A Necklace of Wrens by Michael Hartnett

In Ireland, St. Stephen’s Day is also known as Wren’s Day – a tradition descending either from Celtic or Nordic mythology, where boys would hunt for a wren and then take the captured bird around town singing and asking for coins.

There are various stories attached to the tradition, including one where a wren betrayed Irish soldiers to invading Vikings, by beating its wings upon their shields, earning the moniker, ‘traitor-birds’.

Whatever the root of the story, it made me think of this beautiful poem by Michael Hartnett – recalling an incident from his childhood when a fledged nest of wrens landed on him and his grandmother claimed it foretold his calling as a poet.

A Necklace of Wrens
for Micheal O Ciarmhaic, file

When I was very young
I found a nest.
Its chirping young
were fully fledged.

They rose and re-alighted
around my neck,
Made in the wet meadow
a feather necklet.

To them I was not human
but a stone or tree:
I felt a sharp wonder
they could not feel.

That was when the craft came
which demands respect.
Their talons left on me
scars not healed yet.

Via The Guardian – the original article also contains the Irish version and an appraisal of the poem.

Illustration: Lilydale Lake Wren by Jan Liesfield

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