Saturday, December 21, 2013

Darkling Thrush

     I took my Christmas packages to the post office earlier this week. The line was long, of course, and moving forward slowly. I decided to pass the time imagining ways to make the wait more festive.

     Some Christmas music would be nice; played softly so that I would still be able to hear what the woman behind the counter was mumbling to me about “liquidfragileorperishable” and Priority Mail that couldn’t be guaranteed to arrive on the West Coast within the next eight days even though it had just cost me almost as much as the gift in the box to send it. I guess I am a little behind this year. I also think each of the postal workers should have a dish of peppermints at their station to hand out to customers who remain congenial throughout the waiting process. And the worker who decked herself in jingle bells and blinking lights should get a bonus in her paycheck. How about a tree in the lobby to welcome us? Or maybe a big blow-up Santa with a sleigh to drop our boxes into after we are done paying for them just to remind us who the real delivery men are?

     But what I was really wishing for was a flash mob. Well, maybe not a mob exactly, but a few talented a cappella vocalists who would surprise and delight us with Joy to the World and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. The customers inching around the edges of the post office in single file weren’t sullen, but we were all a little too somber for such a joyous season, a little too flat, verging on gray rather than a living green, or a red so resonant it could ring bells, or the glittering gold of jubilation.

     When I finished with my postal business I put on my coat and muffler and began to leave, but turned impulsively at the door, smiled and exclaimed, “Merry Christmas everybody!” A handful of the people still waiting in line responded in kind.

     I don’t know about anyone else, but I left the post office in higher spirits than when I arrived. My To Do list seemed shorter; my seasonal stress was shredded to ribbons; I turned up the volume on the Christmas carols playing in my car and sang to myself as I traveled from store to store; the snow falling softly from the sky felt like benign approbation. My gray had gone away.

     It reminds me of a poem I like that Thomas Hardy wrote for the Christmas of 1900:

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted night
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

     This aged thrush in blast-beruffled blue jeans has chosen thus to fling her soul upon the growing gloom, and the full-hearted song that trembles through me is rooted in the birth of Christ the Savior that is celebrated in hope throughout the world at the end of each year. This year no less than others.

Merry Christmas Everybody!

1 comment:

  1. From your mouth to the U.S. Postal Service's ear! I think you would have them out of the red in one Christmas season if given the job.

    I love your poem and the elderly thrush's blessed Hope that he sings of.

    Merry Christmas at Nib's End. I think you are achieving your grace-filled life.