Archive for March, 2010

“… winter slumbering in the open air,
wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
from “Work without Hope”
… quoted in the movie “Groundhog Day”

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I rearranged my bedroom furniture in the past few days, and I am newly enjoying everything about my private space. Spring inspired me to change, I think. I’ve been listening to music and playing flute in my room, too, and maybe it’s because the birds outside are now singing every morning. They make me want to sing. I’m awake, and the world is awake.

“Wake up, my dearest friend!”

Wake up, my dearest friend!
Life is waiting for you now.
You’ve been sleeping all too long.
Wake up! Wake up!
Take a look around yourself.
The energy of love is everywhere.
Choose to see it now.
Wake up! Wake up!

from Ginnungagap, a musical from Denmark,
drawing inspiration from Norse Mythology
and printed in Cathy Daub’s book, Birthing in the Spirit (2007)

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Winter does not like to give up her power here in Wheaton, Illinois. It’s snowing again this morning after a week of bright sunlight and singing birds. The leaves of the soon-to-be-born daffodils are pressing up from the earth into the air. In the afternoons, I’ve been sitting in the sunlight, reading, and watching to see how soon the flowers will come. The birds have already returned, but this morning, they must be shivering! I have the perfect poem for a day like today:

“The Darkling Thrush”

I leant upon a coppice gate
when Frost was spectre-gray,
and Winter’s dregs made desolate
the weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
like strings of broken lyres,
and all mankind that haunted nigh
had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
the Century’s corpse outleant,
his crypt the cloudy canopy,
the wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
was shrunken hard and dry,
and every spirit upon the earth
seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
the bleak twigs overhead
in a full-hearted evensong
of joy illimited;
an aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
in blast-beruffled plume,
had chosen thus to fling his soul
upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
of such ecstatic sound
was written on terrestrial things
afar and nigh around,
that I could think there trembled through
his happy good-night air
some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
and I was unaware.

Thomas Hardy
(19th c.)

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May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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“Darkling I listen … while thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad in such an ecstacy!” ~ John Keats from “Ode to the Nightingale”

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i hide my eyes
i turn my back
i tremble inside

the sparrow in my heart sings
for the sparrow in your heart

you seek out my eyes
you walk toward me
you seem unafraid

the sparrows take flight,
wings almost touching in sunlight!

Jane Beal, PhD

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I’ve been reading a little collection of poems about birds called On the Wings of Song and edited by J.D. McClatchy. The range of poems is admirable, and the number of well-known poets who have written about birds practically limitless. Poets, it appears, do write about birds!

McClatchy’s poetry collection is divided into sections: the Backyard, the Barnyard, the Realm of Air, Field and Forest, At Water’s Edge, Birds of Prey, Flightless Birds, the Nightingale, the Peacock, the Owl, the Hawk, the Swan, Nests and Cages, Bird-Song, Flights of Fancy, and Legendary and Emblematic Birds. Each reveals a specific aspect of avian life.

Many poems from the collection caught my attention, lingered in my memory, and spoke to my heart. Some made me laugh! (Ah, turkeys and vultures, ostriches and flamingoes!) Here are three poems, in reverse chronological order, that made me meditate on deeper meaning:

“The Mockingbird” by Randall Jarrell (1914-65)

Look one way and the sun is going down,
look the other, and the moon is rising.
The sparrow’s shadow’s longer than the lawn.
The bats squeak: “Night is here”; the birds cheep: “Day is gone.”
On the willow’s highest branch, monopolizing
day and night, cheeping, squeaking, soaring,
the mockingbird is imitating life.

All day the mockingbird has owned the yard.
As light first woke the world, the sparrows trooped
onto the seedy lawn: the mockingbird
chased them off shrieking. Hour by hour, fighting hard
to make the world his own, he swooped
on thrushes, thrashers, jays, and chickadees–
at noon he drove away a big black cat.

Now, in the moonlight, he sits here and sings.
A thrush is singing, then a thrasher, then a jay–
then, all at once, a cat begins meowing.
A mockingbird can sound like anything.
He imitates the world he drove away
so well for a minute, in the moonlight,
which one’s the mockingbird? which one’s the world?

“The Eagle” by Alfred Tennyson (19th c.)

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
close to the sun in lonely lands,
ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
he watches from his mountain walls,
and like a thunderbolt he falls.

“The Cranes” by Po Chu-i (772-846) and translated by Arthur Waley

The western wind has blown but a few days;
yes, the first leaf already flies from the bough.
On the drying paths I walk in my thin shoes;
in the first cold I have donned my quilted coat.
Through shallow ditches the floods are clearing away;
through sparse bamboo trickles a slanting light.
In the early dusk, down an alley of green moss,
the garden-boy is leading the cranes home.

For different reasons, I loved Galway Kinnell’s “The Gray Heron,” Rainer Maria Rilke’s “The Flamingoes: Jardin des Plantes, Paris,” David Wagoner’s “Peacock Display,” Ted Hughes’ “Hawk Roosting” … and on and on. These poems make me see the birds vividly in my mind’s eye and connect the secret life of birds to the experiences of human hearts.

You can pick up a copy of On Wings of Song at Amazon, but if you can’t do it right away, I encourage you to visit Cool Bird Poems: An E-Anthology of Bird Poetry. There’s quite a selection of fine poems about birds there, too. Enjoy!

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