In the depths of winter, in the cold thrawl of bitter weather, the wren sings. Alone among birds, the wren’s voice slides across joyful notes while nature is otherwise somber and silent. And in her song she reminds us of the beauty of spring, the mating calls of other birds who return in warmer days, the brightness of ever earlier dawns when all the world turns green again.
And she also reminds us of the danger she courts in her exuberance. For the wren will die: from wren-boys, cats, or the forces that always seem to silence the lonely voice daring to announce and celebrate the sacredness and fragility of life, be that the voice of wren, poet, saint, or lover of peace.
Our nation at war presents us with a wren-like opportunity: To keep singing in the face of suffering, injustice, greed, and cruelty, all of which inevitably accompany the “armies of night.” It doesn’t matter how “smart” the bombs or how “concerned” the opposing armies are for refugees and the displaced children of slaughter. War and its aftermath always leave an eerie silence on the battlefields and in our hearts. Years later, generations later, a void exists where human voices should be singing. And when human notes once more return, we hear only the songs of bitterness and loss. We must prevent that void, prevent those bitter songs.
A friend recently admitted to me how upset she became when the events of the months leading to war stirred in her an anger of which she is not ordinarily aware. She does not think of herself as an angry woman. Her analogy regarding all this is that of a suction, so powerful that it sucks her, against her will, into the violent chaos of war-talk and jingoism and fear — fear both of war and of speaking out against it. Fear of what our lives may become if we surrender to the powerful suction that draws us and all things into its corrosive center.
If we all get pulled into this black hole of aggression, fear, and violence, there will indeed be a vacuum waiting to be filled with only silence or bitterness where life should be singing joyfully.
I have been wondering a lot about the answer given by the old Irish poet Nede, when asked his name. He boldly declared:
“Angriness of fire,
Fire of speech,
Noise of knowledge,
Well of wisdom,
Sword of song,
I sing straight from the heart of the fire.”
Perhaps we are being asked to sing straight from the heart of the fire. It is the fire of angriness, bitterness, arrogance, ignorance, and war.
In Gaelic, the word for name (ainm) and the word for soul (anam) are pronounced the same, and among many indigenous people, a person’s name is one with his or her soul. The above lines, therefore, might describe Nede’s soul, his character, as well as his name. His soul is anger, fire, noise, speech, wisdom, sword, and song. His soul is a singer of song. He himself is Sword of Song. He will be heard.
I say to my friend, “Yes, there is anger in these times, in us, in the world all around us, everywhere we look. But there was once a poet who transmuted that anger into speech, and speech into knowledge, and knowledge into wisdom, and wisdom into a sword. And that sword could sing!!”
This is the time of the sword, the Sword of Song. This is the time to resist the darker aspects of our human nature and wage peace. If we can draw the right sword from the fire, we will not be afraid. If the fire in our hearts is the fire of peace, it will burn brighter than that in the hearts of those who would sacrifice peace for unworthy ends.
If we can sing when everyone else is silent, sing exuberant songs that announce the sacredness of life and celebrate the fragility of peace, we will have revived the wren. She will sing as she always sings, unafraid, and straight from the heart of our fire.