“We get our idea of angels from the birds, and they are masters of direction not by accident but because they have a high perspective. The world is less confusing when seen from above, and at the great speed at which they fly and turn, gravity and magnetism are exaggerated. Birds can feel the inertia of direction.”
“How do you know about birds?” …
“I spent a long time watching them when I myself was so broken that I felt no sense of human superiority.”
“Do you now?”
“How could I feel superior to something like a swallow, that rises so fast and falls with such abandon again and again and again, learning quickly and simply what life demands, and staying aloft despite what it knows.”
“Did you watch them with a telescope? Did you have a guidebook, like an Englishman?”
“No. They came close. I didn’t need a telescope. And I wasn’t interested in collecting sightings. Quite frankly, I was uninterested in what you can know of them from books. I admired the extraordinary qualities that are obvious and apparent ― that they are able to wheel in the blue and float among the clouds, and yet they always choose to return to earth, to nests of straw on spattered beams under the eaves of barns and churches; that, despite what they have seen, they are silent, except for singing; that though they are the emblem of freedom they have families; that they possess unimaginable power and endurance, and yet they sleep serenely and are, for the most part, as gentle as saints.”
From “La Rondine,” chapter X in Mark Helprin’s A Soldier of the Great War (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, ©1991), pp. 759-760.