(A follow-up to the post The Strange Sensation, where psychologist and philosopher Nicholas Humphrey contends that we should think of this world as “painted in our soul dust” or “singing our song.” Yes, he believes that the Qualities of our world — its color and smell; its goodness and badness; its joy and sorrow — are all added by Conscious Beings, as if we are painting atop a canvas of molecules, waves and atoms. These Qualities include Complex Actions like singing and writing poems, but also creating scientific theories and testing them. Here, a little bird that is a powerful songster and one of my favorite poets will be featured; both of them helping to recoup some positives in our world already painted in too much sadness and tragedy. Please try to Enjoy!)
Yes, the world is an amazing place, often. And as amazing as it is, our human response to it is amazing, sometimes. Case in point, The Lark (Eurasian Skylark) and William Blake’s poem, The Lark’s Song. As amazing as this small bird is, Blake’s poem is its equal.
But, it is not an easy poem to read. Let me walk you through it, as I have had some experience reading poems, and teaching students poetry, and have worked with this poem for a while.
Its punctuation is very important. Closely watch the commas for only a slight pause, but a period is a full stop. The semicolon at the end of line two is much the same as a period. Interestingly, there are only two periods; the first occurs at the end of the 13th line. Yes, the first 13 lines are one sentence and should be read as such! No punctuation at the end of a line is no stop in reading at all. So, the spacing is peculiar and important (and I fear it may be distorted on a cell phone), but then so are many things about Bill Blake (Englishman, 1757-1827). Why is “Spring,” “Corn-field,” …”Expanse” and “Bird,” all lines unto themselves? Why is each capitalized? This poem is visual as well as linguistic. It must be read several times, to develop its full impact.
So, here it is. I just love the ending where “the awful Sun…With eyes of soft humility and wonder,…stands still” to watch this little bird sing.
The Lark's Song Thou hearest the Nightingale begin the Song of Spring; The lark sitting upon his earthly bed, just as the morn Appears, listens silent, then springing from the waving Corn-field, loud He leads the Choir of Day-trill, trill, trill, trill, Mounting upon the wing of light into the Great Expanse, Re-echoing against the lovely blue and shining heavenly Shell, His little throat and breast and wings vibrates with the effluence Divine. All nature listens silent to him, and the awful Sun Stands still upon the Mountain looking on this little Bird With eyes of soft humility and wonder, love, and awe.
Can the lark’s song live up to this hype? Is it an “effluence Divine” to which “All nature listens silent”? Judge for yourself.
(It often seems as if too many sounds are coming from this one mouth! The second section of this video starting at 1:00 is the most convincing to me. A true “effluence Divine,” “His little throat and breast and wing vibrates” with each sound.)
Common across Europe, it is the male Skylark that sings. Hovering at about 150-300 feet (50-100m) is where much of the singing occurs (“Mounting upon the wing of light into the Great Expanse,”) and lasts for as much as a minute (“Re-echoing against the lovely blue and shining heavenly Shell”). More prolonged outbursts occur while perched. Many a person is surely correct in NOT finding its song beautiful as much as impressive in its vigor, variety and effusiveness. Surely we must agree, it is a true outpouring!
A small bird, about the size of a robin; it is around 7 in. or 18 cm. It nests on the ground and thus Blake’s line, “The lark sitting on its earthly bed.” Settlers to North America have tried at various times and places to introduce the bird to this continent, but with almost no success. A small colony was established on Vancouver Island in Western Canada, but today it is in serious decline. The skylark is abundant in Europe and Asia, and is not endangered.