Maybe it’s because my father is a keen ornithologist, maybe it’s because I spend too much time day dreaming, but birds however common and garden, always give me pause to stop and watch a while. It may just be a raucous jackdaw squabble in a suburban lane en route to the kids’ school, or hearing the goblin-whistles of a pack of starlings in the old ash tree above our scraggy back garden, but an encounter with birds always feels like a direct line out of post industrial, digitalised existence and into the real world of seasons, weather, tooth and claw, beak and feather.
They have flown into my poems and left feathers there too; as they have with hundreds and thousands of other poets down the ages. Mystics and scientists alike are besotted; either pinning supernatural qualities to them as the Romans or Druids did, or pinning rare specimens, stuffed and lifeless, to Victorian museum displays. Greeting them with a spell of superstition, or painstakingly tracing their evolutionary paths back to individual dinosaurs.
Ubiquitous as they are, I’m always startled and drawn in by Magpies. With their strange robotic swagger, their sometimes-eerie cry, their exotic black and white plumage shining with green and blue, and their unnerving intelligence, they are truly fascinating.
The over-the-top and inexplicable violence conveyed at the scene of a magpie death as I went for a walk locally inspired my last poem and post, as well as further idle research around magpies generally, during the course of which I found this wonderful poem by Robert S. Warshow on the website ofonThe Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids
by Robert S. Warshow
I walked one day
In the Garden of Wasted Things,
And there I found
The bitter ghosts of all that had been spent unwisely,
Or lost through brutal circumstance.
I found the childhood
That some labourer’s child had never known;
I found the youth that some young man had squandered;
There I found some poet’s genius
That had gone unrecognised.
I saw the ghosts of idle words,
And small talk,
That men had used to waste away the hours.
I saw the hopes that had been smothered,
And all the dreams
That never had come true,
And Laughter that had died for lack of bread.
I met with all the lives that had been misdirected,
And spoke with dreary shades
Of loves that might have been,
And songs that never had been sung.
I met with all these ghosts,
And many more;
And each of them
Sat silently in the shadows,
Brooding over quirks of mad Creation,
And puppets’ dreams.