A way of looking at thirteen blackbirds


A package arrived today from Hong Kong bearing these wonderful stamps, but on first glance I was rather disappointed. Common magpie? little egret? scops owl? pshaw. Why send them all the way over from China when they’re available for viewing right here. The white-bellied sea-eagle is the only species not seen in the UK.

Closer inspection revealed that the owl wasn’t a European scops owl but a collared scops owl (there are, it seems, more than fifty members of the Otus family alone).

This then brought back to mind a really disturbing thought I had after admiring this picture from Mikey (and can you spot the joyfully serendipitous reason why I’m using a screenshot rather than a link?)

one of 13 ways

Wallace Stevens was not writing about my sort of blackbird. Turdus merula is not found in the States. In the new world it’s not a Turdus, it’s an Agelaius. A family with no less than 11 members. Ok, it’s not quite 13 but very nearly. Call it poetic license.

“Does it matter?” asked the friend who happened to phone up as I reached exactly this point in my musings.

Well, yes and no. Yes it matters because on an utterly visceral level I have spent decades fleshing out that highly visual poem with very clear images just like Mikey’s above. Visceral because when I realised it was the “wrong” bird inhabiting those scenes I felt a wrenching in the guts. A disillusionment almost as painful as the discovery that “unique” is not pronounced “uni-kway”.

And no, obviously it doesn’t matter. Neither a jot nor a tittle. It’s the deluded worry of an over-literal intermittently keen birdwatcher. But I confess I was relieved to find these illustrations by a fellow-countryman of the poet which show not a hint of yellow head or red shoulder interrupting the general blackness of the bird.

Poetry is the subject of the poem,
From this the poem issues and

To this returns. Between the two,
Between issue and return, there is

An absence in reality,
Things as they are. Or so we say

But are these separate? Is it
An absence for the poem, which acquires

Its true appearances there, sun’s green,
Cloud’s red, earth feeling, sky that thinks?

From these it takes. Perhaps it gives,
In the universal intercourse.

Birds remade in all their blackness each time words fly from page to brain. A million million forms flocking the sky between issue and return.

(And here are some more blackbirds which flew into my inbox overnight, by Edward Picot who also curates The Hyperliterature Exchange.)

3 Replies to “A way of looking at thirteen blackbirds”

  1. Both these blackbirds, though, inspire wonder. (Most birds to, but I do miss the beautiful evening singing of yours; ours are raucous and showy. Very showy: Richard of A Brit Abroad once described them as being “every bit as beautiful as a bird of paradise” to jaded Californians listening to his talk on birding by bicycle.)

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