I have no illusions. As I watch a small flock of starlings flit from place to place in the neighborhood, or in a park, I realize that they are driven by hunger and skittishness. The constant activity is a matter of survival. But, as I say, there is something endearing and beguiling about this intensely preoccupied, antic, ever-chattering community.
Can you keep it so,
cool tree, making a blue cage
for an obstreperous population? --
for a congregation of mediaeval scholars
quarrelling in several languages? --
for busybodies marketing
in the bazaar of green leaves? --
for clockwork fossils that can't be still even
when the Spring runs down?
No tree, no blue cage can contain
that restlessness. They whirr off
and sow themselves in a scattered handful
on the grass -- and are
tilling their green precincts.
Norman MacCaig, in Ewen McCaig (editor), The Poems of Norman MacCaig (Polygon 2009).
As I mentioned in my previous post, birds are apt candidates for anthropomorphization, and Norman MacCaig does this quite well. "Bustling monks/tilling their green precincts" is wonderful.
Charles Napier Hemy, "Pilchards" (1897)
Thomas Hardy has no reservations whatsoever when it comes to this sort of thing. Monologues by, and conversations between, non-human creatures are a common occurrence in his poetry. I suspect that some Modernists may find this to be old-fashioned, quaint, "sentimental," or otherwise objectionable on aesthetic grounds: not "serious" poetry, in other words.
Here's a test. Which would you prefer? To read a poem by Thomas Hardy in which birds carry on a casual conversation (or, to cite another example, a poem in which a dog converses with his deceased former owner, recently buried beneath the turf)? Or would you prefer to read something by James Joyce? Well, I think you know my answer. Talking birds win hands down.
Winter in Durnover Field
Scene. -- A wide stretch of fallow ground recently
sown with wheat, and frozen to iron hardness. Three
large birds walking about thereon, and wistfully eyeing
the surface. Wind keen from north-east: sky a dull grey.
Rook. -- Throughout the field I find no grain;
The cruel frost encrusts the cornland!
Starling. -- Aye: patient pecking now is vain
Throughout the field, I find . . .
Rook. -- No grain!
Pigeon. -- Nor will be, comrade, till it rain,
Or genial thawings loose the lorn land
Throughout the field.
Rook. -- I find no grain:
The cruel frost encrusts the cornland!
Thomas Hardy, Poems of the Past and the Present (1901).
The poem is a triolet. Thus, the first, fourth, and seventh lines are the same, as are the second line and the last line. This in turn means that the opening and closing couplets are identical.
Charles Napier Hemy, "Trout in the Eel Reeve" (1890)
The following poem demonstrates that, although Hardy is being playful when it comes to his bird conversations, he is not, in doing so, sacrificing the ability to create an affecting scene.
Starlings on the Roof
"No smoke spreads out of this chimney-pot,
The people who lived here have left the spot,
And others are coming who knew them not.
"If you listen anon, with an ear intent,
The voices, you'll find, will be different
From the well-known ones of those who went."
"Why did they go? Their tones so bland
Were quite familiar to our band;
The comers we shall not understand."
"They look for a new life, rich and strange;
They do not know that, let them range
Wherever they may, they will get no change.
"They will drag their house-gear ever so far
In their search for a home no miseries mar;
They will find that as they were they are,
"That every hearth has a ghost, alack,
And can be but the scene of a bivouac
Till they move their last -- no care to pack!"
Thomas Hardy, Satires of Circumstance, Lyrics and Reveries, with Miscellaneous Pieces (1914).
I would suggest that the fact that this conversation is between two starlings -- rather than between two humans standing on the sidewalk -- actually heightens the poem's impact, brings home more deeply the universal human plight that is the subject of the poem. But I may certainly be wrong.
Charles Napier Hemy, "Evening Gray" (1868)