As a very small child I loved to listen to the birds, and still sleep with my window open so that I can hear the dawn chorus, but I’m extremely bad at identifying birdsong. I am not alone. Despite the fact that birdsong is quite literally the soundtrack of our lives, most of us can only identify a few of the singers. We are lifted and inspired by birdsong, but can’t name the bird that is mastering the chorus.
In Richard Smyth’s wonderfully eccentric little book, A Sweet, Wild Note, he takes a look at the human relationship with birdsong and how it has inspired poets, writers, musicians and artists of all fields. In this beautiful book the author explores how we hear birdsong and what it means to us. He takes us from “some kind of crow” to the complex scientific matters of actually describing birdsong. We meet the poets who argued over what a nightingale actually was, and elegantly stroll through the world of birdsong to the emotionally loaded issue of keeping songbirds in captivity.
Smyth’s style is somewhat meandering, and eclectic, and that works well in a book that is as charming as the songs it explores. It is an enjoyable experience as it almost feels as if you are at a select gathering listening to a wonderful lecture. After reading it I felt that I wanted to quote many things from the book, and to get hold of many of the other books he has mentioned as sources. The book is a friendly read that never drifts into arrogance or pretention.
A Sweet, Wild Note has left me not only with a greater understanding of birdsong, but also a keener ear and a new appetite for finding out more. A lovely book that is also well packaged with a gorgeous cover by Lynn Hatzius and illustrated throughout by Tim Oakenfull. The whole makes for a very pleasing read that I know I will return to many times.
A Sweet, Wild Note is published by Elliot and Thompson