Simple Gifts

This time of year I like to sleep with the window open.  I love the brisk night-air which only makes the warm bed more luxurious.  And then, still dark-early, in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins -- "Oh morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs" and I begin to hear the morning songs of the newly arrived birds who, having returned from their southerly migration are setting up home again in North Dakota.

Some years ago I noticed that when I awoke to the bird-song in early morning I was prone to irritation at having been awoken.  But at the time I was reading the spiritual classic The Voyage of Brendan the Navigator and I noticed that in that mystical poem about the seafaring pilgrimage of Brendan and his companions, that the animals (often birds) were observed to be praying the daily offices.  As soon as I began to imagine the birds outside my window lifting up Lauds (the morning prayers of praise and thanksgiving -- Laudation), I was no longer irritable.  It seemed that Psalm 148 was in the hearts of those birds and I was glad to have them lead me into a sense of praise and gratitude.

We have so little of Hopkin's poems.  Sadly, he destroyed much of his poetry, because he feared that it was a distraction from his vocation as a Jesuit monk and priest.  One of his unfinished poems is about a woodlark and I offer it as a beautiful example of someone who was paying attention and could view with grateful wonder the miracle of a little bird.  The poem, even unfinished, is an invitation for you and me to be on the lookout for the little miracles all around us which can help us to return our thoughts to the great Creator in whose image we are made.

The Woodlark

Teevo cheevo cheevio chee:
O where, what can thát be?
Weedio-weedio: there again!
So tiny a trickle of sóng-strain;
And all round not to be found
For brier, bough, furrow, or gréen ground
Before or behind or far or at hand
Either left either right
Anywhere in the súnlight.
Well, after all! Ah but hark -
I am the little wóodlark.
The skylark is my cousin and he
Is known to men more than me
Round a ring, around a ring
And while I sail (must listen) I sing

To-day the sky is two and two
With white strokes and strains of the blue
The blue wheat-acre is underneath
And the braided ear breaks out of the sheath,
The ear in milk, lush the sash,
And crush-silk poppies aflash,
The blood-gush blade-gash
Flame-rash rudred
Bud shelling or broad-shed
Tatter-tassel-tangled and dingle-a-dangled
Dandy-hung dainty head.

And down the furrow dry
Sunspurge and oxeye
And laced-leaved lovely
Foam-tuft fumitory

I ám so véry, O so very glad
That I dó thínk there is not to be had
[Anywhere any more joy to be in,
Cheevio:] when the cry within
Says Go on then I go on
Till the longing is less and the good gone
But down drop, if it says Stop,
To the all-a-leaf of the tréetop
And after that off the bough
[Hover-float to the hedge brow.]

Through the velvety wind V-winged
[Where shake shadow is sun's-eye-ringed]
To the nest's nook I balance and buoy
With a sweet joy of a sweet joy,
Sweet, of a sweet, of a sweet joy
Of a sweet - a sweet - sweet joy.

Paul Lang