Friday, June 15, 2007

Birdsong

Reading G.K. Chesterton's Autobiography (as recommended a while back by a voice speaking as from a cloud), I came across this fine statement of his mission, to tackle ' the problem of how men could be made to realise the wonder and splendour of being alive in environments which their own daily criticism treated as dead-alive, and which their imagination had left for dead'. This was apropos the disparagements of the suburbs (specifically Clapham, in fact) by those who live in them, blind, deaf and unnoticing. In my suburban garden yesterday evening, a rather wonderful and heart-lifting thing happened. A couple of blackbirds were singing away, as blackbirds do, when a greenfinch alighted on a nearby tree, and took them on, either in competition or to urge them to greater heights of invention. One blackbird gave up immediately, but the other carried on, though clearly dubious about who this interloper was. Each time the blackbird fell silent, the finch would stir it into song again with some virtuoso trill or glissando, but the blackbird seemed reluctant, as if he knew he was being shown up by this improvising impostor. This went on for 20 minutes or so, until at last the blackbird gave up altogether. Why do birds sing? Who knows? Who wants to really? But it's somehow good to know they even sing in their sleep...

13 comments:

  1. That'll be 'suburban', 'blackbird' etc...

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  2. And bizarre missing chunk - after 'to' - 'realise the wonder and splendour of being alive, in etc... Hope that makes sense now!

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  3. Ah good, I was wondering what went in that gap Nige. Thought maybe it was a competition, Guess The Missing Words. How men could be made to what? Go to the supermarket wearing a natty little floral twopiece? Jump through hoops while singing Highway 61 Revisited? The possibilities were endless

    J Cheever Loophole

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  4. Thanks Cheever - the thought of Chesterton in a floral two-piece is very cheering!

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  5. maybe in total contrast to most of the british listening public, they enjoy hearing a bit of ethnic music.

    on the other hand, blackbirds are good mimics, rather like a poor man's minah bird. the jon culshaw of the trees and hedgerow (or maybe it should be jan ravens!) could be it was getting the greenfinch nuances for a take-off - not a take on.

    the question is; are you certain it was a greenfinch?

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  6. Nige, stop doing that. We all have one of those button things, and looking at it, what the hell is the use of this thing. ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬, top left.

    Otherwise, the birdsong, like flowers are there to make one alive. If you get a chance, go to one of the islands that are to small for intensive farming. Not one run by the rspb, its a revelation.

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  7. Vince, what's with these buttons and things???
    And Iain, I'm beginning to wonder if after all it might have been that ostrich again...

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  8. beautiful song, the ostrich...

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  9. Perhaps birds also need to 'make sense of it all' just as we do, in dreams....

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  10. Exactly, Janejill - and these lines from Wallace Stevens' great poem Sunday Morning:

    'She says, 'I am content when wakened birds, Before they fly, test the reality
    Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings...'

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  11. Susan B., scared of black-tongued swans,June 17, 2007 9:43 pm

    And then there's that predatory swan in Yeats' poem about Leda.

    Speaking of swans, all you lovers of birds, have none of you ever encountered one of these ferocious buggers around a lake? They really will attack you if the season is wrong or the food runs out.

    Not all birds are sweet little cheery-up, Whip-poor-will, chucky, chipper chirpers.

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