The Dark Wood of the Golden Birds: “Goodnight Moon” Author Margaret Wise Brown’s Little-Known Philosophical Children’s Book About Love and Loss

“There had by no means been such a quiet day earlier than. It was the quietest day on the earth.”

The Dark Wood of the Golden Birds: “Goodnight Moon” Author Margaret Wise Brown’s Little-Known Philosophical Children’s Book About Love and Loss

Margaret Sensible Brown (Could 23, 1910–November 13, 1952) by no means did something half-heartedly. When the love of her life fell mortally unwell, she did the toughest factor in life — going through the dying of a beloved whereas remaining a pillar for his or her passage — one of the simplest ways she knew how: she wrote her a love letter within the type of a kids’s ebook.

On the final day of spring in 1950, three years after Goodnight Moon had enraptured the world with its vivid playfulness, The Darkish Wooden of the Golden Birds (public library) appeared, somber and numinous with its elegiac prose, and its haunting duotone of otherworldly greens and yellows, and its the straightforward dedication: “For Michael Unusual.”

Michael Unusual and Margaret Sensible Brown

Within the many years since, the ebook has fallen out of print in a tradition that has no room and no language for grief, and no tolerance for the darkest dimensions of life, which crack open our vastest capability for gentle. It might take an act of countercultural braveness and resistance for a contemporary writer to convey this work of unusual magnificence and tenderness again into the fold of life.

Illustrated by Brown’s longtime collaborator and good friend Leonard Weisgard, and written together with her singular poetics, the story begins:

It occurred within the woods
a very long time in the past.
At midnight woods
the place the golden birds
sang all by way of the night time
and the day.

This magic forest grows behind the home of “an outdated man with white hair and inexperienced eyes,” who’s “by no means a yr older or a day youthful,” and who retains honeybees and grows asparagus for a dwelling.

The individuals who flock to his home for honey and asparagus by no means dare enterprise previous the sting of “the wooden of the golden birds,” believing it to be a magic wooden — “the unknown from which there isn’t a return”; of the few courageous souls who’ve wandered in, none ever returned. The outdated man himself by no means goes into the darkish wooden, however generally — at night time, or early within the morning — he can hear the golden birds sing.

And of their track he heard all that was stunning to listen to,
the ringing of bells
and the soughing of the wind;
he heard the echo that’s hidden in a sea shell,
the deep sea music;
he heard laughter and singing
and the songs his mom sang to him way back.

However even he’s too afraid of the track to enter the woods searching for its supply.

Whereas she was writing the ebook, Margaret Sensible Brown was watching her beloved flicker out and in of consciousness. She will need to have questioned concerning the thriller of all of it, concerning the harrowing unreality into which Michael vanished when she slipped right into a coma her medical doctors at first took for everlasting dying.

Sooner or later a girl had gone into the woods
just a bit method. However when she got here out
she spoke in phrases that not one of the different folks
may perceive.
And he or she was by no means herself once more.
However the individuals who had gone solely to the sting of the woods
had heard the golden birds
and had been happier for listening to their track.

Sooner or later, a brother and a sister whose mother and father have died wander to the outdated man’s home.

The outdated man was sorry for them;
and when he heard their completely happy laughter
and noticed how they ran with the bees from flower to flower
he liked them.
And he took them to stay with him
and gave them a house.

The kids discover happiness working within the outdated man’s backyard, however as time unspools, they develop an increasing number of curious concerning the darkish wooden of the golden birds. The bees, they purpose, go into the magic forest each day and never solely return, however return with wildflower nectar for honey that “makes the sick folks properly and the unhappy folks completely happy,” “the sluggish folks quick and the noisy folks quiet.” There appears to be a secret magical vitality at nighttime wooden, however none of its enchantments beckon the kids extra powerfully than the track of its golden birds.

In a passage revealing Margaret Sensible Brown as one of many nice unsung poets of the 20th century, sonorous together with her secret devotion to poetry, the boy tells his sister:

At night time once I hear them singing far off,
I keep in mind unusual and quiet issues,
the way in which the wind bends the grasses
because it blows throughout the sphere.
I hear the sound of the rain,
I keep in mind the nice and cozy daylight and the lengthy night shadows.
I consider the gray night time and of the huge sea
and I keep in mind all I’ve forgotten
that ever made me completely happy or unhappy.

When the kids plead with the outdated man to condone their enterprise into the woods, he solely reminds him that it isn’t to be executed, for nobody has ever returned. Once they ask what lies past the darkish wooden, for there’s absolutely an different aspect, he merely tells them that “on the opposite aspect of the darkish wooden is the land that nobody is aware of.” Once they press on with their restive curiosity, he grows offended, then falls silent, falls unwell.

Day-to-day, the kids develop an increasing number of fearful concerning the outdated man, till they resolve that just one factor may revive him.

If solely he may hear as soon as extra
the track of the golden birds…
Then he would keep in mind all he has forgotten…
He would keep in mind the sky and the daylight on the grass.
He would keep in mind the kindness in folks’s hearts
and the candy drowsy buzzing of the season of the bees.

And so, the boy decides that he should convey the track of the golden birds to the outdated man. One morning, “with out telling anybody goodby,” he leaves the home and heads for the woods.

Days go by and he doesn’t return.

His sister busies herself within the backyard to maintain the tears of loneliness and anticipatory loss from coming.

In a mild nod to The Quiet Noisy E book, which she had printed earlier that yr, additionally illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, Brown writes:

Then got here the time of the nice silence.
No winds blew
and even the bees appeared to cease their buzzing.
The solar was heat on the earth.
The outdated man slept
and all of the little lady may hear
was the sound of her broom
as she swept the home.
There had by no means been such a quiet day earlier than.
It was the quietest day on the earth.

The night time got here on
extra softly than ever
with taking pictures stars
and no winds blowing.
There have been no colours now,
all the pieces was darkish within the night time,
and the night time was black
and heavy and silent.

Then, simply earlier than daybreak, a voice comes from the wooden, “clear and extra golden than the track of the golden birds.” The little lady hears it in her sleep, and smiles; listening at his window, the outdated man “remembers all he had forgotten and knew greater than he had ever recognized earlier than.” So it’s that Margaret Sensible Brown contours the outlines of the transformation, however she lets the reader fill it in with their very own which means, for it’s a transcendent expertise she writes of, and half a century earlier than her William James had certified ineffability as one of many 4 options of transcendent experiences.

The subsequent day when the solar shone
on the home within the subject of grass
it wakened the bees and the outdated man
and the little lady.
And it wakened the boy
who was as soon as extra asleep in his personal mattress.

He had returned with a golden feather piercing his coronary heart and the key data of the darkish wooden — the data of life in its totality, ravishing and savage — a magic forest wherein darkness and light-weight are endlessly aflicker in a single enchantment.

Because the boy weeded the asparagus
there have been instances when he sang as he labored.
Generally his track was completely happy
because the birds within the air.
Generally his track was unhappy
like a spring mist within the night time;
or just like the depths of a lake at midday, very quiet.
However at all times the songs he sang have been such
that the individuals who got here to purchase within the afternoon
stayed to hear
after which needed to hurry residence to their suppers earlier than darkish.
And as they walked alongside the paths to their houses
the winds appeared softer
and the night star appeared brighter
for his or her having listened to the boy’s track.

Michael Unusual lived by way of that summer time earlier than getting into the darkish wooden within the final weeks of autumn by no means to return, remaining, as each nice love does, printed on the track of Margaret Sensible Brown’s life.

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