19 September 2013

Poetry Thursday - The Landrail by John Clare

Corncrake on the move - "Tyranosaurus corncrake" by Jamie MacArthur (via)

The Landrail

How sweet and pleasant grows the way
Through summer time again
While Landrails call from day to day
Amid the grass and grain

We hear it in the weeding time
When knee deep waves the corn
We hear it in the summers prime
Through meadows night and morn

And now I hear it in the grass
That grows as sweet again
And let a minutes notice pass
And now tis in the grain

Tis like a fancy everywhere
A sort of living doubt
We know tis something but it neer
Will blab the secret out

If heard in close or meadow plots
It flies if we pursue
But follows if we notice not
The close and meadow through

Boys know the note of many a bird
In their birdnesting bounds
But when the landrails noise is heard
They wonder at the sounds

They look in every tuft of grass
Thats in their rambles met
They peep in every bush they pass
And none the wiser get

And still they hear the craiking sound
And still they wonder why
It surely cant be under ground
Nor is it in the sky

And yet tis heard in every vale
An undiscovered song
And makes a pleasant wonder tale
For all the summer long

The shepherd whistles through his hands
And starts with many a whoop
His busy dog across the lands
In hopes to fright it up

Tis still a minutes length or more
Till dogs are off and gone
Then sings and louder than before
But keeps the secret on

Yet accident will often meet
The nest within its way
And weeders when they weed the wheat
Discover where they lay

And mowers on the meadow lea
Chance on their noisy guest
And wonder what the bird can be
That lays without a nest

In simple holes that birds will rake
When dusting on the ground
They drop their eggs of curious make
Deep blotched and nearly round

A mystery still to men and boys
Who know not where they lay
And guess it but a summer noise
Among the meadow hay
John Clare 

Also known as the corncrake and crex-crex, the landrail is fast disappearing in Britain. Yet in Clare's time (1793-1864) they were in the fields everywhere - before mechanised farming, its schedules and its machines, destroyed the long grass in which they nested, and with it the chicks and mother.
Corncrake nests usually have 8-12 eggs (via)
Crex crex (the Latin name of the species) represents the sound - hear it as part of the BBC's "tweet of the day" here. Often heard and rarely seen, it once had an "elusive omnipresence." Kathleen Jamie writes of going to see it on the Scottish island of Coll, and quotes some of Clare's poem in her essay.

Can corncrakes make a comeback? The species is currently confined largely to the Western Isles, where crofting continues to use traditional methods. In fact, to conserve the corncrake, canny crofters mow from the centre of the field to the edges, so the mother can lead the chicks to safety. In the 1990s numbers fell to 400 calling males (their call, rather than their visibility, makes them countable) - now that conservationists have stepped in, the numbers are up to 1200, somewhat better but hardly "ubiquitous"!

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