“Auguries of Innocence”*

*Poem by William Blake

“When William Blake wrote, “A Robin Redbreast in a Cage/Puts all Heaven in a Rage,” in 1803, he drew on a figure already rich in folklore and symbolic of the harmless, innocent little friend – a wild creature that became an honorary pet. Blake was drawing attention to the common practice of trapping wild birds…but he was also making the point that cruelty to animals and enslaving Nature for human amusement was synonymous with slavery, the oppression of the poor and the denial of liberty…Tales of robins burying those who had died alone in the woods under moss and leaves – such as in Babes in the Wood; stories of the robin as the Oak King of the waxing year who usurps the Wren, the Holly King of the waning year, on the winter solstice – suggest an ancient psycho-spiritual role for robins. This legacy may have much to do with the way that the robin travels between two idylls: the garden and the greenwood and in a special way, unites them.

Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest…seems not to have had his origins in mythology. Robin Goodfellow, the Puck of English folklore, appears in Celtic and Nordic languages and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream; he is a pixie, hobgoblin, Pan figure and associated by Karl Marx with workers’ revolution and did have mythological origins. What Robins Hood and Goodfellow share with Robin Redbreast is a woodland habitat of the imagination: the greenwood. It is here that the transgressive, outlaw, erotic, dangerous and rebellious spirit of British identity runs free outside the jurisdiction of civilisation…

…Jenny Wren is a bird of augury that belongs to an old imagination; folklore made her the wife of the robin as if they were one species…

…Legend tells tales of the wren (illustrated), Troglodytes troglodytes, as soothsayer, kept by Druids in their caves for divination – “a bird out of Merlin’s ear”, said Ted Hughes.”

Paul Evans: How to See Nature (2018).

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