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03/17/2003 Archived Entry: "Spring poetry"

Next Friday is officially the first day of spring and we sense a feeling of cheerfulness at the prospect of the forthcoming season. It brings a promise of milder weather, fresh flowers and foliage in our gardens and, in the countryside, bird song and new life all around us.

There is little wonder the poets went into raptures about spring. Wordsworth's lakeside host of golden daffodils are too well known for his verse to be repeated here, but he also wrote about the cuckoo, W.H. Davies wrote about singing skylarks, Edmund Spenser featured the 'sweete violet, the pincke and purple cullambine' as well as cowslips, kingcups and daffadowndillies. Browning delighted in the chaffinch singing in the orchard, while Gray spoke of the warbler and John Clare liked peewits, rooks, lady-smocks and horse-blobs but one poet has left us with a puzzle.

What is the sea-blue bird of March that Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) mentions in his poem ‘In Memoriam’:

When rosy plumelets tuft the larch,
And rarely pipes the mounted thrush;
Or underneath the barren bush
Flits by the sea-blue bird of March.

He might be thinking of the swallow which can arrive in some parts of the country in the early days of March, although we would expect to see our swallows later in the month or even well into April. The nuthatch has a greyish-blue back but its colouring can hardly be called sea-blue and not even the blue tit fits that description.

It follows that not many English birds can be described as sea-blue; perhaps the kingfisher is the most apt. It is present all the year; it is a dazzling sight along our river banks and lake sides in the spring, summer and autumn but migrates to the seaside during a tough winter, where food is more readily available. Its wonderful colouring might be considered the same as a deep blue sea even if it has a lot of red and white among its feathers.

So which bird can claim to be Tennyson’s sea-blue bird of March?

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