Whatever piece of code,
Hard-wired millennia, dictates they cross
    The Himalayan chain
To reach their distant wintertime abode,
    Reliving all the strain
Of their monumental journey’s struggle and loss,
    The graceful Demoiselle Crane,

    Anthropoides virgo,
Slender and beautiful, known by its white
    Ear tufts and long black breast
Plume, seems too frail to, year after driven year, go
    On such an arduous quest,
Scaling those glacial summits in its flight,
    Then crossing back to nest

    In marshes on the steppes,
Where their peculiar courtship rituals
    Require elaborate
Wing-flaps, and bows, and odd, balletic steps,
    As they communicate
In long duets, coordinating calls
    To single out a mate

    For life. Fidelity
So perfect moved Valmiki (so goes the tale)
    By the Tamasa Stream,
Who saw a loving couple suddenly
    Divide like a ripped seam
Split when a hunter’s arrow felled the male,
    And heard the female scream

    In her bewildered grief,
And felt his anger surge spontaneously
    To sharpen to a curse
Wishing the killer unrest without relief:
    The world's first man-made verse,
In a form of metrical dexterity
    Whole epics would rehearse.

    Metapoetic birds,
The Koonj (from kraunch, like "crane") can represent
    Feminine loveliness
In delicately curved dimensions words
    Take figures to finesse,
Or those whose wanderings of long extent
    Their journeyings express

    Through parallel's conceit,
For what exhausted traveler, far from home,
    Looking for one small source
Of strength or hope, would not admire their feat
    Of pluck and subtle force,
Braving the altitudes to overcome
    The hazards of the course?

    (Fatigue, hunger, predation
Defeat the laboring heart's heroic rallies
    Every difficult day:
In the length of each biannual migration
    Thousands will drop away.)
We know now that they don't cut through the valleys,
    But somehow fight their way

    Right up to clear the top
Of ridges as high as 26,000 feet,
    Riding the thermals so
They elevate (it's death to start to stop)
    Above sheer ice and snow
To hit, head on, the big winds, beat and beat
    Against the blast, then go

    Over at last to glide
Downward on resting wings, till some prenatal
    Instinct decides it's time
To turn their faces toward the great divide
    And, in formation, climb
To meet the wind-tormented, often fatal
    Precincts of the sublime.