There Was Not One Which Knew That It Was Dying

We interrupt our coverage of the rain cricket to bring you some poetry, this time from W.H. Auden.

One of my pleasures on these long June evenings (except when it’s raining, of course) is to sit outside the back door with a glass of Lidl’s finest and observe the movements of the clouds and birds in the gloaming.

At the end of the back garden is an enormous fir.  I think it must have begun life as a Christmas tree, planted, perhaps, by the original inhabitant of the house (an old Polish sea-captain), but it is now almost the tallest tree in the neighbourhood.  You can see it here, to the right of the hot air balloon –

As such, it attracts a succession of birds who take it in turns to twitter their thoughts to the widest possible audience. 

Poets tend to the view that birdsong is, as Shelley put it the “profuse strains of unpremeditated art“. Scientists, however, believe that it – being usually the province of the male – is functional, employed to attract a mate, and, particularly, establish and defend ownership of a territory against intruders.

Perhaps, like a lot of mellifluous languages (such as Italian) it is better left untranslated.  If only we could understand the song of the blackbird, for instance, we might hear something like “‘Who you looking at you **** if anyone comes near my eggs I swear I’ll do time come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough”.  Or words to that effect.   

Here are Wystan’s thoughts.


As I listened from a beach-chair in the shade

To all the noises that my garden made,

It seemed to me only proper that words

Should be withheld from vegetables and birds.


A robin with no Christian name ran through

The Robin Anthem which was all it knew,

And rustling flowers for some third party waited

To say which pairs, if any, should get mated.


No one of them was capable of  lying,

There was not one which knew that it was dying,

Or could have with a rhythm or a rhyme

Assumed responsibility for time.


Let them leave language to their lonely betters

Who count some days and long for certain letters;

We, too, make noises when we laugh or weep,

Words are for those with promises to keep.  

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