Monday, September 20, 2021

'A Resonance of Emerald'

Four hummingbirds took turns at the nectar-feeder in our front garden – a new record. When not sucking up sugar water, they sipped at the flowers and seemed especially pleased with our Calliandra californica, commonly called fairy duster, an airy pink puff of a flower. All are ruby-throats, though only the males live up to their name. Before the coming of fall and their migratory return to Mexico and Central America, their feeding behavior appears frantic. Some will be flying five-hundred miles or more, often across the Gulf of Mexico, without food or rest. 

A friend tells me charm is the collective noun used to describe a gathering of hummingbirds. For once, our language shines (I could never accept a murder of crows). The OED doesn’t specify hummingbirds but offers this second definition of charm: “The blended singing or noise of many birds; the blended voices of school-children, and the like.” Sorry, but I have to say it: that is charming. The Dictionary cites Michael Drayton’s “The Owle” (1604): “The small Birds warbled their harmonious charmes.” The best poem I know about hummingbirds never identifies its subject. Emily Dickinson writes as though the bird were too speedy and elusive to pin down with a mere word:


“A Route of Evanescence

With a revolving Wheel--

A Resonance of Emerald--

A Rush of Cochineal;

And every Blossom on the Bush

Adjusts its tumbled Head, --

The mail from Tunis, probably,

An easy Morning’s Ride.”

1 comment:

Nige said...

Charm is also the collective noun for goldfinches over here. Equally appropriate.