Proud Maisie

We used to think, if we had a baby, we would call it Robin. As regular readers will know, I’m something of a birdwatcher, albeit not the dogged type you’ll see waiting in hides in all weathers, but a part-timer, a ‘bad birdwatcher’ as Simon Barnes calls himself in his charming book about our hobby (as in pastime, not as in type of falcon).

My wife used to be irked by this – we spent fifteen fruitless minutes once trying to get a decent picture of a cormorant fishing beneath the Tyne Bridge (Simon Barnes’s book helpfully advises us to forget cameras, but always carry binoculars). Later, however, my hobby rubbed off on her, and she can recognise a good deal of the avian life of our isles – not only does she know a heron from a handsaw, but a kite from a buzzard, a dunnock from a sparrow and a crow from a rook. Impressive.

But we won’t be calling our baby Robin, and it’s not just to save him/her from all the terrible Batman jokes. We were walking by the edge of a woods once at dusk, when the not unfamiliar warblings of a robin filled the air. It is quite one of the most beautiful songs you will here in this part of the world (we’re too far north for nightingales), but – oh, oh, so melancholy. It makes your heart flutter, but ultimately dip, so full of the sorrows of the world does it seem. I shared this sentiment with my wife. She listened and concurred… And Robin, as a name, was now out of the question. We want a happy kid!

Of course, I wasn’t the first person to notice the melancholy undertones in the robin’s song. Here the Scottish novelist and poet, Walter Scott, endows the bird with foresight, and a nice line in ironic humour, but also an unmistakeable pessimism:

Proud Maisie

Proud Maisie is in the wood,  

Walking so early;  

Sweet Robin sits on the bush,  

Singing so rarely.  

 

‘Tell me, thou bonny bird,

When shall I marry me?’  

‘When six braw gentlemen  

Kirkward shall carry ye.’  

 

‘Who makes the bridal bed,  

Birdie, say truly?’

—’The grey-headed sexton  

That delves the grave duly.  

 

‘The glow-worm o’er grave and stone  

Shall light thee steady;  

The owl from the steeple sing

Welcome, proud lady!’

 

Sir Walter Scott

So there’s a Scottish poem for Saint Andrew’s Day for you, as well as a useful warning for proud maidens. Note to self, though – that’s the name Maisie crossed off the list too.

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4 Comments

Filed under Birds, Poetry

4 responses to “Proud Maisie

  1. There’s a pleasing simplicity in these lines isn’t there? It seems just right for the ostensible subject matter.

  2. I agree with you there, John. I like the contrast between the simple, positive names the robin is given – ‘sweet robin’, ‘bonny bird’ – and its much less pleasing message.

  3. perhaps the bird’s name should be spelled “robbin'”?

  4. Good lord, Stew- i just got that!

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