Interpretation of “The pigeons” by Pavlos Pavlides

For today’s entry I have opted to translate an emotional song by Pavlos Pavlides (Παύλος Παυλίδης). The translated title is The pigeons (Τα περιστέρια): It is an allegory about the brevity of life and our powerlessness in the grand scheme of things.

Further below are the original lyrics, my translation of them, and subsequent philosophical commentary.

Note that I have written about Pavlos before as I consider those works beautiful artistically and insightful intellectually:

Τα περιστέρια

Άφηνε όλα αυτά τα χρόνια το κορμί της
απλώς να βρίσκεται εκεί και να υπάρχει
και 'κείνο τόσα χρόνια είχε μάθει να ζεί
μαζί της

Τα περιστέρια περιμέναν στην πλατεία
κάθε απόγευμα να τα ταΐσει
όμως απόψε η παράξενη κυρία
είχε αργήσει

Μπήκε στο σπίτι της απότομα ο αέρας
και όπως τίναζε από πάνω του τ' αστέρια
την τρόμαξε και κάτι κρύα χέρια
της δείχνανε το τέλος της ημέρας

Από τότε όλα αυτά τα καλοκαίρια
μπαίνουν στο σπίτι με μηνύματα στο ράμφος
από τον άλλο κόσμο πέρα από το βάθος
Κάτι παράξενα πουλιά,
τα περιστέρια...

Αν σηκωθεί μέσα στον ύπνο σου ο αέρας
και 'ρθεί στο τζάμι σου μπροστά και μουρμουρίζει
πες του να πει μια ιστορία, τη γνωρίζει,
την ιστορία με την ωραία και το τέρας

Και 'γώ που χρόνια τώρα ζαλισμένος
γυρνώντας σπίτι μου περνάω απ’ την πλατεία
αναρωτιόμουν λίγο πριν αφηρημένος
τι ν’ απέγινε εκείνη η κυρία;
The pigeons

All those years she left her body
just be there and subsist
and it learnt all those years to live
with her

The pigeons awaited at the square
each evening for her to feed them
but tonight the strange lady
was late

The wind entered her house abruptly
and as it shook off it the stars
it startled he and some cold hands
showed her the end of the day

Since then all those summers
they enter with messages on their beak
from the other world beyond the depths
Some strange birds,
the pigeons...

If the wind starts blowing in your sleep
and comes in front of your window mumbling
tell it to tell you a story, it knows it,
the story with the beauty and the beast

And I who am dizzy many years now
pass by the square while on my way home
I wondered a while ago absent-mindedly
what happened to that lady?

To me, the lady of the poem is a person who had given up on life before “the cold hands” signalled her end. She neglected her self while finding solace in the city square’s pigeons. Feeding them added meaning to her life; the kind of meaning that she could not identify in her own presence.

The lady symbolises all of us who have not come to terms with who we are which, in essence, is our humanity. We lead mindless and wasteful lives as we assume that time is on our side. Instead of accepting our mortality, we postpone certain experiences, believing that we can always find what we want at some later point.

Opportunities go by yet we, caught in our mistaken attitude of dithering, explain them away as unworthy of our attention. Only to one day go for a walk and realise we have lived most of our life; lived it in denial. What happened? I was in my youth just the other day… Where is the lost decade?

As with the song’s lady, we neglect ourselves, failing to tend to all our needs. Instead, we reduce the totality of our experiences to disempowering routines that unfold within the realm of the known. Work, home, and work again. The same over and over. Incredibly dull! The body, then, learns to fake it and just be “there”, indifferent to what is happening.

[ Watch: Comfort zone and impostor feelings ]

We are living dead who somehow make it our life’s mission to toil all day for pointless causes. In our self-deception we tolerate all injustices we suffer because, fundamentally, we do not take them personally the way we should: our years are taken away from us and are served as sacrifice to the altars of some tyranny.

The pigeons symbolise our natural coping mechanism: they are our escapism. This body of ours wants to break free. It needs an outlet of creativity or, at the very least, a calming presence that is not related to this instituted reality that frames and confines us. We do not become friends with pigeons the way we do with dogs, for example, yet this is not pertinent to the escape function the interaction with them performs. What matters is that we find such activities to be rewarding because of how starkly they contrast with our dehumanising banality.

The pigeons and their fate after the lady’s passing also symbolise our powerlessness even towards our loved ones. What will happen to our friends if those frostbitten hands can no longer feed them? What if this cold wind is just too cold this time? Friends will have to manage even if this very thought puts us in tears.

Realising our powerlessness in the face of cosmic magnitudes needn’t be a cause for angst. We can take it with equanimity by recognising our actuality: we are but a tiny factor in a cosmos that does not revolve around us. What we really dread is the loss of something we never have: control. The world will continue its ever-lasting cycle. Worrying that it won’t constitutes a misunderstanding of how things stand.

As for what happened to that lady? I think she figured it all out before the end. Doing something we like is what ultimately matters to our subjectivity. And who knows? Maybe those are not pigeons after all, but some otherworldly presences that are here to rescue us from our self-destructive habits. Such weird birds they are.