Upon this leafy bush
With thorns and roses in it,
Flutters a thing of light,
A twittering linnet,
And all the throbbing world
Of dew and sun and air
By this small parcel of life
Is made more fair:
As if each bramble-spray
And mounded gold-wreathed furze,
Harebell and little thyme,
Were only hers;
As if this beauty and grace
Did to one bird belong,
And, at a flutter of wing,
Might vanish in song.
Walter de la Mare, Motley and Other Poems (Constable 1918).
De la Mare makes a wonderful point: the linnet graces the World (and, by doing so, gives us an unasked-for gift of beauty), yet, simply by being what it is, it also enhances and completes the World: "And all the throbbing world/Of dew and sun and air/By this small parcel of life/Is made more fair." These innumerable, tiny pieces (not a single one of them insignificant) all fit together. (But, please, do not attempt to solve the puzzle.) Where would the World be without linnets?
A linnet who had lost her way
Sang on a blackened bough in Hell,
Till all the ghosts remembered well
The trees, the wind, the golden day.
At last they knew that they had died
When they heard music in that land,
And some one there stole forth a hand
To draw a brother to his side.
James Elroy Flecker, Thirty-Six Poems (Adelphi Press 1910). An ignorant layperson's (i.e., my) translation of "tenebris interlucentem" (or "tenebris inter lucentem") might be "shining amid the dark" or "light amid the darkness."
"The trees, the wind, the golden day." That is our World in a nutshell, isn't it? One could go on and on, of course: The sound of a river of wind in the leaves, the ever-changing kaleidoscope of light and shadow overhead, a blue and green paradise . . . But, no, this is enough: "The trees, the wind, the golden day."
Michael Garton (1935-2004), "Woodland Clearing"
This past spring, I had the pleasure of listening to an unseen dove (or was it doves?) cooing just outside the window of the room in which I am typing this, a room which also serves as a library. Perhaps I am not sufficiently curious, but I never went out into the garden to investigate. Was it a male cooing to attract a mate? Or was it a nesting pair? I will never know, for I didn't think it was right to intrude.
I felt the same way about the murmuring of the doves as I do about the small sounds I hear from the bushes and the woods while I am out walking: the cooing seemed to me to be the vital spirit of the World, a World of which we are a part, and which is a part of us. The presence of the cooing made the garden something different. It made me something different.
"Bird of good omen, you are at home wherever you travel. You perch here or there, or you fly for a short time; perhaps at night you fly farther afield, but whatever you do, it is as if nothing were lacking, as if you were the voice that moves up and down the rungs of the world, between earth and sky, never beyond, always in the infinite globe, free but inside it, over there, close at hand, where the silvered branches fork, awaiting nothing, fleeing nothing, traveller whom a second's joy, for no reason at all, steals from the journey's movement and leaves perched, at a halt . . . where? in the light of the leaves that are soon to fall and give way to the sky, in golden October, dressed in air, suddenly unable to understand any word like going, leaving, frontier, foreigner. Blessed, clothed in your native light."
Philippe Jaccottet, from "The Collared Dove," in Landscapes with Absent Figures (translated by Mark Treharne) (Delos Press/Menard Press 1997), pages 43-44.
John Pearce, "Blackberries in August, Muswell Hill, London" (1980)
"Could you have said the bluejay suddenly/Would swoop to earth?" (Wallace Stevens, "The Sense of the Sleight-of-Hand Man.") This is how the World reveals itself to us: in an unending series of miraculous and beautiful commonplaces. (By the way, I never use the word "commonplace" in a pejorative sense.)
A few months ago, I was walking along a path between two rows of big-leaf maples: one of my favorite tree tunnels. Large open meadows of wild grass lie on either side of the path. My attention moved between the shifting blue and green of the boughs overhead and the shifting patches of light and shadow on the path before me. "The trees, the wind, the golden day." As I walked, my eyes looking skyward, then earthward, then skyward again, I was suddenly surrounded by swallows, criss-crossing the path just above the ground as they dived and curved from meadow to meadow, going about their afternoon feeding. Commonplaces.
A singing firework; the sun's darling;
Hark how creation pleads!
Then silence: see, a small gray bird
That runs among the weeds.
Edmund Blunden, Choice or Chance (Cobden-Sanderson 1934).
Patrick Symons, "Oak Arch Grey (Wimbledon Common)" (1981)