Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dawn Chorus

Meet our native Bellbird - Korimako - a spirited little olive-green treasure with an unforgettable voice.

This is the song I wake to each morning -

Stills photograph - Pam Russell
Bellbird song recorded at dawn on the front steps of 22.

According to the ornithologist, W. H. Oliver, the bellbird was undoubtedly the chief performer in the chorus described by Joseph Banks when Captain Cook entered Queen Charlotte Sound during the first voyage of discovery. “I was awakened by the singing of the birds ashore, from whence we are distant not a quarter of a mile. Their numbers were certainly very great. They seemed to strain their throats with emulation, and made, perhaps, the most melodious wild music I have ever heard, almost imitating small bells, but with the most tunable silver imaginable, to which, may be, the distance was no small addition.”

And - for its mention of skin, rain, time and a stone that rang like a bell - a favourite Neruda poem...


Mondays are meshed with Tuesdays
and the week with the whole year.
Time cannot be cut
with your exhausted scissors,
and all the names of the day
are washed out by the waters of night.

No one can claim the name of Pedro,
nobody is Rosa or Maria,
all of us are dust or sand,
all of us are rain under rain.
They have spoken to me of Venezuelas,
of Chiles and Paraguays;
I have no idea what they are saying.
I know only the skin of the earth
and I know it has no name.

When I lived amongst the roots
they pleased me more than the flowers did,
and when I spoke to a stone
it rang like a bell.

It is so long, the spring
which goes on all winter.
Time lost its shoes.
A year lasts four centuries.

When I sleep every night,
what am I called or not called?
And when I wake, who am I
if I was not I when I slept?

This means to say that scarcely
have we landed into life
than we come as if new-born;
let us not fill our mouths
with so many faltering names,
with so many sad formalities,
with so many pompous letters,
with so much of yours and mine,
with so much signing of papers.

I have a mind to confuse things,
write them up, make them new-born,
mix them up, undress them,
until all light in the world
has the oneness of the ocean,
a generous, vast wholeness,
a crackling, living fragrance.


  1. You should visit Pete, especially the tags for birds.

  2. What a lovely way to begin my Saturday! The Neruda poem is new to me....have you seen the movie Il Postino? Worth checking out if you haven't.

  3. Claire, tunable silver indeed -- two songs, both of exquisite beauty. Three actually. Such a gift. Such a gift-giver.

  4. Hi Zhoen - interestingly, I happened upon Pete's blog some months ago, visited a while then forgot how to find my way back there, so thanks for the link! He's great at research, offers all kinds of interesting and unusual tidbits.

  5. Il Postino is a marvelous movie, T. Clear - I've seen it, yes. Twice, I think, but quite some time ago. It might be time to get it out again.

    "Too many names" is in Neruda's "Selected Poems" - a Penguin volume that has the poems in their original Spanish on the left with English translations on the right. (Superb translations by Anthony Kerrigan, W. S Merwin, Alistair Reid & Nathaniel Tarn.).

    I wonder what birdsong wakes you and yours in Seattle?

  6. Timoth - every time I hear these notes, my heart leaps; a familiar song made new each morning.

    A gift indeed.

  7. Oh he's beautiful. All of us are rain under rain. The truth in that makes me ache. I wish I could record the rain here and the flickers knocking. It is music too different and no bells but smoky and its own tunable silver. I like Banks description better than Neruda's poem! And the name Korimako.


  8. This morning it was the Northern Flicker:

    Not a particularly melodic bird, but one of my favorites.

    And then a Stellar's Jay hopped across the roof: wake up! Wake up!

    The real symphony these mornings comes from the finches, who seemed to be absent today.

  9. I know what you mean, Rebecca - there are notes of deep loneliness in Neruda's poem; I find the line 'all of us are rain under rain' line a little 'whelming, too, until I read on to '... until all light in the world has the oneness of the ocean, a generous vast wholeness, a crackling, living fragrance' and then, I feel hope rising.

    Korimako is a soft-edged name, isn't it? I love the Maori language; the way it sounds and, too, the richness of the stories behind the words.

    I'd love to hear your flickers knocking - find myself wondering how these two, very different birds might sound together...

  10. Thanks for these links, T. Clear - what handsome birds they are, your Northern Flicker and Stellar Jay. With names like these, the uninformed could quite easily mistake them for heavenly constellations?!

  11. Timeless, nameless nature. How I would love to time travel and stand on that boat with Banks and hear that sound for the first time - tunable silver. Perfect words.

  12. What an astonishing little creature your korimako is--how wonderful to wake up to hear that music. Like Hardy's 'blast-beruffled plume" on his Darkling Thrush, singing with happiness, for joy, nature brimming with a source of hope the poet knows not of.

  13. Oh, how I'd love to do that too, lmrb! Especially since - sadly, sadly - the bird life in Fiordland is nowhere near as abundant as it was in the days when Banks and Cook first encountered these shores. The forest canopy, too, is nowhere as dense. It's a tragedy. When I was in Dusky and Doubtful Sounds nearly two years ago, (and paddling up the darkly mysterious Camelot River) I was shocked by how quiet the forests were. But, on a brighter note, there are faithful custodians in those places, working tirelessly to eradicate the place of pests (stoats, rats and deer mostly) and to replant and restore the forests and coastlines. As we know, the process of regeneration tends to be a whole lot slower than those of devastation. But oh, so worth it. L, C

  14. Dear Melissa - our feathered friends know things we cannot know? They have much to teach us... how often is this the way - the world's small creatures role-modeling for us, teaching us about hope and nurture, solitude and community... ? I sense you know this, too. ; ) L, C.