|Peacock by Clive Hicks-Jenkins|
for Charis in the World of Wonders
Ignatius Press, 26 March 2020
| The Annunciation, with Saint Emidius by Carlo Crivelli, 1486|
National Gallery.jpg (Public domain Wikipedia)
I see a kind of triangle between the source of God-radiance in the sky,
the figure of Mary at prayer, and the peacock with its tail pointing toward Mary.
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. This is the moment when most people are silent.And doesn't this sound like an O'Connor encounter with strange grace from her stories?
“Amen! Amen!” an old Negro woman once cried when this happened and I have heard many similar remarks at this moment that show the inadequacy of human speech. Some people whistle; a few, for once, are silent. A truck driver who was driving up with a load of hay and found a peacock turning before him in the middle of our road shouted, “Get a load of that bastard!” and braked his truck to a shattering halt. I have never known a strutting peacock to budge a fraction of an inch for truck or tractor or automobile. It is up to the vehicle to get out of the way. No peafowl of mine has ever been run over, though one year one of them lost a foot in the mowing machine.
An old man and five or six white-haired, barefooted children were piling out the back of the automobile as the bird approached. Catching sight of him, the children stopped in their tracks and stared, plainly hacked to find this superior figure blocking their path. There was silence as the bird regarded them, his head drawn back at its most majestic angle, his folded train glittering behind him in the sunlight.What stops so many is that galaxy of eyes in the shivering fan of feathers. O'Connor's people, black and white, instinctively grasp what a medieval man or woman felt about the peacock. Awe in the presence of the utterly strange and beautiful knocks at their doors. Symbolically for the medieval Christian, the spread feathers expresses the overwhelming, beatific vision of God. For them, the feathers made an analogue to God's glory.
“Whut is thet thang?” one of the small boys asked finally in a sullen voice.
The old man had got out of the car and was gazing at the peacock with an astounded look of recognition. “I ain’t seen one of them since my granddaddy’s day,” he said, respectfully removing his hat. “Folks used to have ’em, but they don’t no more.”
“Whut is it?” the child asked again in the same tone he had used before.
“Churren,” the old man said, “that’s the king of the birds!”
The children received this information in silence. After a minute they climbed back into the car and continued from there to stare at the peacock, their expressions annoyed, as if they disliked catching the old man in the truth.
Further, the eyes suggested the all-knowing nature of God, who sees and fathoms both the depths of all things and even what we may regard as things of the surface and small like the death of a sparrow or the number of hairs currently residing on your head. Interestingly, the peacock is also the vanquisher of serpents in medieval bestiaries, and also a bird immune to poisons. That means that the peacock stands in relation to the serpent as Christ stands in relation to the devious snake in Eden's garden.
|I found this shot of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church (San Francisco)|
on Pinterest, and can't seem to find the photographer...
The peacock still lingers in our world as a resplendent symbol of majesty, particularly in the Orthodox church. The rich double peacock image above shows the part of an Orthodox church called the Beautiful Gate, used by clergy, with its deacon doors or angel doors on each side. As is usual, Christ is on the right and the Theotokos on the left of the gate and doors.
I'll end with a poet who reached for the effulgence of the peacock and the preternatural nature of its cry. Here's a snip from a poem:
And I remembered the cry of the peacocks.In "Domination of Black," Wallace Stevens sweeps together darkness and autumn, deathly hemlocks, the gathering planets (so like the unfurling galaxy-tail of the peacock), and the idea of turning... all set against the memory of the preternatural cry of the peacocks. The otherworldliness of that stands opposed to dark and year's end, autumn and the hemlock, long associated (via funereal plantings and by the hemlock--not really the same hemlock as ours!--drink of Socrates) with death in the West. And this turning of autumn leaves in the wind, of flames in fire, of feathers in firelight is, not so surprisingly, a motion familiar to the peacock, who turns as he shivers his fantastical milky way of eyes.
The colors of their tails
Were like the leaves themselves
Turning in the wind,
In the twilight wind.
They swept over the room,
Just as they flew from the boughs of the hemlocks
Down to the ground.
I heard them cry—the peacocks.
Was it a cry against the twilight
Or against the leaves themselves
Turning in the wind,
Turning as the flames
Turned in the fire,
Turning as the tails of the peacocks
Turned in the loud fire,
Loud as the hemlocks
Full of the cry of the peacocks?
Or was it a cry against the hemlocks?
|And here's an image mixing peacock and leaves--|
could not find peacocks in hemlocks!
Peacock in the Woods - 1907 (Public domain Wikipedia)
by Abbott Handerson Thayer (August 12, 1849 – May 29, 1921)