Tell Me a Story by Robert Penn Warren


Tell Me a Story (Part A)
by Robert Penn Warren

Long ago, in Kentucky, I, a boy, stood
By a dirt road, in first dark, and heard
The great geese hoot northward.
I could not see them, there being no moon
And the stars sparse. I heard them.
I did not know what was happening in my heart.
It was the season before the elderberry blooms,
Therefore they were going north.
The sound was passing northward.

SOURCE: “Tell Me a Story” appears in The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren (1998).

PHOTO: A massive migration of snow geese, United States. Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash. NOTE: The photo is reminiscent of the painting Day and Night by M.C. Escher (1938), National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.


FROM In the classic migration pattern, flocks of Canada geese that wintered in the southern United States fly north in the spring, returning to the same spots in the high and sub-Arctic to breed and nest. In September and October, these flocks head south again—with a new generation in tow. With an average lifespan of 24 years, members of this species may make two dozen migrations in a lifetime, using the same “rest stops” along the way. Migrating Canada geese, in their iconic V-formations, can fly an astonishing 1,500 miles in just 24 hours. Nearly wiped out by over-hunting in the early 1900s, conservationists and government agencies reintroduced captive-bred birds across their former northern U.S. range, and, boosted by a few surviving flocks, resident Canada geese made an astonishing comeback. Today the nine-pound birds live in every Canadian province and state in the continental U.S.—and their populations continue to grow. In the 1950s, about a million called North America home; that number has since grown to seven million, according to estimates by the Canadian Wildlife Service. (National Geographic, Dec. 16, 2020. Read entire article here.)

PHOTO: Canada geese taking flight. Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash


FROM PETA: Geese mate for life and are protective of their partners and offspring. They’ll often refuse to leave the side of a sick or injured mate or chick, even if winter is approaching and the other geese in the group are flying south. When a goose’s mate dies, that bird will mourn in seclusion—and some geese spend the rest of their lives as widows or widowers, refusing to mate again.  Female geese lay eggs once a year in the spring and incubate them for 30 days while their mates guard their well-concealed homes. When possible, some birds use the same nest each year.

PHOTO: Family of Canada geese. Photo by Jacques Gaimard, used by permission. 


FROM The U.S. Library of Congress: Scientists have determined that the V-shaped formation that geese use when migrating serves two important purposes. First, it conserves their energy. Each bird flies slightly above the bird directly in front, resulting in a reduction of wind resistance. The birds take turns in the front spot, falling back when they get tired. In this way, the geese can fly for a long time before stopping for rest. The second benefit to the V-formation is that it facilitates keeping track of every bird in the group, assisting with communication and coordination. For the same reason, fighter pilots often use this formation.

PHOTO: Canada geese migrating north in V-formation. Photo by Kranich17, used by permission. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989)—a poet-novelist-essayist-editor-critic—is the only person to win a Pulitzer Prize for both fiction and poetry, and considered the most decorated American author of all time. He received the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for his novel All the King’s Men and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1958 and 1979. From 1944-1945, Warren served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. His other honors and awards include Presidential Medal of Freedom (1980), MacArthur Fellowship (1981), designation as first U.S. Poet Laureate (1986), and National Medal of Arts (1987).

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