There came the distinctive sound of a blackbird singing. Do blackbirds complain about the weather? Do they complain about springtimes when frosts persist? If so, the song may have been a plaintive cry against a chill wind which seemed to lose none of its edge in the weak sunshine of a May evening.
In a timeless moment of standing and listening to birdsong, there was a connectedness with other moments.
There was a moment spent sitting at my grandparents’ farmhouse table on a summer’s evening with my grandfather who was capable of a profound and contented silence. After we had all gone from the table, he would drink tea from the china cup that my grandmother regarded as obligatory and he would stare into the middle distance. To have disturbed him at such a moment would have been unthinkable. The only sounds would be the birds in the ivy covered tree that stood beside the tanks of diesel and TVO.
There were the moments sitting at firesides of homes hidden among the townlands of Co Down, it took me seven years to learn not to speak. People might have told tales of unbearable pain, bereavement, tragedy, murder, but instead the photographs on the mantlepieces provided whatever narrative of loss was necessary for a visitor to understand. The silence was, at times, heavy, almost intimidating, but to speak would have meant descending into platitudes, or the crassness of attempting to offer explanations for people’s suffering. The song of the birds outside sometimes seemed the song of a world indifferent to the strange ways of human beings.
Perhaps birdsong has the capacity to transfigure the ordinary moments of life. If the sound of birds singing can bring a glimmer of hope to those trapped in the hellish bloodiness of the Western Front during World War I, then it must have the capacity to transform the mood of a cold spring evening.
Perhaps what the voice of the blackbird evokes is the memories of childhood days, walking rural lanes on summer’s evenings when the last light of the day lingered long and when there was no doubt that time would last forever. Days when the blackbird was a jolly companion celebrating the summer.
A moment standing still and listening to a blackbird might be a moment fifty years ago, or thirty years ago, or a moment no more than a few seconds past, the moments all combine in a single song.