I love those vivid yellowhammers who feature so prominently in Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘Self-Unconscious’: ‘Bright yellowhammers/Made mirthful clamours,/And billed long straws with a bustling air’, and so on across two stanzas. And D.H. Lawrence (who wrote a booklength study of Thomas Hardy) follows up this motif through Ursula Brangwen in Women in Love: ‘Some yellowhammers suddenly shot along the road in front of her. And they looked to her so uncanny and inhuman, like flaring yellow barbs shooting through the air on some weird, living errand, that she said to herself: “ … They are of another world. How stupid anthropomorphism is”’ (ch.XIX).
Birds are important for William Morris too; and Cormell Price once recorded in his diary that Morris could ‘go on for hours about their habits: but especially about their form’. But among the robins, thrushes, blackbirds, lapwings, wood-ouzels, herons, nightingales, moorhens, woodpeckers, kestrels, ernes, willow-warblers and others who enliven his pages and designs, I don’t recall any yellowhammers. Have I missed something in his voluminous works - some stray text or manuscript that hasn't yet been digitised, perhaps? Can anyone help with an apt reference? In The Well at the World’s End the Lady of Abundance shamefacedly tells Ralph that, as a girl, she had set snares for birds (‘though when I had caught them, it irked me sore to kill them’), so I here, more benignly, set a literary snare which may one day capture us a memorable yellowhammer reference in Morris’s vast oeuvre.