Curlews in Poetry

The curlew is an iconic and beautiful bird, celebrated in art, sculpture, photography, poetry and literature throughout the ages. 

On this poetry page we would like to share some of this creativity with you - for the sheer love of it!

Click on the name of the author to learn more about them (opens in a new tab on your browser)

Curlew_Moon_Chapter_10_-_Young_Curlew_Chicks

Extinction

Have you heard the cry of the curlew?
I tell you –
I would rather we lost
the entire contents
of every art gallery
in the whole world
than lose
forever
the cry of the curlew

Alastair MacIntosh

Curlew

Out the North came full face slapping fat the sleet,
Too wet to counter Spring's urging,
Only vengeful swansong winter’s wind on edge.
And the gulls, chimney hustlers swooped, bickering with reason Balletic
necks and looks of love bringing little truce by raucous keening.

A recent waxèd tide in wane,
Now here is Curlew.
Waiting with stilted gait patrolling,
Knowing when bladder wrack,
Mud and water bring him to command this familiar aromatic confluence.

Incongruous avian Numenius, New Moon,
Describes your gentle crescent curve-beaked investigator
Of tidal boundaries dipping, searching for salty morsel Crustacean
feast, fruit of life’s sustenance down the soft foreshore.

Across the bay on lofty ground,pressed by grey and steel,
Obscure the high places,shining white in sun-blessed breaks,
Where slow-motion fire clouds twist and lick from hearths of rock and ice
Where moor and fallow meet, Where Thane
of late, cold these twenty years,
Has seen the wind erase father’s footprints in the peat.

Here too, onomatopoeic Curlew

Your mournful trill, vibrato cry moves this man and mountains.
Over long-horizoned sand sea and summer's upland leys
Stubble, fallow, grasshopper, beetle
Vacuumed and sealed my memories looking back to springtime.

Who else has blue legs and why?
Nesting in a scrape,scourged and scorched in your innocence
By ever present man,
To see and hear last of your kind and song taken, How lonely I shall be.

Napier Marten

Illustration by Jessica Holm

He Reproves The Curlew

O CURLEW, cry no more in the air,
Or only to the water in the West;
Because your crying brings to my mind
passion-dimmed eyes and long heavy hair
That was shaken out over my breast:
There is enough evil in the crying of wind.

WB Yeats

drawing 1

To Whom the Curlews Call

Twice daily calls the tide
Up valleys where the sea clouds ride
To where high meadows touch the sky
And wild curlews cry.

No thoughts of day or night
Nor if the bubbling shore’s in sight
Disturb the ebbing, distant sea
Or emptying estuary.

Yet curlews always hear,
Be it windy, wet, dull or clear,
Perhaps by some aquatic sigh
When muds emerging dry.

Then to the air they spring
And off to the sea they eager wing,
Sweet soul-sounds of the gathering sky
That down the darkness fly.

No weaving journey here,
No anxious aims inspired by fear,
But just obedience to the tide
That sun and moon provide.

So why does man invent
Then everlasting lament
The plastic and the trash galore
Which litters every shore?

Or sickly, twisted tales
Whose squalid, booming bookstall sales
Confirm he heeds no tide
Nor longer seeks his guide?

But the curlews’ calling flight
Crossing estuaries through the night
Recalls to haunted man
The shores from which he ran.

For the spirit of winds and tides
Whose face the earth mist hides
Shall one day restore to all
To whom the curlews call.

Gordon Knight

(Gordon Knight is Giles Knight's father. Giles presented the poem to Mary Colwell during her Curlew Walk in 2016.)

Schrödinger’s Curlew

On the face of it, there isn't much about this bird
To stop me in my tracks.
Brown, oblivious, busy with the ground
It totters along on stilted legs
Probing among the frozen fields.It's the name that's the trouble.Childhood hours spent copying pictures
From the Readers' Digest Book of Birds
Call to mind the name, 'Curlew'.
In my house, though, birds had Scots names
and my dad, a linguistic David Bellamy
Urged us to conserve these rare words
or lose them forever.
Goldfinch?  Gowdspink!
Starling?  Stuckie!
Blue ***?  Umm...But the undistinguished gentleman before me
was definitely a whaup.
Curlew or whaup?
Which is it to me?
The English of books
or the fading Scots, maybe closer
to the bird's wild home?Textbook reality
or romantic poetry?
Or both - can the creature sit
in two states at once?
"Schrodinger's Curlew", I think with a smile.
("Schrodinger's Whaup!" bellows the bit of my dad
that lodges in my head.)Here, under a cloud of my own breath
In the low winter light,
Neither seems quite adequate.

And then, untouched by my musings
The bird spreads its wings and lifts,
Naming itself, with a long, pure note

And my heart, in two states,
Leaps
and breaks.

Alan McClure

Illustration by Jessica Holm
Illustration by Jessica Holm
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