Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning…
Not here the darkness, in this twittering world...
After the kingfisher’s wing
Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.
~T.S. Eliot – excerpts from Burnt Norton, first of the Four Quartets
Their song reminds me of a child’s neighborhood rallying cry—ee-ock-ee—with a heartfelt warble at the end. But it is their call that is especially endearing. The towhee has the brass and grace to call, simply and clearly, “tweet”. I know of no other bird that stoops to literal tweeting.
~Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
A hundred thousand birds salute the day:–
One solitary bird salutes the night:
Its mellow grieving wiles our grief away,
And tunes our weary watches to delight;
It seems to sing the thoughts we cannot say,
To know and sing them, and to set them right;
Until we feel once more that May is May,
And hope some buds may bloom without a blight.
This solitary bird outweighs, outvies,
The hundred thousand merry-making birds
Whose innocent warblings yet might make us wise
Would we but follow when they bid us rise,
Would we but set their notes of praise to words
And launch our hearts up with them to the skies.
~Christina Rossetti “A Hundred Thousand Birds”
Eliot didn’t have in mind future tweets on 21st century Twitter when he wrote Burnt Norton in 1935. He was far more concerned about the concept of Time and redeeming our distraction from connecting to God Himself, the “still point” source of the natural and creative order of all things. He uses the analogies of a garden of flowers and singing birds, a graveyard, and most disturbingly, a subway train of empty-souled people traveling in the Tube under London in the dark.
Eliot was predicting an unknowable future. Great Britain was facing a second war with Germany, but nearly a century later, we live 24/7 in a “twittering world” war of empty words and darkness through devices we carry with us at all times. Eliot, critical of the dehumanizing technology of his time, was prescient enough to foresee how modern technology might facilitate our continued fall from grace and distract us from the source of our redemption.
Perhaps Rossetti understands best. When birdsong begins on our farm in June at 4 AM in the apple, cherry, chestnut, and walnut trees outside our bedroom windows, I am swept away from my dreams by the distraction of wakening to music of the created order among the branches surrounding me, immersed in the beauty of dew-laden blooms and cool morning air.
Once a hundred thousand birds settle into routine conversation after twenty minutes of their loudly tweeted greetings of the day, I settle too, sitting bleary-eyed at my computer to navigate the twittering world of technology which is too often filled with fancies, or meanness, or, most often, completely empty of meaning altogether.
Yet, each morning as my heart is launched by the warbling songs outside my window, I’m determined to dismiss the distraction of the tweets and twitters on my screen.
Not here will darkness be found on this page, if I can keep it at bay. I want to answer light to light and light with light.
No darkness here.
I hear a bird chirping, up in the sky
I’d like to be free like that spread my wings so high I
see the river flowing water running by
I’d like to be that river, see what I might find
I feel the wind a blowin’, slowly changing time
I’d like to be that wind, I’d swirl and the shape sky
I smell the flowers blooming, opening for spring
I’d like to be those flowers, open to everything
I feel the seasons change, the leaves, the snow and sun
I’d like to be those seasons, made up and undone
I taste the living earth, the seeds that grow within
I’d like to be that earth, a home where life begins
I see the moon a risin’, reaching into night
I’d like to be that moon, a knowing glowing light
I know the silence as the world begins to wake
I’d like to be that silence as the morning breaks
He does-n’t know the world at all
Who stays in his nest and does-n’t go out.
He does-n’t know what birds know best
Nor what I sing a-bout, Nor what I sing a-bout, Nor what sing a-bout:
That the world is full of love-li-ness.
When dew-drops spar-kle in the grass
And earth is a-flood with mor-ning light. light
A black-bird sings up-on a bush
To greet the dawn-ing af-ter night,
the dawn-ing af-ter night,
the dawn-ing af-ter night.
Then I know how fine it is to live.
Hey, try to o-pen your heart to beau-ty;
Go to the woods some-day
And weave a wreath of me-mory there.
Then if tears ob-scure your way
You’ll know how won-der-ful it is
To be a-live.
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