Tony Walton (4 March 1950 / London, England)
The Jackdaw's Lament
The wood in the night was castle-black, and it kept
Its moonlit secrets well:
It housed the predator who crept
Through long-limbed ramparts while the world still slept;
With neither man nor beast to ring the warning bell.
The jackdaw colony that Konrad Lorenz took
From egg to thriving flock,
And wrote about them in his book
‘King Solomon's Ring', was a babbling brook
Speaking a vocabulary that sounds a shock
To all beliefs of those who claim, and who are wrong,
That birdsong is a noise
That's inexpressive of the joys
And tears and knowledge and the social poise
With which a family of birds knows they belong.
He carefully identified the varied talk -
The rattling of alarm,
The courtship call designed to calm,
The disapproval of delinquent harm -
That sprang as naturally as flowers on the stalk.
And most of all, the very subtle difference
Of kia from kiaw:
The first of which conveys the sense
The feeding flock must boldly travel hence;
The second saying they must hurry home once more.
So Konrad Lorenz with his careful-hearing ears
Learned everything they preach
In epic tales like balladeers,
Exciting both the laughter and the tears
Of those who listen to the truths the wise ones teach.
Is it then a far-fetched and unlikely notion
That such stirring displays,
These moral tales and songs of praise,
Are any different from the many ways
In which we human- beings express emotion?
For when the sharp-toothed marten stole into the roost
And savagery unloosed
On all the jackdaws sleeping there
And slaughtered all of them but one - who'd bear
The sorrow and despair but she who, in her care,
Sat all day long upon the turning weather-vane
To sing again, again,
The single call kiaw, kiaw -
Come home, my pretty ones, my heart is sore:
The song of heartbreak uttered by the last jackdaw.
Poet's Notes about The Poem
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