In "Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher," the speaker describes the process of writing poetry and compares it to being a lover or a birdwatcher. The speaker notes that "to force the pace and never to be still" will not get one very far if one wants to "study birds / or women" (lines 1-3). The speaker then reveals the point of these comparisons: "The best poets wait for words" (3).
The speaker notes that this waiting should not be strenuous and instead should be as peaceful as "patient love relaxing on a hill" (5). From this relaxation, the poet/lover/birdwatcher can notice details, like a bird's wing or the moment a woman gives in to love.
The speaker moves on to say that he finds much more meaning from "slow movement" (11). In order to find the rarer birds, the speaker advises, one must go off the beaten path toward areas that are "remote and thorny" (15). Once one arrives at such a location, the bird or woman one was chasing will "slowly turn around" (16). Poetic creativity is discovered in this place, a power so transformative that because of it, "the deaf can hear, the blind recover sight" (20).
"Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher" is known as one of Ezekiel's more 'serious' poems, as is evidenced by the content and the form. Ezekiel does not use an ironic tone at all in this poem, which is relatively rare for him. The seriousness of the content is reflected in a strict meter and rhyme scheme. The capitalizations at the beginning of each line have returned. Additionally, the poem is broken up into two stanzas with two lines each, which visually signals symmetry and perfection for the reader. All of these formal elements slow the reader down and force her to digest that which she is reading and in turn take it more seriously.
Because this poem is essentially about writing poems, it can be classified as an ars poetica. Ezekiel has written many an ars poetica throughout his career, but "Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher" is by far his most famous. Perhaps this is because it is only partly about the writing process; the rest of the poem is about nature and love. In fact, the transition from one image to another is so seamless in this poem that the poet (and his poem), lover (and his woman), and birdwatcher (and his birds) melt into one persona in order to carry the poem to the end.
This poem contains the theme of self-examination, which pops up again and again throughout Ezekiel's work. He notes that his process is hardly orthodox: "and sense is found / By poets lost in crooked, restless flight" (18-19). It is this "restless" flight that the poet is forced to complete in the search for inspiration. Likewise, the bird in the poem is symbolic for the quest for self-knowledge, which turns out to be elusive, restless, and often rare in Ezekiel's writing. In the same vein, the female image can be read as representing a fertile creative impulse. No real advancements are made in the poem, however, until the poet, lover, and birdwatcher become one.