Six little terns, wintry St Abbs harbour and green shoots

I’m reading the new Poetry Book Society ChoiceLes Murray‘s Waiting for the Past. Murray’s poems are dense with images and he has the poet’s knack of reducing into a few words what the rest of us would need a paragraph to explain. One of the early poems in the book is entitled Dynamic Rest:

Six little terns

feet gripping sand

on a windy beach

 

six more just above

white with opened wings

busy exchange of feet

 

reaching down lifting off

terns rising up through terms

all quivering parallel

 

drift ahead and settle

bracing their eyes

against the brunt of wind

So we have four short verses and like all the poems in this book, you need to read and re-read to gain an insight into the depth of what the poems is about and what happens in the poem. The title is an oxymoron in that dynamic and rest appear to be contradictory. My English teacher at school, Mrs McKie, would be impressed that I remembered the term oxymoron. The terns are “resting” on the beach and in the air, and in the last verse, they “settle”. Murray imagines the birds – I assume that you cannot see birds “bracing their eyes” – perhaps narrowing their eyes in the face of a strong (and cold?) wind. The last phrase is “the brunt of wind” i.e. not the brunt of the wind, suggesting a forceful and unpleasant wind for the birds. The wind also affects the birds on the ground as their feet have to grip the sand. So the poem is dynamic, with “terns rising up through terns” and there is constant movement in this attempt at rest. Murray’s white terns are common in Australia and have striking blue/black beaks and black eyes.

White tern (Public domain photo from http://www.ozanimals.com/Bird/White-Tern/Gygis/alba.html)

White tern (Public domain photo from http://www.ozanimals.com/Bird/White-Tern/Gygis/alba.html)

We drove down to St Abbs Head on Sunday on a cold and damp winter’s day. It was grey all day and dark in the morning until 8am and dark again at 4pm. Despite this, we were well rugged up for a short walk, there was still plenty to see. The harbour, which still contains the now defunct lifeboat station, has fewer boats, with some on the shore for maintenance (see photos). The sea, of course, never stops and the waves were gently caressing the sea walls – the wind was light and south westerly, so no dramatic coastal scene on Sunday, but the sea still looked cold. There were some people about but you felt an absence – of tourists, divers and fishermen that throng the harbour in the summer.

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

Before walking to the harbour, we parked at the Nature Centre and visited the excellent Number Four Gallery. On the way to the gallery, I remarked that it would not be long until we saw snowdrops here. Looking down at the leaf strewn ground, there was no sign of growth, but when I pushed back some leaves, the green shoots of the snowdrops were well above the ground – see photo. I pushed the leaves back over the stems for protection. I remembered the final lines of Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind – “O Wind, / If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”. Apparently not, as the snowdrop growth looked strong and healthy and the green provided a good contrast to the ever-fading leaves from the trees, although some ivy leaves were still green.

Emerging snowdrops at St Abbs Head

Emerging snowdrops at St Abbs Head

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