Tuesday, May 11, 2010

let me clear my throat

The grackle. Say it again--the grackle. Harsh word. Conjures hackle--as in the bristling of hair, as in the rising of temper, as in HACK,HACK,HACK. Or spackle--as in extra work, as in gloopy mess. But that's just their name. Hear their "song" . . . readle-eak, readle-eak, chack-chack-chack. So why the bird of the week? Because of beauty.

Beauty, of course, has its bevvy of cliche recommendations and axiomatic explanations. You have your "eye of the beholder" and your "rose by any other name" and your "skin deeps." All good sayings, and all relatively true, I believe. And for being true, perhaps the subject is worth revisiting--hack-hack-hackneyed as the visit has become. And we'll use the common grackle to guide us.

Look at him. (And definitely click to enlarge. Do it now. I'll wait.)

I find beauty in his purple sheen, in the glints of green and iridescent blacks. I find beauty in his yellow eyes, in his steady gaze. Also, because beauty is as rich in ugliness as elsewhere, I find it in the menace of his stance and in the severe keel of his tail. For that matter, it's in his hackling song and in the onomatopoeia of his throat-clearing name.

When I see a grackle, I am mindful of the first four lines of one of Byron's most famous poems:

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudy climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes.

I think it fits our bird well. More literally than one of Byron's beau-coup amours. But no less beautiful, I think, though certainly less romantic. Now there's a fact you should know about me, Ether. For beauty give me sensuous and sensational over the sacred or sublime. Don't take away the sacred or the sublime--dem's good too; but if given my rathers then give me the colors of a bird over the vagaries of love, give me it's simple song over the complexity of the divine.

As a poet, I take special interest in finding beauty . . . or sitting still long enough for it to find me. And invariably, I will or it will. Why? Because I take a special interest in nature. Van Gogh says that a lover of Nature cannot help but find beauty. Emerson reminds us to recognize beauty as we go about our day--"welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every flower."

But also as a poet (and even more importantly in my prose characterizations), I have to find the loveliness in hideousness. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a triumph of this sort of discovery. The monster becomes not just sympathetic but truly beautiful despite its monstrousness--despite and perhaps in light of it, as well. On the other hand, Mary's fittingly baby-faced husband Percy Bysshe, says that poetry "lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar." While this is often true and admirably achieved, I think Mary's monster and my grackle (in as much as I have called attention to it in this blog post) attest to the merits of taking those things unfamiliar (held at bay by our distastes and prejudices) and making them familiar--beings whose "hidden" delights needed but a firm rap of the outer shell, as in egg, as in crack . . .

Crackle. As in . . .
Grackle. Grrrrr-ackle! Grrrrrr. As in . . .


  1. Hmm. You are KeatsThoreauByronEmerson incarnate, Jonathan.

    And who says beauty stands as a separate element of life besides that of the divine and/or sacred?

    I mean, if we know God (and know God only) by his effects, and beauty is illustrated in the creation, then I think there's a stronger cause-effect relationship between beauty and the sacred than you are willing to admit.

    I have a Kierkegaard quote for you on Nature as an unsympathetic ear. I'll post it on your wall.

    Great post.

  2. Speaking of incarnate, Ms. Kierkegaard!

    There are plenty folks who say beauty does or at least can stand as a separate element of life beside that of the divine.

    However, your "if. . . then" scenario holds true, I believe. That is, if in fact we know God by his effects, and those effects are manifest in nature, then certainly a stronger causal relationship would have to be admitted.

    Thanks for reading. You keep me in line.

  3. in my opionion or from my eyes, the beauty of your writing outshines the grackle.

  4. I am neither poetic nor creative. I do, however, live in a area where Grackles run rampant. They are obnoxious, loud and full of bravado. Grackles are awful creatures that like to terrorize. I hate them. I do like your writing though. It definitely has beauty where the Grackle does not.