hemisphere. It is alone; the first of its kind to arrive. It also seems to be thoughtful, perhaps reflecting on its long journey. Then, as dawn breaks, it climbs slowly into the sky resuming its long journey.
The colours of the dawn and the movements of the bird are vividly captured. There seems to be something dignified, almost regal (majestic) about this bird.
The poet’s intention
The poet (or the speaker in the poem) is giving a personal, impressionistic response to this bird. He is struck by its long, solitary journey, and as he looks at it he also attributes certain human qualities to it. The keynote of the poem is perhaps a sense of wonder.
It would be hard for a student of poetry to not find a similarity of mood and message between "Lake Morning in Autumn" and Robert Frost's beloved poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." Although Livingston's poem is overtly a nature poem about a stork, he didn't name the poem for the stork. His title, "Lake Morning in Autumn," draws a parallel, by contrast, with Frost's poem. Frost's poem happens in the evening; this...
It would be hard for a student of poetry to not find a similarity of mood and message between "Lake Morning in Autumn" and Robert Frost's beloved poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." Although Livingston's poem is overtly a nature poem about a stork, he didn't name the poem for the stork. His title, "Lake Morning in Autumn," draws a parallel, by contrast, with Frost's poem. Frost's poem happens in the evening; this poem occurs at sunrise. Frost's poem takes place in a woods overlooking a frozen lake; this poem takes place on a lake. Frost's poem is set in winter, with "easy wind and downy flake" in the air; this poem is set in autumn, with "pencil-slanted rain."
Despite these contrasts, the isolation, exhaustion, and determination of the protagonists--man and stork--unite the two works. The stork is on a lonesome journey, separated from his fellows, and stops to rest, "ponderously alone and some weeks early." He is utterly exhausted, so much so that he doesn't care about his own appearance, "too tired to arrange his wind-buffeted plumage." Despite his loneliness, despite his tiredness, he sighs and mounts slowly to the sky to resume his journey toward his distant destination, just as the man in Frost's poem continues on with "miles to go before I sleep."
As in "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," the overriding message one gets from this poem is of the internal motivation that drives one onward, despite one's personal discomfort. People, like birds, have the ability to press on toward a goal that is greater than their momentary desires. Whether that goal involves "promises to keep" or represents some other internal compunction, it allows people to push through loneliness and fatigue to achieve success. In this poem, the subtle message transcends the surface meaning. It calls us to heed the inner drive that compels us toward our ultimate destination, even when we are alone and exhausted.