the open heart

One of my favourite poems is ee cummings’ may my heart always be open to little

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it’s sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

I love it (though I change the masculine pronoun to be more inclusive). I recite the first few lines to myself almost every day when I see the tiny birds around our place: wrens, finches, sparrows, and others that I can’t identify.

The superb blue wren is gorgeous, with its small round body, electric blue feathers, tiny legs, flirty tail. It hops around our veggie patch, and loves to perch on the top of the garden stakes we’ve hammered in to hold up tomatoes. I always draw in a breath and stop, when I see one. And wherever there’s a blue wren, there’s usually a brown one, the female partner.

Superb_fairy_wrens_mark_2As I’ve watched, though, I’ve noticed how beautiful they all are, not just the bright ones — even sparrows that we tend to think of as ordinary and common. They gather on a stretch of unplanted veggie patch and have dirt baths, gradually burrowing out hollows in the ground. At times, when there’s a flock of them, their brown feathers blending with the dirt, it looks like the ground is moving.

We have a large terracotta saucer that we fill with water for a birdbath, and the birds fly in from a nearby tree where I’m sure they check out the lie of the land, to see if it’s safe to come down. One by one, they gather around the rim of the saucer, dip in a beak to drink, and then dive in, shake, flutter their wings, spraying water around, and hop out again. It’s all very orderly and respectful, each one apparently waiting their turn. At least that’s how it looks from my human point of view.


I’ve read lots of great poems about birds, but cummings, for me, has caught something about the vulnerability of these little creatures, and the something more that goes along with that. Sometimes I think the birds look self-sufficient, but I’m not sure it’s possible to be vulnerable and self-sufficient at the same time.

I’m still thinking about that one. It’s more that, as I watch them, these little birds seem to just be. They inhabit themselves, wherever they are: thoroughly bird, thoroughly there. And, as I read the poem, that ability to be at home with who we are is only possible if we learn to live happily with our frailty and our limits, and even to celebrate them. I love that idea! The ‘secret of living’.

6 thoughts on “the open heart

  1. In Darwin after failing to flog the advancing tropical garden into submission, I would slump over a beer and watch the birds convene a parliament beneath the sprinkler. The native pigeons would alternate side-laying, with one wing spread, to wash beneath their avarian armpits. It was like slow-motion synchronised almost-swimming. Slowly, on cue, they’d role to the oppose side, extend a wing and bath the other feathered ockster. There was a definite juxtaposition going on between my Martha and their Mary.


    1. Well, didn’t Jesus say it? They neither spin nor toil, but not one sparrow falls … Is that it? I suppose they spend their lives searching out food, but they must have a great time along the way. And I’m sure the pigeons were grateful that you worked to earn the money to buy the sprinkler then hooked it up and turned it on, just for them. Very kind.


  2. I have met again the huge Jungle Crow of Japan in Kyoto… They are black as night with a massive head and piercing eyes… They are urban in this concrete jungle and perch quietly on electric light poles and lurk about near the tidy piles of household garbage that the ever neat japanese separate so carefully into plastic’ ‘paper’ ‘UHT’ and so on … As I pass by and say ‘hello’ as I do to any likely looking bird.. they caw and watch me carefully, then when I am safely by, spring down and make mayhem amongst those tidy bags!!!


    1. Thanks for dropping by, and for that great cameo of crows! I’ve watched the ordinary Ozzie crows dig in rubbish bins, pull out paper bags and peck at the tomato sauce containers you get with take-away pies, but these Jungle Crows sound like a whole step up from that! There seems to be something unnerving about a big, completely black bird — do we thank Hitchcock for that? But it’s quite old, isn’t it, way back in stories of ravens. As much as I say I love all the birds at our place, I’m not really a fan of the currawong. It feels a bit creepy, and their call grates on me. They must think the same thing about me when I shoo them away from our veggie patch and watch them fly away with a whole strawberry in their beak!


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