Archive for the ‘Bird Books’ Category

Charlotte Smith, “A Natural History of Birds” (1807)

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A Natural History of Birds

by Charlotte Smith




“Byrne-Jones and his Birds”



Not everyone gets to open the Kelmskott Chaucer
on Valentine’s Day, and see the woodcuts
Byrne-Jones made of Constance, adrift in her boat,
with the seagulls wheeling over the waves,
but I did: she is looking back, over
her shoulder – her hands are clasped in prayer –
and twenty-six white birds surround her
like promises or grief.


McCune Room
JFK Library

“The Goldfinch” by C. Fabritius (1654)


1) “some scholars believe that Fabritius was the link between Rembrandt and Vermeer, whom he may have taught (although there is no hard evidence for this).”

2) “it [the painting] recently inspired Donna Tartt’s novel of the same name. Her bestselling, 800-page Bildungsroman, published in 2013, is narrated by a character who, as a 13-year-old boy, walks off with the painting in the chaos following a terrorist attack on the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it is part of a temporary exhibition of Dutch masterpieces. Because of Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Fabritius’s Goldfinch is now more famous than ever.”

3) “the bird is chained – a detail which meant that, in other Dutch paintings, they could be symbols of captive love.”

4) “sometimes in art history the goldfinch, like the pelican, had Christian “overtones,” thanks to the flash of red on its face, which was understood as a reference to Christ’s blood.

For additional insights, see BBC Culture article
by Daily Telegraph author Alastair Sooke



for the Year
Vol. III

June 2016

On the Ostrich Egg

WingedWonders“The ostrich egg itself, being the largest known to humans, became a symbol of the creation, for many belief systems have the Primal Egg as the source of all things created. So also by association it became a symbol of fertility and of the hidden nature of life before it becomes visible at birth. Philo made a direct relation between this idea and the roasted egg eaten by Jews as part of the Passover meal, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt and their rebirth as a nation. It was also the rebirth of the year at springtime.

The Easter egg is a continuation of this, symbolizing the burial and resurrection of Jesus, a new birth and new creation. From the Middle Ages, church inventories mentioned placing an ostrich egg on the altar at Easter and other holy days. Today in Coptic churches this is still the practice. In the Spanish city of Burgos, in the cathedral, an ostrich egg is placed at the feet of the crucified Christ.”

Peter Watkins and Jonathan Stockland
Winged Wonders: A Celebration of Birds in Human History (p. 90)


Birds on March 25th

BirdsoftheBibleI’m so glad my copies of two bird books came today. Or maybe they came in the last few days — I’ve been out of town — but it was nice to get them today and flip through them. The illustrations in Birds of the Bible are lovely and precise, and when combined with scripture quotations about birds, they have a deeply meaningful impact. A Gathering of Birds will take me longer to read, but tonight, I began with the Count of Buffon’s essay on the Nightingale:

“There can be no properly constituted man to whom the name of the nightingale does not recall one of those beautiful spring evenings when, the night sky serene and clear, the air tranquil, and all nature silenced and listening, he has harkened, ravished, to the canticle of this woodland songster.”

GatheringofBirdsOf course, the nightingale does not live in America. Our nightingale is the Northern Mockingbird, which I deeply love:  a prodigious composer, a musical genius! But the nightingale is a figure in poetry:  an avian spark in our shared imagination.

Speaking of “beautiful spring evenings,” on which the birds sing, how good to remember that spring is here! The first day of Spring came and went this year, but it is interesting to remember that March 25th was the first day of the New Year in England in the Middle Ages (between 1155-1752), which is doubtless one of the reasons it is also New Year’s Day in the Shire in Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

This year, March 25th is also Good Friday.

Bird Cross site

Bird Cross by Donald Gialanella

“The Ballad of the God-Makers”

A bird flew out at the break of day
   From the nest where it had curled,
And ere the eve the bird had set
   Fear on the kings of the world.
The first tree it lit upon
   Was green with leaves unshed;
The second tree it lit upon
   Was red with apples red;
The third tree it lit upon
   Was barren and was brown,
Save for a dead man nailed thereon
   On a hill above a town.
That night the kings of the earth were gay
   And filled the cup and can;
Last night the kings of the earth were chill
   For dread of a naked man.
‘If he speak two more words,’ they said,
   ‘The slave is more than the free;
If he speak three more words,’ they said,
‘The stars are under the sea.’
Said the King of the East to the King of the West,
   I wot his frown was set,
‘Lo, let us slay him and make him as dung,
   It is well that the world forget.’
Said the King of the West to the King of the East,
   I wot his smile was dread,
‘Nay, let us slay him and make him a god,
   It is well that our god be dead.’
They set the young man on a hill,
   They nailed him to a rod;
And there in darkness and in blood
   They made themselves a god.
And the mightiest word was left unsaid,
   And the world had never a mark,
And the strongest man of the sons of men
   Went dumb into the dark.
Then hymns and harps of praise they brought,
   Incense and gold and myrrh,
And they thronged above the seraphim,
   The poor dead carpenter.
‘Thou art the prince of all,’ they sang,
   ‘Ocean and earth and air.’
Then the bird flew on to the cruel cross,
   And hid in the dead man’s hair.
‘Thou art the son of the world.’ they cried,         `
   ‘Speak if our prayers be heard.’
And the brown bird stirred in the dead man’s hair
   And it seemed that the dead man stirred.
Then a shriek went up like the world’s last cry
   From all nations under heaven,
And a master fell before a slave
   And begged to be forgiven.
They cowered, for dread in his wakened eyes
   The ancient wrath to see;
And a bird flew out of the dead Christ’s hair,
   And lit on a lemon tree.
by G.K. Chesterton

Two Days before Christmas

I went outside early in the morning
while it was still dark.
I heard the geese calling overhead,
and I looked up.

I could see their white under-bellies
glimmering in jagged lines
as they flew between distant stars.

Where are you going?
Where have you have been?

I remember a lake in the high, wild country
east of the Rocky Mountains, near Denver,
and how so many of you settled there
with ducks and grebes and egrets,

with the memory of swans and a Great Blue Heron,
with strange flickers sailing across
green park lawns from tree to tree.

Where are you going?
Where have you have been?

Did you come to my eyes from Colorado,
from mountain peaks and snow
that evaporates in sudden sunlight?
Did you come to me from a story?

I remember swans-like-geese
in an African folktale. I remember a lover
who cared to learn his beloved’s mother tongue.

Where are you going?
Where have you have been?

Speak my language, teach me your song,
let me understand the words declared in mid-air,
between heaven and earth,
where stars shine brightly in the cold.

I have been listening all this time.
The hourglass is turned upside down in my heart,
and the salt is in your wings.



from Suzy Goose and the Christmas Star

by Peter Horácek