Poetry Challenge 11: Noah’s Raven

by Leah Sommers



“And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made: 

And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth.  

Also he sent forth a dove. . . ”
Genesis 8:6-8a

This fortnight’s challenge, to open on June 21st 2016, is to write about Noah’s raven. It has been flitting about in the back of my mind as a matter of curiosity, not fully pursued, for over ten years now, when one of the first bloggers I ever read, Daniel Silliman, posted the Biblical quotation above along with the simple question, “What’s with Noah’s raven?”

Probably due to this and the fact that several of my favorite poems happen to feature black birds of one sort or another, this was the first idea that came to my mind when Alana suggested I devise the next challenge, and though I considered several others it’s the one to which my mind kept returning. It was only after having settled on it and doing a little online searching that I learned there is already a poem in existence by W.S. Merwin called “Noah’s Raven”, which I will not post here due to copyright considerations, but interested readers may care to look it up independently. I also commend to your attention (what else?) “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at A Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens, and “Black Rook in Rainy Weather” by Sylvia Plath, all of which elaborate admirably and agreeably, in their different ways, on the innate poetic potential of these creatures.

Ambiguously portent, brooding, untamed, the raven, blackbird, and crow alike possess an undeniable appeal to the archetypal imagination, that mysterious function linking consciousness with unknown realms of intimation and numinous glimmering. How to distill this essence? Rather than do so, let us take this as an invitation into reverie and hard work, in the expectation of being rewarded with salutary results.

Lest this challenge prove too imaginatively constricting or exegetically daunting, it is not necessary to make Noah’s raven explicitly the subject of your poem. The only requirement is that it must be worked in somehow, allusion or metaphorical aside being perfectly sufficient fulfillment.

And now be clever, be creepy, be funny, be mysterious, be silly, or soulful, or wise! But take up your pen. The raven is waiting.


Editor’s note: As always, everyone is welcome and once the challenge opens on Tuesday, June 21 2016, it remains open forever. We will post our poems in the comment section of a new post beginning on that day. We like to offer appreciation and criticism to our fellow poets in the challenge, but we orient it around detecting virtues rather than vices. If you are interested in the process or want to contribute right away, feel free to search for past challenges and go to the comments section. Just note that there are two posts for each challenge: the introduction and the “post your poems” post.




  1. Even the archetypal imagination needs stoking! If you don’t know much about crows, ravens, rooks, etc. I recommend youtube as a quick way of learning the characteristic behavior and appearance of each bird. I am certainly working up my own store of Raven-knowledge that way.


  2. Very nice challenge, Leah. It stirred up lots of thoughts, memories of reading, and actual inner experiences. Here’s one from last week:


    Tonight the dark bird of fear weighs down
    My backyard tree out there near the fence.

    Last night it was loss that descended.
    It came down as a child’s kite would,
    Let loose on its thin thread, crazily flittering
    A zig-zag meaningless path in the dusk.

    Down upon my safe house the thing came
    Falling all over itself like a bright bird
    with a broken wing that had turned black.
    My loss lay there all night.

    In the morning it was gone.
    A breeze must have carried it off
    To someone else’s yard, for the day was clean
    And I walked under trees where a broken sun
    Danced between dancing leaves.

    But now that other bird is here
    And I think it is looking at my cat,
    My comfort. We are locked inside
    With only the memory of loss
    But afraid of what’s nesting in the tree
    That overreaches fences, yards, roofs
    And creates a shadow darker than night.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Creepy, sad, brooding, atmospheric. Perfect title and harmony with the theme. Thanks for sharing! I can’t wait to see what y’all write for the challenge. I’m glad it’s clicking with you. I’ve got one about half written and I don’t actually like it yet, but I often don’t like my poems at the half way stage. Hopefully I can pull it through!


      • I usually like my poems excessvely a the halfway stage. I follow William Stafford’s approach. He said he lowers his standards, and that makes it easier to write. But for me it’s getting them finished that causes doubt and anxiety. The nice thing about these challenges is that I can tell myself, “It’s really just an exercise.” Plus, the assigned date gives me an excuse to send the poem out there pretty quickly whether I think it is really a poem or just looks like one. So don’t worry about what you say about any poems here, Leah. We are helping each other get our spirits into poetic shape. I believe there should be an emotional element in writing, sometimes even a sort of sef-induced spell which lets words and sound patterns in. And a tentativeness that allows for being open to change.(I recall reading that Theodore Roethke published a certain poem as long as 8 years after the first draft). My “Dark Bird” may look quite different some day, though retaining the essential inspiration–loss of a friend followed by a frightening awareness of the prospect of death, its reality, for the very one who mourns.


  3. Just reread this. It really is sad, well felt and expressed. I feel like my initial response was disproportionately chirpy. (I was in a rush to write something as I was dismayed I didn’t notice your comment for two days.)

    It merits a careful reading, and some silence.


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