Härfågel, or: Hoopoe

‘War Poetry’ – a d’Verse poetics prompt

    OOOP! OOOP! your haunting
  calls, dire warnings ere impending
    falls, unheeding ape-men charging
      tall, ignoring farsighted soarings

    OOOP! OOOP! you've studied
  death, counted those countless muddied
    breaths, swooping, swiping with bloodied
      sneath, men's legions life-and-limbless

    OOOP! OOOP! this hallowed
  Land, sought endlessly by shallow
    men, mauled bodies from green gallows
      hang, you ~flutter~ 'bove friendlessly

    OOOP! OOOP! harbinging
  croon; was it crowned bird's unhinging
    tune that left this sand Land tinged in
      prune, seeped deeply dark in Cain's sin?


At d’Verse, we were asked to pen ourselves new war poems. No matter our personal experiences, we all fear what war can do. Maybe it’s something we’ve met in the eyes of refugees, in our nightmares, or from reading books…

The hoopoe, the national bird of the State of Israel, where I proudly reside, inspired my war poem (above). For more on that, see below.

Hoopoe: harbinger of war?

The State of Israel’s national bird is the hoopoe, which I alluded to in my d’Verse poem yesterday. In response, my poet-blogger-friend Björn just informed me that in Swedish, this creature is known as ‘härfågel’, which is loosely translated as: ‘army-bird’.

The hoopoe actually gets its English name from the sound it makes while singing. The song is a deep, haunting ‘oop oop oop’ that has led to the bird being associated with death and the Underworld in Estonian tradition. The song itself is said to forebode death. Across the majority of Europe, it was thought of as a thief and as a harbinger of war in Scandinavia…

-Lexi Menth, ‘Crown of Feathers – Hoopoe’, 2015

Hoopoe: magical, medicinal bird?

For the purposes of my “war poem” above I deliberately address the hoopoe as a harbinger of death and war, but it is only fair to note that this elegant bird is regarded very positively in most cultures, including throughout the Middle East and in Islam.

The bird known as the hoopoe… has been a common motif in the literature and folklore of eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures, from ancient to modern times. As a solar symbol, it was often associated with kingship, filial piety, and wisdom, and its body was believed to possess potent magical and medicinal properties…

-Timothy Schum, ‘From Egypt to Mount Qāf: The Symbolism of the Hoopoe in Muslim Literature and Folklore’, 2018


Still, Björn’s comment to me regarding the hoopoe in Swedish lore excited my imagination and reminded me of the following animated video, which puts the bloody history of the “Holy Land” to music:

Who’s Killing Who? A Viewer’s Guide: https://blog.ninapaley.com/2012/10/01/this-land-is-mine/

74 thoughts on “Härfågel, or: Hoopoe”

  1. I wondered why the hoopoe was chosen as Israel’s national bird. It’s folk mythology is unknown to me, as it only visits southern Europe to breed. How it gets into Scandinavian mythology is another mystery! Perhaps it’s that call that is a little bit like the tawny owl’s call, that associates it with death. Though the owl is a night bird, which helps!

    1. Jane,

      I honestly don’t know if (and don’t think that) the Israelis who voted to make the hoopoe their national bird knew anything about how various cultures perceived it.

      But the Scandinavian take on the hoopoe lent itself well to the prompt so I just went with it 😉


  2. Good one! I liked the video. Incidentally, hoopoe birds (called hudhud in Hindi) are also found in India.

  3. Very very good, I particularly like the image on the front of YouTube. National bird of Israel – I must discover what ours is. It could be the Black Swan of Western Australia, off to bed it’s 0011 3rd february.

  4. Great poem. I really enjoy your attention to the shape of a poem as well as its imagery and style. No easy task…but your final poem makes it all look easy ( I know it is not👍 ). Great additional detail addressing the purpose and back story for the poem. Really great share, David. Thank you.

  5. What a great post David! You illustrate so well in you poem with Hoopoe Bird constantly being the harbinger of death and devastation. The back story and the video is so interesting!

    1. Dwight, it took me a while to figure out the ending, TBH. But when it came to me, after sitting on it for some time, I just felt that I’d found the right one.


  6. I love this amazing post, David. ❤ The hoopoe and its historic symbolism are fascinating! What a beautiful bird! ❤

    Magnificent poem! The hoopoe motif is exquisitely beautiful, and its "oop, oop, opp " call reverberates throughout the poem, warning us of the folly of war! The ending reference to Cain is so fitting…All men and women are brothers and sisters! ❤

    The video is satirical and witty and makes its point in a most effective manner! ❤

    ❤ I hope you will publish your beautiful poem where it will have a very wide circulation. You have a very powerful voice for peace!

    I hope all is well for you and your family. 🙂 Best wishes for health and happiness!

  7. This is absolutely fabulous writing, David! The hoopoe motif is incredibly moving 💝💝

    1. Björn,

      I know it’s weird, but I actually felt that I had to write this poem after seeing both your comment regarding the hoopoe and your d’Verse prompt, one right after the other. I couldn’t get this idea out of my mind – anything else would have come from somewhere other than within me.


  8. This follows my recent meditations on the nature of hate. I like the last line of your poem. I also like your onomatopoeia of the birdcall. I did one too in my Red poem. Engaging.

        1. when I go to brianhodgkinson.wordpress.com it gives me the message that:

          brianhodgkinson.wordpress.com is no longer available.

  9. An interesting and diverse post, David I love your use of onomatopoeia and the juxtaposition of the bird with death. The bird sound video is an engaging addition. A bird sound that I was not familiar with.

      1. I agree, it did just that. I was considering adding a porpoise sound to my poem yesterday, but could not find a suitable one in the time I had to look. I love that you did! 😄

      1. your adopted country seems to be perpetually at war so not surprising this is your national bird … peace be with you!

        1. Yes & No.

          The Israelis who picked the hoopoe did not pick it because it symbolized war. They probably did not know about that because that’s a Scandinavian tradition regarding the hoopoe.

          In the Middle East, the associations with the hoopoe are all positive, from what I’ve read.

          Still, I used the Scandinavian symbolism because, yes, Israel is perpetually in a state of war, and the imagery fit my message very conveniently 😀


        2. I lived in the Himalayas for years and met many of your soldiers in what we called Little Israel when they visited to party hard on their war wages after six years service …

        3. If you met soldiers who served for 6 yrs, they had done much more than the mandatory service, which is about 3 yrs for males.

        4. That is them letting off steam. It’s not addiction to adrenaline, it’s the first time they have been their own people after years of being ordered around. But, yes, Israelis have this rite of passage, and many do tend to get wild on their international adventures, sometimes in embarrassing ways.

  10. I had never heard of the Hoopoe. .I had to read it a second time after understanding what the hoopoe is. The final line is so very powerful.

    1. Lillian, if it weren’t my national bird, I wouldn’t have heard of it either 🙃

      I really appreciate your kind comment.

      Thank you,

  11. The formatting of this poem was perfect. The bird sounds mixed in with forewarnings was ingenious. If people were not greedy, wanting all lands for themselves, we wouldn’t have war. Thanks for the background on the bird, and this amazing poem.

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