Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Day 494: Starlings


Ted Hughes is a nature poet extraordinaire, especially when it comes to describing animals and birds. Here he is on starlings, those strange birds that can be acrobats of air one minute, then stumbling screechers on land, their black feathers iridescent with rainbow colours.  

The language here mimics their unfurling sky movements perfectly - 'a Niagara/Of upward rumbling wings - that collaspes again/In an unmanageable weight/Of neurotic atoms.' before taking on a a darker quality, describing the starlings as 'a writhing of imps, 'a seething of fleas', a 'doom-panic mob'. Although I wouldn't agree with Hughes in this assessment of these birds, I love his language, how tight and taut it is, and how attentive and original.


Starlings Have Come - Ted Hughes

A horde out of Sub-Arctic Asia
Darkening nightfall, a faint sky-roar
Of pressure on the ear.

More thicken the vortex, gloomier.

A bacteria cyclone, a writhing of imps
Issuing from a hole in the horizon
Topples and blackens a whole farm.

Now a close-up seething of fleas.
                                                      And now a silence -
The doom-panic mob listens, for a second.
Then, with a soft boom, they wrap you
Into their mind-warp, assembling a nightmare sky-wheel
Of escape - a Niagara
Of upward rumbling wings - that collaspes again

In an unmanageable weight
Of neurotic atoms.
                              They're the subconscious
Of the Smart-Alec, all slick hair and Adam's apple,
Sunday chimney starling.
                                         This Elizabethan songster,
Italianate, in damask, emblematic,
Trembles his ruff, pierces the Maytime
With his perfected whistle
Of a falling bomb - or frenzies himself
Into a Gothic, dishevelled madness,
Chattering his skeleton, sucking his brains,
Gargling his blood through a tin flute -
                                                               Ah, Shepster!
Suddenly such a bare dagger of listening!

Next thing - down at the bread
Screeching like a cat
Limber and saurian on your hind legs,

Tumbling the sparrows with a drop kick -

A Satanic hoodlum, a cross-eyed boss,
Black body crammed with hot rubies
And Anthrax under your nails.


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