The Poetry of Birds


  • The Poetry of Birds edited by Samuel Carr (Batsford, 2023).
  • 192 pages; many colour illustrations.
  • ISBN: 9781849948357. Hbk, £14.99.

There are quite a few books exploring the relationship between birds and poetry, and this one first appeared from Batsford in 1976. I don't have a copy of that book, but know it was much smaller and perhaps not illustrated. In his time, Samuel Carr edited many poetry anthologies covering all kinds of subjects including the countryside, flowers and cats. He was also the editor of Hymns as Poetry

This latest version has been created using many images by the French-American artist John James Audubon. All of these came from his The Birds of America, produced between 1827 and 1838, by which time he was in his forties and becoming hugely successful. Today his original lithographs are much sought-after, particularly in the US, but his art is widely available in books such as 
this one.  

The examples of poetry used were written by some of the best-known poets, including Blake, Chaucer, Coleridge, Hardy, Keats, Milton, Shakespeare and Wordsworth. More modern poets are also featured, including Ted Hughes and 
Laurie Lee.

The publisher has tried to match Audubon's images to illustrate appropriate poems. There are some successes and also a few failures. Audubon did paint a great image of Sooty Albatross but, instead of using that, his painting of a Roseate Spoonbill is used to illustrate Charles Baudelaire's poem, 'The Albatross'. Incidentally, although there is a poem included by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, his famous ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner' (in which an albatross is shot) is not included. Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote ‘The Windhover' to celebrate the flying skills of Common Kestrel. Despite Audubon having illustrated American Kestrel in his book, the image for Rough-legged Buzzard is used. A missed opportunity. 

To be fair to the publishers, this book is not aimed at birders, and if you love poetry, you are not going to worry too much about the ornithological accuracy. My point really is that with a bit more effort (and by talking to a birder) they could have matched things up better. At 14x20 cm it would make a nice gift for a poetry lover, but perhaps not for the nit-picky birder!

Written by: Keith Betton

Keith Betton is Chairman of the Hampshire Ornithological Society, Hampshire County Recorder and an avid world birder. His first two books (co-authored with Mark Avery) had jacket designs by Robert Gillmor.