More than Songs
It has been said that the accessibility of the cosmos to mathematical investigation—it’s inordinate reasonableness—is one of its greatest mysteries, one of the most compelling arguments that the universe is a gift of a Creator rather than a brute and pointless thing. But our analytical selves do often overlook the miracle that the Creation is sensible in addition to being reasonable—that is, it yields meanings to our senses as well as our minds. Our ears hear connections and relationships, melodies and harmonies that are no less a part of being human than are our calculations. Our senses remind us that we are both material and spiritual beings, and that this dual role, this dual nature of humanity is foundational to who we are. We are made of the earth, yet alone of all that is earthly, are able to give words as well as voice to creation’s praise, to recognize the sounds of birds as meaningful phrases and even songs.
Can it be mere anthropomorphic fallacy, then, to call it a “whippoorwill,” because that is what it seems to say? Is it only imaginative fancy to describe the barred owl’s call as asking, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” Poet Robert Frost’s sonnet “Never Again Would Birds' Song Be the Same,” suggests that the way we seek and find meaning in the world’s tunes is the legacy of our first parents in the Garden, the imprinting onto the world of the intense and intimate relationships that we were created to share with each other, despite our common fall. While a longing for that first unbroken state is apparent in the poem, it also holds out the promise that the world remains not just sensible or rational, but meaningful on account of our human presence in it and our willingness to listen carefully to it.
As we enter the season of Advent, awaiting and recalling the one whose imprint was on the world from its beginnings, and who comes to redeem the world’s and all our songs, let us make a common prayer that we will all have ears to hear His voice in and through the world and each other.
“Never Again Would Birds' Song Be the Same”
by Robert Frost
He would declare and could himself believe
That the birds there in all the garden round
From having heard the daylong voice of Eve
Had added to their own an oversound,
Her tone of meaning but without the words.
Admittedly an eloquence so soft
Could only have had an influence on birds
When call or laughter carried it aloft.
Be that as may be, she was in their song.
Moreover her voice upon their voices crossed
Had now persisted in the woods so long
That probably it never would be lost.
Never again would birds' song be the same.
And to do that to birds was why she came.
from The Poetry of Robert Frost: the Collected Poems, Complete and Unabridged, ed. by Edward Connery Lathem. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1979. pp. 338-339.
Mark Sprinkle is an artist and cultural historian, and was formerly Senior Web Editor and Senior Fellow of Arts and Humanities for The BioLogos Foundation. A phi beta kappa graduate of Georgetown University, he received his M.A. and Ph.D. in American Studies from the College of William and Mary, where he studied how artworks embody complex relationships in different cultural contexts. Since 1996 he has been an independent artist and frame-maker, also regularly writing and speaking on the role of creative practices in cultural mediation and renewal, especially in the area of science and Christian faith. Mark and his wife Beth home-schooled their three boys, and are active in the local home-school community in Richmond, Virginia.