Poem - Bell Birds

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NOTE: This page is a daughter page of: Poems

In Grade 9, we had to do a poem recital of any poem, and my favorite was (and really still is) "Bell Birds" by Henry Kendall. The poem follows at the end, but here's the introduction I gave it:


Henry Kendall… Australian poet, and indeed one of the first poets to capture the Australian scene in verse. Kendall lived in New South Wales from 1841 to 1882, at a time when English literature still had an immense influence on Australian writers. Though he succeeded in portraying the unique qualities of Australian landscape, his poems were often quite inaccurate.

Henry Kendall wrote his verses in a style that was fluent, intense and lyrical. In his poetry, one can see reflection of his unhappy personal life and also his love and feeling for the bush lands of New South Wales. The poem I wish to recite today, and undoubtedly his finest lyric is no exception… Bell Birds.

The Bellbird, correctly known as the Bell Miner, is actually quite a dull and unexciting bird. About the size of a small Honeyeater, what makes the Bellbird special is its distinctive call.

Henry Kendall was far from the only writer to have been motivated by the classical songs of the Bellbird. In fact, their high pitched, bell-like notes have inspired more poetry than the songs of any other Australian bird. You could say the Bellbird in New South Wales is equivalent to the Nightingale in England. As the poem illustrates, this unique Australian bird inhabits the bushland valleys of New South Wales, especially near running water… I choose this poem because it was extremely descriptive and pictorial. To me it conjures up images of lush rainforest gullies and of course, the voices of the Bellbirds themselves.

Bell birds by Henry Kendall.

Bell Birds, by Henry Kendall

By channels of coolness the echoes are calling,
And down the dim gorges I hear the creek falling;
It lives in the mountains, where moss and the sledges
Touch with their beauty the banks and the ledges;
Through brakes of the cedar and sycamore bowers
Struggles the light that is love to the flowers.
And softer than slumber, and sweeter than singing,
The notes of the bell-birds are running and ringing.

The silver-voiced bell-birds, the darling of day-time,
They sing in September their songs of the May-time.
When shadows wax strong, and the thunder-bolts hurtle,
They hide with their fear in the leaves of the myrtle;
When rain and the sunbeams shine mingle together,
They start up like fairies that follow fair weather,
And straightway the hues of their feathers unfolden
Are the green and the purple, the blue and the golden.

October the maiden of bright yellow tresses,
Loiters for love in these cool wildernesses;
Loiters knee-deep in the grasses to listen,
Where dripping rocks gleam and the leafy pools glisten.
Then is the time when the water-moons splendid
Break with their gold, and are scattered or blended
Over the creeks, till the woodlands have warning
Of the songs of the bell-bird and wings of the morning.

Welcome as waters unkissed by the summers
Are the voices of bell-birds to thirsty far-comers.
When fiery December sets foot on the forest,
And the need of the wayfarer presses the sorest,
Pent in the ridges for ever and ever,
The bell-bird directs him to spring and to river,
With ring and with ripple, like runnels whose torrents
Are toned by the pebbles and leaves in the currents.

Often I sit, looking back to a childhood
Mixt with the sights and the sounds of the wildwood,
Longing for power and the sweetness to fashion
Lyrics with beats like the heart-beats of passion-
Songs interwoven of lights and of laughter’s
Borrowed from bell-birds in far forest rafters;
So I might keep in the cities and alleys
The beauty and strength of the deep mountain valleys,
Charming to slumber the pain of my losses
With the glimpses of creeks and a vision of mosses.


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