Image from British Bird Lovers UK

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

The Magpie

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.


10 thoughts on “Magpie dreams

      1. i meant in the Garden of Wasted Things but Ogmore is nice too 😉 Spent a lovely day with someone really fab there once. I think we have different Newtons in mind; I live in Newton up the hill from Mumbles, before Murton and Bishopston. Dylan Thomas stayed in the old Manse a few metres from my house and Kingsley Amis used to drink in my local, the Newton Inn, across the road from the Rock and Fountain.
        Homesick yet 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Double checked on the Google map. Well, enough to bring tears to my eyes. We had a bungalow (built by my grandfather in 1928) at Pyle Corner, just above Brandy Cove. I was too young to be visiting the pubs, but I remember visiting the Plough and Harrow! My mum was born in Bishopston and I was born in Upper Killay. Pwll Ddu, Brady Cove, Caswell, and Langland: home territory. I have poems on Swansea and the Mumbles Railway.

        To be Welsh in Swansea

        To be Welsh in Swansea is to know each stop
        on the Mumbles Railway: The Slip, Singleton, Blackpill,
        the Mayals, West Cross, Oystermouth, the Mumbles Pier!

        It’s to remember that the single lines turn double
        by Green’s ice-cream stall, just after the Recreation Ground,
        where the trams fall silent, like dinosaurs,
        and wait, without grunting, for one to pass the other.

        It’s to read the family names on the War Memorial on the Prom;
        it’s to visit Frank Brangwyn in the Patti Pavilion and the Civic Centre;
        it’s to talk to the old men playing bowls in Victoria Park.

        It’s to know that starfish stretch like mysterious constellations,
        at low tide, when the fishnets glow with gold and silver,
        and the banana boats bob in the bay, waiting to enter Swansea Harbour,
        and the young boys dive from the concrete pipes without any worries.

        But when the tide turns, the Mumbles Railway has been sold and rebuilt in the USA,
        the brown and yellow busses no longer run to Pyle Corner, Bishopston, Pennard, Rhossili,
        sweet names of sand and sea, where my father still fishes for salmon bass,
        casting his lines at the waves as they walk wet footprints up the beach
        to break down the walls of the castles I built to last forever,
        but only ever built out of the wet Welsh sand.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Wow, I love this. I’m not truly native but I fell in love with Gower and later Swansea. When I first moved here, I had come for my first ‘proper’ job, as a broadcast journalist at Swansea Sound and The Wave radio. If it hadn’t been for a girl called Ebba McLernon who trained here with my sister and who introduced me to Pwll Du and the Plough and Harrow, I would have gone running home to the Cornish beaches, because at the time i was staying in Gorseinon to be near work. And I met everyone and became addicted to this magic place. Even though i was back in Cardiff working for a while after that i kept coming here each weekend before giving in. Can I share this poem too? Is it on your website?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. By all means. I had a cousin work for the South Wales Echo: Paul Chambert. If you go on to the website, I think the Welsh poems are published as part of Dewi Sant. I wrote this for the Welsh Society here in New Brunswick. They had never spent a Christmas in Wales and wanted to know what it was like. Dewi Sant should be okay on pc. If you can’t download it, I’ll mail or e-mail you a copy. I’m at

        Liked by 1 person

  1. ps,i believe they still train at Merthyr Mawr in the Vale of Glamorgan though don’t quote me, my rugby knowledge is sadly lacking, much to the chagrin of my father.


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