Ashdown Forest has been my sanity for the past two months. And it’s been a constantly changing scene. The earlier bright-yellow gorse flowers of April are faded; bracken is now a foot high; foxgloves – blue and white – are flowering; the rides and paths are hardened and dusty. But the birds still sing; and yesterday the skylark was at it again. It prompted the thought: What are skylarks for?
One of my favourite poems is ‘Prayer for my Daughter’, by W B Yeats. I was a young father when I first taught Yeats, and the poem resonated powerfully for me. As he weathers out a violent storm in his home on the West coast of Ireland, the poet imagines what the future years might bring: what sort of world his baby daughter will grow up into; and his prayer is that she may have the inner resources to confront and to enrich that world: ‘May she become a flourishing hidden tree/That all her thoughts may like the linnet be, /And have no business but dispensing round/Their magnanimities of sound….’ Yeats prays that like the songbird, his daughter may become a source of spontaneous generosity, a joy-bringer.
Which brings me back to what the skylark is for. The skylark’s torrent of song has a purpose for the human heart: it prompts us to look up in joy and thankfulness. Its ‘magnanimities of sound’ exist to raise our hearts to heaven.