Idiot Parable 4

(In order to get the blog rolling again after a long vacuous summer in which I stared gecko-like at flies, here is number 4 in an occasional series of which I have not yet posted the first three. Although one of them is embedded in this posting on Kona MacPhee’s excellent site, That Elusive Clarity.)

The Parable of the Pelican and the Geese

The Pelican had spent the morning wandering among the humans in the little pleasure park, all sprawled out on their sun-loungers or splashing in the hot little pool while behind them reached the mountains and before them stretched the sea. The mountains were burnt brown and orange in the summer’s heat, and looked as though they’d like a cloud or two to cool their brows. The sea was too exhausted to form crests, and just swayed and sank in smooth translucent curves.

The Pelican wandered about swinging the jowly sack of its beak, its wings folded behind its back, and thought to itself, ‘These people don’t know why they’re here! They’ve flown from all those pale places…’ (the Pelican perhaps did not know as much about geography as it thought it did), ‘and now they lie here, exhausted, unable to so much as lift their heads and focus on the beauties they came for.’

Some humans were sitting at tables, eating and occasionally glancing at the sea and the sweep of the bay. The far hills, shaped like the profiles of long-snouted animals – lizards, pigs, baboons – were almost as pink as the people’s flesh, and the water was almost as metallic a blue as their eyes, though the Pelican only caught a glimpse of their eyes occasionally, as they generally chose to wear dark glasses in the air, and tinted goggles in the water.

‘Do they even see what’s before them?’ it wondered, suddenly astonished. ‘They act as though they could be anywhere…’ And at that moment a great revelation struck it. It rose on its heavy wings and, jowls sloshing, flew low over the heads of the people back to the little river it liked to visit in the evenings. There was the usual crowd of geese bobbing up and down on the cold mountain water below the bridge and between the fishing boats. The pelican landed on one of the concrete bridge supports that jutted a little way out into the river, and addressed the geese:

‘Listen, my friends, I have been thinking about the humans who surround us, and I have reached some remarkable conclusions!’ The geese all pointed their orange beaks toward this new source of noise, treading water and nudging each other.

‘We all know the myth that they were cast out of the Nest of Paradise, a place to which we birds have always had limitless access. That was, we were all told as chicks, because of the sin of pride, of wishing to know the Song of the Wisest of Birds, Who laid the Great Egg of the Universe. We all know that they can only mimic that Song in the most absurd and unmusical of terms, using their machines like the throats of parrots and mynahs. But I have come to the conclusion that it was for a different sin that the beaks of the angels firmly pushed them away from Paradise.’

The geese gathered more closely round the Pelican on its temporary pulpit, as it opened and closed its wings to mark points of emphasis, and paused, briefly grooming its snowy bosom with the sharp hook on its upper beak. They looked fascinated, and gobbled to each other as though reflecting on the sermon so far.

‘I believe it was for the sin of indifference that they were cast out! That they simply didn’t know they were in Paradise, and cared even less. How else do we explain the phenomenon that they are drawn as if through envy to the great beauties of this place, but once here, seem unable to see what it before their very noses? What do you say, my brethren?’

At this one of the geese who was nearest to the pulpit waded out of the water and waddled up to the Pelican, as though about to answer it. But to the bigger bird’s astonishment it simply turned and gobbled to the rest of the gaggle as though in mimicry of the Pelican’s speech. All the other geese gobbled back at it and at each other in an animated manner, and began to drift up river to the spot among the reeds where they usually came ashore in the evening.

The Pelican was completely unable to tell whether they were actually mocking it or had just been distracted by its agitated movements for a few minutes before returning to their usual routine. Could it be they had understood perfectly, but were just not deigning to reply? It stood there for a few minutes while they filed past, its beak opening and closing in bewilderment, while a few tourists on the bridge photographed it from above.


About Bill Herbert

Poet and pseudo-scholar W.N. Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961, educated there and at Oxford, where he completed his DPhil thesis on Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, and now lives and works in Newcastle. He is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University, and his books are published by, among others, northern publisher Bloodaxe Books. He is also the Dundee Makar, or city laureate.
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One Response to Idiot Parable 4

  1. Jeanne Macdonald says:

    The right word count for a bedtime story told to Grandchildren, leaving enough time for an extra ‘nightcap’ while reading ‘That Elusive Clarity’. More fables /parables please. Not a wasted summer, sir.

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