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Featured Poem: The Hummingbird by D. H. Lawrence

Written by Rachael Norris, 23rd March 2020

Dear Readers,

We are introducing a special focus to our Featured Poem over the coming weeks in order to help us through the testing times ahead. 

We will be choosing poems that might be particularly helpful, and will also be posting an accompanying video of the person who chose the poem reading it aloud.

To launch this special series, Dr. Clare Ellis, Head of Learning and Quality, shares The Hummingbird by D. H. Lawrence, with some thoughts below.

Like many of us, last week marked my first week working from home in light of the latest government guidelines for social distancing as we tackle the current crisis of COVID-19.

I have a small bird feeder outside my window and have situated my working desk so I can look out and keep an eye on the busy working day of the local robins and blue tits, and the occasional unruly magpie who determinedly decides to try his luck at the all too dainty bird feeder.

As I have been planning with my colleagues on how we can still bring Shared Reading to our local communities whilst we are not able to meet in person at the moment, the birds have brought a much needed relief to my new routine. While the world is in crisis, the birds continue to busily carry on with their daily routine, and thereby give me hope that all will be alright.

Anyway, while watching then with new found interest, I was reminded of a lovely poetry collection I have called The Poetry of Birds ed. by Simon Armitage and Tim Dee. Within the collection there are - as I'm sure you've already guessed - lots of wonderful poems about birds. A good subject for us now it feels as we feel are own wings clipped - at least we can experience flight through following the pathways of our feathered friends.

There's a particularly electrifying poem in this colection called The Hummingbird by D. H. Lawrence.


I can imagine, in some otherworld
Primeval-dumb, far back
In that most awful stillness, that gasped and hummed,
Humming-birds raced down the avenues.

Before anything had a soul,
While life was a heave of matter, half inanimate,
This little bit chirped off in brilliance
And went whizzing through the slow, vast, succulent stems.

I believe there were no flowers then,
In the world where humming-birds flashed ahead of creation
I believe he pierced the slow vegetable veins with his long beak.

Probably he was big
As mosses, and little lizards, they say, were once big.
Probably he was a jabbing, terrifying monster.

We look at him through the wrong end of the telescope of time,
Luckily for us.

D. H. Lawrence

I remember reading this poem with a Shared Reading group I used to run in Sefton years ago. I remember how we all looked up at each other and smiled after first hearing this - smiles of wonderment, surprise, and perhaps something akin to that shared euphoria that comes in being reminded that there's still so much more to the world than we will ever know, so much of our pasts still to learn, so much still to come.

We spoke about why we would imagine hummingbirds in such as far off place to begin with. 'They're not extinct you know,' one member pointed out to me at the time. Another said that anything 'primeval' belongs to the land of the dinosaurs not hummingbirds. We were starting to get caught up in facts of evolution and we were losing our way a bit so we re-read it, and this time I asked the group to simply notice how we felt whilst listening to it and what we noticed.

'This little bit chipped off in brilliance', observed the same person who had originally pointned out to me that hummingbirds were not extinct 'That's what birds are like - flashes of brilliance.' We pondered some more on the word 'brilliance' as well as the seeming randomness of 'this little bit' and the exuberant energy of the 'whizzing'.

'It's so alive', said a member who was new to the group that week, 'maybe that's the brilliance - that when everything else seems slow or sluggish, lthings like this can take us by surprise kind of thing?'

I think that may be one of the reasons why I enjoy this poem - it kind of takes my breath away alittle bit, flashes across me with a kind of life spirit that can't be contained or fully pinned down. It also reminds me not to underestimate the power of small creatures, the power of small things and moments of imagination.

Please do let us know if any of you know of any poems about birds that's you'd like to share. It was the first day of Spring on Saturday. Let's try to keep looking outwards.

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