An old falcon, one of those whose ancestors were used for hunting, sits in a solitary tree and tells himself stories about how it was in those proud days (developed with an element of fanaticism). In a swamp below, concealed by rushes, sit two frogs in deepest amazement at what the falcon is telling; they were just about to tell their own life-stories to each other when they became aware of the falcon and now are too embarrassed to begin. Kierkegaard’s Journals VI A 130
Now the lily of the field! Even if it has a good livelihood, it does not compare its prosperity with anyone’s poverty; even if it is free from care in all its loveliness, it compares itself neither with Solomon nor with the most wretched of persons. Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, March 13, 1847 by Soren Kierkegaard, copyright 1993 by Howard Hong, Princeton University Press p. 161 To Be Contented with Being a Human Being (p 159ff)
The lily in the field and the bird in the air were portrayed as contented with their situations. The lily didn’t worry about other flowers and make comparisons about the diversity of flowers and differences between one and another. But Soren Kierkegaard paints a different picture in this discourse about contentment.
Once upon a time there was a lily that stood in an isolated spot beside a small brook and was well known to some nettles and also to a few other small flowers nearby. The lily was, according to the Gospel’s truthful account, more beautifully clothed than Solomon in all his glory and in addition was joyful and free of care all the day long. Imperceptibly and blissfully time slipped by, like running water that murmurs and disappears.
It so happened that one day a little bird came and visited the lily; it came again the next day, then stayed away a few days before it came again, which struck the lily as odd and inexplicable-inexplicable that the bird, just like the flowers, did not remain in the same place, odd that the bird could be so capricious. But as so often happens, the lily fell more and more in love with the bird precisely because it was capricious. (167)
Isn’t it just the same with human beings? There one sits happy with his or her lot in life and along comes a “naughty bird” as Kierkegaard says of this capricious being. The flower is like the statue that can’t move unless moved by another.
This lily had a great career in the field with the rest of the flowers but a naughty bird brought doubt and discontent to the lily.
Instead of putting itself in the lily’s place, instead of delighting in its innocent bliss, the bird would show off in its feeling of freedom by making the lily feel its lack of freedom.
The lily begins to question it existence because: The little bird had told it that of all the lilies the Crown Imperial was regarded as the most beautiful and was the envy of all other lilies.
And then to look as inferior as I do,” said the lily to itself, “to be as insignificant as the little bird says I am-oh, why did I not come into existence some other place, under other conditions, why did I not become a Crown Imperial!
That lily became more agitated after every visit from the bird. Now the lily has that “sickly anxiety with which many people speak of the dreadfulness of not having found their place in the world.” (Either/Or Part 2 1843 Hong tr. p. 252) How can this poor lily overcome this worry? The anxiety has been implanted by the bird but the lily has to live with the feeling of insignificance.
The bird gets the lily to make the move that will solve all its problems. The lily is carried to the field where the Crown Imperial lives and lived happily ever after. Do you think it happened that way? The lily was anxious about its place in the world and this indicated that it expected more from the place than from itself.
Early the next morning, the bird came; with its beak it pecked the soil away from the root of the lily so that it could become free. Having done this, the bird took the lily under its wing and flew away. The decision was that the bird should fly with the lily to the place where the gorgeous lilies blossomed and then in turn help the lily to be planted down there in the hope that the change of place and with the new surroundings the lily might succeed in becoming a gorgeous lily in the company of all the others, or perhaps even a Crown Imperial, envied by all the others. (Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits p. 168-169)
The lily was happy until the bird induced it to compare itself with other lilies in the field. The story didn’t end so well for the lily because it withered in its new home and died. Soren Kierkegaard came out against the constant comparisons made between one person and another and he used the parable of the lily of the field to make his point.
Kierkegaard made the same point again in this same discourse by making use of the wood dove and barn dove. p. 174 ff Here is his book on Amazon – I recommend this book to individuals interested in the Christian ideas of Soren Kierkegaard.
He begins the discourse this way:
Once upon a time there was a wood-dove; it had its nest in the scowling forest, out there where wonder lives in apprehension among the secluded tall trees. But now far away, where smoke rises from the farmer’s house, lived some of its distant relatives, some tame doves. It met a pair of them occasionally. The wood-dove sat on a branch that stretched out over the farmyard; the two tame doves sat on the ridge of the roof; yet the separation was not so great that they could not exchange ideas in conversation. One day they talked about the condition of things at the time and about making a living. p. 174
there is equality in relation to the divinely appointed teachers: the lilies in the field and the birds of the air. p. 182
Kierkegaard is talking about all the happy people who are blooming where they have been planted and the naughty people who come to them and whisper doubts and despair into their ears until they uproot themselves to their own chagrin.