Dec 20, 2010

Junco, Jay, Yeats' Ireland, Ways of Being in the World

Easter, 1916 by William Butler Yeats : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

I’ve been trying and failing to persuade readers to consider the meaning—and value—of the phrase “way of being in the world.” For everything that might be unclear or menacing about the subject, surely it’s clear that the shrieking, bright, blue and white, crested, nest-poaching Lord of the forest, the Blue Jay, twice the size and flap of the cardinal, has a way of being in the world that’s nothing like the humble Dark-Eyed Junco’s way.

Junco is an almost nondescript little bird, who eats generic food from the feeder and is amicable with sparrows, cardinals, chickadees, and all manner of birds. He doesn’t look for fights, and they don’t find him. What a coincidence.

Junco also eats from the ground, or pecks at thistle that’s fallen from the webbed sock and tube feeders dedicated to the finicky finches (who become flashy yellow darting fops in the summer).

Junco would eat with Jay if Jay allowed it, but Jay croaks about “Our Kind of People”; he squawks that he is somebody, full of pioneer bluster, descended from Jesse James. After all, he’s related somehow to his fellow-Corvid, Crow, and only eagles might mess with Crow. I’ve watched a crow chase off a turkey buzzard—noise, persistence, bravado. Maybe Jay has done that too.

Junco’s slate-grey back and creamy white belly seem a perfect winter camouflage for a hard life in snow, among leafless trees. Unless we’re willing to cross over to the land of paradox—that way of being in the world—and call him spectacularly unspectacular, he has not one flashy bone in his body, nor one garish feather.

I’m not aware of ever hearing his song or call. I could look it up, but why would I? Junco does not complain. Even his love life is more discreet than that of Jay and other melodramatic, hormonal suitors and floozies, who confuse sex with Carnival and War, diving into copulation as if it were a seizure. That way of being in the world.

Jay has never taken a back seat to anyone in any venue, has never lost an argument, or pondered the opposing view. Sound like anyone you know?

Probably the best political poem ever written is William Butler Yeats’ “Easter 1916,” in which he is troubled by an Irish citizenry—his countrymen—who had been a Junco nation. On Easter 1916, they achieved their most important victory to date, and Yeats sees them as, yes, heroes of freedom, but also as Everymen hardened into stone: “The stone’s in the midst of all.”

It’s true that in water the stone, like the jay, is beautiful; it sparkles and gleams in a shape that began as motley. But how can a thinking man like Yeats—yes, that way of being in the world—ignore the fact that “all is changed, changed utterly”? How can he not be troubled when he sees that it’s “a terrible beauty” that’s been born? Surely it’s necessary, urgent, for the Irish to forfeit their “polite meaningless nods” and seize the moment, to be the rock and hero they haven’t been since Cuchulain’s time. But it’s also terrible, an entirely other way, and the change is frightening.

Shakespeare’s people would have heard the rumble of The Great Chain of Being as it rattled with the thunder and lightning.

Paradox. Crow. Jay. Junco. Ireland’s “motley” rising against England in 1916. These are ways of being in the world. Spoon, fork. Sheep, wolf. Stucco, brick. Passive, Aggressive. Once we are one, can we become the other? If so, what’s the price of admission, and why am I the only one interested in the question?

Easter, 1916 by William Butler Yeats : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.



Michelle said...

I have to say that I haven't noticed Blue Jays around my feeders thus far. Although, I am sure they are around.

Jean Spitzer said...

The photos are terrific.

Ways of being: The poem suggests that one's way of being changes with circumstance.

The world is full of paradox.

Anonymous said...

Oh Banjo, we're all dealing with that concept. Why do you think we write and paint and sculpt?

Love that bird in motion.

Banjo52 said...

Jean and AH, thanks, and I agree with your points, esp. about paradox and our reasons for creating.

But I can't get past thinking this concept is at the root of very, very much -- from raptor vs. junco to expansionists assuming they can quickly and easily take over in some remote, "primitive" place (I very much dislike the label, "third world"), and then the big power is surprised that it can't just waltz in--because they haven't sufficiently imagined the other's way of being in the world.

(Nor can they imagine that they did not imagine, because they're so very big and so very special. And I cannot imagine a way of being that's rooted in such colossal, oblivious arrogance and aggression.).

So when I go over to Billy's house to play, we will play what I want, for as long as I want, by MY rules, because my parents have maybe 30% more house and money than his.

Somehow, shrinking the size and character of the problem recreates for me what the problem actually is. Maybe the simple words, way of being in the world, also clarify things for me in a way that other language has not. So I offer it to all. If the bee buzzes in my bonnet alone, I apologize--skeptically.

Oh, and what about conflicts in romantic or workplace relationships? And friendships? When they cannot be solved, how much of the problem is as simple (yet huge) as the fact of two ways of being that are just too different to coexist in one space? Somehow that seems to offer more truth and perspective than "irreconcilable differences" or "they just grew apart" or "cultural differences" and other vagueness we're used to hearing.

OK. I've tried.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Awesome photos.

Are juncos the proletariat of the bird world?
"Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart."

Will juncos eventually become cold of heart?? Will they leave the passive world and evolve into the aggressive? And will we recognize it when it happens?

Ken Mac said...

banjo know bird ! that Blue Jay looks very thoughtful

Susan Campisi said...

I like your character profiles of the birds and how you use them to explore your theme. Way of being in the world - is it constant? Maybe it would be if there weren't other forces at work in the world.

Jeff M said...

Junco: Early 18th Century, Spanish, used as a verb (though no longer in active vernacular): the reed bunting.

Used now to define as one of any buntings of North and Central America of the genus Junco. A snow sparrow, from late 19th Century.

Perhaps as an explanation for this bird's behavior, considering that "bunting" comes from the Middle English Bontin: to sift.

As for "way of being in the world...," it's a bit broad, Banjo. Consider narrowing this down, as does the Junco in his foraging for food.

I'll think of something for later.

Ken Mac said...

Merry Christmas Banjo52!

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I'll get back to you on this post and the previous post when I get a chance. In the meantime Happy Holidays to you and yours

Pasadena Adjacent said...

...and I'll return with details on "how to" get your blog out of extreme privacy mode.

Pierre said...

Merry Christmas Monsieur Banjo.

PJ said...

It's interesting to think about this. The past couple of years I've been under the weather so I look for all the world like a Junco but interestingly, instead of crabby like a Jay I've felt like a Junco too. Maybe they're more expansive than they look? Maybe I needed the time to learn that.

Banjo52 said...

Paula, the juncos strike me as calmly chipper, if that's not too oxymoronic. But most of all, welcome back and thanks for being interested in the subject.

I still hope someone can explain why the words and idea have such a hold on me--and others, perhaps, not so much. It didn't go away with Santa, if that's what you were hoping.

I think maybe "way," "being," and "world" have more heft than other axioms of this nature--the meaning of life business.

AH, there's another answer to your question that's less flattering to those engaged in artistic pursuits: we write and paint and sculpt out of fear of death (the art objects are our children, of course) and out of our supreme egotism and narcissism. "Hey, world, look what I thought, felt, phrased, experienced! What a hot ticket am I!"

I think it's possible that artistic endeavor has very little to do with the artist's understanding of the world and the other -- human and natural history, etc. -- and everything to do with his love of self. Others' ways of being in the world interest him little or not at all, except for making him sound deep to those who seem to matter in the art world.

You and I both have a weakness for The Great Gatsby. But I've often wondered--without the BEST words to express it--how much Fitzgerald wondered about, explored, the way of being in the world in the nineteen-teens and -twenties for Jews and African-Americans. Oh, yes, and women of all stripes.

Of COURSE this doesn't have to be either/or . . .

Banjo52 said...

And since Fitz. DOES notice those three groups, I have to wonder how he could be a sentient human--an ARTIST, for God's sake--and NOT notice such . . . objects for study.

Ditto Hemingway, at least in The Sun Also Rises, which might be the only thing he wrote that matters.

PJ said...

When was the last time you had a single thought, B52? One thought per moment? Or better still, no thought at all? I think you're ready.

Banjo52 said...

Paula, once I was carrying on a bit in class, and a girl volunteered, "Somebody needs a nap." Was that you?

Banjo52 said...

Farmchick, they're only occasional for me. I try to hate 'em for their nasty habits, but that blue . . .

Brenda, proletariat juncos! Love it. But your second question is darker. History might say yes, mightn't it?

Ken and Susan, and what I don't know, I make up? LOL, but probably some truth in there. "Anthropomorphizing" gets a bad name--it's a way for us to understand the Other, as well as MISunderstanding It. . . .

Jeff M, great stuff on language. Do you think that implies that juncos are not native to N. America, like the house finch and starling?

Sorry to you guys and Pierre about the Blogspot confusion.

Lovers' Lane