Sing in the dawn chorus!


Image of Bewick’s wren singing by Matt Knoth

Lend your voice to the dawn chorus – on 9 June, the National Trust are encouraging people to wake at dawn to experience the atmosphere and particularly the soundscape of early morning.

It would be wonderful if you wanted to get involved, and you can find out more about this exciting nationwide collaboration on the National Trust website. But for those of you who can’t quite face getting up between 3am and 5am, we are asking you to write about the sounds, sights and smells of early morning in advance – and then we will Tweet lines of your poetry at dawn on 9 June! Have a think about the last time you were up really early…

What could you hear?
Did it smell or look different?
Was the familiar somehow transformed?
How does the mood of early morning vary over different seasons and days of the week?

For inspiration, look at how these various poets, from different countries and centuries, imagine dawn.

In ‘Dawn Chorus’, Sasha Dugdale focuses on the noise of the birds, and lets the sound drive the imagery:

How they sing: as if each had pecked up a smoldering coal
Their throats singed and swollen with song

American poet August Kleinzahler, in ‘Before Dawn on Bluff Road’, also opens with a powerful evocation of sound:

The crow’s raw hectoring cry
scoops clean an oval divot
of sky

The poem moves through sights and scents, accumulating imagery from all the senses to explore the memories which the transitional time of day brings to the speaker’s mind.

Kenneth Slessor’s ‘Winter Dawn’ is intensely visual, focusing on the big things

The sun comes up in a golden stain,
Floats like a glassy sea-fruit

as well as the small

The furred herbs of silver, the daisies round-eyed and tart…

 Dawn is a strange time in Juan Ramón Jiménez’s poem ‘Dawn Outside the City Walls’. Familiar sights become alien, a “mob”, and the night’s remains are “sour”.

The birds
not really awake yet, in the raw moon,
streetlight nearly out.
Mob of beings and things!
(translated by Robert Bly)

In contrast, Mary Robinson, in ‘London’s Summer Morning’, focuses on the welter of familiar sounds, sights and smells of the city, creating a noisy, dirty, bustling atmosphere that is still somehow exuberant.

Who has not waked to list the busy sounds
Of summer’s morning, in the sultry smoke
Of noisy London? On the pavement hot
The sooty chimney-boy, with dingy face
And tattered covering, shrilly bawls his trade,
Rousing the sleepy housemaid. At the door
The milk-pail rattles, and the tinkling bell
Proclaims the dustman’s office…

We can’t wait to see what you come up with! Tell us how you see the dawn. And if you happen to be awake between 3am and 5am on Sunday 9 June, then Tweet @NTlovesLondon with the hashtag #dawnchorus describing what you can see and hear.

Submitting your poems

This challenge is now closed – though you can always take inspiration from the ideas and submit your poem to one of the competitions or magazines on our list of Poetry Opportunities! Have a read through these poems by YPNers to get the ideas flowing:

‘Visitor’ by Jerrold Yam

‘Untitled’ by Harriet Street

Published May, 2013

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