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Feb 2018
( for J.L )

"I like birds
more than books."

a young Edward
Thomas thinks

scribbling it
in bad Latin

on the fly leaf of
an algebra book.

A chaffinch chuckles.

"Vink...vink...vink!" it urges
in a regional accent.

"Fringilla Coelebs!"
Edward addresses it.

" cap!"
the bird disowns its names

content with being
itself and itself


It looks as if it has
just stepped out of the 15th century

illuminated maunuscript
The Shelbourne Missal.

"A caterpillar skeletonising a leaf
mmm...breakfast mefinks!"

The year  1895
madly in love with its own

never such sunlight

as this
the window holds the scene

as if it were
a living painting.

The bird behind the glass
poetry in just being.

The torture of
an algebra class

"Quod erat demonstrandum."
***Reading Jean Moorcroft Wilson's wonderful biography EDWARD THOMAS -FROM ADLESTROP TO ARRAS. I was struck by the tiny detail of the algebra book. A chaffinch had just landed on our bird table and had its fill of suet. So I imagined Thomas longing for escape from algebra in the glory of this common bird. The chaffinch is of course busy being a chaffinch and busy eating its favourite food...a juicy defoliating caterpillar. It has no notion of its human names and only knows the poetry of being itself.

The title comes from the Greek translation of the phrase rather than the Latin ( which yields, "what was to be demonstrated")which methinks is more apt.

To myself in the De La Salle Academy in Kildare in an equally sunny day in my own was always...Quite Easily Done! Alas Algebra and all its Mathematical kin were never kind to me and it was never easily done.

The chaffinch was once popular as a caged song bird and large numbers of wild birds were trapped and sold. At the end of the 19th century trapping even depleted the number of birds in London parks. In Britain the practice of keeping chaffinches as pets declined after the trapping of wild birds was outlawed by the Wild Birds Protection Acts of 1880 to 1896.

In 1882 the English publisher Samuel Orchart Beeton issued a guide on the care of caged birds and included the recommendation:

"To parents and guardians plagued with a morose and sulky boy, my advice is, buy him a chaffinch."

Competitions were held where bets were placed on which caged chaffinch would repeat its song the greatest number of times. The birds were sometimes blinded with a hot needle in the belief that this encouraged them to sing.

The chaffinch is still a popular pet bird in some European countries. In Belgium, for example, the traditional sport of Vinkenzetting pits male chaffinches against one another in a contest for the most bird calls in an hour.

Hardy's THE BLINDED BIRD rails against this habit of blinding in order to sing more fully.

"Who hath charity? This bird.
Who suffereth long and is kind,
Is not provoked, though blind
And alive ensepulchred?
Who hopeth, endureth all things?
Who thinketh no evil, but sings?
Who is divine? This bird."

In Irish it is Rí king or king of the wild. As well as it's blue crown it has rusty red underparts or underpants as my Uncle Michael called them which would account for the rusty or red part of its name.

For half a day there was now a world of snow, a myriad flakes falling, a myriad rising, and nothing more than the sound of rivers; and now a world of green undulating hills that smiled in the lap of the grey mountains, over which moved large clouds, sometimes tumultuous and grey,  sometimes  white and slow, but always fringed with fire. When the snow came, the mountains dissolved and were not. When the mountains were born again out of the snow, the snow seemed but to have polished the grass,  and put a sharper sweetness in the song of the thrush and the call of the curlew, and left the  thinnest of cirrus clouds upon the bare field, where it clung only to the weeds.

Edward Thomas – BEAUTIFUL WALES( 1905)

“….words of landscape…landscapes are what I seem to be  made for…nearly all  of it without humanity except what it may owe to a lanky shadow of myself – I stretch over big landscapes just as my shadow does at dawn…”

Letter to Bottomley
Donall Dempsey
Written by
Donall Dempsey  Guildford
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