Saturday, April 28, 2012
Interesting Emendations: David Wagoner's "The Death of a Crane Fly"
David Wagoner is a wonderfully delicate noticer of nature. His great one-sentence poem “The Death of a Crane Fly” (The New Yorker, October 13, 1980) describes a water strider carrying a fallen crane fly, “skimming away with it over / Reflections of yellow leaves, / holding one amber / Lace-ribbed, lifeless wing / Aloft (a small sail / Disappearing among the quiet / Inlets of milfoil) / As buoyantly as a lover.” How precise and subtle that “ amber lace-ribbed, lifeless wing” is. Interestingly, in the version of the poem included in Wagoner’s 1981 collection Landfall, the comma separating “lace-ribbed” and “lifeless” is omitted. Also, in the New Yorker version, the crane fly’s body is described as an “arched frail inch”; in the Landfall version, the crane fly’s body is a bit longer (“arched inch-and-a-half”). I think I prefer the New Yorker version. “Lace-ribbed” is such a beautiful description; it deserves the extra half-beat of separation that the comma provides. The slighter, more tightly fitted structure of “arched frail inch” seems more crane fly-like than “arched inch-and-a-half.” But maybe the latter description is more accurate. Both versions are terrific. “The Death of a Crane Fly” is one of my all-time favorite poems.