Bored Students, Don’t Forget Lyre Bird

Axel Amuchastegui, “Lyre Bird”

The last couple of days I’ve been complaining about America’s new Gradgrindian “Common Core State Standards.” I didn’t mention, however, one last line of resistance, which is the child’s imagination. Here’s that whimsical anarchist Jacques Prévert reminding us that children are not without their own defenses.

I dedicate this post to my students, who finished up their exams yesterday and who now have no constraints upon their own imaginations.

The Lyre Bird

By Jacques Prévert
Translated by Scott Bates

Two and two are four
Four and four are eight
Eight and eight are sixteen
Again! says the teacher
Two and two are four
Four and four are eight
Eight and eight are sixteen
But there goes the lyre-bird
Passing through the sky
The child sees it
The child hears it
The child calls to it
Save me
Play with me
So the bird comes down
And plays with the child
Two and two are four
Again! says the teacher
And the child plays
And the bird plays with him
four and four are eight
Eight and eight are sixteen
And what are
Sixteen and sixteen
They aren’t anything sixteen and sixteen
And especially not thirty-two
And away they go
And the child hides the bird
In his desk
And all the children
Hear its song
And all the children
Listen to its music
And eight and eight
Next disappear
And four and four and two and two
All fade from view
And one and one are neither one nor two
One by one they go away too
And the lyre bird sings
And the child plays
And the teacher shouts
When you have finished clowning about!
But all the other children
Listen to the music
And the walls of the classroom
Quietly crumble
And the windows become sand again
The chalk becomes cliff
The ink becomes water
The desks become trees
And the old quill pen
Becomes a bird again
So the bird comes down
And plays with the child

Here’s the poem in French:

Deux et deux quatre
Huit et huit font seize…
Répétez! dit le maître
Deux et deux quatre
Huit et Huit font seize
Mais voilà l’oiseau lyre
Qui passe dans le ciel
L’enfant le voit
L’enfant l’entend
l’enfant l’appelle
Joue avec moi
Alors l’oiseau descend
Et joue avec l’enfant
Deux et deux quatre…
Répétez! dit le maître
Et l’enfant joue
L’oiseau joue avec lui…
Quatre et quatre huit
Huit et huit font seize
Et seize et seize qu’est-ce qu’ils font?
Ils ne font rien seize et seize
Et surtout pas trente deux
De toute façon
Ils s’en vont.
Et l’enfant a caché l’oiseau
dans son pupitre
Et tous les enfants
Entendent sa chanson
Et tous les enfants entendent la musique
Et huit et huit à leur tour s’en vont
Et quatre et quatre et deux et deux
A leur tour fichent le camp
Et un et un ne font ni une ni deux
Un à un s’en vont également.
Et l’oiseau lyre joue
Et l’enfant chante
Et le professeur crie:
Quand vous aurez fini de faire le pitre
Mais tous les autres enfants
Ecoutent la musique
Et les murs de la classe
S’écroulent tranquillement
Et les vitres redeviennent sable
L’encre redevient eau
Les pupitres redeviennent arbres
La craie redevient falaise
Le porte-plume redevient oiseau.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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