Birdsong is woven into our culture, our emotions, our landscape; it is the soundtrack to our world. We have tried to capture this fleeting, ephemeral beauty, and the feelings it inspires, for millennia.
In this fascinating account, Richard Smyth asks what it is about birdsong that we so love. Exploring the myriad ways in which it has influenced literature, music, science and our very ideas of what it means to be British, Smyth's nuanced investigation shows that what we hear says as much about us, our dreams and desires, as it does about the birds and their songs.
At a time when our birdsong is growing quieter, with fewer voices, more thinly spread, A Sweet, Wild Note is a celebration of the complex relationships between birds, people and the land; it is also a passionate call to arms lest our trees and hedgerows fall silent.
Contents; Prologue; page ix; 1. An Infinity of Possibilities page 1; 2. A Song of Many Parts page 27; 3. Coming Home page 61; 4. An Elusive Song page 93; 5. A Captive Melody page 127; 6. A Hush Descends page 155; Further Reading page 175; Acknowledgements page 182; Index page 184
Richard Smyth is a writer, researcher and editor based in Bradford. He is a regular contributor to Bird Watching magazine, and reached the final of Mastermind with a specialist subject of British birds. He writes and reviews for The Times, The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement, The Literary Review, The New Statesman, BBC Wildlife, New Humanist, Illustration and New Scientist, and has appeared on BBC Radio 4's Loose Ends. He also writes novels and short fiction, and has written several history books including English History: Strange But True (History Press, 2014).
"Intriguing thoughts on birdsong"
– Simon Barnes, Sunday Times Magazine
"Comic, insightful and lyrical"
– Sam Read, Bookseller
"Well worth a read [...] hits many sweet notes"
– Mark Avery, author of Remarkable Birds and Inglorious: Conflict in the Uplands
"A delightful meditation on the wonders of nature's best free show – birdsong – and how it has seeped into our culture through the ages"
– Stephen Moss, author of Wild Hares and Hummingbirds and Wild Kingdom
"Between the fibrillating throats of birds and the human mind lies an extraordinary landscape, a place created by the intersection of culture, biology, and literature. Richard Smyth is a brilliant, insightful, and witty guide in this fascinating terrain"
– David George Haskell, author of The Songs of Trees and the Pulitzer finalist, The Forest Unseen. Professor of Biology, University of the South
"This is a delightful book that does exactly what it says on the cover: it plays a sweet wild note. If you are already tuned in to bird song you will learn a lot more and if you aren't you will want to be. Reading it honestly seems to have improved my (ornithological) listening and hearing as well as cheering my heart"
– Sara Maitland, author of Gossip from the Forest: The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales
"Full of zest and at times deliciously wry, this is a well-informed, warm and effortlessly endearing call to arms to listen – perhaps for the first time in years – with our ears and, more importantly, to feel it in our hearts. Smyth is, without doubt, an exciting new nature-writing talent"
– Jules Howard, zoologist, writer and broadcaster