“a curlew cried and in the luminous wind/ A curlew answered” – “Paudeen”, WB Yeats

World Curlew Day has been and gone, but the literature of curlews seems endless. I am reading “Curlew Moon” by Mary Colwell which has been an engrossing read so far with much on curlews past and present.

In this poem, from Yeats’ 1916 collection “Responsibilities”, we find one of Yeats’ more endearing qualities – his ability to recognise (usually after the event) his own flaws, his own tendency to spiritual pride, his own blindness to the common humanity he shares with even the most irritating shopkeeper. And in it we find the curlew; the curlew’s “crystalline cry” represents the moment of epiphany for Yeats, the realisation that he and Paudeen are both human after all.

Indignant at the fumbling wits, the obscure spite

Of our old Paudeen in his shop, I stumbled blind

Among the stones and thorn trees, under morning light;

Until a curlew cried and in the luminous wind

A curlew answered; and suddenly thereupon I thought

That on the lonely height where all are in God’s eye,

There cannot be, confusion of our sound forgot,

A single soul that lacks a sweet crystaline cry.

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