from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Thursday, 19 November 2015

small things: a candle of sparrows

Perhaps it’s the same for all of us: after the first impact of the shock and horror of a tragedy, whether it’s personal, familial, national or international, there is a kind of blankness creeps in; a numbing. 

Then, after that, I notice in myself a heightened awareness of, sensitivity to, even the most quotidian of experiences. So little things take on a vibrant intensity; become worthy of gratitude and celebration (as they are anyway, but we tend to forget). Simply being alive accrues extra significance.

It’s true that as a poet and someone who teaches the writing of poetry, my ‘job description’ includes the routine practice of close observation, and reminding others how to look; really look, and be aware with all their senses, including the non-physical. It’s about seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary.

In the poem from the other day I wrote about my watching the sparrows. I’m in the habit of doing this, but there is a further poignant edge of sharp pleasure in my being alive to watch them, now, nearly a week on from the terrible events in Paris. Of course, the sharpness is to do with knowing how many people as a result of worldwide horrors, as well as the simple passing of lives in their own time, can’t do this any more. It’s almost as though those of us who can, must. We’re a long time dead – probably.

So watching the sparrows brings with it a freight of delight at hope over despair. When I was a child growing up in rural Devon, house sparrows were so common as to be completely unnoticeable, in effect. Although they’re plentiful in some places in Britain still, they’re actually in sharp decline overall. Where I live now, also in rural Devon, it’s worthy of mention when I see one, or better still a couple.

We don’t entirely know why they’ve declined so sharply. As with so many other species, agrochemistry has something to do with it: herbicides affect the seeds that are the staple diet of sparrows, and for various species pesticides, habitat loss and building practices cause decline. 

But there is also a theory that the electromagnetic frequencies emitted by cordless domestic and business phones affect the ability of house sparrows to reside and breed in their traditional habitat: house eaves. Of course, it may be coincidence, but since I persuaded TM a couple of years ago to replace the cordless phone in the house with one with a cord, a pair of house sparrows now frequents the courtyard.

And what a joy to find a healthy population of house sparrows here in the little garden in Brittany. When I came in July, the male of a pair brought nine fledglings to the courtyard. They still seem to be here, intact.

In amongst the house sparrows are also a cluster of tree sparrows, alongside the little shy hedge sparrows, or dunnocks, who are in fact not sparrows at all, but members of the robin family.

Noticing little things like a thriving population of yet another endangered species is what we have; our small candles to offset the dark.


  1. Thank you for this Roselle. I'm just writing a post about bird observing and sky watching and this morning it felt like an important thing to do, to mark the being here.

  2. how lovely to hear from you, Liz. I hear news of you from time to time. x


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