The Blackbird

So what can make this joyous songbird sing
That cannot but proclaim its blackbirdhood?
In fairest weather and in foul it could
Convey nought but the utmost joys of spring.
So fling right open all the doors, and fling
The windows wide: they don’t feel, as they should,
The cold beyond the dingle in the wood,
So let the blackbird sing of warmth and bring

New life as from the rhododendron bud,
The prospect of the spring now fills the wood
With songbirds’ song and in such fluting voice
To celebrate creation and rejoice:
The blackbird sings with glee, for he knows he,
As he himself, no other self can be.



The Mistle-Thrush

The mistle-thrush, there is no braver bird,
So keen in its defence of nest and young,
But during incubation rarely heard,
In silence broods; it lightly skulks among

The higher shoots and leaves. A hedge contrives
To hide its beating heart. The thieving crow
That feeds upon the flesh of lesser lives
Now struts about importantly below.

The courage of the weaker bird rebels
Against the arrogance that arrogates
Defenceless foetal lives in fragile shells,
And for his hidden unhatched prey awaits.

No crows need feud for food, for foetus or
For brood to burgeon in the balmy hall
Of Chloris: fare aplenty, “hidden” store
Of squirrel and a free-for-all for all.

Survival of the fittest means no more
Than forte of the fattest to persist
In pinching from the poor as they ignore
All better thoughts, unable to resist.

All praise be to the homely mistle-thrush
Who guards a flimsy nest with care and zest,
And ever watchful from that laurel bush,
Its heart loud-beating in its fearful chest.



Peter Hartley is a retired painting restorer. He was born in Liverpool and lives in Manchester, UK.

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18 Responses

  1. Sally Cook

    These are two very unusual poems, Peter.
    I, too, am a bird lover – I see you also know that
    birds themselves are microcosms of society.

    • Peter Hartley

      Thank you, Sally, for the kind comment. I was hoping to suggest in these little contributions the special qualities that make these birds individually what they are. G M Hopkins called it “instress” from the “thisness” or “haecceity” of the followers of Duns Scotus (who unfortunately also, I think, gave us our word “dunce”). I have seldom written a happy poem and I must try it again some time. Thank you again for the reassurance you give me to do more.

  2. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Peter, these latest poems sing with a beauty and bravery that has touched my heart. You have pulled out all the stops when it comes to poetic device and I love it; ” No crows need feud for food, for foetus or/For brood to burgeon in the balmy hall/Of Chloris…” being one of my many favourites – wholly inspirational.

    I will admit to being a twitcher with an immense love of for our winged wonders. You have taken me back to England with ‘The Blackbird’. The song of the blackbird is hauntingly beautiful and I adore the term ‘blackbirdhood’ used to muse upon its melodious bent. I also love the bravery of the mistle-thrush in defending its ‘flimsy nest’. I would like to think I was blessed with a mere iota of the courage the mistle-thrush exhibits. We could learn an awful lot from our fine and feisty feathered friends.

    My only peeve is that I am unable to comment on your masterly poetry in Phoenician – that’s how darn good they are!

    • Peter Hartley

      Susan – Thank you for the kind remarks and especially for that free admission to twitcherdom. I too would have been a twitcher were it not that I am as blind as a bat (although oddly enough I can see bats). Thanks to the magpies we don’t see so many birds worth twitching for as you see in Texas but last year a pair of long-tailed tits (as small as gold rests, were it not for their tail) nested in my garden, their domed nests being the most sumptuous and feathery of any in the U.K. (as you will probably know). And when you SEE a blackbird sing, doesn’t it seem to be so proud of being itself?
      All right, I will admit it: my Phoenician is not quite up to scratch, but as Mike once remarked, “Give a man a trout and you will feed him for a day. Give that man a flux brush, a Dino-Rod and a badger and you will feed him for life.”

  3. Paul Freeman

    Wordsworth would have loved these poems, and as a townie with little twitcher knowledge, I really enjoyed them. Along with ‘blackbirdhood’, the oddly phrased ‘free-for-all for all’ I also found inspired.

    Your personification of the mistle-thrush and its potential enemies (‘pinching from the poor’, etc.) was masterful.

    Thanks for your inspiring reads – I’ll now go and write about the feral parrots we have all over the show here.

    • Peter Hartley

      Thank you, Paul, for your kind remarks. If you have lots of feral parrots around you I’m suspecting you are from the London area where I believe they flourish. In Derbyshire not so very far from me we had a snurd*of wild wallabies but I think they may have died out by now. The mistle thrush is the biggest British songbird (if you exclude the crow family ‘cos they can’t sing anyway) which is why I thought it deserved a poem to itself. (*I made this up.)

  4. Jeff Eardley

    Peter, as I was reading this in the garden today, one of our resident blackbirds was giving me a beady little yellow-eye. He only scarpered when our resident pheasant showed up, and carried on sparring with his many friends. We get the occasional mistle thrush and what a delightful sight they are. The feeding of birds during this Covid period has been one of life’s pleasures. Thank you for these two that I enjoyed immensely.

    • Peter Hartley

      Jeff, I don’t know who put this bird in the Turdus genus but I think it was rather unkind. One of the most distinguished and most beautiful birds there is, its song is a delight to hear. I have one that follows me round the garden when I am mowing the lawn but unfortunately it is far too busy to sing.

      • Jeff Eardley

        Peter, as an ex-scouser, and I assume Beatles fan, “Turdus singing in the dead of night” is just so wrong.

  5. Margaret Coats

    Peter, both poems show you moving on in the avian cosmos, after attention to the passerines (along with so much else of universal import) in your recent volume. “The Mistle-Thrush” is certainly a fine tribute to that species, as well as a treatment of traits we see among humans. “The Blackbird” is even better as a model of triumphant exultation in what the creature was created to be. And the final couplet suggests not only the full use of his species potential, but individuality verging on personhood. That is very well done, and makes me think the blackbird might be Peter Hartley’s bird the way the skylark is Shelley’s, or the green linnet Wordsworth’s.

    • Peter Hartley

      … Or Coleridge’s albatross?Perceptive as ever, Margaret, you are right about the blackbird being the new Hartley bird, having long since ousted the martlet from my scutcheon. Among thrushes the finest songster of all it seems to flourish in the U.K. where the mistle-thrushes and song-thrushes (two more unfortunately named Turdidae) appear to be in a steep decline.

  6. Cynthia Erlandson

    These are lovely bird poems! I love the word “blackbirdhood”, and the phrases “struts about importantly below”, and “”free-for-all for all”.

    • Peter Hartley

      Thank you Cynthia, and if any bird could inspire anyone to poetry it must be the blackbird. Although I have never heard the sound of a shrike.

  7. Mike Bryant

    !09W +9+ꓘ
    Peter, really beautiful and meaningful poetry. I tried to say it Phoenician above but have obviously failed. The Phoenician fonts are quite difficult to approximate, however the Canaanite letters are at least recognizable using Roman characters (slightly altered).

    • Peter Hartley

      Mike – You CANNOT get a Phoenician keyboard for a big clock, but what you have written above seems like perfect Phoenician to me, “Carthago delenda est,” as the actress said to the Bishop. And thank you enormously for your kind remarks about my poems.

  8. David Watt

    Peter, your two poems are full of avian character, and quite distinctive in their inventive phrasing. For instance:
    ‘The blackbird sings with glee, for he knows he,
    As he himself, no other self can be.”
    You paint a lovingly detailed picture of each bird. But these pictures require no restoration.

    • Peter Hartley

      David – thank you for your comment and you point out another characteristic of all birds (apart from pigeons in very urban environments), that they always contrive (no they don’t contrive to do anything) they always look so clean and dapper don’t they? The blackbird looks as though he should have a fob watch dangling at his chest and a top hat cocked at an angle. Not a feather out of place, perfect symmetry, unless he is a partial albino. As I said above, he seems so proud to be and to be his own unique self.


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