Fly Away Peter

by

David Malouf

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Birds Symbol Icon

Because Jim Saddler is a birdwatcher who finds joy in identifying the creatures he sees flying above, birds factor into many scenes in Fly Away Peter and come to represent a sense of freedom and unboundedness. No matter where Jim goes, he’s able to look at the sky and spot multiple different winged species. Fascinated by their migratory patterns, he often considers how far they have flown. For instance, when he and Miss Imogen Harcourt spy a Dunlin in Australia, they’re astonished because Dunlins come from Scandinavia or North Asia, meaning that this bird’s journey has spanned roughly half the globe. Unlike humans, the birds that Jim sees pay no attention to the demarcations that supposedly make up the world. Rather, they fly wherever they want, lending Jim a sense of exhilarating liberty. Jim also takes comfort in seeing birds during the war, as they evidence that some natural patterns remain undisrupted by—and in effect, transcend—the violence of humankind. The birds’ freedom ultimately suggests a certain arbitrariness and limit to the boundaries imposed by men on the world, which, in turn, would imply the foolishness of war fought over those boundaries in the first place.

Birds Quotes in Fly Away Peter

The Fly Away Peter quotes below all refer to the symbol of Birds. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Language and Naming Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Fly Away Peter published in 1982.
Chapter 1 Quotes

He had a map of all this clearly in his head, as if in every moment of lying here flat on his belly watching some patch of it for a change of shape or colour that would be a small body betraying itself, he were also seeing it from high up, like the hawk, or that fellow in his flying-machine. He moved always on these two levels, through these two worlds: the flat world of individual grassblades, seen so close up that they blurred, where the ground-feeders darted about striking at worms, and the long view in which all this part of the country was laid out like a relief-map in the Shire Office—surf, beach, swampland, wet paddocks, dry, forested hill-slopes, jagged blue peaks. Each section of it supported its own birdlife; the territorial borders of each kind were laid out there, invisible but clear, which the birds were free to cross but didn’t; they stayed for the most part within strict limits. They stayed.

Related Characters: Jim Saddler, Ashley Crowther, Bert
Related Symbols: Birds, Bert’s Biplane
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

Ashley was too incoherent to have explained and Jim would have been embarrassed to hear it, but he understood. All this water, all these boughs and leaves and little clumps of tussocky grass that were such good nesting-places and feeding grounds belonged inviolably to the birds. The rights that could be granted to a man by the Crown, either for ninety-nine years or in perpetuity, were of another order and didn’t quite mean what they said.

Related Characters: Jim Saddler, Ashley Crowther
Related Symbols: Birds
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

His voice was husky and the accent broad; he drawled. The facts he gave were unnecessary and might have been pedantic. But when he named the bird, and again when he named the island, he made them sound, Ashley thought, extraordinary. He endowed them with some romantic quality that was really in himself. An odd interest revealed itself, the fire of an individual passion.

Related Characters: Jim Saddler, Ashley Crowther
Related Symbols: Birds
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

It amazed him, this. That he could be watching, on a warm day in November, with the sun scorching his back, the earth pricking below and the whole landscape dazzling and shrilling, a creature that only weeks ago had been on the other side of the earth and had found its way here across all the cities of Asia, across lakes, deserts, valleys between high mountain ranges, across oceans without a single guiding mark, to light on just this bank and enter the round frame of his binoculars; completely contained there in its small life […] and completely containing, somewhere invisibly within, that blank white world of the northern ice-cap and the knowledge, laid down deep in the tiny brain, of the air-routes and courses that had brought it here.

Related Characters: Jim Saddler
Related Symbols: Birds
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

The sandpiper was in sharp focus against a blur of earth and grass-stems, as if two sets of binoculars had been brought to bear on the same spot, and he knew that if the second pair could now be shifted so that the landscape came up as clear as the bird, he too might be visible, lying there with a pair of glasses screwed into his head. He was there but invisible; only he and Miss Harcourt might ever know that he too had been in the frame, hidden among those soft rods of light that were grass-stems and the softer sunbursts that were grass-heads or tiny flowers. To the unenlightened eye there was just the central image of the sandpiper with its head attentively cocked. And that was as it should be. It was the sandpiper’s picture.

Related Characters: Jim Saddler, Miss Imogen Harcourt
Related Symbols: Birds
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

[T]hey moved with their little lives, if they moved at all, so transiently across his lands—even when they were natives and spent their whole lives there—and knew nothing of Ashley Crowther. They shocked him each time he came here with the otherness of their being. He could never quite accept that they were, he and these creatures, of the same world. It was as if he had inherited a piece of the next world, or some previous one. That was why he felt such awe when Jim so confidently offered himself as an intermediary and named them: ‘Look, the Sacred Kingfisher. From Borneo.’”

Related Characters: Jim Saddler, Ashley Crowther
Related Symbols: Birds
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

Using his best copybook hand, including all the swirls and hooks and tails on the capital letters that you left off when you were simply jotting things down, he entered them up, four or five to a page. This sort of writing was serious. It was giving the creature, through its name, a permanent place in the world, as Miss Harcourt did through pictures. The names were magical. They had behind them, each one, in a way that still seemed mysterious to him, as it had when he first learned to say them over in his head, both the real bird he had sighted, with its peculiar markings and its individual cry, and the species with all its characteristics of diet, habits, preference for this or that habitat, kind of nest, number of eggs etc.

Related Characters: Jim Saddler
Related Symbols: Birds
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

But it was there just the same, moving easily about and quite unconscious that it had broken some barrier that might have been laid down a million years ago, in the Pleiocene, when the ice came and the birds found ways out and since then had kept to the same ways. Only this bird hadn’t.

“Where does it come from?”

“Sweden. The Baltic. Iceland. Looks like another refugee.”

He knew the word now. Just a few months after he first heard it, it was common, you saw it in the papers every day.

Related Characters: Jim Saddler, Miss Imogen Harcourt
Related Symbols: Birds
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

It seemed odd to her that it should be so extraordinary, though it was of course, this common little visitor to the shores of her childhood, with its grating cry that in summers back there she would, before it was gone, grow weary of, which here was so exotic, and to him so precious.

Related Characters: Jim Saddler, Miss Imogen Harcourt
Related Symbols: Birds
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

But more reassuring than all this—the places, the stories of a life that was continuous elsewhere—a kind of private reassurance for himself alone, was the presence of the birds, that allowed Jim to make a map in his head of how the parts of his life were connected, there and here, and to find his way back at times to a natural cycle of things that the birds still followed undisturbed.

Related Characters: Jim Saddler, Bobby Cleese
Related Symbols: Birds
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

Jim had run a half mile through the swath he had cut in the standing grain with the image in his head of the child caught there among the smashed stalks and bloodied ears of wheat, and been unable when he arrived at the McLaren’s door to get the image, it so filled him, into words. There were no words for it, then or ever, and the ones that came said nothing of the sound the metal had made striking the child’s skull, or the shocking whiteness he had seen of stripped bone, and would never be fitted in any language to the inhuman shriek—he had thought it was some new and unknown bird entering the field—of the boy’s first cry. It had gone down, that sound, to become part of what was unspoken between them at every meal so long as his mother was still living and they retained some notion of being a family.

Related Characters: Jim Saddler
Related Symbols: Birds
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16 Quotes

[…] he was out of himself and floating, seeing the scene from high up as it might look from Bert’s bi-plane, remote and silent. Perhaps he had, in some part of himself, taken on the nature of a bird; though it was with a human eye that he saw, and his body, still entirely his own, was lumbering along below, clearly perceptible as it leapt over potholes and stumbled past clods, in a breathless dream of black hail striking all about him and bodies springing backward or falling slowly from his side. There were no changes.

Related Characters: Jim Saddler
Related Symbols: Birds, Bert’s Biplane
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

He saw it all, and himself a distant, slow-moving figure within it: […] the new and the old dead; his own life neither more nor less important than the rest, even in his own vision of the thing, but unique because it was his head that contained it and in his view that all these balanced lives for a moment existed: the men going about their strange business of killing and being killed, but also the rats, the woodlice under logs, a snail that might be climbing up a stalk, quite deaf to the sounds of battle, an odd bird or two […]

Related Characters: Jim Saddler
Related Symbols: Birds, Bert’s Biplane
Page Number: 117
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

Maybe she would go on from birds to waves. They were as various and as difficult to catch at their one moment.

That was it, the thought she had been reaching for. Her mind gathered and held it, on a breath, before the pull of the earth drew it apart and sent it rushing down with such energy into the flux of things.

Related Characters: Jim Saddler, Miss Imogen Harcourt
Related Symbols: Birds
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:
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Birds Symbol Timeline in Fly Away Peter

The timeline below shows where the symbol Birds appears in Fly Away Peter. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Time, Change, and Impermanence Theme Icon
...the Australian swampland in which he spends his days. There is a “vast population of waterbirds” in this area, as well as a number of hawks and kestrels and other swooping... (full context)
Boundaries and Perspective Theme Icon
...of wildlife, and he pictures “the territorial borders” of each species laid out clearly. The birds, he understands, are “free to cross” these borders, but they don’t. Instead, they stay “within... (full context)
Language and Naming Theme Icon
Friendship and Human Connection Theme Icon
...come back to take over his father’s property, he has hired Jim to catalog the birds that live in the swampland, wanting to know what creatures fly in and out of... (full context)
Language and Naming Theme Icon
Boundaries and Perspective Theme Icon
Friendship and Human Connection Theme Icon
...friend believes, as Jim believes, that the natural world surrounding them belongs “inviolably to the birds.” The fact that Ashley technically owns this property is superfluous, and both men understand this. (full context)
Language and Naming Theme Icon
Friendship and Human Connection Theme Icon
Not only does Ashley understand that his own land truly belongs to the birds, he also senses that Jim himself has certain “rights” over the area. These rights have... (full context)
Chapter 2
Language and Naming Theme Icon
Friendship and Human Connection Theme Icon
...is more intrigued than taken aback. Jim tells him that he was watching a Dollar bird, before explaining the bird’s origins. Although these facts might seem unnecessary, Ashley finds himself drawn... (full context)
Language and Naming Theme Icon
Friendship and Human Connection Theme Icon
Ashley dismounts his horse and Jim hands him the binoculars, pointing out the Dollar bird. “I can see it!” Ashley says, and the two men smile at each other. They... (full context)
Language and Naming Theme Icon
Friendship and Human Connection Theme Icon
...if he would like to work for him “on a proper basis,” making lists of birds and turning  “this into an observing place, a sanctuary.” Explaining that he would pay Jim... (full context)
Chapter 3
Boundaries and Perspective Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Impermanence Theme Icon
While working as a birdwatcher for Ashley one day, Jim spots Miss Harcourt. This happens when he’s watching a sandpiper,... (full context)
Language and Naming Theme Icon
Friendship and Human Connection Theme Icon
...sandpiper. I seen you taking a picture of it.” He then explains that he’s Ashley’s “bird man,” saying, “I keep lists”—something Miss Harcourt  says she already knows; she saw him the... (full context)
Boundaries and Perspective Theme Icon
Friendship and Human Connection Theme Icon
...Miss Harcourt took of the sandpiper, he’s impressed by how vividly she has captured the bird, which stands in tight focus at the center of the portrait. Even though he knows... (full context)
Language and Naming Theme Icon
Friendship and Human Connection Theme Icon
...it in such lofty ways. Moving forward, the three of them simply talk about “the birds.”  (full context)
Chapter 4
Language and Naming Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Impermanence Theme Icon
Friendship and Human Connection Theme Icon
...tours of the property. Driving them around in a small boat, he points out the birds they pass or that fly overhead. As he whispers these names, Ashley feels as if... (full context)
Chapter 6
Language and Naming Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Impermanence Theme Icon
As August fades into September, new birds arrive in the swamplands. “Refugees,” Miss Harcourt calls them, a word Jim has never heard.... (full context)
Chapter 7
Boundaries and Perspective Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Impermanence Theme Icon
Not long before Ashley and Julia’s wedding, Jim encounters a bird he’s never seen before. Excited, he brings Miss Harcourt the following day to the place... (full context)
Boundaries and Perspective Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Impermanence Theme Icon
Friendship and Human Connection Theme Icon
Innocence and Maturity Theme Icon
...following day, overjoyed to think that this might be the first time this kind of bird has ever been to Australia. As such, Miss Harcourt lugs her equipment to the same... (full context)
Chapter 8
Boundaries and Perspective Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Impermanence Theme Icon
Friendship and Human Connection Theme Icon
...in the biplane, thinking it will delight him to be in the air amongst the birds. However, he’s wrong about this, since Jim is uninterested in climbing into the sky. In... (full context)
Boundaries and Perspective Theme Icon
...up again.” Still, he thinks about this internal “map” and compares it to what the birds must have in their own heads, realizing just how extraordinary it is that these tiny... (full context)
Chapter 9
Boundaries and Perspective Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Impermanence Theme Icon
Friendship and Human Connection Theme Icon
...revels in Bobby’s words, which remind him of home. Even more comforting, though, are the birds that fly above, enabling Jim to think about how the different parts of his life... (full context)
Chapter 12
Boundaries and Perspective Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Impermanence Theme Icon
...the living soldiers’ faces at night. These creatures, Jim feels, stand in stark opposition to birds; he thinks, “To come to terms with the rats, and his disgust for them, he... (full context)
Chapter 13
Boundaries and Perspective Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Impermanence Theme Icon
Friendship and Human Connection Theme Icon
Innocence and Maturity Theme Icon
...Germans move about in their trenches, which are only twenty feet away. In the daytime, birds fly overhead, and Jim identifies them. Later, the two men fall asleep. Having been able... (full context)
Chapter 14
Language and Naming Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Impermanence Theme Icon
Innocence and Maturity Theme Icon
...only form of violence Jim has witnessed outside of the war. Once, when he was birdwatching, he found a kestrel whose leg somebody forced through the rusty tin of a sardine... (full context)
Boundaries and Perspective Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Impermanence Theme Icon
Friendship and Human Connection Theme Icon
Innocence and Maturity Theme Icon
...was, since they never saw a map.” After this experience, Jim takes pleasure in watching birds again. (full context)
Chapter 17
Boundaries and Perspective Theme Icon
Time, Change, and Impermanence Theme Icon
Friendship and Human Connection Theme Icon
...The “blasted” trees, he observes, seem to have “renewed themselves with summer growth,” and several birds sing in their branches.  (full context)