Poem: Bird Song / & Olivier Messiaen

I’ve been preparing another book for publication, this one from 1988, called The Perfect Orchestra (whose title poem sees all of creation as “the perfect orchestra,” waterfalls, traffic noise, etc… all God’s creation lending their instruments to the total sound…

And came across this poem to the music of Olivier Messiaen, my favorite 20th century composer, a true mystic, who actually envisioned being among the angels, often by putting actual bird song from the entire world’s populations of birds, into his music (as the poem mentions).  This video clip from YouTube has him playing the organ, a little improvised piece (so it says) which sounds like it is based on a birdsong motif.  He was a major cathedral organist while still in his teens…

In the 60s in Berkeley I attended a concert with him in person, and because of the overflow crowd, was seated on the stage, actually behind him at the piano, about five yards away.  He was much older than in this clip, hair wispy, and he had on one of his signature florid bright-colored shirts with the pointed collars outside his jacket.  I’d first heard of him from a Life Magazine article showing him in the country, with sheet music and pen, notating birdsong… his beret on… and it fascinated me.  That we should all be so situated in the world, to be able to hear and make use of God’s direct manifestations…


I envy Olivier Messiaen
stalking early mornings in the
fields of France, in a
magazine article I saw
years ago, with a

notebook, notating

bird song!

He is said to be able to orchestrate birdcalls
just by hearing them, write those
trills and
watery runs with

tiny black dots on lines a musician back in a
musty room might play on his clarinet!

Notes, out of
tree-wilderness, out of
bird language, one to
another for
whatever reason, bodily
companionship, territorial
rights, mating calls, thrills of
pleasure in the plumage, beak

gabble, sunlight
delirium, a bird’s sense of
entertainment, some
floating on updrafts,

whatever reasons God gives them for responding the
way God’s made them
respond over a

silken wheat field at
first slants of
dawn, gold

light along
dew blankets,

the world waking
up, birds
registering the

Messiaen with his
stubby pencil attached like a

seismograph to the knowledge of his
ear making

dots with or without little
black flags attached someone

back in a room can play on his
clarinet, or a


orchestra, celestas, flutes, hitting those

high note-clusters, enraptured –

for no reason!


3/30/88 (from The Perfect Orchestra, in preparation)

About danielabdalhayymoore

Poet, artist, collagist, publisher, hoping to save a little bit of the world through ecstatic utterance... ordered in balanced lines and unpremeditated images...
This entry was posted in ABDAL-HAYY'S POETRY, SOUND. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Poem: Bird Song / & Olivier Messiaen

  1. Patrick says:

    Daniel, blessings to you! I love, adore Messiaen’s work, we both have[well in his case,had] ,a love of bright colors, deep contemplation through music and a belief in finding the mystery though music. I love this poem, should have known you would love Messiaen,sir. Hoe you and yourn are well


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