All poets have a certain structure in order for their poem to be understood
in an artistic and unique way. Through the use of organization, diction and
figurative language, the poem is composed in a creative manner. In “The Great
Scarf of Birds”, by John Updike, the speaker is understood through the use of
all these methods.

When the poet begins to speak of what he remembers, he uses vivid colors to
describe his surroundings and also his stage in life. “ Ripe apples were
caught like red fish in the nets (Line 3).” This is symbolizing his stage in
life that is “ripe” or closer to death. Like the fish in the nets he is
caught on where his life should go. As the first stanza progresses, it leads the
reader to the speaker’s eyesight which is focused on the

abundant sky filled with birds.

Yet the speaker begins to express of his awe and amazement that occurs when
he sees the flock of birds in lines 14-24. He describes this flock as “ a
cloud of dots like iron filings which a magnet underneath the paper undulates
(Lines 16-18).” This is a simile to death, something that is too strong for
even the human spirit. This “cloud” is darkened in spots. This color imagery
is another way to symbolize death in which the poet at this time fears. He
describes the flock as a living being in lines line 20 when he describes this
‘cloud’ as one that “paled, pulsed, distended.” This is like the
movements of a heartbeat. He also depicts the flock of starlings as a rock,
something constant, sturdy, and indestructible.

In the next stanza, reality is set in to the speaker. He is distracted by his
own world and does not see it as beautiful. It seems as if this scene is a work
of art like pointillism. It is beautiful from afar but jaded looking up close.
When he looks around, he considered himself like Lot’s wife, a person turned
into a pillar of salt when looking at something he shouldn’t have.

He then observes the birds the starlings covering the fairway. He states in
lines 39-40, “ I had nothing in nature would be so broad but grass.” Grass
is green and the symbol of life beginning, growing, and renewing. The birds, a
symbol of death, cover the grass, a symbol of life.

In the sixth stanza, he observes one bird flying again into the sky and the
rest of the flock following. He now describes the flock as a lady’s scarf,
something delicate and beautiful, unlike his first description of the birds as
clouds, something hovering and ominous.

In the last stanza, the poet compares the lifting of the birds as an
alleviation of his once burdensome heart. The grass is seen again when the birds
leave. This is a symbol of the circle of life and it comforts him.

In “The Great Scarf of Birds” by John Updike, the poet first is fearful
of the stage in his life but is later comforted by envisioning the flock’s
flight, which becomes a symbol of life’s continuing cycle. This poem is
further illustrated through its use of diction, organization, and use of
figurative language.

Category: English