Lark, you never sing your particular
song because you sing
the song of other birds:
you don’t know this, you think you
always make up your own melodies
that other birds copy.
Lo amargo por dulce, 1962
The bitter for the sweet
New York Review Books
Among the many joys I find in merely scanning the shelves of my library are the stories attached to, and associated with, the hundreds of volumes therein. I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember, not just for their contents but also for their associations with times, places and people.
So it is that after what might be just a few days, or more than half a century, I remember who introduced me to a novel, or a volume of poetry, and the context, and why. The little history of my lifetime, and the larger history of many greater lifetimes in a host of different civilisations, cultures and experiences. Days, weeks, billions of years, aeons. Poetry, story and song.
And just so will I remember, gratefully, the day and the person who introduced me to the works of Argentinian poet Silvina Ocampo. Little did she or I realise that I would soon spend many hours meditating upon just this one poem – fully anticipating spending many more on others.
I don’t know: is it true that a lark doesn’t sing his own song? Is it true that he only imitates? I do know that a lark sings whilst in flight rather than when sitting on a perch! But how many humans, I have wondered, unknowingly spend far too much time kidding ourselves that we’re singing our own authentic song when the truth is that we’ve pinched – or have been, by some means, specifically encouraged to sing someone else’s? Wouldn’t I rather sing on the wing than from a perch?
My feathers have been ruffled today by a written tirade, penned by someone who describes herself as ‘biblically orthodox’ (whatever the heck that is), against a holy, prayerful and thoughtful scholar I admire greatly. I don’t know what the former’s ‘biblical orthodoxy’ is really supposed to encompass. I do know that I want wholly to encourage the latter’s continued singing and sharing of his own authentic song.
All kinds of good might arise in many different places throughout the modern world if we all had a slightly clearer sense of when we were singing someone else’s tired old songs (often appropriated as ‘orthodoxies’) – and when we celebrated our own Real and authentically lived ones.