While tanks rumble and guns roar out their fury, the people of Ukraine run for safety while the natural world recoils in silence! But when the guns go silent will the birds still sing?
When the Guns Go Silent
An old gun (top photo) lies half buried beside this old military road through a spring wood- a sad reminder of past days of warfare. Where man has sought to destroy, nature has been at work seeking to heal and restore. As the free world cries out against the aggression against Ukraine we remind ourselves that there is a better way than this!
In his book ‘Where the Poppies Blow, the British Soldier, nature, the Great War’ John Louis Sempel writes about the resilience of nature during the First World War. He records the moving letters of the poet Edward Thomas written from his dug-out near the front lines of battle. Thomas wrote that in the evenings, despite all the mayhem around, when the guns went silent birds began to sing! Somehow the song of thrushes, blackbirds, nightingales and other birds brought some hope and peace even in the midst of the devastation of war.
After watching the latest TV news of the suffering of Ukrainian people, families sleeping in air raid shelters, fleeing their homes and their bombed-out towns, or trying to leave their homeland, Malcolm Guite writes:
‘Poets Corner’ in the Church Times. March 11th
‘I also wondered about the other living communities of Ukraine: the birds, the bees and insects, the wild animals, the fields of golden sunflowers, the whole realm of nature recoiling, and perhaps one day recovering from a human, and inhuman, war. Has “the sparrow still found her a house and the swallow a nest” in some bombed-out church or cathedral (Psalm 84: 3)?’
Just this morning a BBC reporter in Kiev said that during a momentary lull in the bombardment of the city, in the eerily quiet streets birds were singing – a touch of nature’s beauty in the midst of madness!
A Silent Spring?
Birdsong and the human spirit are interlinked. Something will be missing in our human lives if this music fades or goes. Writing of the serious decline in birdsong Isabella Tree says:
‘The symbolism of turtle doves…their mournful turr-turring, the song of love lost, the stuff of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Spencer, is vanishing into the kingdom of phoenixes and unicorns.’From ‘Wilding’
Where indeed are John Keats’ nightingales, the skylarks of Vaughan Williams’ ‘Lark Ascending‘, ‘the first cuckoo‘ of Delius’ spring, or the ‘first fine careless rapture‘ of Robert Browning’s song thrushes? Where indeed! We are losing the soundtrack to spring.
The UK winter Garden Bird-watch results for 2022 are due in April. Last year’s figures showed that 16 of the 20 most common UK garden bird species were in decline. The Red List of birds in danger of extinction now stands at 70 species. In 1996 there were only 35 on this list.
This is a sorry list of decline. Our springs are becoming more silent by the year. That ‘Silent Spring‘ of Rachel Carson’s prophetic 1960’s book looms threateningly near.
During one of the recent lockdowns Malcolm Guite wrote this poem. It makes a fitting lament for the people of Ukraine. Writing in his garden hut he hears the song of a robin joined by other birds and it sets him thinking:
‘A pattern of bright music nets the air
And catches me off guard and makes me long,
Long for the joys that I have yet to sing
Long for the sudden flight, the lifting wing,
Long for the songs of summers yet to come
Long for the freedom future days may bring.
Though sorrow runs so deep, and our brief songs
Are burdened still with all the ills and wrongs
Of this sad exile, something in us sings,
Sings from that garden where the soul belongs.’
From Quarantine Quatrain no 4
But the Birds Still Sing
This morning I heard my first blackbird singing. We now wait for the first of the migrant songsters, the Chiff-chaff (above). We also stand with the people of Ukraine as they wait for freedom and peace and we thank God that at least some birds do still sing reminding us of a better world to come!
Top featured photo by Peter S. Pye -Geograph