Magpies (1): on Eugene Onegin, birds of an intelligent variety, how one might distinguish these birds from other birds and from one another and why one might wish to do so, and language teaching


As promised a week ago: magpies.

I was thinking about birds back in July, partly because I had finally got around to reading Sarah Kay’s Parrots and Nightingales: Troubadour Quotations and the Development of European Poetry (2013). This reading and thinking went on hold because a family member ended up in hospital and that rather took priority. While tidying my office, I found the notes I’d taken (mostly on a train so the writing is harder than usual to decipher). They will duly be squinted at, hopefully deciphered and transcribed, and continued and rendered coherent. Wish me luck, my handwriting is bad at the best and slowest-writing of times.

So. Parrots and nightingales.

I was reminded of birds and citation while watching Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin a week or so ago (thanks to my hosts JJI and CIJ, and others in that good company). The opening scene is woven around a “saw” about heaven sending you habit instead of happiness; and that stability, solid banality, being something you settle for instead of wanting Great Exciting Things (= men, in this opera’s case) In Life. Here’s the full text: (more…)