The Observer’s Book of British Birds

One June in Almazan, Soria, Spain.


Look, are those swallows happy there,

Cutting through the Sorian air

As they fly to their nest in Almazan?

Or do they regret their lazy plan

To halt on the long flight coolwards

To the eaves of a barn on a Somerset farm?

Do they miss the north?

How do they feel

As they build their home under the tiles

Of this hot dry roof in mid Castille?

A hollyhock grows by the graves,

In the cemetery near the city wall.

Does it think of its home in the cottage sun

In Langford, Sandford and Burrington,

Where every summer it grows so tall?

Does the ragwort on the Soria road

Harm horses here as it sometimes does,

As they graze in the fields by Churchill church?

The Observer’s Book of British Birds

Shows we divide our world with words.

We think birds British to the core,

Like Test matches and Radio 4.

But they just fly north for cooler air,

As tourists fly to the south to swelter there.

I saw a robin the other day,

Not on the spade in fresh-dug earth,

Picking out worms from the upturned turf,

Nor on the holly of the Christmas card,

But by a drying pond north of Ucero,

Where the sun bakes the earth to solid clay,

Where the Rio Lobos struggles to flow,

In the gorge where the royal eagles play.

As a hot frog baked in the tangled weed,

The robin hopped from reed to reed,

And yet he may,

For all I know,

Be happier here

Than in the snow.