The Twa Corbies
As I was walking all alane,
'In behint yon auld fail dyke,
'His hound is to the hunting gane,
'Ye'll sit on his white hause-bane,
'Mony a one for him makes mane,
Traditional folk ballads are narrative poems originally meant to be sung. Some good musical versions of "The Twa Corbies" are on Youtube, and they do enhance the poetic experience. Because the poems were not written down until centuries after they came into being, various versions abound, singers changing them as inclination, or perhaps poor hearing or memory, dictated. Unlike a sonnet (or for that matter a limerick), ballads are not fixed-form poems; however, academic studies have revealed some common characteristics. Two essential elements are iambic rhythm (unstressed, stressed syllables) and narrative. Violence, the supernatural, and repetition of words or phrases characterize many ballads but not all. Generally, as in Greek tragedy, the violence occurs "offstage": in "The Twa Corbies" we do not witness the actual killing but learn about it from the bird's report (the supernatural element).
"The Twa Corbies" is available in modern "translations," which, while clear and not ineffective, do lose some of the thrilling eeriness of the marriage of sound and sense in the old dialect. A quick study of the final stanza can demonstrate this point. Substitute modern English spellings and pronunciations, and you lose the high-pitched creepiness of the older version. Aloud, compare the sounds of the contemporary "The wind shall blow forever more" to "The wind sall blaw for evermair." Both are effective poetry, but our shiver is less in response to the "translation."
Implicit in "The Twa Corbies" is its world-view. The knight
will not be unmourned, but apart from the animals and the lady, "nane
sall ken where he is gane." First, hawk, hound, and lady, all three
leave the knight's body to the elements and the scavengers as they return
to their own pursuits. Then, in the form of the corbies, life feeds on
life. Finally, life rolls on over the bared bones. The unsparing cynicism
of "The Twa Corbies" allows neither love nor loyalty shown to
the knight, not even by his dog.
If we have been mistaken about being separate, recognizing the mistake becomes the first step in opening ourselves to what is real. If I am one with you, then my happiness is yours. The well-being of one cannot come at the expense of another because there is no other. That one thought in itself changes all our perceptions. Specialness vanishes, and with it any need for attack by one human being on another is gone. Things can be appreciated for their intrinsic value and not for the illusions of power and status we think acquiring them can bestow. Unified, we all have all power. Loving, we wish to share. Anyone who has ever taught anyone else anything knows that giving knowledge away increases it in the giver. Applying this principle to giving love to all will enable us to perceive the world afresh, shining in its reflection of God's gentle, loving reality.
A Course in Miracles says that what we need to know will be revealed to us as we allow it to be. All we need provide is a "tiny bit of willingness" to look within and to listen to the Voice within. Discoveries and miracles come daily to us. Accepting and recognizing them is our only need. For me, this apparently simple part has not always been easy, but as my willingness grows, so do my discoveries and the miracles of love and unity.
From centuries ago, "The Twa Corbies" speaks to us of a haunting world that beneath its supernatural trappings, we believe we know well. It is a world of violent betrayal wherein Nature, "red in tooth and claw," makes practical use of the materials of our bodies, life feeds on life, and nothing can last. Today, the story attempts to repeat itself everywhere we turn although many of the killers are caught and killed in their turn by a justice system which boasts a blindfold. The poem is expertly crafted to present its worldview. ACIM, on the other hand, teaches that no matter how enticing such craftsmanship is, what it offers is an illusion only: reality is safe, loving, and joyous. Why is it so hard for us to put the sad stories behind us and reach out for the light of love and eternal life?
I remember C. S. Lewis writing somewhere that all he had to do to learn to dive was to let go of every survival instinct he had. Accepting ACIM's teaching is a similar feat. What sounds so easy, to let go and trust, to know we do not know, runs counter to our core beliefs about the very nature of life. Not only do we seek safety, but, paradoxically, we also worship danger. Lewis wrote in Perelandra that life would not be so sweet if death did not threaten in the body of the water beast. Hemingway wrote about "grace under pressure" and adored wartime camaraderie. Examples abound because we believe without questioning or examining our belief that to live is a matter of attack and defend. The Course teaches us to say, "In my defenselessness, my safety lies." The statement can be terrifying. We use words like "wimp" and "coward" to characterize anyone who dares to respond to apparent attack without defense. It is not easy to accept that the world as we perceive it is not real, that the body is not what we are, and that what we are is always safe and happy. We use the word "boring" to undermine bliss, and ennoble sacrifice and suffering. Our religions, even when they come close to truth, attempt to limit loving benefits only to those who believe as they do. Love is without limit, ACIM tells us; recognizing this reality is what sanity is. Letting go of our mistaken "survival instincts" seems insane. Sanity to the insane seems grossest madness. Still, just as Lewis loved diving after experiencing it, we can, with just a bit of willingness learn to love reality. To the listening soul, sanity calls louder than the eerie winds. Sanity is not beyond our reach.