“Unearthly minstrelsy! then only heard
When the soul seeks to hear; when all is hush’d,
And the heart listens!”
From Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem ‘Reflections on Having Left a Place of Retirement’
Our favourite holiday ‘bolt-hole’ is a cottage set in this beautiful wooded estate on the edge of the New Forest. One reason we delight to go there is to hear the woodland birdsong. To wake early and hear the Spring woodland dawn chorus in full cry, is one of the delights of the year.
It reminds me of years ago when, as children, my parents told us that they had been down the lane during the night to hear a nightingale. It was singing in one of the copses there – a magical moment.
Sadly such events are rare today. As in so many country districts, housing estates now cover the area and these top songbirds are long gone from that place. A nostalgic thought that brings to mind Keats’ fine ending to his hauntingly beautiful poem, ‘To the Nightingale’:
“Thy plaintive anthem fades past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hillside, and now it is buried deep in the next valley glades:
Was it a vision ? Or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:- Do I wake or sleep ?”
Special moments like these, are rare and fleeting., If we’re slow to notice they will be gone and we will miss them. That elusive bird song heard fleetingly, will soon be ‘buried buried deep in the next valley glades’.
‘A great poet must be implicit if not explicit,…for all sounds and forms of nature. He must have the ear of a wild Arab listening in the silent desert and the eye of a North American Indian tracing the footsteps of an enemy upon the leaves that strew the forest; The touch of a blind man feeling the face of a darling child.’
(S.T. Coleridge writing to William Southey )
It’s just this sort of sensitive ‘listening’ to the natural world that I’m trying to explore in these posts. I want to develop in myself and others more of the ‘listening heart’, that hears earth’s ‘unearthly minstrelsy‘ which can ‘only be heard when the soul seeks to hear, when all is hush’d and the heart listens‘.