During this time of social distancing and working from home, I am finding I rely more on listening to music while I work to fill the quiet void.
How very different these days are from my normal busy work environment of students coming by to share a memorized poem or the lively play “The Little Red Hen,” which the kindergarten classes should have presented last week.
There is no child holding a lost tooth that needs the special tooth necklace so it’s not lost before it gets home for the tooth fairy. No temperatures to take, peppermints to hand out or parents to welcome as they join their child for lunch.
My musical playlist is fairly short and includes several movie soundtracks and some tunes by Lauren Daigal.
In a more classical mood, I exhausted Leonard Bernstein’s version of Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” and tuned to London Philharmonic Orchestra’s rendition of “The Lark Ascending” by Ralph Vaughan Williams. This is a lively inspiring piece of music influenced by the 1881 poem of the same name by the English writer George Meredith. It made me begin to wonder why larks are so often used in literature and music as uplifting and encouraging symbolism.
Larks are known to be associated with hope and heralding in the promise of a new day.They have been found in figurative language in poetry, literature and music for centuries. I fully agree that this orchestral presentation certainly lifted my spirits in a time where anything positive is certainly welcomed.
The lark as a species is more prevalent and well known in England and western Europe. Only the horned lark is found in North America, according to the Audubon Guide for Birds. So why does this small grayish bird hold such a significant place in literature and music? A lark is looked upon as a representative of a better day, a symbol to remind us not to fear the darkness but look to the light that is coming. Robert Browning in “Pippa’s Passing” declares the larks’ on the wing to set a tone of brighter days ahead.
Johnny Mercer’s lyrics in the song “Skylark” asks, “Have you seen a valley green with spring where my heart can go -a- journeying of this bird that connects earth and sky.” Trusting the bird to know where a beautiful landscape full of promise might be waiting to offer a safe and peaceful respite from heartbreak.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s 1856 poem novella “Aurora Leigh,” declares, “The music soared within the little lark, and the lark soars.” The lark filled with joy and love is empowered to not just fly, but soar.
Why does the lark have this type of influence?
It’s all about the song.
A lark sings through good times and the fearful times. The lark sings in the predawn darkness just before sunrise with the joyful assurance that the sun will rise. Even when protecting its nest from a predator, the singing and soaring flight offer an uninterrupted show of bravery and strength.
If you get up very early in Britain from April to August, and are out in the farmlands, marsh or grassy areas, the song of the lark is likely the first thing you will hear, even before sunrise. They sing throughout the day but hearing their song in a hushed dawn makes a quite impressive welcome to the day.
The flight of the lark is equally unique. The male bird is known to protect the nest, which is located in grassy areas on the ground, by making a spectacular flight soaring straight up into the air singing as he flies. He circles overhead for several minutes before diving straight down back to earth continuing his unending song for two to three minutes, which is a rather long time for birdsong.
It certainly seems as if this little bird, which appears so insignificant, has made a huge impact on the world through the interpretation of song and flight for many years and in many ways. As I listen to Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” during these continued weeks of uncertainty, I also remember the poem by George Meredith describing the lark’s song, “For all to hear, and all to know that he is joy, awake, aglow.”
Our days will eventually return to an order of which we are more accustomed. Schools will open their campuses. Businesses will open their doors to shoppers. Families and friends will gather in a happy reunion.
For now, in nature the lark continues its existence amidst this background of chaos and continues flying, soaring, singing — even in the darkest hour. We should take a lesson from this little bird’s uplifting spirit and Browning’s reminder of “God’s in His Heaven”. We, like the little lark, believe in time “all will be right with the world”.