Saturday, May 10, 2014

Never Again Would Birds' Song Be the Same

Baby birds being fed

I was in a church class once where someone asked, sarcastically, "How many of you just loooove Mother's Day?" She clearly didn't expect anyone to respond affirmatively, and no one did, but if I'd been braver I would have raised my hand. I know Mother's Day is a difficult time for some (many?) women, but perhaps this trick will help: attempt to disassociate yourself from it, and think of it like, say, Veteran's Day. I don't think a lot of people spend time on Veteran's Day mourning the fact that they aren't veterans, or feeling cheated because the veterans in their lives are largely imperfect. And veterans themselves don't droop with discouragement because they aren't the perfect specimen of a veteran. They're humbled by the recognition, perhaps, and sobered by their memories of fallen friends, but they also recognize the importance of remembering. I've just never heard of any angst at all surrounding Veteran's Day, and perhaps it's because people realize that the holiday is to celebrate the idea of patriotism and sacrifice. To express gratitude for service rendered. To celebrate selflessness and sacrifice. To be thankful.

And so I love Mother's Day, not because I enjoy reflecting on my own numerous failures as a mother or because I am unsympathetic to the pain of those wishing for children, but because I love that the great good of Motherhood is celebrated, officially, by the culture at large. I've known enough wonderful mothers that I welcome the chance to reflect on what they did, and who they are. I love the opportunity to celebrate the ideals of nurturing and selflessness. And Mother's Day always reminds me to renew my study of role models like Heavenly Mother and Eve. I love the reminder that I should be trying harder to learn about and live up to the ideal of Motherhood in my own life.

Which brings me to this poem, by Robert Frost. One of my favorites, and (in my opinion) a lovely expression of (some of) what true Motherhood is.
Never Again Would Birds' Song Be the Same 
He would declare and could himself believe
That the birds there in all the garden round
From having heard the daylong voice of Eve
Had added to their own an oversound,
Her tone of meaning but without the words.
Admittedly, an eloquence so soft
Could only have had an influence on birds
When call or laughter carried it aloft.
Be that as it may, she was in their song.
Moreover, her voice upon their voices crossed
Had now persisted in the woods so long
That probably it never would be lost.
Never again would birds' song be the same.
And to do that to birds was why she came. 
--Robert Frost

So much to like here. First that, in the poem, the birds are not her pets. They are their own souls, free, but they are with Eve in the garden for awhile, able to be affected by her.

I also like that Eve's role here was not to coerce or change any bird's unique voice, but merely to add to it---to add, perhaps, some good that may not have otherwise been there. Also, that Eve's quiet but consistent example, "daylong," is what eventually had an effect. I think it's interesting that it was Eve's strongest emotions, her deepest and most real beliefs---the fear or joy that would cause "call or laughter"---that most influenced her birds. She wasn't forcing her voice onto the birds, but simply and honestly lifting her own voice when she felt she must do so. And in turn, it was during the birds' most joyful and authentic moments, in their own "song," that they owed the most to Eve's influence. This is the opposite of "parroting" (ha ha)---they aren't just repeating her words---but it is her tone, her meaning, that has soaked in and changed them while still allowing them to sing their own songs.

The poem's structure is cool, too---it's a sonnet, so it's got a rhyme scheme of ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG. But the sentences don't follow those divisions; instead it's 5 lines, 3 lines, 1 line, 3 lines, 2 lines. The sentences only line up with the rhymes in one place, in that couplet at the end. So it's like there's one song going on, and then another song---an "oversound"---crossed above it, but they come together in unity of purpose at the end. So beautiful!

And that declaration or summing up of Eve's role at the end is beautiful, too. I've read some "feminist" interpretations of this poem that see it as a dismissal, as Adam's constricting view that Eve is merely decorative or superficial. But I think the truly feminist reading is exactly the opposite: Eve's influence was "soft," it was familiar and perhaps routine, but the "He" in the poem (Adam, or perhaps God) sees this everyday voice as "eloquent," as something that elevates "aloft" and carries upward, as "persistent" and transformative. Maybe Eve thought her own quiet voice unimportant, or maybe she thought her contributions to the world should be other things besides simply who she was---and there probably WERE many other things that she brought to the world. But it's telling that Adam believes that her most important contribution, her most effective work---the whole reason "why she came," in fact---is simply to be herself. To live and sing her unique joys and thoughts and fears, and by singing them, to bring an increase of beauty and more love to the world around her. To elevate, to lift, to transform. What could possibly be more a more empowering and feminist view than that?

And what could be a better summing up of what Motherhood can be, at its best?

"Never again would birds' song be the same.
And to do that to birds was why she came."

4 comments:

  1. I am so grateful for your beautiful blog Marilyn. Thank you.

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  2. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts about this poem. I had forgotten about this one. I loved your perspective about Mother's Day as well. I do like Mother's Day. It's always made me feel, as you said, thankful.

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  3. This was lovely. You gave a perfect voice to my unexpressed thoughts. I could just copy and paste this to my blog .. . Only no one would believe I'd pulled together such a beautiful analysis of that poem.

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  4. Simply lovely, Marilyn! Your analysis of Frost's poem is spot on.

    I love your baby birds being fed!

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