The “first fine careless rapture” is startlingly loud just now. And it’s not the first.

It’s not just bird song that wakes me up. Several times recently one of the young birds has arrived on the bedroom window sill and is evidently trying to get in.

And so I lie awake trying to identify the different calls but I can’t — apart from wood pigeons, crows and gulls. I never have been able to. Even when I listen to them on the radio and feel sure I’ll remember, I don’t. Perhaps you have to be trained when you’re young.

So much I don’t know! I didn’t know till today, for example, that there was a difference between the song thrush and mistle thrush, or how to tell it. And now I do know, I’ll probably forget. What a confession! I didn’t know a blackbird was a thrush too (they’re all the same family) or that their Latin un-graceful family name is ‘turdus’. And I now know we have both songs and mistles in our garden, though not all the time. Last week a pair of mallard arrived just outside the garden fence. At least ducks go quack.

But who’s making all the noise this morning, on the first day of June? A lot of it’s the chaffinches (even better in Latin, fringilla coelebs) but some of it’s sparrows and bluetits (who sing their song many times more than twice over). And the coaltits – they’re my favourites to watch because they’re so very tiny. But their song (I now learn from YouTube) is much bigger than their size. Same with wrens. But I’ll still forget which of them is which. I remember standing underneath a robin singing in the spring, determined to memorise the sound because it was so beautiful. But in bed, listening, I’m not sure which one is robin.

I’m not even sure (when I’m half asleep) which sound belongs to the starlings (stukkies in Scotland) because they make such a range of noises when out and about. It may be young starlings that knock against the bedroom window. They do a lot of clowning about. In the tall trees in the road, when roosting together, their beautiful conversation is unmissable but on their own they don’t make that high looping, keening sound.

Thankfully I warm to the calming sound of the fat wood pigeons, who roll around the garden, eating everything in sight. I associate it with holidays in Wales. Probably the only bird sound I’m sure of.

Bird song brings me inevitably to Home Thoughts from Abroad, by that songster R Browning, one of the earliest poets ever to be recorded forgetting his own poem (though not this one). But I love him all the more for that. and at least I could recognise his voice anywhere. Obviously it is the Wrong Month now for this poem. But I woke with it in my head, along with the birdsong . . . so here it is.


Oh, to be in England now that April’s there
And whoever wakes in England sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England – now!

And after April, when May follows
And the white-throat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossom’d pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray’s edge—
That’s the wise thrush: he sings each song twice over
Lest you should think he never could re-capture
The first fine careless rapture!
And, though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower,
Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!



3 thoughts on “WHY IT’S SO HARD TO SLEEP IN THESE DAYS . . .”

  1. Nell thank you for your confession. I also struggle to identify and distinguish between bird song (and bird calls which are apparently different) although I’ve made lots of attempts at learning and trying to understand. It doesn’t prevent me from appreciating them or even writing about them from time to time. I asked a musician friend to translate blackbird’s song into musical notation for me so that I could include some bars of her song in one poem, not trusting my own ear. Lovely post, thank you, which I enjoyed as ever. And I’ll bet your blog doesn’t often get the chance for Elizabeth Barrett to ‘like’ Robert Browning 🙂

  2. I was at a wonderful reading by Paul Muldoon at Charleston Festival the other day – we were in a marquee and the birds were chattering away outside – it was late afternoon. Muldoon was so struck by it that he stopped talking and asked us all just to listen to the blackbird on one side and the doves on the other. It made a nice break for me from the seagulls that flock round our house all the time and scare off all the other birds – I love the gulls but they are true thugs. Noticeably Browning didn’t write about being woken up at 4 am each day by our little or large avian friends.

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