Tag Archives: elegy

Birdsong

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Elegy To The Bird of Empty Spaces

O. bless me, Muse of Silence, dark and still,
That no more worldly sound my words shall make
Than Philomel, whose plaintive, helpless trill
Eternal thirst for endless peace does slake.

Sadly I tell of seer and of seen
Of a bird who pain into silence sang
Of one who saw what might have been
In those spaces between each lonely pang.

Night in silence the tiny flapping heard.
None can tell when its heart took wing and spoke.
Airs of joy never kissed that little bird.
And yet always in gentleness he woke.

Every life that in his compass lay
He blessed, though troubled was his little heart
That grief and sickness over all held sway
Yet fear, soul from soul did keep apart.

Fly, my song, and soar! Break this endless night!
In silence there more meaning lies, and strength,
Than sun and stars with all their might of light!
Bring pain. My life will measure out its length.

Without moan or groan the thought has flown!
Pain has come with all her brood to bless you,
Little bird! They will spare nor blood nor bone,
But laughing watch you taste their bitter brew.

Enter! Come! The party has not yet begun.
In comfort be not seated yet do watch
As long you will, or until all is done.
Carve upon my soul, for your help, a notch.

Watch and laugh. How he flutters, how he cries.
See tears crack the dirt upon his face.
Is it not delightful how well he lies
While he begs all for mercy and for grace?

All those for whom I care are in my sight.
Wealth and Knowledge, both in my house do shine.
But upon troubled heart they shed their light
To see but broken wings on unbent spine.

No healing touch he asks but, as of old,
He sings with open, gentle, loving heart
That beats with fear though it shines like gold
Bright from the furnace but unknown to art.

His tree is cut. His nest is gone. Nor root
Nor branch is his to grasp. Only terror,
Loneliness, and dark, are within his suit.
Say for this sad bird a simple prayer.

Ask, for him, a friend, who will walk with him
Some miles and beg, for him, a ray of light
When life and death seem, both, too harsh and dim
For him to bear the burden of his sight.

Show him not how he has strayed nor preach
To him how he may have fared if only this
Or that were done or how extend his reach.
He seeks no more than what is justly his.

Six and twenty summers in his homeland
Fair, he stayed and wandered little. And then
Six and twenty summers another land
He dared to scratch a living with a pen.

His life, a book of many colours wrought,
Spoke seldom of love and laughter, but drew
Into gardens of solitary thought
Moments of truth — blooms yellow, red and blue.

Few read long and none too deep for they feared
To see, to know, what they must see and know.
But by the light of truth he always steered
Even on dark nights when he must fly low.

The book, he knew, would close the day that he
Ran out of ink, but neither voice nor eye
Would either slow or stop but would be free.
Fear came but it never made him fly.

He paid his dues, he left some clues; he yearned
To live a life where he could sink or soar,
Though both wings did break and each feather burned
So he may be he, no less – and no more.

What he knew, what he thought, he tried to teach
But every morn he woke to wonder
What he would learn and how far he would reach
Before pot and ink he must surrender.

He did not command great hosts in battle
Or take title or govern any land
For he would not lead his men like cattle
For power make or hold unholy band.

Though the pages still may flutter, we close
Today, his book. Bless him, gentle reader
Or remember his poems or his prose
As befits a teacher not a leader.

One day, perhaps, you shall hear birdsong
Deep and sweet and know whence it stirs abroad.
Though large is the world, the truth is a gong
And much you may hear though much is flawed.

The sky is very deep, my friends, and wide;
And, though will be good, yet for us too vast
In story rapt, forever to abide.
Every bird must to his nest at last.

Many birds have flown the skies and many
Fallen down. Many birds will yet take wing
And loudly sing, but he is unlike any,
Whose song in silence will forever ring.

E is for Elegy

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I promised to post, under the acronym, LOVES, limericks, odes, villanelles, elegies, and sonnets. So far, I have posted one of each, except for the elegy. The other members of LOVES require me to be in moods that I inhabit quite frequently. The Elegy, however, is a poem of death and of passing. Of course, something dies and/or passes every moment of every day. But I find it difficult to sit down and think, deliberately and continuously on such a topic. Of course, sometimes, an event occurs that puts me in the mood to contemplate death, passing, grief, and related themes. Such an event has occurred, recently. It is not the death of a person nor quite the end of a relationship but, rather, one might say, the death of a certain type of hope.

The details of the incident are irrelevant. I am certain this moment would have come, regardless of the specific incident. What is interesting, though, is that I am finally conscious that I am seeing myself as the hero of my own story. Until now, I have seen myself as nothing more than one of the many characters in my life. Seeing myself as a hero is a unique experience to me — at least being conscious of seeing myself as a hero is.

Well, what kind of a hero am I? I have been brought up in the Eastern tradition, learning Hindu folklore, practically since the moment I was conceived. But I have chosen to study folklore and, having learned English better than any other language, I have learned much Western folklore as well, in the course of my studies. Therefore, at the moment, I see myself as a hero who is something between Yudhishtira, of the Mahabharata, and Philomela of Greek folklore. Both are, in a sense, victims. Yet neither is like the Disney version of Cinderella. Neither waits to be rescued and neither permits victim status to inhibit either thought or action. Both, Yudhishtira and Philomela take matters into their own hands and, to a limited extent, are successful in achieving their revenge.

Yudhishtira, of course, being Dharmaputra, can, very literally, do no wrong. He does only what is right and he does so after much thought and deliberation. He does not simply assume that, being Dharmaputra, the child of Truth itself, he can do no wrong. He does right by choice and with full consciousness of what he is doing and what consequences he and others will suffer as a result. Therefore, it is impossible not to admire Yudhishtira when, having lost all of his money and also his kingdom, in a gambling match he knows is rigged, he returns for another match against the same person, knowing he will lose again! His reply, when asked why he is doing such a foolish thing is that, “I must give every human being, no matter how corrupt, a chance to redeem himself, even if it means I must lose myself and everything I own.” This statement shows him to be capable of taking upon himself a frightening degree of responsibility — an impossible level of responsibility, for any human being. But then he is Dharmaputra and therefore not entirely human, despite his mortality.

Philomela, on the other hand, is much more human. Tereus, King of Thrace, and husband to Procne, Philomela’s sister, rapes Philomela while escorting Philomela, from her father’s house, to Thrace, to visit Procne. Subsequently, he cuts off Philomela’s tongue so that she cannot reveal the secret to Procne. Philomela, nevertheless, tells her sister the story via tapestry, at which both sisters are skilled. Philomela and Procne then kill Procne’s son by Tereus and serve him up as a meal to Tereus. To escape Tereus’ wrath, the sisters pray to Zeus, who converts them into birds so that they can literally fly away and be free forever. The specie of birds into which the girls are transformed, is the nightingale. Interestingly, in nature, only the male nightingale can sing. The female is mute. The symbolic significance of the female nightingale being mute is fairly direct, as Philomela was mute before she was turned into a nightingale. Even Procne, though she could speak, remains silent at a crucial moment — the moment when Tereus unknowingly eats a cannibalistic meal of his own son. But the symbolism of the male nightingale’s song is too complex even to begin to interpret. Tereus himself is transformed into a hoopoe, upon his death — a bird that almost never eats other birds. So Tereus is not the male nightingale, singing about his son’s death. But then why does the male nightingale sing his melancholy song? It is not he who has suffered, in any way at all!

My elegy does not say or even very clearly imply that the male bird in the poem is a nightingale though, certainly, even a halfway decent critical analysis could easily justify such an interpretation. Although every elegy is, inescapably, a song of mourning, this particular elegy is also a song of hope — hope, not so much for the future good events, but hope, rather, that what has passed will not return, that at least the corruption, indifference, greed, and loneliness that the bird has encountered will no longer have the power to cause the bird any pain and will also no longer have the power to lead the bird, ever again, into despair.

I have only just begun this elegy. I have done my best it to model it, technically, upon Thomas Grey’s famous and beautiful poem, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” There are, however, many differences between my elegy and Grey’s. Grey writes about an actual human being, a young man, who lies buried in the churchyard. I write more about a person’s hopes and dreams than about any actual person, living or dead. I am not meditating in a quiet, empty, churchyard — quite the opposite, in fact. I am meditating in a temple over-crowded with living people and dynamic events. Grey admonishes the reader to respect, equally, the person of extraordinary financial and intellectual means and the person who is of only average means or even less than average means, both financially and intellectually. However, I do not believe that the grave is an equalizer.

Death, certainly, comes to all. But death, to me, is only a moment among many moments. Life goes on. And one remembers, in the end, those who made one’s life a better place, if only for a moment. It is not, then, the quantity of means available to a person that matter, in the end, but what one does, with those means. A king who, with the vast resources at his disposal, has ameliorated the lives of millions of people is, in many ways, a better man than a beggar who, for all his effort and talent, produces nothing of note, and helps nobody in any way while he is alive. But a man with no more to his name than a broken pot may uplift the hearts of thousands with his music. I request my reader not to equate or even to compare the gentle king with the talented musician but rather to appreciate the gifts of each. Each, in time, shall pass, leaving behind only the gifts.

Do not give with the expectation that as you give so you shall receive. You will always believe, in the silence of your heart, that you receive less than you give. And in the hearts of others, you will always receive more than you give. Give what gifts you can give with joy. Accept only those gifts given with joy. The rest is nothing.

My elegy mourns the passing of that which was something and has become nothing. It also celebrates the passing of that which has become nothing because, with that passing, even if I am not full, at least I am rid of that which used to make me feel empty.

I hope to post my elegy here in a few days. And I hope that the reading of it will make someone’s life better in some way, if only for a moment.