“There’s a kind of songbird too pretty to fly with the crows and the starlings. The other birds attack it in flocks and tear it apart when it starts to sing. Nothing soft endures. Nature loathes meekness and goodness.”
“. . . so full of love it causes an imbalance. They fall over with the unbearable weight of it. The fall becomes what they do best. They grow accustomed to great odds. Love floods them, overwhelms them, and makes them impossible to be around. They need love in equal proportion to what they throw off. Everyone disappoints them. Eventually, they die of the cold. They can never find the right angel.”
Once upon a time a songbird was born in the woods. She was born to a family of dark birds. These dark birds were the only birds in the forest. Ravens. This little songbird was the only songbird in all the forest.
Now, she wasn’t just any songbird. Even from the day she was born, she had the brightest feathers on earth. They were iridescent in their splendor. Her breast was brighter than a robin’s red, and her wings shone bluer than the bluest jay. Greens and purples ran through her feathers like small veins, carrying light and colour to all parts of her tiny body. She was crested in gold, a shimmering gold with such a resplendent quality to it that the squirrels stood in awe when she perched nearby.
The little songbird was so beautiful when she was born her parents were terrified. “What good can come of such a magnificent thing?” They asked one another. “What should we do with such a creature?” They shook their heads in disbelief. Instead of viewing the young songbird with joy, they were envious and bitter. So the kept the songbird in the nest, never letting her fly. They kept her there amongst their quarreling, naked, sharp-beaked brood. Her siblings pecked at her beautiful feathers, tearing off small tufts of downy yellows and waifs of red that floated solemnly to the ground. The songbird chirped in fright and cowered in the corner. She learned to hide her beautiful feathers with the straw of the nest and the offal of her family. She hid and hung her head in shame and hated herself for not being like them. For not being matte black and spiteful. She hid in the corners of the nest from her parents. This suited them just fine, as they wished to ignore this aberration. And so the young songbird grew up without love and only suspicion and anger in its place.
The birds grew up.
Her siblings all developed into the dark, black birds that were so common in the forest. They had cruel claws and viscous beaks. With dark beady eyes and talons made for gashing and suffering, they were pleased with themselves. Their feathers were dark and unkempt, with quills darting out at odd angles. They cawed mercilessly to one another as the flew low over the forest floor, searching for something to eat. And they always flew in massive flocks, great clouds of birds that would darken the sky and blot out the sun.
The songbird was pleased when the rest of the brood left the nest in flight and she could be alone. It was during these periods of time that she found her voice. And her voice put her feathers to shame.
She started singing. Her voice was the sweetest sound ever made on earth, pure delight and whimsy to listen to at first. As time passed her songs grew heavier and darker, but still they were always beautiful and happy – even if in a heart-wrenching way. When she sang, she would sing for hours until the dark birds gathered nearby, and then she would fall silent again. And they always gathered there on the edges of her vision, watching and waiting to strike out of anger and jealousy. But the ravens were not the only ones who gathered. All the creatures of the forest would gather when she began to sing, for it was the loveliest song those woods had ever or would ever know. Voles and mice, hedgehogs, squirrels, badgers and ferrets, even farm cats from far away made their way to sit and listen to the rapture of her voice. She could delight and move her audience – of which she was hardly aware – to the extremes of emotion. She sang for herself, but her song was so beautiful it trapped the passerby.
But seeing that small, beautiful songbird perched on the edge of her dark, rotting nest singing infuriated the dark birds. Every time she sang they gathered their ominous clouds of black feathers and sat silently, watching. Her songs moved them too, but moved them to envy and fear and hatred. They hated the beauty in her, hated the light and sought to destroy it. So one day they took action. The songbird had been serenading for more than half the day. She had lulled the moon to sleep and coaxed the sun up from behind the hilly dawn, and even the mighty sun was glad to pause a while in his infinite rounds to admire this great concerto of birdsong. As her symphony went on and on, building higher with each twirling grace note and plunging to depths of sorrow with every passing minor third, the dark birds acted. They gathered their countless multitudes, and swarmed at her, screaming in incandescent rage. Black feathers surrounded the poor little songbird, and she could not see the light of day. They cawed to her, calling her “freak” and “ugly,” that she “should be ashamed of yourself, singing so.” And they tore at her fragile mind so full of love, ripped at her delicate sense and blotted out her song. Her feathers dulled and all through the forest, the only two sounds to be heard were a storm of caws and the most piteous, soft tears that part of the world ever knew. Where each one of her tears fell, a single purple rose bloomed on the forest floor. They are still there today.
After the dark cloud that had so consumed her left, she was in a state of disarray. She had sung so beautifully, and the world had been so golden and rosy she thought no harm could come to her. But all that was shattered now. Her feathers, those same feathers she had alternately been so proud of and so ashamed of, began to loose some of their luster. Even still she was the most beautiful, eye-catching bird to live, but she was not what she was before. She grew mute. When she chirped, it was only a hoarse whisper of the song she once possessed. The poor little songbird hated herself, and she wanted to fly so far away and so fast, to escape forever and ever and ever from that crumbling nest and the dark birds of the forest. And those dark birds started to invade her mind, and so she pulled at her feathers, rending her lovely, delicate flesh with punctures and pain. The feathers she tore drifted slowly to the ground. . .
And she chirruped in rage as she tore herself. She had to escape. The love that had buoyed her up so completely, the love gained from inside her was nowhere to be found. Clouds of ravens blotted out the sun.
So she started to try and teach herself how to fly. Desperately, she would take short, hobbling leaps from branch to branch, swaying with the monumental task of keeping balance. Chirrup hop chirrup hop hop hop chirrup. Wobbling from side to side as she so desperately made her way from branch to branch to branch. She became panicked, frenzied, and crazed in her need to escape – further further further she must escape. She went some ways from that gloomy nest, hiding and avoiding the dark birds. But after some time and some distance, she couldn’t go on any longer, and her strength began to peter out from all these short leaps. She could only go so far alone. And suddenly, she fell, plummeting like a stone into the mud at the base of a tree. And there she stuck, her feathers dirtied and her eyes clouded. Ants crawled over her body and beetles poked at her wings as she lay panting and defeated.
As the songbird lay there, along came a woodsman. He was a typical woodsman, no one special, and as he tramped through the woods he came across the songbird lying in the mud. Normally he would have passed such a sorry, dying creature by, but he caught a glimpse of something so strikingly green he stopped. He saw the beauty lying trampled in the mud, despite the peck wounds and the insects. He saw the colours of her feathers, and so he stopped to pick her up. He took the poor trembling songbird in his hand and carried him all the way back to his cottage in the woods.
The woodsman nursed the poor stricken songbird back to health. He cleaned her feathers and gave her a perch in his window where she could sit in the sun and preen her feathers. And those feathers returned in brightness unlike before. And then one day, after some time, she began to sing again.
The songbird and the woodsman lived for some time in the cottage in the woods, and she sang him the most beautiful songs she had for him. She composed entirely new sonatas for him and sang with a newfound vigor and glory. And she would dance for him too, as she sang her songs, hopping from place to place and swaying with her own music as the woodsman kept time by tapping his foot. She would leave her bright, beautiful feathers for him in odd places around the room for him to discover and delight in. And there they sat and lived in idyllic merriment until the end of their days. . .
Or so it would be if this were a fairytale. But unfortunately, even though it starts with ‘Once upon a time,’ this story is far from fairytale . . .
The woodsman fell in love with his songbird’s song. He listened to it day and night, always tapping his foot. And he kept the songbird inside so he could hear her beautiful song and admire the way her bright feathers shone as she danced. But as she sang, the songbird longed for outside. Yes, she even longed for her old nest in the forest because, even though it had been a dark and cruel place, it was still . . . home. And no matter how terrible it had been, it still held a piece of her, like it or not. But the woodsman, seeing as how she had been hurt so grievously by the outside before, did not want to let her go. He loved his songbird so much he couldn’t stand to see the beautiful creature hurt again – no matter what her desires were. Little could he ever have imagined that by keeping her in his warm, safe home, he hurt his beautiful songbird. Her tunes grew dissonant and melancholy. She tapped at the glass as she danced, always tapping at the glass. The cottage became just another cage. Eventually, reluctantly, the woodsman let her out to go and see her home. And so they went, he carrying her on his shoulder, and she chirruping so happily. They walked together, deep into the woods.
Once they got to a certain point in the woods, though, the black birds attacked the woodsman. They tore at his flesh and dove at his eyes, driving him away as he cried, “Come back to me, my songbird!” And he ran from their onslaught.
The songbird was now back amongst her sort-of-kin. And the pecked at her, and she grew morose again, and sat sullenly in the corners of the dark. She missed the woodsman and the happy hearth and songs she sang there with him. And so she made her way back to him, hopping through the forest and sneaking away from the birds that had punished her so for going off in the first place. She hopped carefully and did not fall, and made it back to his doorstep where he took her in and cried with delight. Her feathers grew bright again.
But this was to be the poor songbirds downfall. She could not be happy with the woodsman while a piece of her belonged to the forest, and she could never be happy in the darkness of her fellow birds. And so the woodsman would take her back every so often, and when she had had enough, she would come back where she could be free – in a way. And they carried on this dual nature for quite some time, he escorting her from cage to cage, she never flying, and it all seemed to be going rather well and happily – until one day. . .
Until the day the songbird went hopping back in sullen disrepair to the cottage and the woodsman was not there. She sought him all around, and to no avail. There were no tracks nor a note goodbye. The woodsman was gone. She waited there by the cottage for many days, starving and despondent. She barely moved from that wooden porch. And finally, in the dead of night, she realized that she had to go back. She had to back to that dark place. He had abandoned her.
And so she went back, and things began again as they were before. A creature can only take so much pain before it becomes used to it, before it becomes expected and normal. Until the absence of pain seems more painful than the pain itself. And so it was for the songbird. The dark birds came at her relentlessly, and she tore all her own feathers out, quill by painful, beautiful quill. She tore at them and delighted in her own torment. Stab stab stab shriek pain joy. Again and again and again she tore at herself, the dark birds of her mind storming over her in waves. And she settled in her ways. She became accustomed to her situation. And she forgot all about he merriment of the woodsman. The dark birds became her merriment, their caws her serenade.
Some time later the woodsman came again through the forest, looking for his songbird. He braved the depths of the forest and the malice of the birds to find her. He had been taken away for a while, but he was back, and he was determined to find her and recapture their song.
He almost passed her by. He didn’t even see her at first, And when he looked up, he cried.
She was black. All her bright feathers were gone, and she was black – black with the scabs from dried and crusted blood. Black with dried blood from her self-inflicted wounds. Black as all the other dark birds. And not a glimmer of recognition flashed in her eyes when he looked at her. She was with them now. He approached her, made as if to scoop her in his hands, and she drew back, opened her beak, and said:
He stopped. The woodsman slowly turned away, and dried his tears. He walked quickly and deliberately back to his cottage; the cottage that he had made a cage for her. He went to a small box he kept inside, and from it took all the dozens of beautiful feathers she had left for him. All these tokens, mementos of idle happiness symbolizing such far-off times together, listening to her song and being enraptured by her swirling twirling whirling dance. He stayed a few moments with them, touching each one. And then he took three pieces of cord, and wove the three pieces, along with the feathers, into a single piece of rope. And the rope shone with the imbedded feathers, so beautiful. So, so beautiful. He had helped to kill something so beautiful.
And then he went outside and hung himself with the most beautiful piece of rope that part of the world had ever seen.
Some time later, the songbird tried to fly.
The moral of the story?
Some birds were never meant to be caged; their feathers are just too bright.
loves you so much