Blackbird has Spoken
Over the last few days we’ve been having something approximating springtime here in Cardiff. It has been sunny and quite warm, my garden has started to come to life, and the crocuses have appeared in Bute Park. It’s also getting to the time when I won’t feel guilty for walking home in daylight. Soon I’ll even be able to walk home through Bute Park, which closes when it gets dark, currently at 5.15.
I hope this all continues into a pleasant spring and summer, without the heavy continuous rain we had last year. I’m not betting on it though.
However, the clement weather has given me one headache recently. With sunrise happening a bit earlier and the good weather giving the local wildlife something to shout about, the dawn chorus has been waking me up around 4am.
Or, actually, it’s not so much a chorus as a solo. A very loud blackbird has taken to sitting right next to my bedroom window and singing at the top of its voice.
I’m very fond of blackbirds. Once while I was in the garden in my old house in Beeston, a blackbird flew onto a fence post about a yard away from me and sat there looking at me as I stood with a spade in my hand. I looked back. We looked at each other for ages, the blackbird turning its head every now and again so as to peer at me with a different eye. I slowly raised my arm and extended a palm. To my absolute delight the bird hopped onto my open hand. It stayed there only a minute or so, probably until it realised my fingers weren’t actually big fat worms like it thought. For that moment, though, I felt a bit like a latter-day St Francis of Assisi.
Blackbirds have a very attractive song, but this one seems particularly loud and he certainly does go on a bit. For about a week now I’ve been unable to get back to sleep after being woken by this critter, and instead got up and had a cup of tea while he says what he has to say. Columbo finds his song quite interesting too, although the bird is always out of reach…
Years ago, I used to suffer very badly from insomnia so being awake at 4am is not an unfamiliar experience to me, although it’s much nicer to be woken by birdsong than to be unable to sleep in the first place. This all reminded me of a devastatingly brilliant poem called Aubade and written by Philip Larkin that was published in the Times Literary Supplement in 1977. This is one of the last poems written by Larkin, and is undoubtedly one of the greatest.
Written by a jazz-loving bachelor who drank too much, someone not unlike myself in some respects, I found it uncanningly accurate in its depiction of the bleak thoughts that tend to engulf you when you’re alone and awake in the silence before dawn. But I can assure you the mood is a whole lot lighter when you have a blackbird (and a cat) for company!
I work all day, and get half drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
– The good not used, the love not given, time
Torn off unused – nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never:
But at the total emptiness forever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says no rational being
Can fear a thing it cannot feel, not seeing
that this is what we fear – no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.
And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no-one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.
Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.