by Robert Macfarlane
Here hunts heron. Here haunts heron.
Huge-hinged heron. Grey-winged weapon.
Eked from iron and wreaked from blue and
beaked with steal: heron, statue, seeks eel.
Rock still at weir sill. Stone still at weir sill.
Dead still at weir sill. Still still at weir sill.
Until, eelless at weir sill, heron magically…
Out of the water creaks long-legs heron,
old-priest heron, from hereon in all sticks
and planks and rubber-bands, all clanks and
clicks and rusty squeaks.
Now heron hauls himself into flight – early
aviator, heavy freighter – and with steady
wingbeats boosts his way through evening
light to roost.1
A couple weeks ago, in A Gleeful Ramble on the Specificity of Gaelic Words, I promised I would tell you about Robert Macfarlane’s book, The Lost Words. Some time ago, Macfarlane discovered that the new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary was removing words they thought children no longer needed, words like acorn, bluebell, kingfisher, dandelion.2 In response to this, Macfarlane wrote a book of poetry called The Lost Words. It is a spell-book, so to speak. Each poem is a spell calling back the words being lost. “Heron,” which I shared above, is one of these.
Oh friends, this book is magical! You simply must read it. Notice how all the bolded letters in the poem above form the word heron. All the spells are like this. But the words of the poem are only part of the wonders of this book. The artwork by Jackie Morris is delectable in itself. Her illustrations of the natural world are stunningly lifelike and she has littered each page with gold. But there is more. As Macfarlane writes in the forward, “It deals in things that are missing and things that are hidden, in absences and in appearances.”3 The Lost Words is a feast for the eyes and the ears and the lips. It is a book meant to be studied in wonder and delight with all the senses.
Lovely bits for extra wanderings:
- Robert Macfarlane’s article on The Guardian.
- A video where poet Malcolm Guite flips through The Lost Words and reads some of the poems.
- More of Jackie Morris’s artwork on her website.
- Malcolm Guite’s poem, “A Lament for Lost Words,” which he wrote in response to Macfarlane’s article.
Eke (“eek”): To increase or lengthen, make greater, supplement.
Weir (“weer”): A dam built for redirecting water flow. See pictures of a weir here.
1Robert Macfarlane, The Lost Words
2Robert Macfarlane, “The word-hoard: Robert Macfarlane on rewilding our language of landscape,” The Guardian, February 27, 2015
3Robert Macfarlane, The Lost Words