He has never seen God,
but, once or twice, he believes
he has heard him.
W. H. Auden, Collected Poems (edited by Edward Mendelson) (1991).
We have no way of knowing what Auden may have heard. Voices? Music? Thunder? Or does he have something more theologically recondite in mind? This is purely speculation on my part, but, on the basis of his poetry, I am putting in a vote for bird-song.
Gilbert Spencer, "Little Milton near Garsington" (1926)
Short Ode to the Cuckoo
No one now imagines you answer idle questions
-- How long shall I live? How long remain single?
Will butter be cheaper? -- nor does your shout make
Compared with arias by the great performers
such as the merle, your two-note act is kid-stuff:
our most hardened crooks are sincerely shocked by
your nesting habits.
Science, Aesthetics, Ethics, may huff and puff but they
cannot extinguish your magic: you marvel
the commuter as you wondered the savage.
Hence, in my diary,
where I normally enter nothing but social
engagements and, lately, the death of friends, I
scribble year after year when I first hear you,
of a holy moment.
W. H. Auden, Epistle to a Godson (1972).
"Merle" (line 6) is another name for the blackbird. The word has its origins in French, and the OED states that it is found "frequently in Scottish poetry from the 15th century onwards." The references to the cuckoo's "shout" making "husbands uneasy" (lines 3 and 4) and to its "nesting habits" (line 8) refer to the tendency of some species of cuckoo to take over the nests of other birds.
Gilbert Spencer, "Tarrington Court, Herefordshire" (1961)
Trying to understand the words
Uttered on all sides by birds,
I recognize in what I hear
Noises that betoken fear.
Though some of them, I'm certain, must
Stand for rage, bravado, lust,
All other notes that birds employ
Sound like synonyms for joy.
W. H. Auden, City Without Walls (1969).
The two poems call to mind Auden's "Their Lonely Betters," which has appeared here previously. This is its closing stanza:
Let them leave language to their lonely betters
Who count some days and long for certain letters;
We, too, make noises when we laugh or weep:
Words are for those with promises to keep.
Gilbert Spencer, "The Terrace" (1927)