Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Magical Thing, Indeed

I've been exploring a new project for the past two weeks. I've been memorizing (or trying to memorize) a poem every day, and writing a reflection on how the poem is affecting my prose writing, and also my personal life, psychologically, spiritually, emotionally. So, today I decided to share one of those reflections here on my blog. It's from Saturday's poem, "I Heard a Bird Sing," by Oliver Herford:

This morning I had a glorious three-hour breakfast with a dear writing friend who lives in another city. She and I have made a pact to hold each other accountable to our works-in-progress, and it was a joy to spend that time together. The sun was shining and it was 70 degrees on the fourth day of December in her city (and my home town) of Jackson, Mississippi. As I drove home later that afternoon, I watched the thermostat dropping in my car as winter weather began to move into Memphis, just 200 miles north of Jackson. The low was supposed to be 31 degrees during the night.

I’m not a fan of winter—especially as I get older and my arthritis responds to the cold air with increasing aches and pains. My throat was beginning to get a little scratchy by the time I sat down to write that evening, and the darkness descended earlier than the day before. And so I turned to Oliver Herford’s surprising little poem, “I Heard a Bird Sing,” for comfort.

I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.


When I recited the first quatrain aloud initially it almost frightened me. I was home alone and had been writing in silence for several hours, without music or television or any other noises in the house. I lit the gas logs in our fireplace and sat in a chair nearby and reflected on the first four lines as I quickly committed them to memory. I missed the plethora of bird songs from the spring, and I hadn’t really thought about hearing birds sing in December. But surely they must sing. Surely it’s just that our windows are closed and we don’t go outside as much. We have nice eaves on our front porch and almost every spring we enjoy the nests the birds build and watching them feed their babies before finally helping them out into the world. But in the dark of December it is, indeed, a magical thing to hear a bird sing.

When I’m having one of my “dark nights of the soul”—whether or not it’s related to my writing struggles—I long for something to pull me out of the darkness. An encouraging word from a literary journal editor about a submission I sent them or positive feedback from a critique workshop can do it. But those are the “magical things” that don’t come frequently, and so I must press on, knowing that winter will pass and it will eventually be spring again.

I’m reminded again of my favorite Kris Delmhorst song, “The Drop and the Dream,” which I wrote about on Day 9:

In twilight and blindness
All our work is done


And so poets and writers must often work in darkness, without warm weather and sunshine and birds singing—metaphorically and physically.

But Herford puts a positive spin on the dark of December in his second and last quatrain:

“We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,”
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.


Reciting this verse brought a smile to my face and a lift to my spirits. That was a “cup-half-full” bird who inspired the poet’s upbeat verse (in iambic dimeter, a fairly uncommon form) and warmed my winter heart.

The entire poem is contained in eight short, simple lines. Its message is uncomplicated, almost child-like, and yet it cut through a dark December night and found its way to a chilled writer’s soul, and filled it with warmth. A magical thing, indeed.

1 comment:

tpitsios said...

great poem. Thanks for sharing it.