The Devil’s Corbyn of Hell

A General Election post, featuring Edgar Allan Poe, a manual for medieval female anchorites, the RSPB, Le Corbusier, Magpie Corvid, a corvine conspiracy, and Tolkien’s Nazgûl.

Politicians engaging with voters during the 2017 British General Election, as depicted in Vasily Vereshchagin, The Apotheosis of War (1871).

Politicians engaging with voters during the 2017 British General Election, as depicted in Vasily Vereshchagin, The Apotheosis of War (1871). Image: Google Cultural Institute.

Nine days to go, and already I lie out on the moor, the crows hopping around me, competing for my eyes and tongue. By now you have probably also been canvassed by a death-bird:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”

Of all this murder of crows – May, Corbyn, Farronage and Sturmon – one appears sincere. After all, he hasn’t concealed his true name:

corbin, n.
Forms: Also ME corbun, corboun.
Etymology: < Old French corbin, derivative of corb, corp, corf < Latin corvus raven: compare Latin corvīnus adjective.
A raven.

Via UMich’s Middle English Dictionary we can reconstruct the OED’s first find, a nifty nugget of alliteration in the C13th Ancrene Riwle:

Þe bacbitere cheoweð monnes flesch & bekeð wið his blake bile o cwike charoines, ase þe þet is þes deofles corbin of helle


The backbiter chews human flesh and beaks with his black bill on quick [i.e. living] carrion, as he that is the devil’s corbin of hell.[1]Larry Swain wonders whether this isn’t Tolkien’s prototype for the Witch-King of Angmar and attendant Nazgûl.

In terms of the political taxonomy devised by my good friend Linus von Pelt, with the assistance of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Corbyn is a carrion crow:

The all-black carrion crow is one of the cleverest, most adaptable of our birds. It is often quite fearless, although it can be wary of man. They are fairly solitary, usually found alone or in pairs… Carrion crows will come to gardens for food and although often cautious initially, they soon learn when it is safe, and will return repeatedly to take advantage of whatever is on offer.

Among his friends: Le Corbusier (Astragal over at The Architects’ Journal: Corbyn and Corb: the coincidences pile up), and the New Statesman‘s favourite dominatrix, Magpie Corvid:

It is not the end to privatisation and cuts, or the strengthening of public services, that sets my heart on fire for Corbyn, and that has raised crow after crow, cheering, to its feet. It is all of those policies transformed into a clear plan of action: the promise of Labour’s demise, and its rebirth into a truly participatory body that can redefine parliamentary politics.

These are tempestuous times, and I fear that people will take me for an owl. Here‘s a piece of nocturnal nature writing from Emmy Thomee in peaceful old 1982:

At about 4:45 a.m., one owl flew silently across the road into the woods. Then the other. A crow awoke. Quickly rallying, it roused and summoned others of its kind to join the eternal corvine conspiracy to make day uncomfortable for the owls. The group moved slowly through the trees, each movement of the owls noted with an outburst of increasing volume, sounding like an unruly crowd at a football game-until the enemy and noisy pursuers were far in the distance.

The morning brightened into familiarity, dispelling most-but not all-of the totally unfamiliar world we had been living beside. Only the crows served as a talisman to the dreamers, to prove that the dream was real.

Nevermore:[2]OK, just one more time:


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  1. Did I ever tell you about my George W. Bush dream? Basically, he was a nice guy but we didn’t agree on things.

    The Daily Mail is trying to terrify its readers into turning out for May. I have a feeling that she’ll win but will lose seats and be mortally weakened.

    I’ll vote Labour by proxy in the safe Tory seat of South West Devon (a thankless, pointless tradition I have), and shortly thereafter will become totally disenfranchised. That is all.

    1. Bet you’re wishing Georgie boy was back now. Despite the Corbyn Kippers, I too think May’ll buck all that & be back with garlic & stake merchants in attendance. Good at defenestrating the relatives but no affinity with outdoors, whereas Jezza comes over quite well on The Street but hopeless indoors. If only one of them could at least stand up on their hind legs and perform, then maybe there’d be some fun in the offing.

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