Monday, June 05, 2006

Poem #13: The Language of Crows

A crow has discovered a scrap of roadkill on the blacktop and can't resist telling everyone in a loud voice. Immediately another crow arrives on the scene and the fight begins, cawing, flapping, and biting. Suddenly crows come flying in from every direction to enter the battle, skimming low over the treetops, all cawing loudly. Finally one crow (it's impossible to tell which) makes off with the prize and flies a few hundred feet into the trees. But as soon as he stops the others are on him and the melee begins again. This scene is repeated time after time and each time the crows move farther away into the woods until their cawing has grown faint but remains undiminished in intensity. Crows have a limited vocabulary, like someone who swears constantly, and communication seems to be a matter of emphasis and volume.

If you lie quietly in bed in the very early morning, in the half-light before time begins, and listen carefully, the language of crows is easy to understand. "Here I am." That's really all there is to say and we say it again and again.

- Louis Jenkins


At 9:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reminds me of when I was in graduate school with a lot of students hungry to make their mark in the professor's mind. They'd start every single inclass statement or question with "I think..." which eventually led me to believe that "I think" was not merely the prelude to the statement, a sort of verbal tick, but was in fact that entire semantic load. It was nothing more than an insistence that they were capable of thought. Much like your crows.


At 7:52 PM, Blogger Crawdad said...


Thanks Erik! It's great to hear from you. Greetings to everyone at the Arcturan Embassy. I have to say that I am a big fan of using "I think" or "I believe" to start sentences because it signals that I've not confused my beliefs for some kind of impregnable truth. Sure in some sense it goes without saying that everything that comes out of my mouth is just a thought and certainly assailable, but in practice I find that people who let a bunch of declarative statements roll off the tongue without any prelude or preface are often signalling that their words are fact. "This is just how it is..." they seem to be saying. It bugs me when that occurs, because by not including any "preludular" clause, I feel like they're throwing down the gauntlet. Little "I thinks..." or "I feels..." often bring a debate down to the level of a conversation, and head off the gross insertion of power dynamics and semantic chest-puffery into the subtext. But, I also think (oop!) that graduate school may be precisely that kind of arena where debate is desired and so many "I thinks" translate into mere assertions of being. Like our crows. Caw caw.

At 11:03 PM, Anonymous shrinkwrap said...

OK, two comments: one, using "I think" is relatively recent and overused, I think. I am reminded of British, maybe old British, speech patterns, especially the guy who owns the place people are staying in "Enchanted April" (English and nearly blind as it turns out). He appears to stumble around in his sentences..."Well, yes, I see, but, you know, I wonder, sort of, if I may, that is, if that is really the main point here, if I understand what you are actually saying..." all of which seems to be a buffer or beginning to say what he actually would otherwise just come out and aver, as it were. A kind of long substitute for the "I think" at the start of the sentence.

Second, do you know the book, "In the company of crows and ravens"? I have been trying to find a used copy or one from the library for months. I am, e.g., still about #45 on the library waiting list. We, too, have a lot of crows around our house, and just this morning I said: "I have to get that book...I think these crows know more about us that we do about them." Anyone read that book?

At 10:54 PM, Anonymous shrinkwrap said...

I just ordered one from arrives in a few days and I look forward to getting some info about those intelligent birds.

At 9:14 PM, Anonymous Super Olive! said...

Hi Crawdad, hope you've been well. Looks like we've both been off the blogging for similar reasons. That's a good thing. Although I guess you got inspired to do a blog 2.0 whereas I just gave up altogether. Sorry :(

Here's a poem that I'm liking right now. I hope you will like it too. [I think] you will.

Langston Hughes


I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"

They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--

I, too, am America.

At 12:02 PM, Anonymous freeguy said...

Hi, I beg to differ-I've been studying the Torresian crow and actually the language of crows is extremely complex- it merely sounds monotonous and repetitive to the casual human listener.But then all foreign languages sound like that at first. They dont have a lot of distinct word forms or melodic variation, but communicate ,mainly in a kind of morse code.
Apparently there's a great deal of regional variation in corvid language but I've also heard that crows can be multilingual-speaking not just regional variations of crow, but also other species language? Or perhaps its just a form of pidgin?


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