Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Two Linnets, A Dove, And A Lark

When I am out on my daily walk, I often hear brief rustlings, chirpings, or wing-flutterings from within the bushes on either side of the path, or from off in the dim light of the thick evergreen woods that lie beyond the bushes. This heard but unseen activity provides a comforting reminder of the unceasing life that goes on around us as we fret and fume in our human world, at a far remove from the vitality of such beautiful particulars, our minds ticking and humming along.  These hidden birds, they pay us no mind.

               The Linnet

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?

        Tenebris Interlucentem

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.

               Lark Descending

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)


Sam Vega said...

Many thanks - these are beautiful poems, particularly the one by Flecker, which was new to me. One of my favourite "bird poems" is Hardy's "The Darkling Thrush", but that's best kept for other times of year. This time of year seems to renew our interest in birds, and brings them back into focus. They change their habits, I suppose, and because of that become suddenly more noticeable. Here in the UK, the swallows and others in their family (we have swifts and different types of martins - is it the same where you live?) are now getting quite jittery and longing to be away. I don't check every day, but one day I will notice that they haven't been around for a while.

George said...

Perhaps because it is raining in Washington, D.C., I think of Gautier: . Probably this is because one of the eponymous Europeans in Henry James's novel quotes "Hélas ! les beaux jours sont finis !" while looking out at autumn rain.

Esther said...

An Asiatic turtledove was cooing her (or his) approval outside my window this morning at the exact moment I was reading your delightful meditation on the murmuring of the dove. I know this because when you moved on to bluejays, swallows, and larks, the cooing ceased. :)

Stephen Pentz said...

Sam Vega: I'm pleased you liked the poems. Yes, the Flecker poem is lovely, isn't it? I agree with you about "The Darkling Thrush": and he has many other wonderful bird poems, doesn't he?

Your point about the birds being "jittery" (or disappearing) at this time of year is a good one: things do seem different now. The swallows mentioned in my post may already have departed for the year: the meadows seem quiet and still. As I'm sure you know, birds appear in scores of poems by de la Mare. Your final observation immediately reminded me of a poem by him that, coincidentally, I read last week, which is, again coincidentally, about swallows. I was considering including it in the post, but I thought it would make the post too lengthy. Here it is:

Swallows Flown

Whence comes that small continuous silence
Haunting the livelong day?
This void, where a sweetness, so seldom heeded,
Once ravished my heart away?
As if a loved one, too little valued,
Had vanished -- could not stay?

It's good to hear from you again. Thank you very much for stopping by.

Stephen Pentz said...

George: Thank you very much for the reference to the poem by Gautier, which is new to me. I was able to find an early 20th century translation by Agnes Lee. She gives it the title: "What the Swallows Say -- An Autumn Song." She translates the line you quote as follows: "But where are the summer days, alas!" It is a delightful poem.

As ever, thank you for visiting again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Esther: That's a lovely bit of synchronicity! A sensitive dove. I always feel comforted and at peace when they are around.

Thank you very much for your kind words about the post. As always, it's a pleasure to hear from you.

Esther said...

Speaking of swallows, perhaps you are familiar with an absolutely lovely song sung by Mimi Farina and her sister, Joan Baez, called The Swallow Song. "There is no sorrow like the murmur of their wings. There is no choir like their song...."

Stephen Pentz said...

Esther: The song is new to me, so thank you for mentioning it. I have now listened both to the version you mention, as well as the version by Mimi and Richard Farina. Lovely. "And will the swallows come again?"

Jane the Booklady said...

" The trees, the wind, the golden day"
I think those words will stay with me as a talisman, or a sort of reminder, to look around and appreciate the beauty of the world.
Thank for your beautiful pieces. I receive them by email and save them all. There are so many poems you have introduced me to, which I love. Jane

John Ashton said...

Stephen, I hope you are well. It’s that time of year again when preparation for new and returning students has meant having limited time over the past month or so.
The opening paragraph of your post reminded of my own regular walks, and how that wonderfully simple activity so quickly and wholly distances us from the “fret and fume in our human world”.

Hopefully when we are walking we are not striving to be anywhere else and the world we experience, if we’re attentive and take notice always deepens and fulfils.
The De La Mare poem is lovely. Those lines you pick out, “By this small parcel of life/Is made more fair”. Quite exquisite.

This very busy time will probably last through until mid-October. I just wanted to drop by and say thank you for continuing with these wonderful posts and to share one of my own favourite bird poems by Norman MacCaig, which I’m sure you know.

Different musics – Norman MacCaig

Extraordinary what's contained
in a bird song, say a skylark's.
It's as though it's a synopsis
of a Beethoven sonata
or a century of folksongs.

Hegel, Kant, Schopenhauer -
I tell you my favourite philosopher
is a blackbird perched on a chimney pot
and explaining to the morning
the meanings of a morning
so simply, so lucidly
and sadly, so untranslatably.

And all the coarse human does
is claim that the yellowhammer
say over and over
A little bit of bread and no cheese
and that a cuckoo
only keeps shouting its own name over the green valley.

Stephen Pentz said...

Jane: Thank you very much for your kind words about the blog. That's very nice of you to say.

Yes, "The trees, the wind, the golden day" is a wonderful line, isn't it? I agree with you that it can serve as "a talisman": as I suggested in the post, for me it embodies, to use your phrase, "the beauty of the world" in seven simple unforgettable words.

Thank you for visiting again.

Stephen Pentz said...

John: I suspected that was the reason I hadn't heard from you. I'm sure you are busy, so I appreciate your taking the time to visit, and share your thoughts.

You put it well: "not striving to be anywhere else" is the secret of these walks, isn't it? And, as you have heard me often say in the past, to turn off our incessant thinking as well: always a challenge (for me, at least).

I'm pleased you liked the poem by de la Mare. I know we share a fondness for his poetry. I have been revisiting it the past few weeks, and have been delighted. As I believe we have discussed in the past, returning to him is like returning to Hardy: visiting old favorites, renewing acquaintances with poems half-remembered, and making new discoveries. Enough to last a lifetime.

Thank you for sharing the lovely poem by MacCaig: one of those "half-remembered" poems I spoke of above. You have reminded me what a wonderful poet of birds MacCaig is. As is de la Mare, as you know. One could spend months immersed in their marvelous observations on, and meditations upon, birds (and their human companions: "Their Lonely Betters," as Auden would have it).

As always, it is a pleasure to hear from you. Thank you very much for stopping by again. So, we now move into autumn again . . .

John Ahern said...

The title of Fletcher's poem,"tenebris interlucentem," comes from a speech at the end of Apuleius' Metamorphoses (2nd century C.E.). The goddess Isis is speaking to Lucius, a human who became an ass, then was turned back into a human, and now wants to be initiated into Isis' mystery cult. Isis is referring to herself, "I whom you see shining out of the darkness of Acheron and reigning over the depths of the Styx" ["me, quam vides, Acherontis tenebris interlucentem Stygiisque penetralibus regnantem"].

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Ahern: Thank you very much for sharing the source of "tenebris interlucentem," which I would never have discovered on my own. This adds a further layer to the poem. It is my understanding that Flecker was well-acquainted with classical literature, so the allusion is not surprising. Thank you again.