Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Birds in AtWotES

The play to probably contain the most birds would be At the Wake of the Earth-Shaker, the end of the Selkie cycle. That's a notable play for its own reasons.

In those very niche circles where Rutherford's works receive performance, Earth-Shaker is infamous for its reputation as unperformable. The script includes the direction "[ The larks eat the lead actress's innards. At this point, the audience screams and runs out. Ambulances are called. By the time the police arrive, no trace is left of the actress or of the larks. ]" The play has one single setting, and it makes no reference to any meta-play or audience, police, or ambulances elsewhere; this is referring to literal events. And the play goes on after this with no further break from convention! So for obvious reasons performances skip this part.

Rutherford sometimes had a sense of humour. He liked to describe Earth-Shaker simply as "the curse." In interviews he would pretend he wrote no such scene, in fact that he wrote no larks into the play whatsoever.

Birds in And For Pleasure

Birds didn't show up in Rutherford's poetry quite as much as they did in his plays. They were often ever-present, written as elements of the background, sometimes sentinels and sometimes silent judges. They're usually interpreted as symbols of nature as constant: While the characters do terrible things and great things and while empires fall and people betray one another and have to face their deepest fears, nature is always there, surprisingly unaffected.

In one of his later plays, And For Pleasure, Striga while content with the state of her life has this odd conversation with Ozzy. It's one of my favourite moments from his plays though no critic has ever commented on it. But Striga's comments on birds were one of the reasons I decided to make this blog, so I'll excerpt:

People don't respect me. They don't care about me. I'd be surprised if they remember my birthday tomorrow. But it's just a birthday. They remember my death-day, they all do; it's when all the bluejays flock to my bedroom window. May 4th. I don't yet know the year. But that's the day I'll die. I can tell from the way they look in through the glazing, their eyes knowing and their beaks opening for calls but no sound coming out. My death will be no secret.

"In my hands pale ribbons I squeeze" (1943)

In my hands
 Pale ribbons I squeeze
  As junkers shout "Opera!"
    No trumpets such as these
                       Staffless songs
                        For rubber bands
                      A house, short and stout
             A man's image in a Staunton mirror
                   Chain-smoking from his chimney
                          (Osteoporosis of the pillar)
                            Junkers shout "Ivory!"
                               That house has crumpled.
                              With Hadfield I too shall retreat
                                             To the home of the birds
                                                               Greet us kindly