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From "The Castle" by Edwin Muir:

Our gates were strong, our walls were thick,
So smooth and high, no man could win
A foothold there, no clever trick
Could take us, have us dead or quick.
Only a bird could have got in.

In the above poem, what does the line 'only a bird could have got in' imply?

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Presumably it implies that you can't get inside except by flying.

This stanza of the poem is describing the physical strength of the castle and its defences. There is no way to scale the walls, no way (so the poet claims) for an unwanted attacker to get in. The only creature that can get in is one that can fly: of course, being able to travel through the air would render strong walls useless without an equally strong roof. So birds can get in, but nobody else can.

A bird is frequently used in literature as a representative of the category of creatures that can fly. (Technically, insects and bats could also have got in to the castle, but poetry and pedantry don't mix well.)

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  • Thank you. What does 'could have got in' signify when rather 'could get in' seems enough? Jul 1 at 15:36
  • @BaskaranSoundararajan "Only a bird could get in" might suggest that the bird is actually trying to get in. "Only a bird could have got in" has the implication that only an attacker who was a bird, if such existed, could have got in.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jul 1 at 15:42
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    Only a bird could have got in is past; Only a bird could get in is present, so could have got in is technically more grammatical (although lots of native English speakers use the present in situations like this).
    – Peter Shor
    Jul 2 at 10:52

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