Both familiar and mysterious, birds remain a prominent presence in literary works around the world.
Among all the animals large and small to make any appearance in literature, birds have a definite charm. With impressive plumage, innate sense of direction, melodious sequences and beyond, these creatures continue to align with the poetic thought of writers worldwide.
Could there be an inherent fascination with all things avian? An answer is as elusive as the animal itself, but there’s something in birds so symbolically linked to the rhythms of life (and death) that you need only see them, think about them, and suddenly the unconscious is awake. This season, asks that we once again recall them. We’ve asked previously, in these pages, how to attract them to a garden; here we recommend five reads in which birds, as subsidiary characters, symbols or metaphors, articulate a geometry that we share with them.
1.CROW,TED HUGHES A. Captivating collection of poems in which the crow plays the lead role, multifaceted as are all birds of the genus Corvus. Hughes appropriates from all of the diverse tales and myths in which the birds have appeared, and plays with all of their symbolic facets.
2.O CALEDONIA, ELSPETH BARKER A. Charming Scottish gothic novel presents a jackdaw (Corvus monedula) who accompanies the protagonist until after death. A bleak and beautiful work like few others of its kind in all literature.
3.H IS FOR HAWK, HELEN MACDONALD. Standing out like a rare stone, this is a beautiful novel difficult to classify. A true story written in first person, Macdonald’s work tells the story of Mabel, the novel’s protagonist, who finds solace by training a female goshawk (a falcon-like bird of prey) after a painful event.
4.VENETZIA IL BESTIARIO, JAN MORRIS A. Lovely little book on the original Venetians: creatures of the air. It was the miraculous flight of birds which led the first people to their sedentary existence within the lagoons. The work combines Morris’s love for and knowledge of birds and other animals, in earth and in art.
5.IN THE COMPANY OF CROWS AND RAVENS,JOHN M MARZLUFF AND TONY ANGELL . Marzluff, a prominent biologist, joined together with naturalist and artist Angell to create the most comprehensive book on corvids. Simultaneously academic and humorous, the book is splendidly illustrated. In the Company of Crows is a small gem among all the literature to have included birds.