The Birds – Tarjei Vesaas

The Birds

“You are You, that was what was written.”

For the past week, every time I stepped into my room, an inquisitive man bombarded me with string of questions I had no answers to. “What’s the use of having so many turnips?”, he asked as he lay gazing at the naked sky. A faint whiff of camphor emitted from his smile, as he repeated how he pompously waved to Anna and Inger from the pier with sheer happiness, the boiled sweets gently being tossed by his tongue. The songs of the bird have no regulations sprouting from the petite beak on the whims and fancies of its colourful singer; coded messages of the birds veiled under those melodious tunes. For Mattis, I kept aside the astute reader dwelling within me and opted to take a lesson or two from the rebellion avian wonders and read the book with pages twisting according to my whims and fancies. Like, the spontaneous birds, I opened up a page, read Mattis’s words and then traced my path back and forth through the graceful prose deciphering each footprints and clandestine messages pricked by the beak of the woodcock trying to comprehend the language of birds through the optimistic eyes of Mattis. I resisted my nasty urge to pry into the story-line or the sub-plot, all I sought after was to perceive the world of Mattis through his words, his mind, his frustrations and longings while seeking a plausible answer to the avian greeting, “You are you!”

“Why are the things the way they are?”

Since the days when the reviewed prose found solace only in the confined dwelling of my notebooks, all ever that was written in those single-lined pages were incessant lists of questions searching for answers from the inner world of books, responses that were dismissed in the external milieu. When does the mind stops asking questions or rather does discharge them through frivolity? Do we surrender our curiosity to the obstinate barriers hurled by the resolutions? Why have we stopped asking questions? Is it a mark of an idiocy or naivety if one poses too many questions? If I had a penny for each of my mushrooming questions being disposed by a recurrent resonance of “It’s the way things are…. grow-up. Is there nothing on the television?” Do then, the “grown-up” minds never have the need to ask question? Or, is it that the winds of maturity bring along clouds of ignorance and indolence? There were times when I ached to offer an ardent listening ear to Mattis’s copious questions, to the undemanding man who longed to talk about himself and his struggle and in them I could have searched my own clarifications. A simple mind is child-like, naive and inquisitive. Unlike the fearful judicious mentality, simplicity is fearless in its own way. Pristine and unscathed by the corrupted ways of life, it flourishes through sense of sympathetic and comforting communication. Silly as it may sound, I found Mattis’s plain, childlike mind to be courageous for not only being able to produce plethora of queries but, for giving a voice to them even at the risk of their reckless dismissal. How come those who possess the three gifts of vigour, intelligence and beauty; the very endowments that Mattis desired, are unaware of its commendable merit? Do we take granted the precious gifts of our mind because we are born with it and never have known a world without it? If only, the worldly wise could frequently ask, “Why are things the way they are?” perhaps, someday, someone might just stop saying, “It’s the way things are.” And, then Mattis would never feel like an outsider in this sophisticated intellect masquerade.

“But, hush there it was. The flapping wings, the bird itself, indistinct, speeding through the air straight across the house and off in the other direction……….”

The surprise flight of the woodcock over Mattis’s home enchants Mattis and in the bird’s recurrent airborne moves, the woodcock becomes one of the central characters in Mattis’s life. The bird becomes a herald of a secret-language, an omen prophesying the probability of a vulnerable future and one of nature’s many essentials that equates its uniqueness with Mattis. Vesaas’s employment of woodcock as an ornithological symbol signifies the fundamental spiritual intimacy through which Mattis relates to the exquisiteness of nature. Similar to the woodcock, the existence of the lake becomes a spellbinding ironical personality permeating the habitual existence of Mattis and Hege. The boat that he ferries across the lake, the cool waters of the lake, the solitary aspen trees, the turnips in the field, the thunderstorms become a gratifying compensation to Mattis’s innermost life filling it with explorations of his enthusiasm and apprehensions.

“The world was full of forces you couldn’t fight against which suddenly loomed up and aimed a crushing blow at you………What could you do when things were like this?”

Drops of change come from the subtle dilution of resistance, however, when the dregs of resistance precipitate into substantial despair, the opaqueness of change becomes an impenetrable substance. The two slender aspen trees with withered tops, swayed between these distressing elements of change and resistance. The lush forest , the serene lake, the coquettishness of two gorgeous women, the fierce lightning, the menacing toadstools, the gentle wrestling of Hege’s knitting needles with its optimism resting within the eight-petalled woolen roses and the soaring flight of the woodcock gradually seep into the inherent life of Mattis. It is his world, only for him through which mirrors the mysticism of nature and the meaning of being alive with the helplessness and fullness of an inner-life that is beyond the comprehension of normalcy. Tarjei Vesaas scripts a simple story of a simple mind juggling in between the unexpected lunacy and the expected “normalcy” of life. Simplicity has no place in this complex world, its existence ridiculed through mocked “Simple Simon” labelling. Vesaas depicts a memorable world of simplicity unconsciously whittling a harbinger eminence, a simple life set in the idyllic Norwegian rural town merging into the transitory happiness and perplexity of agonies that arrive through loneliness, patience, love, hope, death, desolation, and change, antagonism of an independent survival and above all the perils of being a Simple Simon. Mattis’s journey maybe one-dimensional and chaotic, nevertheless it is numinous, poetic and deeply emotional. Vesaas’s masterpiece etches profoundly the poignant and compassionate narrative of Hege and Mattis , leaving me as mesmeric as the voyage of the woodcock. Oh, my dear Mattis, you have been such a charming roommate for the past few days, please do visit me again and bring along that chirpy woodcock fellow and maybe, Mr. Vesaas too. You are you, Mattis! You and the woodcock!

***[The above photographic illustrations were taken from the book inspired 1968 Polish movie – ‘Matthew’s Days’ ( Żywot Mateusza)]



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