The infinite joy of birdsong

For the 19th century Romantic poet, the infinite joy of birdsong — the song of the heavenly nightingale, or the ascending meadowlark — is its embodiment as an existence that is a  pure, immediate, and spontaneous lyric of ceaseless praise.

But the Romantic lyric is no simple lyric but inherently dialectical: in celebrating birdsong as a symbol of human destiny, it registers that that same destiny is, as yet, unfulfilled, is not yet ours with the force of  “here, now, always.”

The impossibility of our simply being as birdsong — a spontaneous lyrical existence of praise — is implicit in the romantic counterpoint of birdsong and human misery.

Our existence, then, is caught in the contradiction of this dialectic — we are what we are not — what, for now, we cannot be.  Do we wake or sleep?

Adapted from George Pattison, “The Joy of Birdsong, or Dialectical Lyrics”, in Perkins ed., International Kierkegaard Commentary, Without Authority, Macon GA Mercer U Press, 2007, p. 118f


3 comments on “The infinite joy of birdsong

  1. J.P. Rosensweig says:

    The very beginning of The Prelude, where Wordsworth is (beautifully 🙂 writing about his struggles to get into the frame of mind in which he can write, in which he can access his inspiration without all sorts of distractions getting in the way, always moved me. Even in his writing about his misery in this regard, he is able to do so in a voice filled with birdsong.

    • efmooney says:

      I’ve always marveled at the capacity to write beautifully and eloquently about misery and disaster. Is it a way of saying, “Things are unbearable” in a way that makes them bearable?

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