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 or 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, A Darkling Thrush
Heart-felt song piping over dissonant clamor–
Soul flung heedless into darkening gloom to find unlimited joy,
Sung all the louder when older and frailer
of Hope always there, sprouting tender from bare branches,
though we be unaware.
Silence and darkness grow apace, broken only by the crack of a hunter’s gun in the woods. Songbirds abandon us so gradually that, until the day when we hear no birdsong at all but the scolding of the jay, we haven’t fully realized that we are bereft — as after a death. Even the sun has gone off somewhere… Now we all come in, having put the garden to bed, and we wait for winter to pull a chilly sheet over its head. ~Jane Kenyon from “Good-by and Keep Cold”
Every day now we hear hunters firing in the woods and the wetlands around our farm, most likely aiming for the few ducks that have stayed in the marshes through the winter, or possibly a Canadian goose or a deer to bring home for the freezer. The usual day-long symphony of birdsong is replaced by shotguns popping, hawks and eagle screams and chittering, the occasional dog barking, with the bluejays and squirrels arguing over the last of the filbert nuts.
In the clear cold evenings, when coyotes aren’t howling in the moonlight, the owls hoot to each other across the fields from one patch of woods to another, their gentle resonant conversation echoing back and forth. The horses confined to their stalls in the barns snort and blow as they bury their noses in flakes of summer-bound hay.
But there is no birdsong arias, leaving me bereft of their blending musical tapestry that wake me at 4 AM in the spring. No peeper orchestra from the swamps in the evenings, rising and falling on the breeze.
It is too too quiet.
The chilly silence of the darkened days is now interrupted by all percussion, no melody at all. I listen intently for early morning and evening serenades returning.
It won’t be long.
The point of the dragonfly’s terrible lip, the giant water bug, birdsong, or the beautiful dazzle and flash of sunlighted minnows, is not that it all fits together like clockwork–for it doesn’t particularly, not even inside the goldfish bowl—but that it all flows so freely wild, like the creek, that it all surges in such a free, fringed tangle. Freedom is the world’s water and weather, the world’s nourishment freely given, its soil and sap: and the creator loves exuberance. ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Distracted from distraction by distraction Filled with fancies and empty of meaning…
…Not here Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.
from Burnt Norton (1936) part of Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot
Eliot didn’t have birds or future tweets of the 21st century in mind when he wrote Burnt Norton in 1936. He was far more concerned about the concept of time and redemption, using the analogies of a garden, a graveyard, and most disturbingly, a subway train of empty-souled people traveling under London in the dark. Only the present matters as the past cannot be changed and the future remains unknown, trusting the reassurance and salvation of Logos, the source of the natural and creative order of all things. Only God Himself remains outside of the constraints of time and place.
Perhaps Eliot had predicted the unknowable future. It now is a “twittering world” in a way that Eliot, critical of dehumanizing technology of his time, somehow was prescient enough to foresee.
When birdsong begins on our farm in early June at 4 AM in the apple, cherry, chestnut, and walnut trees outside our bedroom windows, I am brought face to face, eyes and ears wide open, with the immediate present, distracted from the distraction of my dreams by the distraction of awakening to music of the creative order among the branches, amidst cool morning air.
Once the birds settle into routine conversation after twenty minutes of their loudly tweeted greetings of the day, I sit down bleary-eyed at my computer to enter the twittering world of technology, too often filled with fancies and empty of meaning.
Yet, I’m determined. Not here the darkness, if I can keep it at bay.