by Chet Raymo
“Of an evening blackbirds congregate in the tree below in Ballybeg. Flocks of blackbirds. We can hear their raucous disquisitions here on the hill. In their black academic gowns, their fluttering sleeves. What are they debating? The “Summa Theologica?” Pascal’s “Pensees?” Newton’s biblical arcana?
“The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime…”
Those solitary desert fathers, the corncrake and the cuckoo, in the field and on the heath, are gone, victims of mechanical agriculture, with their elemental messages “Repent” and “Praise.” And in the trees by Lizzie’s barn the gregarious blackbirds gather, in their hundreds, like chattering students flocking around Abelard at the medieval University of Paris, contesting finer points of rhetoric, splitting hairs, defining terms, their black gowns flapping in the wind.
“I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendos,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.”
There are only, really, those two messages- “Repent” and “Praise.” Repent what we have obliterated. Praise what remains.
The blackbirds lift up en masse from Lizzie’s trees, cry out their syllogisms, then settle again, mortar boards half-cocked, hoods askew. Chapter and verse. Objection and refutation. A cacophony of contentious cogitation.
“I know noble accents
And lucid inescapable rhythms;
But I know too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.”
And I listen, when the blackbirds have gone home to roost, for the plaintive cry of cuckoo, content to whisper its self-deprecating name, and the corncrake, hiding in the tall grass, hazarding a guess in its raspy voice.”