'Slim as an eel but a solitary glider, a pilot without bombs or weapons'
Nancy Willard, who died in February, was one of my favourite poets, with an enviable gift for inventive description. She published poetry, fiction, essays and children's books, one of which, A Visit to William Blake's Inn, was a winner of the prestigious Newbery award. For those of you who don't have time to read our archive, here's a poem we used with her permission several years ago. There are many of her books available and I recommend them all.
THE VANITY OF THE DRAGONFLY
by Nancy Willard
The dragonfly at rest on the doorbell -
too weak to ring and glad of it,
but well mannered and cautious,
thinking it best to observe us quietly
before flying in, and who knows if he will find
the way out? Cautious of traps, this one.
A winged cross, plain, the body straight
as a thermometer, the old glass kind
that could kill us with mercury if our teeth
did not respect its brittle body. Slim as an eel
but a solitary glider, a pilot without bombs
or weapons, and wings clear and small as a wish
to see over our heads, to see the whole picture.
And when our gaze grazes over it and moves on,
the dragonfly changes its clothes,
sheds its old skin, shriveled like laundry,
and steps forth, polished black, with two
circles buttoned like epaulettes taking the last space
at the edge of its eyes.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2012 by Nancy Willard from The Sea at Truro, Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. Poem reprinted by permission of Nancy Willard and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2017 by the Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-06.