Friday, May 9, 2008
Flannery O'Connor writes of peacocks
That Flannery O'Connor was clearly interested in, preoccupied with, and loved peafowl has not escaped the literary critics. Indeed, these mysterious and magnificent creatures (the peafowl, not the critics) have become to some a metaphor for the author herself and for her work. This is seen in such titles as The Voice of the Peacock (Kathleen Feeley, 1972) and The Invisible Parade (Miles Orvell, 1973).
Here are four short excerpts from her story, The Displaced Person, that mention her favorite creatures:
The peacock stopped just behind her, his tail--glittering green-gold and blue in the sunlight--lifted just enough so that it would not touch the ground. It flowed out on either side like a floating train and his head on the long blue reed-like neck was drawn back as if his attention were fixed in the distance on something no one else could see....
"What a beauti-ful birrrrd!" the priest murmured.
"Another mouth to feed," Mrs. McIntyre said, glancing in the peafowl's direction.
"And when does he raise his splendid tail?" asked the priest.
"Just when it suits him," she said. "There used to be twenty or thirty of those things on the place but I've let them die off. I don't like to hear them scream in the middle of the night."
"So beauti-ful," the priest said. "A tail full of suns," and he crept forward on tiptoe and looked down on the bird's back where the polished gold and green design began. The peacock stood still as if he had just come down from some sun-drenched height to be a vision for them all....
“Where is that beautiful birrrrd of yours?” [the priest] asked and then said, “Arrrr, I see him?” and stood up and looked out over the lawn where the peacock and the two hens were stepping at a strained attention, their long necks ruffled, the cock's violent blue and the hens' silver-green, glinting in the late afternoon sun....
The priest let his eyes wander toward the birds. They had reached the middle of the lawn. The cock stopped suddenly and curving his neck backwards, he raised his tail and spread it with a shimmering timbrous noise. Tiers of small pregnant suns floated in a green-gold haze over his head. The priest stood transfixed, his jaw slack. Mrs. McIntyre wondered where she had ever seen such an idiotic old man. “Christ will come like that!” he said in a loud gay voice and wiped his hand over his mouth and stood there, gaping....
and here are three more from her essay, The King of the Birds:
“...seven or eight screams in succession as if this message were the one on earth which needed most urgently to be heard.”
“To the melancholy this sound is melancholy and to the hysterical it is hysterical. To me it has always sounded like a cheer for an invisible parade.”
“When the peacock has presented his back, the spectator will usually begin to walk around him to get a front view; but the peacock will continue to turn so that no front view is possible. The thing to do then is to stand still and wait until it pleases him to turn. When it suits him, the peacock will face you. Then you will see in a green-bronze arch around him a galaxy of gazing, haloed suns.”
Perhaps you will see my French blogger friend's photo in a new light: