Birds on March 25th

BirdsoftheBibleI’m so glad my copies of two bird books came today. Or maybe they came in the last few days — I’ve been out of town — but it was nice to get them today and flip through them. The illustrations in Birds of the Bible are lovely and precise, and when combined with scripture quotations about birds, they have a deeply meaningful impact. A Gathering of Birds will take me longer to read, but tonight, I began with the Count of Buffon’s essay on the Nightingale:

“There can be no properly constituted man to whom the name of the nightingale does not recall one of those beautiful spring evenings when, the night sky serene and clear, the air tranquil, and all nature silenced and listening, he has harkened, ravished, to the canticle of this woodland songster.”

GatheringofBirdsOf course, the nightingale does not live in America. Our nightingale is the Northern Mockingbird, which I deeply love:  a prodigious composer, a musical genius! But the nightingale is a figure in poetry:  an avian spark in our shared imagination.

Speaking of “beautiful spring evenings,” on which the birds sing, how good to remember that spring is here! The first day of Spring came and went this year, but it is interesting to remember that March 25th was the first day of the New Year in England in the Middle Ages (between 1155-1752), which is doubtless one of the reasons it is also New Year’s Day in the Shire in Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

This year, March 25th is also Good Friday.

Bird Cross site

Bird Cross by Donald Gialanella

“The Ballad of the God-Makers”

A bird flew out at the break of day
   From the nest where it had curled,
And ere the eve the bird had set
   Fear on the kings of the world.
The first tree it lit upon
   Was green with leaves unshed;
The second tree it lit upon
   Was red with apples red;
The third tree it lit upon
   Was barren and was brown,
Save for a dead man nailed thereon
   On a hill above a town.
That night the kings of the earth were gay
   And filled the cup and can;
Last night the kings of the earth were chill
   For dread of a naked man.
‘If he speak two more words,’ they said,
   ‘The slave is more than the free;
If he speak three more words,’ they said,
‘The stars are under the sea.’
Said the King of the East to the King of the West,
   I wot his frown was set,
‘Lo, let us slay him and make him as dung,
   It is well that the world forget.’
Said the King of the West to the King of the East,
   I wot his smile was dread,
‘Nay, let us slay him and make him a god,
   It is well that our god be dead.’
They set the young man on a hill,
   They nailed him to a rod;
And there in darkness and in blood
   They made themselves a god.
And the mightiest word was left unsaid,
   And the world had never a mark,
And the strongest man of the sons of men
   Went dumb into the dark.
Then hymns and harps of praise they brought,
   Incense and gold and myrrh,
And they thronged above the seraphim,
   The poor dead carpenter.
‘Thou art the prince of all,’ they sang,
   ‘Ocean and earth and air.’
Then the bird flew on to the cruel cross,
   And hid in the dead man’s hair.
‘Thou art the son of the world.’ they cried,         `
   ‘Speak if our prayers be heard.’
And the brown bird stirred in the dead man’s hair
   And it seemed that the dead man stirred.
Then a shriek went up like the world’s last cry
   From all nations under heaven,
And a master fell before a slave
   And begged to be forgiven.
They cowered, for dread in his wakened eyes
   The ancient wrath to see;
And a bird flew out of the dead Christ’s hair,
   And lit on a lemon tree.
by G.K. Chesterton


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