Waterside Birds, Part IV: the Kingfisher

by Sosui (Nobuyuki Yuasa)

.. Among waterside birds, the most beautiful, I think, is the kingfisher, also known as the halcyon. The natural history of this bird was for many centuries unknown, even in the West. Kingfishers were long believed to hatch their eggs in the ocean on calm days in winter. Hence, the expression, “halcyon days,” came into popular use. In his Nativity Ode, Milton refers to ‘the Birds of Calm brooding on the charmed wave’ on the night of Christ’s birth. I do not think kingfishers go out to the ocean, but we can see them in various parts of a river. Their main habitat is in the upper reaches, but they can be seen in the middle and lower reaches, too. I have heard reports that they are even seen in the Senkawa and the Yagawa, which run through some of the most densely-populated areas of Tokyo. Recently, I had a chance to film kingfishers in a small tributary of the Tamagawa near my home. This surely shows that they once lived all the way from the mouths of rivers to their heads.

.. The real beauty of the kingfisher is in its shape and colour: its back covered with jade-coloured feathers, and its breast with bright orange feathers. We might notice a kingfisher flying mid-stream looking more like a flash of light than a bird — jade light and orange light knit together into one. As its name suggests, this bird is an expert hunter. It dives into water, and the next moment it emerges again with a fish in its beak. Its action is quicker than thought, admitting not even ‘a hair’s breadth’ between the two moments. If the heron is a model of patience, the kingfisher is a master acrobat.

.. The kingfisher rends
.. The valley into two halves
.. With its beam of light.


4 Responses to “Waterside Birds, Part IV: the Kingfisher”

  1. Beautiful. How lovely are the images spawned by these words. Thank you, Mr Yuasa. Nice pic, too.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed the nicely-poised mix of legend, literary reference, natural history, and personal encounter – and all with a slightly whimsical ‘haibun’ air. The terminal haiku is proof to any of the place and the power of metaphor in haiku: not to be overdone, for sure, but a legitimate tool for the craft. For me, the earlier mention of ‘looking like a flash of light’ took away a little of the impact of the final ‘beam of light’, but perhaps it helped in comprehending it. The opening is measured and leads us into the subject, but the piece really takes off in its final acrobatics. It is indeed a bird that thrills. Thank you for this fine piece.

  3. Beautiful, Mr. Yuasa! I was grateful to you for setting up the final “beam of light” image earlier in the prose section, so I could see it alongside you. And “rends” is perfect. Thank you!

  4. “a kingfisher flying mid-stream looking more like a flash of light than a bird — jade light and orange light knit together into one.”

    I liked this description.

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