The death of the bird essay
The first verses make me think of the whole ethos of estrangement that was a feature of Australian society, at least of a certain kind, right up to and through the 20th century. It probably still exists, in sheltered drawing rooms where dowagers speak of England as “home”. They live in this country as exiles. At best they love this country, but they also love the “mother country” and it draws them back, often actually.
This is to be found in the 2nd and 3rd verses: with “Going away she is also coming home” and “Aware of ghosts that haunt the heart’s possession.” The first would apply directly to that feeling of being estranged from the mother country, the ghosts of the second being the ancestors, the family history that grew in another country and culture – the “exiled love”.
It seems to me that Hope, while writing about a bird and its entirely natural annual migrations, would have to have been aware of the underlying shadow of a meaning to do with people, the whole sense of ‘going home’ when home has now become a different place. Nevertheless, unlike well-known bird poems like Yeats’ Wild Swans at Coole, and Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale, this poem is not about the poet’s feelings, nor does it overtly draw parallels with humanity or history.
The fourth verse has always given me difficulty. It seems to intrude, though it can be logically explained. It is a fine description of an exotic scene and fits the theme of the bird being subject to ‘the lure of faraway places’, but is it specifically the faraway place
from which “the whisper of love” emanates, or is it just scenery on the way? I’ve always seen it that way, like being in a plane and looking down – as I remember vividly when I first flew over the Alps.
Interestingly, this verse is the only one in the poem which is not specifically about the bird.
Now we go back to the bird, which has not yet set out on its migratory flight and to the poet’s version of what...