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LISTENING TO THE STORM-COCK'S SONG

Posted: 01.12.19 in Articles category

December arrives and the days are at their shortest. Few birds greet the season with song, but the male Mistle Thrush is an exception. His is a melody of short, shouted phrases that sounds like a sung rant of wild defiance. In his book about birdsong Simon Barnes describes this thrush's song as "a cry in which he is not only telling his rivals to sod off, but telling winter to sod off as well"! The gentler words below by the 20C poet, Hugh MacDiarmid, seem kinder at first glance. Yet I think he's unduly harsh with verses about poor song, churning notes and artless delivery. For me, there is something very special about the song of the Mistle Thrush. I think it has a dramatic and even arresting quality as it cuts through the cold air on a winter's day:

 

My song today is the storm-cock’s song.

When the cold winds blow and the driving snow

Hides the tree-tops, only his song rings out

In the lulls in the storm. So let mine go!

 

On the topmost twig of a leafless ash

He sits bolt upright against the sky

Surveying the white fields and the leafless woods

And distant red in the East with his buoyant eye.

 

Surely he has little enough cause to sing

hen even the hedgerow betties are already pulped by the frost

Or eaten by other birds – yet alone and aloft

To another hungry day his greeting is tossed.

 

Blessed are those who have songs to sing

When others are silent; poor song though it be,

Just a message to the silence that someone is still

Alive and glad, though on a naked tree.

 

What if it is only a few churning notes

Flung out in a loud and artless way?

His ‘Will I do it? Do it I will!’ is worth a lot

When the rest have nothing at all to say.

 
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