October 11th, 2010

J.B. Priestley: The Tower and the Birds

fukase

“I was standing at the top of a very high tower, alone, looking down upon the myriads of birds flying in one direction; every kind of bird was there, all the birds in the world. It was a noble sight, this vast aerial river of birds.

But now, in some mysterious fashion the gear was changed, and the time speeded up, so that I saw generations of birds, watched them break their shells, flutter into life, mate, weaken, falter and die. Wings grew only to crumble; bodies were sleek and then, in a flash, bled and shriveled; and death struck everywhere at every second. What was the use of all this blind struggle towards life, this eager trying of wings, this hurried mating, this flight and surge, all this gigantic meaningless biological effort?

As I stared down, seeming to see every creature’s ignoble little history almost at a glance, I felt sick at heart. It would be better if not one of them, if not one of us at all, had been born, if the struggle ceased forever. I stood on my tower, still alone, desperately unhappy.

But now the gear was changed again, and time went faster still, and it was rushing by at such a rate, that the birds could not show any movement, but were like an enormous plain sown with feathers. But, along this plain, flickering through the bodies themselves, there now passed a sort of white flame, trembling, dancing, then hurrying on; as soon as I saw it I knew that this white flame was life itself, the very quintessence of being; and then it came to me, in a rocket-burst of ecstasy, that nothing mattered, nothing could ever matter, because nothing else was real but this quivering and hurrying lambency of beings.

Birds, people or creatures not yet shaped and colored, all were of no account except so as this flame of life travelled through them. It left nothing to mourn over behind it; what I had thought of as tragedy was mere emptiness or a shadow show; for now all real feeling was caught and purified and danced on ecstatically with the white flame of life. I had never felt before such happiness as I knew at the end of my dream of the tower and the birds.”

J.B. Priestley‘s dream as recounted in his book Man and Time
 
 

Photograph by Masahisa Fukase from The Solitude of Ravens published by Bedford Arts.


2 Responses to 'J.B. Priestley: The Tower and the Birds'
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  • Diane

    Love this. Thank you.

  • JJ

    I searched and searched for this. I knew it was JB Priestley but I could not get a combination of words to find it on the search engine. Then I put in a series of words and looked at the million plus returns. I closed my eyes, waited and picked 19 on Google. Voila, there it was! There’s little I can say to my neighbour with the loss of his father but this discourse might help? He’s a teacher. I met Dannion Brinkley some years back who was sent back from death as a messenger of life after death; of no death! We need to see ourselves as The White Flame dancing through life, ever eternal, with nothing to mourn and everything to give thanks for
    Thank you for having this up on the web
    JJ