Bird Song

Olivier Messiaen, my favorite 20th century composer, a true mystic, actually envisioned being among the angels, often by putting actual bird song from the entire world’s populations of birds, into his music (as the poem mentions). He was a major cathedral organist while still in his teens…

In the 60s in Berkeley I attended a concert with him in person, and because of the overflow crowd, was seated on the stage, actually behind him at the piano, about five yards away.  He had on one of his signature florid bright-colored shirts with the pointed collars outside his jacket.  I’d first heard of him from a Life Magazine article showing him in the country, with sheet music and pen, notating birdsong… his beret on… and it fascinated me.  That we should all be so situated in the world, to be able to hear and make use of God’s direct manifestations…


I envy Olivier Messiaen
stalking early mornings in the
fields of France, in a
magazine article I saw
years ago, with a

notebook, notating

bird song!

He is said to be able to orchestrate birdcalls
just by hearing them, write those
trills and
watery runs with

tiny black dots on lines a musician back in a
musty room might play on his clarinet!

Notes, out of
tree-wilderness, out of
bird language, one to
another for
whatever reason, bodily
companionship, territorial
rights, mating calls, thrills of
pleasure in the plumage, beak

gabble, sunlight
delirium, a bird’s sense of
entertainment, some
floating on updrafts,

whatever reasons God gives them for responding the
way God’s made them
respond over a

silken wheat field at
first slants of
dawn, gold

light along
dew blankets,

the world waking
up, birds
registering the
waking,

Messiaen with his
stubby pencil attached like a

seismograph to the knowledge of his
ear making

dots with or without little
black flags attached someone

back in a room can play on his
clarinet, or a

whole

orchestra, celestas, flutes, hitting those

high note-clusters, enraptured –

for no reason!


3/30/88 (from The Perfect Orchestra)

Categories: Love, Poems

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