a bird cries out in sorrow

Out in the marsh reeds
A bird cries out in sorrow,
As though it had recalled
Something better forgotten.


(10th century)

This 10th century Japanese poem reminds me of a much loved but now lost cd I owned when I was in my twenties. It was a compilation of Japanese shakuhatchi flute pieces. I often felt that the music was less the sound of an instrument than it was the sound of some forlorn creature, the wind in the grass or trees, or a bird’s plaintive call. A bird cries out in sorrow.


In his letter to the church in Rome, Saint Paul wrote,

“For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”

Matthew Henry (1662-1714), an English Presbyterian minister and author of the famous Matthew Henry Commentary, wrote about these words of Saint Paul,

“There is an impurity, deformity, and infirmity, which has come upon the creature by the fall of man. There is an enmity of one creature to another. And they are used, or abused rather, by men as instruments of sin. Yet this deplorable state of the creation is in hope. God will deliver it from thus being held in bondage to man’s depravity. The miseries of the human race, through their own and each other’s wickedness, declare that the world is not always to continue as it is. Our having received the first-fruits of the Spirit, quickens our desires, encourages our hopes, and raises our expectations.”

In the wind, in the crashing sea, in the howl of a wolf, in the forlorn call of birds, in the moan of a suffering animal, I sense the yearning of nature for an end to samsara, it’s longing for a deliverer. John Berger wrote somewhere of the almost palpable silence in a forest after a tree has been cut down, as if the other trees sense the traumatic loss of one of their own.

There is no evidence for any of this of course. Perhaps the Japanese poet was deluded, as perhaps am I.

Out in the marsh reeds
A bird cries out in sorrow,
As though it had recalled
Something better forgotten.

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