The Wonder of Flitting Glimpses

A strange or forgotten sound. A fluttering movement. A flash of colour out of the corner of your eye. One or a symphony of all of these compels you to stop you in your tracks, jolting you into wide-eyed, ear-cocked, nerves-alerted stillness to figure out what halted your rushed (or unrushed) gait in the first place. Murray Alfredson’s poem ‘Wren’ depicts such an experience and much more.


From the underbrush

then and now like pins

or tiny razors, his twitter

pierce the creek-bed stillness

deep in the ravine.

Do I in just splits

of moments glimpse in leafage –

gaps a fleck of blue?

Unconsciously he teases;

side-glanced colour-flicker

but never when I look.

Pictured by mind’s eye,

in dainty elegance,

disembodied voice?

And drab wren-dam?

Twig- or bird-twitch?

Wren pair


This is the immediate sensation which Murray Alfredson’s poem ‘Wren’ (2013) imparts as the tiny, yet bold bird’s “twitter/pierce the creek-bed stillness/ deep in the ravine”. The powerful verb ‘pierce’ connotes a sharp pain to emphasise the equally stinging twinge expressed in” like pins/or tiny razors”. The initial focus on sound is portrayed through the sharpness of the perfectly synchronized aural, visual and tactile imagery in the first stanza

Significantly both verb and simile project the drama of a chirping bird. And a near invisible bird in the underbrush shattering the silence of a deep ravine is certainly dramatic. Disturbing and pleasurable too. Indeed, Murray makes us feel both the pain and the wonder which coalesce in awe.

The poet’s heightened curiosity and questioning mind begins to take over in the second stanza in which his persona resembles the antagonist confronting the protagonist on stage as he tries to “glimpse” “a fleck of blue” in the “leafage”. He is unsure whether he succeeds for “just splits/of moments” while the bird “unconsciously” teases him with his zipping “side-glanced colour-flicker/but never when I look.” At the surface, it is very much a case of peek-a-boo in a lush green world since the wren is rarely seen but often heard.

The child’s sense of wonder is palpable. The adult’s more so since the persona pictures the bird more clearly in his “mind’s eye” rather than in fact. Alfredson’s sense perception is particularly poignant at the end of the second stanza when he imagines the wren’s “dainty elegance” while his ears pick its “disembodied voice”. That the second stanza ends with a question adds to the persona’s uncertainty.

Curiouser and curiouser is the final conjecture of a pair of wrens in the much shorter third and final stanza which also ends with a question mark.

Once more, Alfredson homes in on the impact of sound as he listens to a twitching twig or bird. Once again, he injects colour in his sound play though this time it is the dreary ‘drab’ to contrast with the blue speckled green spotlighted earlier on. ‘Drab’ also undoes the loveliness of “dainty”. It’s a deliberate cold shower since the poet is becoming aware of his own “disembodied voice.”

Such a realisation comes as no surprise. To begin with, no poet ever merely describes anything, let alone a living creature, merely to get a kick out of it. The outer layer is soon shed to reveal deeper issues and concerns. In Alfredson’s case, it is both the joy and lament at capturing the ephemeral moment.

The staccato rhythms emanating from the use of free verse are spot-on. Equally remarkable are the resulting jerks and shoves that elbow and jostle us by randomly slicing through the flow of a halved iambic pentameter. Further coupled with a minimalist elegance in his choice of diction and virtuoso’s play of run-on lines that somersault conventional grammar, we are both inspired and disturbed.

Alfredson’s uses the wren’s symbolism of charisma, creativity, quickness, generosity, determination, and free-spiritedness as an act of meditation to posit thought-provoking questions rather than find answers. You can sense how transience has put him in trance.

For his deep spirituality fired by an indomitable spirit of adventure knows that revelation comes in fleeting moments of ephemeral reality. It is neither long-lasting nor enduringly soothing. Yet it is always worth looking for; therefore necessary.

Even more, in a mind-blocking, soul-numbing Twitter blogging world.

#ephemeral reality, #transience #murrayalfredson, #searchingmeaninginlife, poetry #freeverse


Noemi Zarb
Noemi Zarb
Writing, teaching, marketing. I have pursued three totally different career paths with the power of words serving both as link and lynchpin. Now I dedicate most of my time to writing - a never-ending romance. Typical of content writing I have been and am still responsible for scripting webs, advertorials as well as full-length articles. As a feature/opinion writer, I have over 600 articles published in Malta's leading newspapers and magazines (and still counting) - an experience which honed my interviewing skills when I interviewed countless painters and people involved in the performance arts. I also have over two decades of teaching English Literature and Critical Thinking via Textual Analysis under my belt having prepared students for the IB Diploma in English Language and Literature as well as MATSEC, IGCSE and SEC examinations in English language and English Literature. TEFL sometimes punctuated my summer holidays. Dealing with young people keeps you young and I have truckloads of cherished memories of my past students My current writing continues to be inspired by what life throws at me together with my critical thinking of what goes on (or doesn’t) around me firing my sense perception and vice versa. Being immersed in the corporate world gives me endless opportunities to observe facets of human behavior which invariably have me brood over. Learning and thinking over what I learn is still my way forward.

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  1. Fresca e piena di vitalità l’introduzione che ha fatto in quest’articolo, che rende onore alla bellezza di questa poesia. Tanto da far ricordare momenti simili vissuti nella realtà alla ricerca di quel qualcosa di vivo che non sa di nemico… Che a volte si è anche palesato nella sua vulnerabilità, ma sicuro anche della propria agilità… anche se non è comparso assolutamente il desiderio di volere, possedere ma solamente vivere e ammirare la vita sotto quell’aspetto ed essere contento di questa presenza… Grazie Noemi

    • Bellissima riflessione come sempre, Claudio. Mi ha colpito molto specilamente la miscela di vulnerabilita’ e agilita’ in una creatura che no sa di nemici. Grazie mille di cuore e un fortissimo abbraccio in questi giorni difficili.

    • Anche io ringrazio per i bellissimi articoli di vera e toccante condivisione che offri sempre… Grazie

    • How very true! Even when we know that there are no answers, we keep on asking questions because we are only human. Yet this asking is not futile when we learn to accept things we cannot change. We can learn so much from birds! Just look at the precision, elegance, gracefulness, and unison of their formation in the sky. And their songs never fail to uplift and/or comfort our spirit no matter what the birds may be feeling. Many thanks once again, Sesila for your read and response.