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This indoors flying makes it seem absurd, Although it itches and nags and flutters and yearns, To postulate any other life than now.
(Louis MacNeice, ‘Dark Age Glosses’, 15–17)
What came first, the seabird's cry or the soul Imagined in the dawn cold when it cried?
(Seamus Heaney, ‘Small Fantasia for W.B.’, 3–4)
LOUIS MACNEICE's poem reminds us of how well endures one specific association of a very well-known sparrow with a central Anglo-Saxon ‘image-complex’: fire-lit hall and raging storm, transience and eternity. The purported moment in Bede's Historia ecclesiastica when one king and his people reject their pagan beliefs for a promised Christian eternity pivots on a fictional augury in which a flying bird is entwined with the morphosis and fate of the human soul. Bede's sparrow is allegorical: like man's journey from the unknown to human existence on earth, and then again to the unknown, the bird flies in from the cold, through the banqueting hall and back out again into the tempestuous night, subject to the ineluctable transience of mortal life. The passer, or spearwa in Old English, becomes responsible for a seminal moment in the history of the English people, assigned a significant rhetorical function in a pagan representation of life without Christ that simultaneously contemplates what that life might look like after conversion. It resonates with and consolidates a scriptural legacy which designates birds a special status in thinking through this key theological anxiety and inquiry, a legacy which locates birds as ideal creatures to articulate the Christian pilgrim journey by aligning avian flight with the metaphorical peregrinations of the faithful who must ‘soar to the unchangeable substance of God’. The bird appears in Saint Augustine's lengthy exegesis of Psalm 83, for instance, where it is compared to the human heart or soul. Psalm 124.7 includes the neodspearuwa ‘needful sparrow’ that Ælfric alludes to elsewhere: Ute sawl is ahred of grine swa swa spearwa ‘Our soul is freed from the snare just like the sparrow’.
IF THE VOCABULARY of medieval English is anything to go by, birds were a conspicuous and abundant presence in the lives of medieval people. In Old English alone, one might talk of a fughel-dæg ‘bird-day’; of being a fugel-bana ‘bird-killer’ gone fugelung ‘fowling’ with a fugel-net ‘bird-net’ somewhere fugel-wylle ‘abounding in birds’; or of a fugel-hælsere ‘bird-diviner’ observing fugel-cynn ‘birdkind’; or perhaps of feðer-cræt ‘feather-embroidering’ or a feðer-bed. Raucously and richly vocal, feathered and flying, birds impressed and enriched, sustained and enabled the bodily and cognitive experiences of daily living. As much as their mammalian fellows, birds were participants in rural and urban living in a time, as one historian goes so far as to say, in which ‘animals and humans shared space, food, famines, work, and weather conditions more intensely’ than any other historical age except human prehistory. As the Old English terms above suggest, birds were often of practical interest. The most proximate, everyday species were domestic poultry: chickens were an important and protected resource, enjoyed by almost every social stratum, and geese, a more labour-intensive poultry species, not only provided meat and eggs, but their feathers, plucked from living or dead birds, were a crucial resource for arrows and quills. Tamed birds of prey were highly prized among the nobility, nurtured and flown by falconers who knew intimately the birds’ idiosyncratic habits and moulting patterns. All these birds could occupy less prosaic roles, too. Raptors had powerful semiotic value as emblems on escutcheons, or through the projection of ‘shared’ courtly values in literary realms, and even the humble chicken could, in cockerel form, function as a symbol of Christian light and hope, or the hen feature as an encrypted marvel in an Old English riddle, or a reminder of God's divine wisdom in bestiary sources.
Recent interest in human-nonhuman relations has emphasised this eclecticism of animal meaning in pre-modern living, but particularly nonhuman physicality, reminding us that these creatures existed within a network of relations and interactions with human subjects who were well acquainted with the origins and husbandries of those natural sources that provided foods and technologies.
BIRDS IN THE EXETER BOOK RIDDLES are an important subject of wonder, the various and unique transformations of particular species described in a scheme of nearly one hundred riddles that marvel at nonhuman phenomena, both animate and inanimate. Anglo-Saxon riddles as a whole had serious, didactic purposes and, despite their unique characteristics, the Old English riddles’ clear connections to the Anglo-Latin examples make it likely that they also served some form of pedagogic role in a monastic environment. Certainly their formulaic injunctions, instructing that we frige ‘ask’ or saga ‘say’ hwæt ‘what’ or hu ‘how’ something is or comes to be, fit with the intellectual lines of inquiry evident in the Latin riddles. Superficially, then, birds feature on one level in the ‘catalogue of diversity’ to be pondered, guessed and classified by naming a solution. As scholars of the Exeter Riddles have long known, however, their unique form of vernacular riddling presents audiences with sophisticated, often divergent forms of learning and hermeneutics in their own right, and in this chapter I explore how birds’ peculiarities become part of the collection's self-reflexive pedagogic aims and strategies.
As in Chapter One, we are never far from the mysterious qualities of birds’ foreignness, and this compelling avian aspect will ultimately concern us more with how the Riddles’ strategies reveal ignorance as much as enlightenment. I see avian quiddities as particularly apt in this dialogic game, because the lives and behaviours of these proximate strangers exemplify well the distinctive interplay of the known and unknown in riddling discourses; in being both nameable and anonymous they suit riddles’ tendencies to obfuscate and disambiguate concurrently. Birds are a significant element in the miscellany, that is, because they enact a series of diverse transformations that redouble their participation in the Riddles’ preoccupations with wondering. As subjects of wonder, they naturally perform a bewildering range of perpetual sleights and shifts that transgress species and territory boundaries, making their diversity excellent riddle material. Within riddling frameworks, however, this unpredictable diversity achieves a heightened focus because it meets with further transformations imposed by metaphor and paradox.
THE BIRDS THAT FLY AND SING through my five chapters have enacted, provoked and evaded transformations. Metaphor – indeed, all forms of human translation – is repeatedly at stake, empowered and limited through its various and tangled involvements with the avian real. In Chapter One, birds mobilised a paradoxical metaphor, aiding those transfigurations most desired in orthodox Christian doctrine. In Chapter Two they mystified scholastic attempts to decode their diversity of kinds that ‘be not distinguyd in certayne’, escaping or thwarting human transformative designs upon the natural world. Elsewhere, they managed curious frictions between biological and cultural species traits with comic aplomb, manipulating and resisting their assigned roles in literary modes to reverse or redirect humanised taxonomies of species and voice. In the final chapter, we ended with the most substantial and dramatic of all avian transformations, simultaneously dispersive and integrative mutations that ‘bringen forth of briddes kinde’ (CA, IV.3119).
Studies of the sort I offer here run an unavoidable risk. Those who consciously and rigorously attempt to write about the nonhuman are paradoxically forced to recognise that they always do write about the human. As Erica Fudge comments, in these cases ‘we read humans writing about animals’, and (even if we do claim to address the animal purely as itself) we must process these writings through our own human faculties. To borrow the words of another writer on birds, there is a ‘sense in which a book like this on birds is really about ourselves’. I do not intend, however, that the title of this book should be misleading. I maintain that birds are, in fact, my proper focus because their materiality is always evident and deeply relevant. Their presence reveals intertwined human–avian histories and existences that can and do suggest an interdependence or compatibility that makes the bird integral, not marginal, to our self-conceptions. It would be entirely false, of course, to suggest that the birds I discuss are not symbolic, metaphoric or anthropomorphic, or that medieval people were not users of birds in the traditional sense.
[Tell me now, you wretched creature: is there any other purpose to you, other than that you have a shrill voice? You mean nothing to any other being … What good do you do among mankind?]
Heruore hit is þat me þe shuneþ
An þe totorue & tobuneþ
[So it is that people shun you, and pelt and beat you to pieces.]
(The Owl and the Nightingale, 556–63 and 1165–6)
THE OWL's VITRIOLIC WORDS in the first epigraph above remind us of the central theme of this poem's ‘plaiding suþe stronge’ [very strong debate (12)] – an owl and a nightingale contend aggressively on the usefulness of their voices, apologists for their own, and lambasters of the other's. In one respect, this is a generic feature, a recognisable component from a number of the possible Latin or Anglo-Norman debate-poems which are likely sources for The Owl and the Nightingale: people, abstractions or creatures debate their individual merits, or those of another whom they represent. On this simple basis, Neil Cartlidge comments, the poem certainly qualifies as a debate-poem, and the adept treatment the author makes of so-called debate-poetry characteristics in itself may point out an important aim for a text whose exact purpose has famously baffled scholars: ‘it could reasonably be described both as a self-conscious summation, and a self-conscious surpassing, of received literary possibilities’. In this skilled ‘summation’, however, we are alerted to how those ‘received literary possibilities’ mesh with other medieval literary discourses in which being useful bears significance. The cut and thrust of disputatio, dealt with more simply or superficially in The Owl and the Nightingale's sources, does not exist as a frivolous display of wit, or even just as a comment on rhetoric itself, but to press debating the subject of nonhuman worth to much more provocative ends.
The biosemiotic view that there exist signs, per se, in animal communication, or in any other communication among living systems, poses the question about the translatability of these signs, both by humans and by other organisms.
Kalevi Kull and Peeter Torop
THERE IS NO EVIDENCE that Chaucer ever came across The Owl and the Nightingale, but given the remarkable similarities between this squabbling pair and the dissenting avian gang in his own bird-debate, you might think he had. Once again birds find themselves fruitful subjects for anthropomorphic conversion and so, too, do their habits resist these procedures, so that birds view themselves in both natural and cultural terms. Chaucer, however, adds a further dimension to the vociferous voices in The Parliament of Fowls: there is a moment when three of his talking birds suddenly drop human speech and revert to ‘birdspeak’, forcefully reversing anthropomorphic tactics and foregrounding the issue of birds’ voices. As we have seen in previous chapters, avian vocality presents a particularly compelling and troublesome example of birds’ strange familiarity. At once alike and unlike the human voice, it suggests and defies categories equally. In The Parliament, the din of birds from ‘every kynde that men thynke may’ (310) is transformed into human voices by the turn of allegory, but these birds are capable of re-translating themselves.
Lévi-Strauss's remarks on birdsong reminded us in my introduction that birds’ apparent ‘articulated language’ (langue articulé) is central to parallels that humans across cultures often seem to have drawn between themselves and birds. His choice of words, though, echoes a particularly medieval debate on the nature of the articulate, rational voice, in which birds were prominent precisely because their human-sounding vocalisations foregrounded and reified a central worry for medieval theologians: the distinction between rational man (animal rationale) and irrational beast (animal irrationale). Paradoxically, birds’ voices were ubiquitously compared to or depicted as human speech in various discourses because they display vocal abilities, even whilst being rigorously denied this likeness. Avian vocality, that is, could plausibly be considered discrete and articulate, sophisticated and adaptable, but such possibilities were hard to reconcile with mainstream doctrines that sought to secure the identity of the rational, vocalising human.
Introduction: Continued smoking by cancer patients causes adverse cancer treatment outcomes, but few patients receive evidence-based smoking cessation as a standard of care.
Aim: To evaluate practical strategies to promote wide-scale dissemination and implementation of evidence-based tobacco cessation services within state cancer centers.
Methods: A Collaborative Learning Model (CLM) for Quality Improvement was evaluated with three community oncology practices to identify barriers and facilitate practice change to deliver evidence-based smoking cessation treatments to cancer patients using standardized assessments and referrals to statewide smoking cessation resources. Patients were enrolled and tracked through an automated data system and received follow-up cessation support post-enrollment. Monthly quantitative reports and qualitative data gathered through interviews and collaborative learning sessions were used to evaluate meaningful quality improvement changes in each cancer center.
Results: Baseline practice evaluation for the CLM identified the lack of tobacco use documentation, awareness of cessation guidelines, and awareness of services for patients as common barriers. Implementation of a structured assessment and referral process demonstrated that of 1,632 newly registered cancer patients,1,581 (97%) were screened for tobacco use. Among those screened, 283 (18%) were found to be tobacco users. Of identified tobacco users, 207 (73%) were advised to quit. Referral of new patients who reported using tobacco to an evidence-based cessation program increased from 0% at baseline across all three cancer centers to 64% (range = 30%–89%) during the project period.
Conclusions: Implementation of quality improvement learning collaborative models can dramatically improve delivery of guideline-based tobacco cessation treatments to cancer patients.
We compared sepsis “time zero” and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) SEP-1 pass rates among 3 abstractors in 3 hospitals. Abstractors agreed on time zero in 29 of 80 (36%) cases. Perceived pass rates ranged from 9 of 80 cases (11%) to 19 of 80 cases (23%). Variability in time zero and perceived pass rates limits the utility of SEP-1 for measuring quality.
A finite-volume model is used to simulate 9 years (1995–2003) of snow temperatures at the South Pole. The upper boundary condition is skin-surface temperature derived from routine upwelling longwave radiation measurements, while the lower boundary condition is set to the seasonal temperature gradient at 6.5 m depth, taken from prior measurements at the South Pole. We focus on statistics of temperature, heat fluxes, heating rates and vapour pressures in the top metre of snow, but present results from the full depth of the model (6.5 m). The monthly mean net heat flux into the snow agrees with results from previous studies performed at the South Pole. On shorter timescales, the heating rates and vapour pressures show large variability. The net heat flux into the snow, which is between ±5 W m−2 in the monthly mean, can be greater than ±20 W m−2 on hourly timescales. On sub-daily timescales, heating rates exceed 40 K d−1 in the top 10 cm of the snow. Subsurface temperatures, and therefore heating rates, are more variable during winter (April–September) due to increased synoptic activity and the presence of a strong, surface-based, atmospheric temperature inversion. The largest vapour pressures (60–70 Pa) and vertical gradients of vapour pressure are found in the top metre of snow during the short summer (December–January). In contrast, during the long winter, the low temperatures result in very small vapour pressures and insignificant vapour-pressure gradients. The high summertime vapour-pressure gradients may be important in altering the isotopic composition of snow and ice on the Antarctic plateau.