Song Thrush, Normandy

Beneath this cloud-spread sky you sing head high
for some lost mate, or for the joy to thrive
through storms, and glide through orchards ripe with apples,
cherries, berries, pears and leaves all dappled
with the shy sun’s rays.  Your quiet flight
a modest pageant: speckled breast, polka dotted chest,
feathers brushed buff-red that catch the light,
jacket dusky brown, the clear-cut vest
a lining laid in grey along your wings
as you carve your kingly way to topmost things.
Your song, suspended in the branches, waits
for wind, sent by a distant promise to celebrate,
awake a dormant hope hidden in the brume,
clear the clouds to welcome in the blue.
Your notes, released, then soar towards the sky
fill the air with nature’s pure delight
a song to lift us all from earthly strife
forget our woes for just one transient moment of


The Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos, La Grive musicienne) has long wings enabling it to migrate over very long distances.  Their strong, rapid wing beats allow them to soar high and maintain an easy cruising speed.  During migration they fly mostly at night.  In the morning, those that come to land catapult in at high speed to woody areas to ensure their safety. However, many Song thrushes in Britain and France are ‘sedentary’, i.e. are resident year round and do not migrate. Check out his song here.

And check out  Olivier Messiaen’s ‘Song Thrush’:  this extract is taken from the French organist’s famous work  “little bird sketches”, written in 1985 and dedicated to his wife Yvonne Loriod who gave the first performance in 1987: 

starting at 7’04

Photograph: Song Thrush (Turdus Philomelos), Taco Meeuwsen, Hellevoetsluis, The Netherlands.



Alone against the storm she fights while others

bow and wait, hide and bend for cover,

dares show her face, however shy the smile

sky-blue, a rare appearance, mixed with guile

she braves the skittering wind, stays upright in the gale

and won’t give up, while those around her fall.

However fine her petals, they draw the light

and nourish stems and roots, fight off the blight

so we can share with her her seed, her fibre

and her firm resolve,

weave her linen flax around our limbs, be bold

and brave the storm which comes to shake the fields,

stand upright, sure and smiling as it wields

that flash of slaying hand we will abate,

like her, with full determined grace.



This poem was written following the knife attacks in Paris and London and a terrific wind storm in Normandy, after which I found a lone flax flower still standing in a partially devastated field.

The north part of Normandy, thanks to the humid climate and silt in the soil which retains the humidity, is one of the regions of France best suited for flax growing. Half of European linen grows in Normandy; France cultivates 76% of European linen. France is the first producer of linen in the world, ahead of China and Russia.  China produces linen of lower quality; it buys scutched linen from France which is then spun and woven in China.