This week’s poem comes from ‘The Book of Hopes’, a lockdown project by children’s writer Katherine Rundell. You can read the book for free here: https://literacytrust.org.uk/family-zone/9-12/book-hopes/.
Here’s what she said about the project: ‘I don’t believe stories will protect us against Covid-19, any more than would strength of character or moral probity. The solutions lie with science and the radical global cooperation of governments, but we will need the stories, even so. Tales of transformation and of emancipation, both real and fictional, can be a set of stars and maps. They point us both towards action and hope. Real hope, I think, is not the promise that everything will be all right, but a sense that the world has so many complexities and possibilities that despair is misplaced; that we still live in a universe shot through with the unexpected. There has never been a decade when we have not taken ourselves by surprise: we have never yet exhausted our capacity for change. I struggle with optimism, but nor am I a pessimist; I tell the children I write for that I am a possibilityist. I truly believe in the potential for human transformation.’
I also love what she said about children’s writers, whose artistry is so often dismissed: ‘So many children’s writers and illustrators are themselves already hunters and gatherers of hope; manufacturers and peddlers of wonder.’
The poem below is a masterful snatch of wonder – the wonder that we can feel with the new light of each day, the new song.
Hope; Or Learning the Language of Birds, by Jackie Morris
In years to come you would think of this time as the ‘time of great quiet’.
It would seem to you, then, that the earth was holding her breath.
Cars silent in the streets.
Planes absent from the sky.
After a week the air would seem cleaner, colours brighter.
But the nights seemed darker, perhaps because the stars glowed brighter.
Fear wandered the dreams of some.
And you would wake in early morning, as the light slipped into each day
You would hear sweet notes rising with the sun, to greet the light.
You would hear, across the silence, a response.
You would listen, as other voices lifted to song.
You would begin to learn each different voice, begin to see them.
And soon they were no longer just ‘birds’ but became wren, robin, blackbird, thrush, greenfinch, goldfinch, sparrow, jay.
And you would follow the textures of birdsong, call and response, as it moved with the sun.
And you would feel for the first time how the sun was lifted into sky each day,
You would feel the turning of the earth beneath your feet,
as the song travelled with the path of the light.
You would hear the turning of the world
at the edge of the darkness,
at the edge of the light.
You would know that others were listening
as the song moved with the light.
And you would learn that, if for a while it seemed the earth stood still,
holding her breath,
if it seemed that the nights were darker,
somewhere on the turning world the sun was rising,
the birds were singing,
a wave of song in an ocean of sky.
And you would know
that others too would hear those voices.
Out of the silence,
just before dawn,
you would find the threads of hope
as the breath of birds became song.
All my love,