Sunday, May 08, 2005

two birds

The jealous birds complained to Solomon,

Demanding he punish the nightingale.

Said she: "I only sing in spring -- calm down.

Nine months of the year I make no sound."

#1006: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I dreamt of birds so birds have delivered this poem. My birds were in a pair but a voice of authority claimed them to be neither male nor female. A sexless or genderless duality. It is interesting that Rumi, like every other poet, speaks of the nightingale as "she" and yet scientists assure us that, as with other bird species, only the male sings. The markings of the male and female are almost identical so simple observation might not reveal this. Nightingales sing both day and night - or late into the evening - and their evening song is prominent because other birds don't sing then. These birds breed in the northern latitudes and migrate for the winter back to southern Africa. So, indeed, they would be present and singing for only a short period of the year.

So the nightingale is poetically female and scientifically male, a day singer and a night singer, a visitor to both north and south. No wonder the other birds are jealous! This theme of jealousy has been associated with Rumi's closeness with Shams. Perhaps the time they spent together was like a spring-time for Rumi followed by great silence. Perhaps he is saying that all great gifts come at a price. Perhaps that Shams' sweet song is silent now. Perhaps that sweet song and poetry fit only one quarter of humanity's moods. Perhaps that there is plenty of room for the other moods and ideas, plenty of stage space for the other birds to perform on. So why not let the nightingale sing, if ever so briefly?


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