Marianne North – Globetrotting Flower-painter


Nige pays tribute to the extraordinary Victorian spinster, globetrotter, botanist, artist and ‘very wild bird’, Marianne North…

Tomorrow marks the birthday of the brilliant flower painter and tireless traveller Marianne North (born 1830), who, even by the standards of intrepid, globetrotting Victorian spinsters, was pretty extraordinary. In an age before jet travel and motorways (or indeed motor transport), she travelled and lived in Jamaica, Canada, the United States, Brazil, Tenerife, Japan, Ceylon, India, Borneo, Java, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Seychelles and Chile – all in the space of a decade and a half.

And wherever she went, she painted her astonishing, botanically accurate, vividly coloured oil paintings of the exotic plant life she found. What’s more, she painted these plants not as specimens in isolation but as organisms in an ecosystem, creating pictures that are beautifully composed and richly detailed as well as precisely descriptive.

Born into a wealthy and well connected family, Marianne shared her father’s passion for travel and botany and, when she found herself alone and free following his death (in 1869), she decided to indulge them both, along with her new-found love of oil painting – which she described as ‘a vice like dram-drinking, almost impossible to leave off once it gets possession of one’.

She abhorred marriage – ‘a terrible experiment’, in her view, that turned women into ‘a sort of upper servant’ – and disliked company, so most of the time she lived, travelled and painted alone. ‘I am a very wild bird,’ she declared, ‘and like liberty.’


She became a reluctant celebrity in her own lifetime and the crowds flocked to an exhibition of her work in London in 1879 – a success from which she shrank, but which gave her an idea:  to give all her paintings as a gift to the Royal Botanical Society at Kew, and to build a gallery at her own expense to display them to the public.

The gift was rather reluctantly accepted, and the gallery – a temple-like building in a corner of the Gardens – is still there. It was recently restored, and is quite unlike anything of its kind – indeed Kew claims it is the only gallery devoted to a single female artist, with full public access, anywhere in the UK.



The effect of Miss North’s paintings en masse is somewhat concussing – those colours! Her palette was certainly well adapted to the tropics.

But then, if she hadn’t painted in vivid oils, but in the more usual delicate watercolours, little or nothing of her work would have survived.

Invasion of the Leaf Peepers

Fall foliage

Our ex-pat American correspondent Rita is lucky enough to live in Maryland, home of one of the most beautiful Falls in the world. But can you ever escape modern life, even when Leaf Peeping?…

September is over, and as the days dwindle down to a precious few, an annual American ritual reaches its peak: the Invasion of the Leaf Peepers, autumn foliage enthusiasts who clog highways and byways from Vermont to Virginia. In their thousands they descend upon the most scenic areas of the countryside to view and photograph the glorious fall colors. Locals brace themselves for the invasion, eager for a share of the extra dollars peepers bring to the small town economy, yet dreading the traffic jams on usually empty country roads. The peepers are rewarded with a glimpse of a picture-postcard-perfect America, a landscape existing in a rare confluence of the real and the ideal.

But no national treasure is safe from the grip of the “tourism industrial complex.” Leaf Peeping, once a casual individual sport, is now a full-fledged, relentlessly marketed business. Chambers of Commerce promote their B&Bs, their scenic drives, their fall festivals, and their gift shops. Bus tours and even cruises up the New England coastline boast a leafy theme. Online the Foliage Network collates data from an army of foliage spotters onto maps color-coded for up to the minute peak peeping areas. Strategically placed webcams allow virtual peeping from the comfort of one’s own home. Travellers are warned of hazards from “moose crossings” in Maine to mesmerized drivers stopping their vehicles on the winding Blue Ridge Parkway. Arguments break out on peeper blogs over rival claimants to the Best Foliage crown. Yet heedless of human activity, the trees paint their annual palette of brilliant colors from maroon and flaming red to burnt orange and gold. The timing is a secret between them and the gods of weather. Humans can just look on and marvel.

I’ve driven the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia with its stunning views over the Roanoke Valley. It is surely a worthy contender for the claim to be “America’s favorite drive.” But my most memorable leaf peeping adventure was a fall driving tour of Maine. We stayed in charming B&Bs from Portland to Camden to Bar Harbor. We hiked in Acadia National Park and climbed mountains offering bird’s eye views over autumn glory. It was a welcome escape from the cares of the world for this was in October 2001. Planes had just begun flying again after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

We flew into Portland, Maine, via Boston, the two airports the hijackers used that morning. For the next seven days we were free from the high anxiety of the times, escaping into the healing beauty of nature. The return journey was a jolting landing into the new reality of the post 9/11 world. Boston’s Logan airport was patrolled by machine gun toting National Guard. It felt like being in a war zone, which perhaps it was. Waiting in the crowd at our gate was a young man of Middle Eastern appearance. Soon he was surrounded by National Guard and police officers who led him away. After some time they escorted him back to the gate. He shook hands with one of the officers and I heard him say, “I understand.” Presumably the interrogation had turned up no reason to suspect him of terrorism. But the suspicion of the onlookers was palpable; they cast covert glances and seemed to leave a space around him. I was not immune to the reaction. After all, the hijackers of 9/11 looked like ordinary young men. Well groomed and conservatively dressed they were nothing like the robed, heavily bearded terrorists of the prevailing stereotype.

So yes, I was nervous about getting on a plane with this man and even more so when I found I was seated next to him. He was in the window seat so my husband and I were the first line of defense should he have nefarious intentions. Much had been made of the brave actions of the passengers on the hijacked plane that crashed into a Pennsylvania field. I found myself strategizing what I would do if he tried to leave his seat after the plane took off. The only thing I had that could be used as a weapon was a pen. I thought I could use it to stab him in the eye, gaining a precious few seconds for some big strong man among the passengers to subdue him. I got out the pen and pretended to be using it to mark passages in my magazine. My suspicious thoughts and planning felt so loud I was sure he could hear them. And I could hear his thoughts, an awareness that everyone on the plane was afraid of him. Out of the corner of my eye I saw he was reading a medical textbook. The plane was bound for Baltimore, so I deduced he was probably a medical student at Johns Hopkins. I relaxed my vigilance just a bit. When we landed I lost my balance and stumbled when I stood up. He reached out and steadied me. “Careful,” he said with a polite smile. I mumbled a thank you and felt myself blushing with shame for my suspicion. The complications of this new world were obliterating the serene mood of my leaf peeping vacation.

Who wouldn’t want to escape today’s reality, relentlessly assaulting us from TV screens and panicked alerts on our mobile devices? The reality of Ebola, wildfires, endless wars, beheadings, shootings, missing girls, and children paralyzed by a mystery illness. Even our President isn’t safe. I want to run away and join the Leaf Peepers.

Prostitution Among Animals

Penguins 2
The world’s oldest profession might be even older than we previously thought, according to this strange Wikipedia article unearthed by the Wikiworm…

A few studies have been used to promote the idea that prostitution exists within certain animal groups.

Prostitution in animals was first reported in 1998 by Fiona Hunter, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, and Lloyd Davis of the University of Otago, who had spent five years observing the mating behavior of penguins near Antarctica.

According to the report about the study published by BBC News Online, some female penguins sneak around on their partners. These birds have sex with unattached males and take a pebble from the male’s nest after having sex. Or they sometimes perform the courtship ritual as a trick and grab a stone without the sex (in the actual study the researchers speculate that the female has bent over to grab a stone and the male has misinterpreted the gesture–she hasn’t changed her mind or performed a trick).

While the sensationalized versions of the study emphasize prostitution, the research data itself is less sensational. The data shows that when extrapair copulation occurs at the male’s nesting site, the female takes one or more stones; but when the extrapair copulation occurs at the female’s nesting site, the male never takes a stone. Clearly a male who has copulated with a female benefits his progeny when she takes a stone. Sometimes copulation doesn’t occur, but the female still takes a stone. But both males and females steal stones: sometimes they get away with it and sometimes they are attacked. The benefit of gaining stones without a fight is clear, but the female is not always willing to copulate to avoid a fight. The researchers speculate about the possible genetic fitness advantages and disadvantages of the practice, and aren’t altogether sure that the female copulates mainly in order to obtain a stone.

A study conducted by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and published online in the Public Library of Science, attempted to support the meat-for-sex behaviour hypothesis, according to which, in early human societies the best male hunters had the maximum number of sexual partners. Unable to study early humans, researchers studied chimpanzees. Researchers observed chimpanzees in the Taï National Park and concluded that a form of prostitution exists among the chimpanzees in which females offer sex to males in exchange for meat. According to Cristina Gomes of the Institute, the study “strongly suggests that wild chimpanzees exchange meat for sex, and do so on a long-term basis”. The data reveals that chimps enter into communities of hunting and sharing meat with each other over long periods of time and females within the meat-sharing community tend to copulate with males of their own meat-sharing community. Direct exchange of meat for sex has not been observed.

In a 2005 study at Yale–New Haven Hospital, capuchin monkeys were taught to use silver discs as money. One researcher “saw something out of the corner of his eye” that looked like a coin being exchanged for sex. The researcher took steps to prevent any possibility of the coins being used for sex after his suspicions were aroused, so while it is possible that it happened once, no events of this nature were ever repeated.



Dabbler Diary – English dogs and mad men

On a stage at the Festival of Nature – one of Bristol’s many, many spurious summer festivals – a man and a woman wearing flat caps with fox ears were performing a song about a rabbit going hop, hop, hop.

My girls were hopping away on the Floating Harbour’s cobbled ground. C, who is nearly five, hopped as if carrying out a grim duty; two year-old E was more of a happy clappy hopper. I was sitting behind them squinting into the sun and sweating gently into my shirt, wondering how old the singers might be. The man could have been anything from twenty-five to fifty, but that’s often the way with vegetarians. Solace was provided by a pint of pale ale in one hand, and in the other a pitta containing a lightly-grilled, responsibly-killed trout, freshly cooked for me minutes earlier and indescribably delicious.

The Festival was a sprawl of marquees concerned with wildlife – or, more commonly, with environmental campaigning. There’s always something new to environmentally campaign about, isn’t there. The BBC had a marquee, as did Bristol Zoo, the RSPB and many others of that ilk. Each had a fun activity for the kids to do, like making a falcon mask, tracing a leaf pattern or screaming in terror at a big cockroach. While having fun we were encouraged to recycle more, become more self-sufficient, use less water, become more aware of climate change, get closer to nature, leave nature alone by not building over it, be more local, be more global, and worry more about the prospects of various creatures including elephants, penguins and bees. I did my best, but as Sky Sports football pundit Paul Merson might say, it was a Big Ask.

The best thing in the Festival was a giant vinyl maze-tent on College Green called a Colourscape. The four of us trotted round the interconnected chambers in our capes, changing from red to pink to yellow to blue as we passed from one colour cube to the next.  Some sort of zingly-zangly ethnic music floated around, and we followed it until we came to a larger, light grey chamber containing a bald man sitting cross-legged on the floor playing a… oh I don’t know, let’s call it a Mongolian Glockenzither. We sat to listen along with other Colourscape visitors and then a beautiful, sturdy, café au lait-coloured lady with curly hair began a languid barefoot dance. How nice it must be, I thought as I watched her contort and writhe in the space before us, to be so utterly devoid of a sense of embarrassment.

Back on the Floating Harbour I wandered over to the poetry stage, where a student was performing rapid cod hip-hop verse to a small nonplussed audience made up almost entirely of other performance poets waiting for their turn. He was a brilliant rhyme-jockey and very funny, but kept forgetting his lines in his nervous state. I congratulated him as he had sat down again, flushed and quivering. Googling his handle, I was pleased to find some of his work on Youtube, and then saddened to read a strikingly ill-informed diatribe about Michael Gove, Islamic extremism and Academy schools that he’d written on Facebook. But at least he’s got time on his side. As for the rest of these Green types, if their anti-trade, anti-growth, anti-globalisation ideals were put into practice we’d all be living in filthy poverty and disease with the life expectancy of cavemen. Quite bonkers, the lot of them, as unworldly as hoppy infants pretending to be rabbits. But they do put on a good Festival.


In her Boys of Summer post Rita observed that it’s surely “a quintessential mark of Britishness” to resist efforts to “instil a strong sense of ‘Britishness’ in the populace”. A valid remark, though in the context (radical Islamic nutjobs taking over primary schools), David Cameron’s comments about the desirability of teaching ‘British values’ are understandable. By British values he doesn’t really mean Magna Carta or the Rule of Law so much as the ‘post-Blair’ virtues I described in a recent Diary: anti-sexism, anti-homophobia, anti-racism. The conflict between these values and Islamicist views of women, gays and infidels has been a sticky wicket for the metropolitan Left for years now. Well, we call them the ‘Left’ and they self-identify as such, but the ‘they’ we mean here have minimal interest in such traditional left-wing preoccupations as, say, worker control of the means of production. They are, however, prigs.

Anti-racism, anti-homophobia and anti-sexism are very fine values and they are now accepted as essential elements of the prevailing morality. Prigs misapply the values of the prevailing morality, or enforce them too zealously, or fail to discern the difference between important transgressions and trivial ones. They take a zero-tolerance approach to irreverence, eccentricity, cantankerousness and any form of apostasy. They make accusations to shut down debate. At best priggishness is incredibly annoying…

…At worst it undermines the very values it professes to defend. Accusing recent UKIP voters of being ‘racist’ because they oppose uncontrolled EU immigration is an example. The UKIP protest vote was primarily white working-class people objecting to white working-class immigration. ‘Racism’ means discrimination against a person or group because of their race. So either that UKIP protest is not racist, or the term ‘racist’ has been watered down until it is simply a synonym for ‘small-minded’ or ‘insular’ or ‘being a Little Englander’. So what can we call the BNP to indicate they are categorically worse?

Funnily enough, the England football team has in this World Cup been a victim of post-Blair priggishness when the FA sacked their captain and best defender John Terry after he was subjected to trial by Twitter. The criminal courts acquitted him of racial abuse, but out of fear of the Priggerati and on the grounds of ‘no racist smoke without a fire’, the FA punished him anyway. Habeus corpus was chucked out the window – and what could be less in tune with ‘British values’ than that? On the other hand, what could be more English than a soccer self-destruction, I thought as I watched Terry’s stand-in Phil Jagielka flailing around helplessly against the actual racial abuser Luis Suarez. Add Twitterprigs, then, to the long and multifarious list of sufficient but not necessary causes of English football failure.


In the midday sun of the last glorious day of last week I took a lunchtime stroll from my office up Lansdown Lane. As I passed the farm shop a farm dog – a mature border collie bitch, with the colouring of a Jason – came loping out to greet me. I acknowledged her presence and carried on walking, and the dog carried on with me. After an initial moment of wariness (as one always feels when approached by an uncertain hound) I was sure that, unlike Luis Suarez, she was able to control her instinct to bite human flesh and I began to enjoy her company. It was pleasant walking with a dog without being responsible for it. We were equals.

The tree-shaded lane was spotted with drops of sunlight and horse dung. Unseen birds twittered away, and for once I gave not a fig about my inability to identify them. The warmth was snoozy, the hills around as green and hilly as in children’s drawings and across the valleys distant sheep were groaning.  At the peak of the hill I took the last chomp out of my apple and hurled it over a gate into the meadow. The dog and I watched its arc until it landed and, for all I know, brained a shrew or something. We felt at peace with nature.

‘Come on then, girl,’ I suggested after a while, and we headed back down the hill, me occasionally stooping to pick up and throw an increasingly disgusting stick she’d taken to. At the farm shop gate I bid her goodbye but, reluctant to part so soon, she followed me all the way down to the office and even into it, much to the amusement of my colleagues. Eventually I managed to usher her out of the door. “Go home, girl, go on. Home!” She slunk away, looking hurt. “We’ll go again tomorrow,” I promised. “I’ll pick you up, same time same place.”


In a life-changing development – as life-changing as having children, or that day I discovered the trick of freezing lemon slices to add to G&Ts on demand – Mrs B and I have entered into a reciprocal babysitting arrangement with another couple. First Friday night we got we high-tailed it to King Street, which contains the highest density of great pubs in the universe. We had a quick drink in the King Billy then in scorching evening sunshine mooched across the crowded cobbles to Renato’s to eat a salty pizza and relive our student days.

When we used to frequent it in the mid-1990s, Renato’s was the only place on the street that could serve booze after 11pm but smoking was permitted everywhere. Also we had lots of friends to go with. That’s all changed but nothing else – the staff are as comfortingly surly as ever, the Funghi still contains your month’s recommended salt intake, and there are still the same signed actor photographs from 1980s Old Vic shows on the walls, including a callow Jeremy Irons and  Josie Lawrence in a pair of unforgiveable dungarees.

Alas, we had no time to pop into The Famous Royal Naval Volunteer, the new Belgian-style Beer Emporium or The Llandoger Trow, so after our pizza we elbowed through the outside drinkers and into The Old Duke, for a live dose of that age-old English cultural tradition, New Orleans jazz.

The Old Duke is one of those rare places that, when it is packed and swinging, makes you feel like there’s nowhere better you could possibly be. It is small and grubby and it takes an age to get to the bar, but what a vibe. The clientele ranges from adolescent to geriatric. There are jazz folk in porkpie hats and grungey men with Christ beards, crimson-haired girls with nose-rings and public schoolboys in blazers, there are gorgeous Hispanic students and a corner for fading white-haired homosexuals in attire ranging from motorcyclist to theatre director to antiques dealer, one of whom made an optimistic attempt to chat me up as I leaned over to order my round. Couldn’t blame him, I was pretty devastating in my new red checked shirt and navy jacket. “That’s a nice shirt, where’s it from?” he asked, inoffensively patting the sleeve. “TK Maxx, my friend,” I replied, winking. “Nothing but the best, that’s me.” I clapped him consolingly on the back and sauntered back to my wife with a pair of G&T like the heartbreaking sonofabitch I am, just as the band segued into a jazzy version of You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog.


But she was not there at the farm shop gate when I walked past the next day. I looked about the yard for a few minutes, then carried on up the hill alone. The sun was behind clouds, there was horseshit a-plenty but no sundrops on the lane. A whooshing wind in the branches muffled the birdsong and sheepgroans. At the top of the hill I looked over the grey hills under a heavy grey sky. Dull light on the dab-fish ponds. Perhaps this is the afterlife we dread, I thought suddenly, not hellfire but an eternity in an empty landscape, with no lovers or children or friends, or crazy greens, or hapless queens. Just you on a hill, alone, forever, without your dog.

Brought to you by Dabbler Editions – original e-books for Kindle. Buy Blogmanship: The Art of Winning Arguments on the Internet Without Really Knowing What You Are Talking About now.

A Walk in the Woods in Midsummer


Today is midsummer, and Professor Nick Groom turns his attention to the woods. Trees are a special part of our national identity, and they need us as much as we need them…

Woods occupy a special place in the imaginative topography of England. The greenwood is the haunt and habitat of Robin Hood, the contested pastoral setting of the Forest of Arden in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, and a way into Faërie in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. These woods are not the dark fir-forests of Teutonic myth and Grimms’ fairytales, but the spacious, sunny, broad-leaf, deciduous woods of middle England.

The reason why English woodland is so open, verdant, and young is because for at least a thousand years England has had comparatively little woodland – certainly much less than the rest of northern Europe – and has consequently had to manage it carefully – as Oliver Rackham points out in his charming book Ancient Woodland: ‘By the thirteenth century AD woodland management was a fully-developed art with conservation as its chief objective.’ There was, in other words, no vast Hercynian Forest across Anglia, Mercia, and Wessex, and what existed was not an idealized and aesthetic landscape but a dynamic working environment that was planned, cultivated, and maintained. Some English forestry initiatives only therefore date back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the result of picturesque schemes to ‘improve’ scenic prospects or ‘restore’ imagined primal woods, such as the fabled Anderida Forest across the south of England.

There is, however, a strong appeal in planting trees, and it is important not to let the poison of the picturesque taint serious ecological conservation projects. Supported by the Woodland Trust and in an attempt to renew habitats and create more bio-diverse local environments, I have helped to plant hundreds of trees; it is humbling experience and I can only agree with Joseph Addison who on 31 May 1712 wrote that ‘the love of woods seems to be a passion implanted in our natures’. I planted with scouts and guides, but also with people nearly twice my age: they would never live to see these trees give shade for them to walk under – but then that was the point. Planting trees is a gift to later generations, a bequest of woodland charm. From the ardent Londoner Samuel Johnson to the peasant poet John Clare, English woods possessed a kind of magic. Hester Lynch Piozzi wrote of Johnson that, ‘Walking in a wood when it rained was, I think, the only rural image he pleased his fancy with’. Clare, on the other hand, wrote ‘Wood Rides’, an uncharacteristically sentimental poem in which the practicalities of the wood are blurred into a sort of ‘woodland ethnicity’, the poet careless of the flowers at his feet:

Who hath not felt the influence that so calms
The weary mind in summers sultry hours
When wandering thickest woods beneath the arms
Of ancient oaks and brushing nameless flowers

Woods can help us to overcome the trite expectations of the picturesque that are almost indelibly impressed in our culture. In his essay ‘Forest’ (1885), Richard Jefferies’ depiction of the autumnal woodland scene commences predictably enough, but then we are refreshingly reminded that this is a working, economic environment – and so much the healthier for that:

The soft autumn sunshine, shorn of summer glare, lights up with colour the fern, the fronds of which are yellow and brown, the leaves, the grey grass, and hawthorn sprays already turned. It seems as if the early morning mists have the power of tinting leaf and fern, for so soon as they commence the green hues begin to disappear. There are swathes of fern yonder, cut down like grass or corn, the harvest of the forest. It will be used for litter and for thatching sheds.

Trees are good to think with, they are gateways that lead us into understanding our environment and our identity. They are understandably writ large in the story of the nation, most clearly in the Navy’s insatiable demand for timber for shipbuilding, but also in more subtle and cultural ways: in half-timbered houses, in the stone foliage that effloresces in the Gothic architecture of churches, in the dark myths of Yggdrasil and the Tree of Knowledge. Not for nothing did the English identify with the oak tree, as eighteenth-century sailors sang with such gusto that ‘our castles of wood stand like castles of brass’ in their triumphalist anthem ‘Heart of Oak’:

Heart of oak are our Ships,
Heart of oak are our Men;
We always are ready,
Steady, boys, steady,
We’ll fight, and we’ll conquer, again and again.

This legacy haunts me as I walk through the woods, the trees trembling with meaning, as it is a legacy under perpetual threat. As early as 1956 the Forestry Commission’s scheme of supporting coniferous plantations was being heavily criticized in the Architectural Review as being ‘as deadly as any industrial squalor of the 19th century’ – in other words, comparable to factory developments. Our landscape is defaced where it most aspires to be natural, and we are cut us off from our history and from our culture. The conservation of woodland lies instead in older traditions of managed, indigenous forestry: the trees need us as much as we need them.

nick groom the seasons

The Seasons: An Elegy for the Passing of the Year is now available from Atlantic Books.
Follow Nick Groom on Twitter: @Prof_Nick_Groom

The Cheerfulness of Grass


Do you hear the Spring sound of mowers humming? Stephen considers the poetic qualities of grass…

I am easy to please.  All seems right with the world when, on a sunny spring day, I can hear the hum of lawnmowers from various points in the distance, and the scent of freshly-cut grass arrives on a soft breeze.  Who says that there is no such thing as Paradise on Earth?

Here is John Ruskin (in one of those extravagant, wide-ranging apostrophes of his that make reading his books such a delight):

The Greek, we have seen, delighted in the grass for its usefulness; the medieval, as also we moderns, for its colour and beauty. But both dwell on it as the first element of the lovely landscape; we saw its use in Homer, we see also that Dante thinks the righteous spirits of the heathen enough comforted in Hades by having even the image of green grass put beneath their feet; the happy resting-place in Purgatory has no other delight than its grass and flowers; and, finally, in the terrestrial paradise, the feet of Matilda pause where the Lethe stream first bends the blades of grass.

Consider a little what a depth there is in this great instinct of the human race.  Gather a single blade of grass, and examine for a minute, quietly, its narrow sword-shaped strip of fluted green.  Nothing, as it seems there, of notable goodness or beauty.  A very little strength, and a very little tallness, and a few delicate long lines meeting in a point, — not a perfect point either, but blunt and unfinished, by no means a creditable or apparently much cared-for example of Nature’s workmanship; made, as it seems, only to be trodden on to-day, and to-morrow to be cast into the oven; and a little pale and hollow stalk, feeble and flaccid, leading down to the dull brown fibres of roots.  And yet, think of it well, and judge whether of all the gorgeous flowers that beam in summer air,  and of all strong and goodly trees, pleasant to the eyes or good for food, — stately palm and pine, strong ash and oak, scented citron, burdened vine, — there be any by man so deeply loved, by God so highly graced, as that narrow point of feeble green.

John Ruskin, Modern Painters, Volume III (1856), Part IV, Chapter XIV, Section 51 (italics in original).

Wordsworth considers the subject in the following untitled poem.

This Lawn, a carpet all alive
With shadows flung from leaves — to strive
     In dance, amid a press
Of sunshine, an apt emblem yields
Of Worldlings revelling in the fields
     Of strenuous idleness;

Less quick the stir when tide and breeze
Encounter, and to narrow seas
     Forbid a moment’s rest;
The medley less when boreal Lights
Glance to and fro, like aery Sprites
     To feats of arms addrest!

Yet, spite of all this eager strife,
This ceaseless play, the genuine life
     That serves the stedfast hours,
Is in the grass beneath, that grows
Unheeded, and the mute repose
     Of sweetly-breathing flowers.

William Wordsworth, Yarrow Revisited, and Other Poems (1835).

Wordsworth’s poem fits well with some further remarks by Ruskin:

Observe, the peculiar characters of the grass, which adapt it especially for the service of man, are its apparent humility, and cheerfulness.  Its humility, in that it seems created only for lowest service, — appointed to be trodden on, and fed upon.  Its cheerfulness, in that it seems to exult under all kinds of violence and suffering.  You roll it, and it is stronger the next day; you mow it, and it multiplies its shoots, as if it were grateful; you tread upon it, and it only sends up richer perfume.  Spring comes, and it rejoices with all the earth, — glowing with variegated flame of flowers, — waving in soft depth of fruitful strength.  Winter comes, and though it will not mock its fellow plants by growing then, it will not pine and mourn, and turn colourless and leafless as they.  It is always green; and is only the brighter and gayer for the hoar-frost.

John Ruskin, Modern Painters, Volume III, Part IV, Chapter XIV, Section 52 (italics in original).

A side-note:  given Ruskin’s invention of the term “pathetic fallacy,” it is interesting to find him describing the “humility” and “cheerfulness” of grass.

Stephen Pentz curates poems and pictures at the First Known When Lost blog.

Land of Deer (and plagiarism)


Nige on how the sight of a deer inspired a prize-winning poem which ‘inspired’ another prize-winning poem…

We retroprogressives have long relished the fact that Britain’s deer population is back up to medieval levels – but now the news gets even better: the deer population, according to the latest research, is the highest it’s been since the last Ice Age. Naturally this news has its down side, as deer populations this large do damage their environment, especially in woodland (last year a cull of 50 per cent was being called for). Is a new age of cheap venison on the way? Don’t hold your breath…

Despite this burgeoning population, deer remain elusive creatures, and seeing one is always a bit magical, like an encounter with a creature from another age. Menaces to the environment though they may be, they are beautiful to the eye and seem to walk in a kind of enchanted air, in a world very much their own, to which we can have no access.

Many poets have written about deer – none more hauntingly perhaps than Edward Thomas in Out in the Dark And then there was one deer poem that was so good it was, by some mysterious process, written twice. Behold – here is The Deer by Helen Mort, which won the Cafe Writers Open Poetry Competition in Norwich in 2009:

The deer my mother swears to God we never saw,
the ones who stepped between the trees
on pound-coin coloured hooves,
I brought them up each teatime in the holidays
and they were brighter every time I did;
more supple than the otters that we waited for
at Ullapool, more graceful than the kingfisher
that darned the river south of Rannoch Moor.
Then five years on, in the same house, I rose
for water in the middle of the night and watched
my mother at the window, looking out
to where the forest lapped the garden’s edge.
From where she stood, I saw them stealing
through the pines, and they must have been closer
than before, because I have no memory
of those fish-bone ribs, that ragged fur
their eyes, like hers, that flickered back
towards whatever followed them.

And here is The Deer at Exmoor, which won the Hope Bourne poetry prize for Christian Ward in 2011:

The deer my father swears to God we never saw,
the ones who stepped between the trees
on pound-coin coloured hooves,
I brought them up each teatime in the holidays
and they were brighter every time I did;
more supple than the otters we waited for
at the River Exe, more graceful than the peregrine
falcon landing at Bossington Beach.
Then five years on, in the same house, I rose
for water in the middle of the night and watched
my father at the window, looking out
to where the forest lapped the garden’s edge.
From where he stood, I saw them stealing
through the trees, and they must have been closer
than before, because I have no memory
of those fish-bone ribs, that ragged fur
their eyes, like his, that flickered back
towards whatever followed them.

Not surprisingly this remarkable coincidence caused a bit of a kerfuffle in poetry circles, with Christian Ward professing himself ‘deeply sorry’, while asserting that it was all a mistake and he had had no intention of ‘deliberately plagiarising’ Helen Mort’s poem. Ah well, these things happen.

[Ed - Ward's statement in the Western Morning News is worth repeating for comic value:]

I read with interest the article printed in the Western Morning News on Saturday 5th January concerning allegations of plagiarism in the Exmoor Society’s Hope Bourne competition. I would like to offer my side of the story and clear things up.

On 21st December 2012, the Exmoor Society sent me a letter informing me that my poem The Deer at Exmoor [which won the 2011 Hope Bourne Prize] was “remarkably similar” to Helen Mort’s The Deer. It was before Christmas so I was unable to respond straight away.

I expected this to be a straightforward matter to be resolved internally by the society and was not expecting an article to even be written. Some of the quotes took me by surprise. I was disgusted, in particular, by James Crowden’s comment that I be put in the stocks and suffer something even worse.

On to my side: I was working on a poem about my childhood experiences in Exmoor and was careless. I used Helen Mort’s poem as a model for my own but rushed and ended up submitting a draft that wasn’t entirely my own work.

I had no intention of deliberately plagiarising her work. That is the truth.

I am sorry this has happened and am making amends. This incident is all my fault and I fully accept the consequences of my actions. I apologise to the Exmoor Society, Helen Mort, the poetry community and to the readers of the WMN.

Furthermore, I have begun to examine my published poems to make sure there are no similar mistakes. I want to be as honest as I can with the poetry community and I know it will take some time to regain their trust. Already I have discovered a 2009 poem called The Neighbour is very similar to Tim Dooley’s After Neruda and admit that a mistake has been made. I am still digging and want a fresh start.

I am deeply sorry and look forward to regaining your trust in me.

The Cuckoo and the Dragon


It’s cuckoos, buck deer farts and alternative St George’s day festivities this month, as Professor Nick Groom looks at the English April…

What does a cuckoo sound like? Silly question: ‘cuck-oo!’ So imagine my surprise when a university lecturer confessed to me that she didn’t know and couldn’t recognize this seasonal birdsong. Admittedly she wasn’t a bio-scientist, but she was in an English literature department and has been teaching Romantic poetry for over ten years. And Romantic poetry is full of birds piping in the Spring: Wordsworth’s cuckoo and Keats’s nightingale (if not Coleridge’s albatross). And it is the distinctive call of the cuckoo that sounds most frequently through folklore and traditional ballads as both the bringer of good tidings, and as a sinister warning. And so from proverbial rhymes to Wordsworth’s poetry, from Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost to John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos, and from Laurel and Hardy’s signature tune (‘The Cuckoo Song’) to the letters page of The Times, which habitually alerts its readership to the first cuckoo heard every year, Cuculidae sings its way through our countryside and our culture.

The first ‘cuckoo’ in English literature is of course the birdcall refrain of the song ‘Sumer Is Icumen In’, which dates from around 1240 and which was used to spectacular effect at the climax of Robin Hardy’s 1973 film, The Wicker Man:

Sumer is icumen in • Lhude sing cuccu •
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med and springþ þe wode nu •
Sing cuccu
Awe bleteþ after lomb • lhouþ after calve cu •
Bulluc sterteþ • bucke uerteþ
murie sing cuccu • Cuccu cuccu
Wel singes þu cuccu ne swik þu nauer nu •
Sing cuccu nu • Sing cuccu •
Sing cuccu • sing cuccu nu •

[Summer is a-coming in, loudly sing, cuckoo;
Grows the seed and blooms the mead (i.e. meadow) and springs the wood anew,
Sing cuckoo;
Ewe bleats after lamb, lows after calve the cow,
Bullock starts, buck deer farts,
Merry sing cuckoo: cuckoo, cuckoo;
Well sings the cuckoo: nor ever stop you now;
Sing cuckoo now; sing cuckoo;
Sing cuckoo; sing cuckoo now.]

The traditional day of the first annual cuckoo in England is 3 April, according to the Julian calendar, which was revised to 14 April for the New Style Gregorian calendar. Cuckoo Mornings, when the cuckoo was first heard, were sometimes celebrated locally as Gaudy Days (from the Latin gaudio, make merry) and there are cuckoo fairs held throughout the country from the middle of April. Cuckoo Day in Marsden in Yorkshire is also held at the end of the month, around 27 April, and features giant cuckoo puppets, a performance of a cuckoo play, and a cuckoo ball. Indeed, Marsden is associated with the old legend that there would be eternal spring if the cuckoo could only be persuaded (or compelled) to stay. In Marsden the locals tried to keep the cuckoo in a tower, in Gotham they built a fence around its tree. But the cuckoo always flew away: the walls and fences were never quite high enough to trap the bird – or the sunshine – forever. Besides such madcap schemes, hearing the cuckoo for the first time in the year was thought to be highly significant, and folk were advised to behave wisely at this propitious moment. If you found yourself idle or hungry when you first heard the bird it boded a lean year, but if you had money in your pocket then prosperity beckoned.

These days, many city dwellers are lucky to hear a cuckoo at all, but April does have its festivals. Although the web of Easter commemorations usually dominates the month, from Shrovetide through Easter itself to Hocktide, April still has its own significant dates: primarily St George’s Day on 23 April, and St Mark’s Eve on the night of 24 April.

St George’s Day is currently going through a revival. It was once a major civic celebration, characterized by pageants or ‘ridings’ organized by guilds, consisting of St George, the Princess, and the Dragon leading the procession, revels, and feasting – one could even be fined for not attending – and annual fairs have been held on St George’s Day since the reign of Henry III. Although the Reformation put paid to this Georgery, from the time of the Restoration in 1660 Stuart monarchs such as Charles II and James II chose 23 April as the date for their coronations, and so it was revived as a formal and loyalist holiday before lapsing once again. But it was really in the nineteenth century that the folk cult of St George properly revived: St George was associated with the triumphs of English history, chivalry, and muscular Christianity. He was also adopted as a patron by groups as different as early socialist campaigners and the Boy Scouts, and during the First World War allegedly appeared on the battlefield at Mons to fight the ‘Boche’. And yet despite appearing on many war memorials, the gung-ho patriotism typified by St George ran very much counter to the mood of the country in the wake of the war, and he was again forgotten as a national symbol. It was not until the Euro ’96 soccer competition that English football supporters finally began to sport the cross of St George rather than waving the red-white-and-blue of the Union Jack (as they had done in 1966), and a new popular version of Englishness began to be bruited abroad. Coincidentally, shortly after Euro ’96, the Church of England revived St George’s Day as a feast day.

So how will you celebrate St George’s Day? God forbid that it should become solely associated with a ridiculous football team. But apart from a few breweries launching themed beers promoted with gigantic novelty top hats, and a modest market for greetings cards, there’s little idea of what should be done on St George’s Day. It is up to us: either we allow our national identity to be led like a lion by the absurd donkeys of English football or – worse – by political extremists, or we actively revive old traditions and invent new ways of marking the day. St George’s Day could be a national day of local customs – some archaic, others yet to emerge: bringing communities together by celebrating local diversity and character instead of uniformity and sameness: the distinctive histories, landscapes, and wildlife across the country. Rather than trying to kickstart a national celebration with one brand of beer and one red-and-white flag, St George’s Day offers an opportunity to cherish difference and variety – not just by the English, but across English-speaking communities (as was certainly the case in the nineteenth century). St George’s Day is, it turns out, traditionally a good day on which to make dandelion wine, so at the very least we should be celebrating it with such local vintages rather than with mass-produced keg beer. And in doing so, we will perhaps begin to think again about how best to sustain our communities and the environment.

Nick Groom will he appearing in the Dartmoor Pace-Egg Play on 23 April.

nick groom the seasons

The Seasons: An Elegy for the Passing of the Year is now available from Atlantic Books.
Follow Nick Groom on Twitter: @Prof_Nick_Groom


Dabbler Diary – For the birds

Saturday was Owl Day at the Speedwell Children’s Centre so we took the girls along. Bob the owl man looked like an owl. That sort of thing happens far too often to ascribe it all to coincidence, doesn’t it? Ken Livingstone looks like a newt. Same with aptronyms. Strong and disappointingly banal are the subaqueous currents that carry us through life while we laughably think we’re making ‘choices’. Anyway, Bob the owl man had a round moony face and tufty eyebrows and he sort of wobble-jerked his head about when he spoke. Before him was arranged a motley flockette of birds on low perches, consisting of two kinds of barn owl, an eagle owl, a very big Great Gray Owl and another middling owl the name of which I forget. There was also a red kite wearing a hood.

C is more of a do-er than a sit-quietly-and-listen-er, and so for that matter is Mrs Brit, so the two of them went off into the next room to do some owl-related crafts while E and I sat on the floor with other parents and children to hear Bob’s talk. Up very close, it was interesting how sharp the talons and beaks of the birds looked. I arranged my limbs carefully around E.

E is two years old and very keen on owls. She had brought along her snowy owl soft toy, Owly. While Bob talked she solemnly held Owly aloft for the owls to see and, we presumed, approve. They saw  – all except the blinded kite and the Great Gray, which was facing the window – but whether or not they approved was difficult to discern. Their eyes, though wide and round and unblinking, gave no clue.

Bob spoke at some length about the habitats and the habits of his owls. After a while it seemed to me that he was a bit of a silly sort of man. Whenever the red kite made a noise – the noise of a killer bringing sudden skewering gut-spreading death to mammalkind ­­ –  he said ‘Shurrup you!’, camply. He spoke about owl poo and wee and the business of pellets, whereby birds regurgitate the undigested bones, fur, feathers, claws, teeth and insect exoskeletons of their prey. The children shuffled and did not laugh.

We learned that although owls have good eyesight their front-on wide eyes and round skulls and eye-sockets primarily help them to identify the position of prey by sound. Bob asked whether we thought an owl would kill a little mouse with its beak or its talons. “With its beak,” offered a small boy. “No!” cried Bob in triumph, it would rip the mouse into pieces with its sharp talons. Owls liked eating things about the size of that toy that the young lady there is holding, he added, pointing to Owly. I pulled E a bit closer to my body. She pulled Owly closer to hers.

When he spoke Bob tapped his fingers on his tubby tummy. I noticed that his hands were covered in scratches, including on his right hand a long red angry scar running from the knuckle of his thumb to just above his wrist.

The birds continued to outstare us. I began to feel a creeping, almost certainly imaginary affinity with them and it was based on a shared animosity towards Bob, whose voice was starting to hurt my brain. Suddenly the Great Gray Owl whipped its face to us and with shocking power blasted open its wings, twitched, stretched, gaped. Then slowly it folded back into itself, and swivelled its head away again to the false azure in the windowpane.


Bristol has been named by the Sunday Times as the UK’s best city to live in. Admirably, in reporting this story the Western Daily Press does its best to prevent an influx of people from moving here and further driving up house prices by saying :

From Banksy to drum ‘n’ bass, Bristol has built up a reputation as a trendy place for young people to live and was at the forefront of the foodie revival.

But in fact the truth is, it really is a great place to live.


During his excellent lecture about nonsense, which preceded Frank Key’s reading at Bristol Grammar School, Roland Clare included a short film in which the headmaster of the school was shown standing on his desk holding a lobster, while the sublime melody from the second movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique piano sonata played. Much as I love that tune, I cannot alas ever hear it without also hearing Billy Joel singing ‘Thiiiiiis night you’re miiiiine, it’s ooooonly you aaaaand I’, because he used it, attributed, for the chorus of his song This Night, side one track four of his 80s blockbuster album An Innocent Man. I only mention this because it amuses me to think that there exists a song with the credit “Music and lyrics by Billy Joel/Ludwig van Beethoven.”


The Tories have just banned prisoners from reading books! Have you ever heard of anything more inhumane, more wrong-headed, more plain wicked in all your life? I first got wind of Justice Minister Chris Grayling’s draconian measure when I saw this Tweet from SALT publishing on Monday morning:

Those of us in the UK are waking up today in a country that is banning books for prisoners. What an utter disgrace.

Indeed. Soon some bold campaigners were taking up the cause, arguing, in some cases strongly, that prisoners being able to read books is a good thing rather than a bad thing. Organisation Voices For The Library pointed out that

Access to books and reading is important for many reasons. It has been found to support people’s development by extending opportunities for social participation and contributing to the development of cognitive thinking skills

while the author Mark Haddon went a bit further, saying:

we give books to children and we encourage other people to give books to children because we think of books as an unequivocal good which makes them better educated, more rounded people. Yet the ministry of justice seeks to improve the behaviour of prisoners by restricting access to books as if they were a different species of human being.

Even more pithy was this statement from children’s writer and keen atheist Philip Pullman:

It’s one of the most disgusting, mean, vindictive acts of a barbaric government.

Ouch! Soon enough, the Guardian was on board, with kooky restaurant critic Tanya Gold penning a well-reasoned and highly intellectual piece that opens with this sally:

…This terrifies, and so it should: civilisation is made of books – and where, even Conservatives can surely admit, is there a greater need for them than in “the prison estate” that is disproportionately filled with the illiterate?

Administrations that hate books ordinarily hate people too.

And who could argue with that? Surely everyone (even Conservatives!) would admit that hating people is less good than not hating people? On Wednesday a strongly worded letter to The Telegraph signed by 80 of Britain’s most respected authors and playwrights including Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, Jeffrey Archer, Mary Beard, and the tireless pair Mark Haddon and Philip Pullman, opined that…

….Books represent a lifeline behind bars, a way of nourishing the mind and filling the many hours that prisoners spend locked in their cells.

By now the movement against the prison book ban was gaining unstoppable momentum. Using the hashting #shelfies, various writers tweeted pictures of their well-stocked and enviable bookshelves containing a selection of the sort of books they would send to prisoners if they were only allowed to by this barbaric government and happened to know any prisoners.

The campaign then culminated in a live event on Friday called ‘The Ballad Of Not Reading In Gaol’, lead by the Poet Laureate Carol Anne Duffy in which writers and actors including Kathy Lette, Vanessa Redgrave, Samuel West, David Hare and Ruth Padel read poems aloud outside Pentonville prison.


If you’ve done anything more than a spot of cursory reading about the hubbub above you’ll know that the remarkable thing about it is that under no definition whatsoever have prisoners actually been banned from reading books. Inmates have access to libraries, can buy books with money they earn and apparently can keep up to twelve books in their cells at a time, if they wish.

The root of the whole thing is in fact a change in rules which makes universal a previously inconsistently-applied ban on packages coming in to prisoners from friends and relatives. The ban appears to have been implemented for two reasons: because packages are a major source of contraband, especially drugs, entering prison; and because the ease with which prisoners can get access to small desirables undermines the government’s current policy of making prisoners earn rewards through good behaviour. Furthermore, the package ban has been in place since November 2013, not last week. Whether or not the ban is a good idea I am not qualified to comment, but it’s clear that not a single element of the SALT Publishing tweet “Those of us in the UK are waking up today in a country that is banning books for prisoners” has any basis in fact at all.

Now at this point you’re probably expecting me to launch into an assault on tweeting Guardianistas etc. But actually, I am going to tip my hat to the instigators of this salutary episode, namely The Howard League for Penal Reform, a progressive prison-matters pressure group led by Frances Crook. They have given us a genuine masterclass in twenty-first century propaganda, which is worth dissecting.

The Howard League disagrees with the package ban, but the ban in itself wasn’t unduly divisive or controversial – at any rate we didn’t hear a peep about it in November when it was introduced. But by ingeniously picking out the truism that sending packages containing books is now banned (along with packages containing anything else), they have managed to turn it into an Issue.

By exploiting the same foibles – self-righteousness, intellectual laziness, vanity, prejudice against politicians (especially Tories) –  that Chris Morris made use of in his infamous Brass Eye pranks to get celebs to endorse patent twaddle; and by combining that exploitation with the foibles of social media – gnat-like attention spans, look-at-me-ism, mob mentality, the urge to express instant, hyperbolic opinions (Philip Pullman: It’s one of the most disgusting, mean, vindictive acts of a barbaric government), the Howard League successfully mobilised the left-wing Twitterati, and from there the op-ed opinion pages. The Guardian has a whole army of writers relying for their pay on opportunties to express moral outrage against the Tories, and the Tanya Gold article quoted above is a marvellous example of the op-eder’s art, wherein she openly admits that the government has not, in fact, banned books for prisoners, but nonetheless carries on with her piece exactly as if they had (“Administrations that hate books ordinarily hate people too.”).

By the time the Howard League had pushed the banned-books meme up the ladder from the Twitterati via the Chatterati to the Literati (Salman Rushie! Carol Anne Duffy the Poet Laureate!), half the celebs and authors tweeting their ‘shelfies’ or standing proudly  to declaim poems outside Pentonville would have convinced even themselves that prior to this ban they were constantly in the habit of sending improving literature to various prison lags for the good of society.

It cannot be parodied. It is far beyond parody. It can only be admired. By Friday the Howard League had managed to get Sadiq Khan, the Shadow Justice Secretary, to say that Labour would “ditch the ‘ridiculous’ policy of preventing prisoners from receiving books in prison” if they won the next election. So within a week the Howard League had successfully turned an unnoticed five-month old policy into an urgent moral issue and got it onto the political agenda, simply through using social media and the tools of the hoaxer. By any measure, that’s damned impressive pressure-groupery.


This short film, showing a profoundly deaf lady hearing for the first time after cochlear implants, is just wonderful. Utopia is for the birds but against all odds and most of the evidence with which we’re daily presented, the world does somehow keep getting slightly better.

Brought to you by Dabbler Editions – original e-books for Kindle. Buy Blogmanship: The Art of Winning Arguments on the Internet Without Really Knowing What You Are Talking About now.

The Life of the Robin

life of the robin

Nige rediscovers a pioneering work of English natural history…

The world was made to be inhabited by beasts, but studied and contemplated by man: ’tis the debt of our reason we owe unto God, and the homage we pay for not being beasts. Without this, the world is still as though it had not been, or as it was before the sixth day, when as yet there was not a creature that could conceive or say there was a world. The wisdom of God receives small honour from those vulgar heads that rudely stare about and with a gross rusticity admire His works. Those truly magnify Him whose judicious enquiry into His acts and deliberate research into His creatures return the duty of a devout and learned admiration.

That’s Sir Thomas Browne in Religio Medici – and it’s the first epigraph of David Lack’s The Life of the Robin. Beneath it is a second epigraph – from Thomas Love Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey – and a third, from Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes:

So we rode around the park until quite late talking and philosophising quite a lot. And I finally told him I thought, after all, that bird life was the highest form of civilisation….

Gerry says he has never seen a girl of my personal appearance with so many brains..

And on the title page verso the book is ‘dedicated to all those robins who patiently bore my rings and permitted my intrusion into the intimacies of their lives’.

Originally published in 1943, The Life of the Robin is an enchanting book, as well as being a pioneering study of the facts – not always terribly attractive – about the well loved garden bird, that tireless singer, fierce fighter and beady-eyed meeter and greeter. As the first epigraph suggests, Lack was a believing Christian as well as a scientist; later in his career, he wrote a book with the self-explanatory title Evolutionary Theory and Christian Belief: The Unresolved Conflict (he believed, reasonably enough, that science and religion each has its own sphere).

He was also, clearly, a very well read man with a sense of humour and a notably well furnished mind. In The Life of the Robin, the literary references come thick and fast: the chapter on Song has epigraphs from Keats, Cowper, W.H. Davies and Spenser, and features quotations from Pliny, Nicholas Cox, Peacock (again), Wells, Marco Polo, Porphyry and more – including even some scientists. For this is, at bottom, a scientific study, complete with diagrams, graphs and statistics.

If only – I can’t help feeling as I read it – if only scientists wrote like that these days. If only they read like that, if only they thought like that…

The Life of The Robin ends with an ‘Epilogue for the Reader Now Closing This Book’ – Robert Herrick’s lines Upon Mrs Eliz. Wheeler, Under the Name of Amaryllis:

SWEET Amarillis by a spring’s
Soft and soul-melting murmurings
Slept, and thus sleeping, thither flew
A robin-redbreast, who, at view,
Not seeing her at all to stir,
Brought leaves and moss to cover her ;
But while he perking there did pry
About the arch of either eye,
The lid began to let out day,
At which poor robin flew away,
And seeing her not dead, but all disleav’d,
He chirp’d for joy to see himself deceiv’d.

Lack also wrote a book on swifts – Swifts in a Tower – but this seems to be long out of print and prohibitively expensive. Some enterprising publisher should reissue it, with attractive illustrations – like those by Robert Gillmor that decorate my copy of The Life of the Robin.