The Marginalian
The Marginalian

The Majesty and Mystery of Night Migration, in a Stunning Poem Turned to Music

“Night, when words fade and things come alive,” Little Prince author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote in his love letter to the hours of darkness, composed while flying alone over the Sahara Desert.

No aliveness animates the nocturne with more grandeur than the migration of birds. Every spring and fall, in the starlit corridor between the trees and the clouds, flocks of millions soar over dark deserts and oceans, cities and continents — feathered pilgrims of purpose and resilience, governed by senses we don’t have, guided by voices we are only just beginning to hear.

Mystery of the Missing Migrants by Charley Harper

Across these immense distances, often navigating by astronomy, birds stay on course and stay together by a kind of choral communication, speaking to each other in strange and wondrous sounds — some only fractions of a second long, all entirely different from their daytime calls and songs.

And all of it — this secret language of the night, this miracle of sentience and synchrony, this fiesta of homecoming — while we sleep, while we dream of flying.

Poet Hannah Fries conjures up the majesty and mystery of night migration in a stunning poem, set to music by composer Oliver Caplan and channeled in the human voices of the New Hampshire Master Chorale.

by Hannah Fries

We sleep,
through doorless dreams,
while over our rooftops
sky shivers with wings —
warblers, cuckoos,
herons and sparrows —
waves rising
on night’s cool breath.

We sleep
as they follow the stars
(hummingbird and wren)
high over shadowed earth,
trees clinging to rock,
cities curled in grief.
We close our windows,
bury our faces —

we sleep
and they speak:
buzz and whistle,
secret names
through air
tying each to each.

We sleep
as they fly
(imagine being lifted)
by moon and magnet,
over undulating sea
toward a place
that echoes
in hallowed clearings,
in hollowed bones,
the song that pulls them

Couple with Richard Powers on the majestic migration of sandhill cranes, then revisit Emily Dickinson’s soulful ode to ecology set to song.

Published November 18, 2023




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