Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Whip Poor Will - the new neighbour

I´ve been living in a house at the foot of a mountain in Chiapas, Mexico for a year now, but it´s only in the past week or so that I´ve noticed someone else has moved into the neighbourhood. Rather late in the evening, past nine o´clock, a bird starts calling. It´s a very distinctive call but I´d never heard it before. A little searching on the internet revealed it to be a whip poor will.
It´s a beautiful little song they sing, and at nights I listen carefully now, waiting for a repeat performance. I knew about the bird from the Hank Williams song, ¨I´m so lonely I could cry,¨ where the bird gets a rather inauspicious mention. It seems that all the mentions of the bird in song and literature (I checked one or two) are similarly unhappy and even menacing.

How did such an innocuous insectivore get such a bad reputation? It may have something to do with its name being an order to lash a poverty stricken man or boy named William, but I have another theory about this. I think it has something to do with the whip poor will´s onomatopoeic name. The origin of this theory comes from my experience in China where I was staying in the mountains of Yunnan among the Ahka tribespeople. I found that when I asked them their names, they would avoid responding, and when I asked why I was told that it was bad luck to say their own names. ¨The crow calls its own name,¨ they said, ¨and that´s all the reason we need not to do the same.¨ Crowing in English too is associated with vanity and unseemly self promotion. Maybe our disdain for these birds has something to do with our desire to avoid of the hall-of mirrors fantastical qualities of self-reference that I was talking about in The Saragossa Manuscript post. Or maybe that´s just cuckoo.

No comments:

Post a Comment