Ellixis Julio

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Ellixis Julio
Ms. Woelke
12 April 2011
Audubon and Dillard Rewrite
In James Audubon’s Ornithological Biographies (1831-1839) and Annie Dillard’s
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974), the two authors describe several flocks of birds as they pass
through the sky. One author watches pigeons pour through the air, the other stares at starlings
heading to roost. In their efforts to paint a picture of their aviary experience, the two writers
share a similar reaction. Although Audubon and Dillard are both astounded by the sheer
magnitude of the two flocks, their persona influences the way they each create their picture.
Both authors can agree that their respective flocks are a powerful force, like a force
driven by nature. Audubon notices how the pigeons grouped together “like a torrent” when hawk
threatened the security of the flock (Audubon). The hawk is an insignificant predator when
juxtaposed to the “[thunder-like noise]” made by the birds (Audubon). Similarly, the starlings in
Dillard’s piece “sift…like smoke” “deep in the distance” (Dillard). Dillard sees that the starlings
coalesce, as if they were a storm cloud fast approaching through the sky. She even goes on to say
that the flocks formed “a rounded middle, like [the] eye” of a storm implied in Audubon’s
passage (Dillard). The two also allude to a sort of nationalistic unity the flocks possess. The
“immense legions [still] going by” are a country’s army, waving their “unfurled oriflamme”
through enemy territory (Audubon; Dillard). The flock of birds generates their strength through
sheer numbers, a limitless unit that even Audubon had trouble counting (Audubon). Audubon
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and Dillard are both overwhelmed by the “extreme” and “unexpected beauty” of the flock
(Audubon; Dillard).
While the two passages share similar praise for the bird’s unified power, Audubon
concentrates on the logical, rational movement of the birds. The directional diction of the flock
moving “north-east to south-west” suggests a straightforward, synchronized migration
(Audubon). Exactly “163 birds had [passed by] in twenty-one minutes”; “perpendicularly”
“forward in undulating and angular lines” (Audubon). Their mathematical maneuvers create a
rigidly complex atmosphere for the observer. Additionally, Audubon’s use of “trials”, reports”,
and “velocity” describing the bird’s flight refer common science terms, supporting his leftbrained approach (Audubon). Audubon’s background provides some insight to his method of
description. As part of the National Audubon Society, Audubon was most probably an
ornithologist observing the scientific behavior of birds (Ornithological biographies). Note that
Audubon never describes being in the middle of the flock, but instead at a distance like a typical
birdwatcher. Audubon’s logical appeal through his diction and imagery emphasizes the
technical but unified movements of the pigeon flock.
If Audubon can be thought of as a logical scientist, then Dillard can be thought of as an
emotional poet. The starling’s “[unraveling]…like a loosened skein” contrasts sharply from
Audubon’s geometrical rigidness (Dillard). The “unfurled oriflamme” of birds wave and curl in
the air, a smooth motion (Dillard). “The loosened skein”, the “oriflamme”, and the “weft of
limbs” are all phrases relating to textiles and crafts, a form of art. Dillard’s extended analogy to
fabric focuses on the nonlinear aspect of the bird’s flight. In Dillard’s eyes, birds do not move as
single “dots’ or “continued lines” (Audubon). They move in erratic harmony, “[bobbing]…at
apparent random…yet perfectly spaced” (Dillard). The lack of scientific, analytical remarks in
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Dillard’s passage indicates a more aesthetic approach to her observation, because she has “no
known reason” why starlings move as do, “except that’s how starlings fly” (Dillard). It appears
that Dillard was a fiction writer/ poet who was concerned with the feelings the birds gave her.
Unlike Audubon, “tiny birds [were] sifting through [Dillard]”, a sign that Dillard was in the
middle of the flock (Dillard). Perhaps the birds “winged” not through the “gaps between [her]
cells”, but rather gaps between her emotions (Dillard). Dillard’s emotional approach to the
starling flock conveys a loosened, soft flight through the trees.
One thing is for certain: Audubon and Dillard are taken aback by the extravagance of a
flock of birds. Although both authors take a different perspective on the birds’ flight, neither one
of them undermine the other. It is the combination of both passages that make a better picture of
the flock’s journey. Maybe both writers’ perspectives are correct: the flight of the birds is like a
harmonic randomness, an alluring gaze that can stupefy scientist and poet alike.
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I remember when I first wrote this ICE, at the very beginning of AP English sophomore
year. This was the very first AP English essay my class and I wrote. We had infinitesimal
knowledge of rhetorical devices (aside from the safe simile and metaphor route), and this essay
was more of a “diagnostic” to see where we were at in our English career. Needless to say, I
failed miserably, not even going as far to write a correct thesis. I even overlooked the multitude
of similes and metaphors in the two passages (Ouch!). Over the next couple years, my “toolbox”
of literary and rhetorical devices grew, and so did my analysis of passages. By the end of AP
English, I was getting sixes and sevens like a regular champ. In this rewrite, I tried to incorporate
pieces of knowledge from my English career: the unique connections honed in AP English, the
stylistic and grammatical lessons taught AP English Literature, and the various methods of
persuasion central to ERWC. I think I can honestly say my analysis of passages has gotten more
specific, instead of the vague phrases I used long ago. Things like expanding on commentary,
using fewer pronouns, making words flow together were all problems I tried to the best of my
ability to mesh out. Regardless, I do feel at the end of this senior year that I have learned a lot
(perhaps too much) about essay analysis and essay writing.
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