by Robert Graves


Allie, call the birds in, The birds from the sky.

Allie, call the birds in,
The birds from the sky.
Allie calls, Allie sings,
Down they all fly.
First there came
Two white doves
Then a sparrow from his nest,
Then a clucking bantam hen,
Then a robin red-breast.

Allie, call the beasts in,
The beasts, every one.
Allie calls, Allie sings,
In they all run.
First there came
Two black lambs,
Then a grunting Berkshire sow,
Then a dog without a tail,
Then a red and white cow.

Allie, call the fish up,
The fish from the stream.
Allie calls, Allie sings,
Up they all swim.
First there came
Two gold fish,
A minnow and a miller’s thumb,
Then a pair of loving trout,
Then the twisted eels come.

Allie, call the children,
Children from the green.
Allie calls, Allie sings,
Soon they run in.
First there came
Tom and Madge,
Kate and I who’ll not forget
How we played by the water’s edge
Till the April sun set.


This is the most child-like of the poems we chose;  a nursery rhyme.

We used only the verse about the birds, because that was the one which served our purpose here.

This English wood which we have established in the first section would obviously have been a place of birds; small, friendly woodland birds twittering in the branches before suddenly wheeling into the sky to be called down by Allie.

That moment in Allie reminded me of the poem, about the period just before the second world war, by Louis McNeice:


The sunlight on the garden

Hardens and grows cold,

We cannot cage the minute

Within its nets of gold,

When all is told

We cannot beg for pardon.


Our freedom as free lances

Advances towards its end;

The earth compels, upon it

Sonnets and birds descend;

And soon, my friend,

We shall have no time for dances.


The sky was good for flying

Defying the church bells

And every evil iron

Siren and what it tells:

The earth compels,

We are dying, Egypt, dying


And not expecting pardon,

Hardened in heart anew,

But glad to have sat under

Thunder and rain with you,

And grateful too

For sunlight on the garden.


The most wonderful of poems.

It is the line, ‘The earth compels, upon it, sonnets and birds descend’ which brings the echo. In the oratorio, the birds fly up into the sky, are called down by Allie, and then.. the earth compels, and they descend.. ..the black sky rises, the wood darkens, and their place is taken by the far more sinister owls of ‘Outlaws’, who bring the night and the old gods with them as the war comes closer.

This section has given rise to one of the many moments in the music of this piece that I particularly love. Jools has created, in his first description of the birds of the wood, an exquisite mediaeval tapestry where you can hear the thin scratchy legs of small birds fidgeting as they crowd every corner of every tree with their tiny jewelled colours before suddenly taking to the skies.

In this oratorio the words and the music inspire each other; both are given their due weight and influence.