Saturday, November 28, 2009

`Synonyms for Joy'

For much of the morning three crows worked the backyard, moving in a row like beaters on safari, lifting bits of rotting leaves and tossing them aside to peck at the uncovered edibles. They looked like Black Friday shoppers burrowing through bins in bargain basements. For our non-American readers: Black Friday comes one day after Thanksgiving Day, an occasion of consumer gluttony after the previous day’s more conventional gluttony.

On the way to the park, as we drove past the vast Microsoft campus, we saw more crows, dozens of them flying, perched and harvesting the tree lawns. Perhaps they had been roused by the first day of sun in more than a week. On the CD player was Tom Waits’ Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards, and on the Bawlers disc, as though on cue, came “Shiny Things,” a slow waltz-time ballad:

“The things a crow puts in his nest
They are always things he finds that shine best
Somehow they’ll find a shiny dime, a silver twine
from a valentine
The crows all bring them shiny things

“Leave me alone you big ol’ Moon
The light you cast is just a liar
You’re like the crows, ‘cos if it glows
You’re dressed to go, you guessed I know
You’ll always cling to shiny things

“Well, I’m not dancing here tonight
But things are bound to turn around
Though the only thing I want that shines is to be king
Here in your eyes
To be your only shiny thing”

It’s a sweetly sentimental conceit though by implication the singer is calling his beloved a crow. Some would be offended though I‘m an admirer of their beauty, audacity, family-sense and wit. Their songs, like Waits', are an acquired taste. In “Bird-Language” Auden calls bird sounds “synonyms for joy,’ knowing that joyousness need not always sound pretty.


R/T said...

Your posting is wonderful, and it underscores the ineffably mystery: what do birds (animals) know that we do not know (and never will know)? Ah, if we only understood birds' songs.

R/T said...

CORRECTION: ineffable NOT ineffably
Chalk it up to poor keyboarding skills

Hannah Stephenson said...

The Auden quote is wonderful.

It is not insulting to be called a crow, necessarily. I definitely agree with you on this one.