Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Quardle Oodle Ardle Wardle Doodle

Radio 4's marvellous Tweet of the Day, having brought us the various songs of every British bird species, has now gone global. This morning's Tweet, introduced by David Attenborough, was the extraordinary 'carolling' of the Australian Magpie. This bird - not a corvid like our native Magpie but a Butcher Bird - is something of a vocal virtuoso and is a highly regarded songbird in Australia, where standards (let's be honest) are not terribly high. The 'carolling' sounded to me like some kind of avant-garde experimental jazz, but it was very early in the morning...
 The song of the Australian Magpie has, however, given us what Wikipedia and Attenborough describe as 'one of the most famous lines in new Zealand poetry' (and I'm in no position to argue). The line is as follows:

'Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle.'

And here it is in context, in Denis Glover's poem The Magpies, a kind of Antipodean take on Thomas Hardy:

'When Tom and Elizabeth took the farm
The bracken made their bed
and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.


Tom's hand was strong to the plough
and Elizabeth's lips were red
and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.


Year in year out they worked
while the pines grew overhead
and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.


But all the beautiful crops soon went
to the mortgage man instead
and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.


Elizabeth is dead now (it's long ago)
Old Tom's gone light in the head
and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.


The farm's still there. Mortgage
corporations couldn't give it away
and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies say.'


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