Pigeons on the grass, alas


Followers of this blog and readers of our books will know of our unhealthy fascination with Gertrude Stein and with pigeons. Here’s Stein’s famous pigeons piece in its entirety:

 “Pigeons on the grass, alas. Pigeons on the grass, alas. Short longer grass short longer, longer shorter yellow grass. Pigeons, large pigeons on the shorter longer yellow grass, alas, pigeons on the grass.”

Thurber saw the whole pigeon question differently:

It is neither just nor accurate to connect the word ‘alas’ with pigeons. Pigeons are definitely not ‘alas.’ They have nothing to do with ‘alas’ and they have nothing to do with ‘hooray,’ not even when you tie red, white, and blue ribbons on them and let them loose at band concerts. They have nothing to do with ‘Mercy me’ or ‘Isn’t that fine?’ either. White rabbits, yes, and Scotch terriers, and blue jays, and even hippopotamuses, but not pigeons. I happen to have studied pigeons very closely and carefully, and I have studied the effect or, rather – the lack of effect – of pigeons very carefully. A number of pigeons alight from time to time on the sill of my hotel window when I am eating breakfast and staring out the window. They never ‘alas’ me, they never make me feel ‘alas,’ they never make me feel anything. Nobody and no animal and no other bird can play a scene so far down as a pigeon can. For instance, when a pigeon on my window ledge becomes aware of me sitting there in a chair in my blue, polka-dot dressing gown, worrying, he pokes his head far out from his shoulders and peers sideways at me, for all the world – Miss Stein might surmise – like a timid man peering around the corner of a building trying to ascertain whether he is being followed by some hoofed fiend or only by the echo of his own footsteps.

Since we’re talking about audiobooks, here’s a reading of this Thurber piece, with some wise words to say about dogs as well:

Some dogs peer at me as if I had just gone completely crazy or as if they had just gone completely crazy. I can go so far as to say that most dogs peer at me that way.


4 thoughts on “Pigeons on the grass, alas

  1. Gertrude Stein said that the passage was a vision of the Holy Spirit. (No kidding!). And I expect that the “alas” was that pigeons cannot soar in the sky like magpies, with which they are contrasted in the section. They are largely confined to the ground. So I suspect that Gertrude Stein was seeing the pigeons as symbols of us poor humans, confined to the ground, and the magpies as symbolic of the Holy Spirit, soaring in heaven.

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