Härfågel, or: Hoopoe

‘War Poetry’ – a d’Verse poetics prompt

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

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

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

OOOP! 
  OOOP! 
    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?

d’Verse

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…

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. 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.

  2. 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. 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 😀

          Yours,
          David

          1. 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 …

                    1. 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.

  3. 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! 😄

  4. 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. 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.

      Yours,
      David

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