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The Gray Heron

How is the poet’s eye like–or unlike–that of the scientist, the photographer, or of the small child first rambling around the natural world? In this environmentally-themed, visually splendid episode, Elisa New is joined by evolutionary biologist E.O Wilson, poet Robert Hass, environmental photographer Laura McPhee, naturalist Joel Wagner, and kids at a Mass Audubon Society summer camp on Cape Cod in a wide ranging discussion of Galway Kinnell’s “The Gray Heron.” Kinnell’s brief glimpse of a heron delivers us back into the history of science and the history of photography–but into humor and error, magic and wonder, as well.

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Read the Poem

The Gray Heron

by Galway Kinnell

It held its head still
while its body and green
legs wobbled in wide arcs
from side to side.  When
it stalked out of sight,
I went after it, but all
I could find where I was
expecting to see the bird
was a three-foot-long lizard
in ill-fitting skin
and with linear mouth
expressive of the even temper
of the mineral kingdom.
It stopped and tilted its head,
which was much like
a fieldstone with an eye
in it, which was watching me
to see if I would go
or change into something else.

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It held its head still
while its body and green
legs wobbled in wide arcs
from side to side.  When
it stalked out of sight,
I went after it, but all
I could find where I was
expecting to see the bird
was a three-foot-long lizard
in ill-fitting skin
and with linear mouth
expressive of the even temper
of the mineral kingdom.
It stopped and tilted its head,
which was much like
a fieldstone with an eye
in it, which was watching me
to see if I would go
or change into something else.

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