Theme for September is birds















Ducks by F. W. Harvey 1916

Gloucestershire poet, written when a POW in Holzminden prison camp.


From troubles of the world
I turn to ducks,
Beautiful comical things
Sleeping or curled
Their heads beneath white wings
By water cool,
Or finding curious things
To eat in various mucks
Beneath the pool,
Tails uppermost, or waddling
Sailor-like on the shores
Of ponds, or paddling
– Left! Right! – with fanlike feet
Which are for steady oars
When they (white galleys) float
Each bird a boat
Rippling at will the sweet
Wide waterway…
When night is fallen you creep
Upstairs, but drakes and dillies
Nest with pale water-stars,
Moonbeams and shadow bars,
And water-lilies:
Fearful too much to sleep
Since they’ve no locks
To click against the teeth
Of weasel and fox.
And warm beneath
Are eggs of cloudy green
Whence hungry rats and lean
Would stealthily suck
New life, but for the mien
The bold ferocious mien
Of the mother-duck.


Yes, ducks are valiant things
On nests of twigs and straws,
And ducks are soothy things
And lovely on the lake
When that the sunlight draws
Thereon their pictures dim
In colours cool.
And when beneath the pool
They dabble, and when they swim
And make their rippling rings,
0 ducks are beautiful things!

But ducks are comical things:-
As comical as you.
They waddle round, they do.
They eat all sorts of things,
And then they quack.
By barn and stable and stack
They wander at their will,
But if you go too near
They look at you through black
Small topaz-tinted eyes
And wish you ill.
Triangular and clear
They leave their curious track
In mud at the water’s edge,
And there amid the sedge
And slime they gobble and peer
Saying ‘Quack! quack!’


When God had finished the stars and whirl of coloured suns
He turned His mind from big things to fashion little ones;
Beautiful tiny things (like daisies) He made, and then
He made the comical ones in case the minds of men
Should stiffen and become
Dull, humourless and glum,
And so forgetful of their Maker be
As to take even themselves – quite seriously.
Caterpillars and cats are lively and excellent puns:
All God’s jokes are good – even the practical ones!
And as for the duck, I think God must have smiled a bit
Seeing those bright eyes blink on the day He fashioned it.
And he’s probably laughing still at the sound that came
out of its bill!


The Unknown Bird

Three lovely notes he whistled, too soft to be heard
If others sang; but others never sang
In the great beech-wood all that May and June.
No one saw him: I alone could hear him
Though many listened. Was it but four years
Ago? or five? He never came again.
Oftenest when I heard him I was alone,
Nor could I ever make another hear.
La-la-la! he called, seeming far-off—
As if a cock crowed past the edge of the world,
As if the bird or I were in a dream.
Yet that he travelled through the trees and sometimes
Neared me, was plain, though somehow distant still
He sounded. All the proof is—I told men
What I had heard.
                                   I never knew a voice,
Man, beast, or bird, better than this. I told
The naturalists; but neither had they heard
Anything like the notes that did so haunt me,
I had them clear by heart and have them still.
Four years, or five, have made no difference. Then
As now that La-la-la! was bodiless sweet:
Sad more than joyful it was, if I must say
That it was one or other, but if sad
'Twas sad only with joy too, too far off
For me to taste it. But I cannot tell
If truly never anything but fair
The days were when he sang, as now they seem.
This surely I know, that I who listened then,
Happy sometimes, sometimes suffering
A heavy body and a heavy heart,
Now straightway, if I think of it, become
Light as that bird wandering beyond my shore.




“Hope” is a thing with feathers.
by Emily Dickinson
“Hope”is a thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.
And sweetest-in the Gale-is heard
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest Sea
Yet- never- in Extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
A Peregrination.
By Roy Burman ?
Roy Smithson was a clergyman
Of credit and renown
At Winchester great Church
Which towered above the town.
One day when walking in the close
He heard a piercing screech
And looking up he saw two birds
Their call he’d never heard.
A keen twitcher he ran to look 
His birders book within,
And found to his most great surprise
Their name was Peregrine.
In excitement Roy called the Dean
Who e.mailed Bishop Fred.
They called a conclave of the See
To search where birds had bred.
They found a nest up on the roof
Complete with four brown eggs
So this was certain where they lived
And made their holy digs.
The town rejoiced and tourists flocked
And when three babies hatched
The Archbishop came and drank their health.
The event was quite unmatched.
Postcards were made. Telescopes raised.
To see the birds in flight.
They dived across the sky and wheeled,
They really were a sight.
So great it was they made the news
On tele and the press.
But strange to say some other views
Crept in to make one guess.
For choristers they could not sing
For bird calls made them fume
When they were nearby on the wing
Caused voices out of tune.
Then all the little fluffy birds
Began to disappear.
It seems the Falcons children three
Need lots of them to rear.
To cap it all the birds defiled
All over windows stained
The Synod met, the clergy wept,
All very ,very pained.
Then Robins went, the sparrows too
While the rest migrated.
Bird feeders were unvisited
Their owners all deflated.
The people prayed, pest people called,
The falcons nest removed.
Replaced by spikes on every ledge
A sad sad day it proved.
Most every action has a snag
The tail can wag the dog.
What can be done to save these birds?
And make for them a home.
To chase away is just absurd
And such a great big blow--
Oh to see them wheel and dive again
When Thunder Birds are Go.




Paul Newman









Come we to the summer, to the summer we will come,
For the woods are full of bluebells and the hedges full of bloom,
And the crow is on the oak a-building of her nest,
And love is burning diamonds in my true lover's breast;
She sits beneath the whitethorn a-plaiting of her hair,
And I will to my true lover with a fond request repair;
I will look upon her face, I will in her beauty rest,
And lay my aching weariness upon her lovely breast.
The clock-a-clay is creeping on the open bloom of May,
The merry bee is trampling the pinky threads all day,
And the chaffinch it is brooding on its grey mossy nest
In the whitethorn bush where I will lean upon my lover's breast;
I'll lean upon her breast and I'll whisper in her ear
That I cannot get a wink o'sleep for thinking of my dear;
I hunger at my meat and I daily fade away
Like the hedge rose that is broken in the heat of the day.

by John Clare

The wild duck startles like a sudden thought,

And heron slow as if it might be caught.

The flopping crows on weary wings go by

And grey beard jackdaws noising as they fly.

The crowds of starnels whizz and hurry by,

And darken like a clod the evening sky.

The larks like thunder rise and suthy round,

Then drop and nestle in the stubble ground.

The wild swan hurries height and noises loud

With white neck peering to the evening cloud.

The weary rooks to distant woods are gone.

With lengths of tail the magpie winnows on

To neighboring tree, and leaves the distant crow

While small birds nestle in the edge below.






New Ducks by Yvonne Burman
New ducks arrived in a cardboard box
heavy and wild-eyed, then were
held upside down by their legs to the loch
necks snaking side to side
dropped in their house
they crouched at the back
quibbling in the dark,
as swallows dipped and dived
later we watched them cautiously enter the water
each pushing circles away from the edge
then they ducked under, sending it
flashing like lightening over their heads
they took little lunges, quick darts
at each other, trod water upright
wings whirling diamonds
into the sun
then they stood on the bank
preening and preening for ever
heads gliding, bills sliding
putting their feathers in order again
Blackbird by RS Thomas (born Cardiff 1913)
Its eye a dark pool
in which Sirius glitters
and never goes out.
Its melody husky
as though with suppressed tears.
Its bill is the gold
one quarries for amid
evening shadows.  Do not despair
at the stars distance. Listening
to blackbird music is
to bridge in a moment chasms
of space-time, is to know
that beyond the silence
which terrified Pascal
there is a presence whose language
is not our language, but who has chosen
with peculiar clarity the feathered
creatures to convey the austerity
of his thought in song.


John's poems

Jackdaws     by John Souter

Whether nesting in one's chimney,
Communicating with dry coughs,
Or raiding the bird table
Or strutting insolently across the lawn
Or,breast to breast with wings spread,
Fighting over crusts of bread
Or soaring on mild windy days
Making exclamation marks
Against a sun-bright sky;
Jackdaws cannot be ignored.

The Starlings in George Square     by Edwin Morgan

Sundown on the high stonefields!
The darkening roofscape stirs -
thick - alive with starlings
gathered singing in the square -
like a shower of arrows they cross
the flash of a western window,
they bead the wires with jet,
they nestle preening by the lamps
and sing, shining, they stir
the homeward hurrying crowds.
A man looks up and points
smiling to his son beside him
wide-eyed at the clamour on those cliffs -
it sinks, shrills out in waves,
levels to a happy murmur,
scatters in swooping arcs,
a stab of confused sweetness
that pierces the boy like a story,
a story more than a song.
He will never forget that evening,
the silhouette of the roofs,
the starlings by the lamps.

Peggy's poems

Wagtail and Baby    by Thomas Hardy

A baby watched a ford, whereto
A wagtail came for drinking;
A blaring bull went wading through,
The wagtail showed no shrinking.

A stallion splashed his way across,
The birdie nearly sinking;
He gave his plumes a twitch and toss,
And held his own unblinking.

Next saw the baby round the spot
A mongrel slowly slinking;
The wagtail gazed, but faltered not
In dip and sip and prinking.

A perfect gentleman then neared;
The wagtail, in a winking,
With terror rose and disappeared;
the baby fell a-thinking.

The Bird of Night     by Randall Jarrell

A shadow is flitting through the moonlight.
Its wing don't make a sound.
Its claws are long, its beak is bright.
His eyes try all the corners of the night.

It calls and calls:  all the air swells and heaves
And washes up and down like water.
The ear that listens to the owl believes
In death, The bat beneath the eaves,

The mouse beside the stone, are still as death.
The owl's air washes them like water.
The owl goes back and forth inside the night,
And the night holds its breath. 




Humming Bird

by D.H. Lawrence


I can imagine, in some otherworld
Primeval-dumb, far back
In that most awful stillness, that only gasped and hummed,
Humming-birds raced down the avenues.
Before anything had a soul,
While life was a heave of Matter, half inanimate,
This little bit chipped off in brilliance
And went whizzing through the slow, vast, succulent stems.
I believe there were no flowers, then,
In the world where the humming-bird flashed ahead of creation.
I believe he pierced the slow vegetable veins with his long beak.
Probably he was big
As mosses, and little lizards, they say were once big.
Probably he was a jabbing, terrifying monster.
We look at him through the wrong end of the long telescope of Time,
Luckily for us.


Magpies in Picardy

By T.P.Cameron Wilson

The magpies in Picardy
Are more than I can tell.
They flicker down the dusty roads
And cast a magic spell
On the men who march through Picardy,
Through Picardy to hell.

(The blackbird flies with panic,
The swallow goes with light,
The finches move like ladies,
The owl floats by at night;
But the great and flashing magpie
He flies as artists might.)

A magpie in Picardy
Told me secret things—
Of the music in white feathers,
And the sunlight that sings
And dances in deep shadows—
He told me with his wings.

(The hawk is cruel and rigid,
He watches from a height;
The rook is slow and sombre,
The robin loves to fight;
But the great and flashing magpie
He flies as lovers might.)

He told me that in Picardy,
An age ago or more,
While all his fathers still were eggs,
These dusty highways bore
Brown, singing soldiers marching out
Through Picardy to war.

He said that still through chaos
Works on the ancient plan,
And two things have altered not
Since first the world began—
The beauty of the wild green earth
And the bravery of man.

(For the sparrow flies unthinking
And quarrels in his flight;
The heron trails his legs behind,
The lark goes out of sight;
But the great and flashing magpie
He flies as poets might.)






Proud Songsters


The thrushes sing as the sun is going,
And the finches whistle in ones and pairs,
And as it gets dark loud nightingales
In bushes
Pipe, as they can when April wears,
As if all Time were theirs.

These are brand-new birds of twelve-months’ growing,
Which a year ago, or less than twain,
No finches were, nor nightingales,
Nor thrushes,
But only particles of grain,
And earth, and air, and rain.

by Thomas Hardy


The Eagle


He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.


by Alfred, Lord Tennyson


The Swifts  


Flying low over the warm roof of an old barn,
Down in a flask to the water, up and away with a cry,
And a wild swoop and a swift turn
And a fever of life under a thundery sky,
So they go, so they go by.                                        

And high and high and high in the diamond light,
They soar and they shriek in the sunlight when
         heaven is bare,
With the pride of life in their strong flight
And a rapture of love to lift them, to hurtle them        
High and high in the diamond air.

And away with the summer, away like the spirit of glee
Flashing and calling, and strong on the wing,
         and wild in their play,                                      
With a high cry to the high sea,
And a heart for the south, a heart for the diamond
So they go over, so go away.

by Ruth Pitter






 I fear I will miss next week's meeting as I shall be away in Cornwall and even if reception is OK, unlikely but possible, I would hope to be out and about at our meeting time. I would have read The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins or at least the part of it that I really like, instead I might be looking at one at the right time.