The song comes from the cycle, Trois Melodies, with texts by Messiaen himself. The other two chansons are Le Sourire (The Smile) and La Fiancée perdue (The Lost Fiancée). Messiaen did not compose many other chansons for piano and voice.
Messiaen was also an organist and music teacher. Born in Avignon, France, Messiaen was a child prodigy, attending the Paris Conservatoire when he was still very young, from 1919 to 1930. Trois Melodies was published in 1930. In 1931 he took the post of organist at La Trinité in Paris. This appointment was vital for him, as it provided a means to compose sacred works – Messiaen was heavily religious. In June 1932 he married violinist and composer Claire Delbos. He fought in World War II, and was captured by the Germans and held prisoner at Görlitz in Silesia. He composed and performed several works there, until his release in Spring 1941. Afterwards he taught at the Paris Conservatoire until 1978.
Fun fact: There’s a mountain in Utah named for him – Mount Messiaen.
Verse 1: (A)
Why don’t the birds of the air?
Why don’t the glimmers of the water?
Why don’t the clouds of the sky? Why?
Verse 2: (A)
Why don’t the leaves of the autumn?
Why don’t the roses of the summer?
Why don’t the songs of the spring? Why?
Why don’t they have charms for me? Why? Oh, Why?
Messiaen uses a specific chord progression in this chanson, that was heavily used later on to imply certain religious themes. Because this song was composed so early on in his career, it is hard to say whether or not it was his intention to imply something religious. I do know that the composing of this cycle coincided with his mother's death. He could be questioning his faith because of his loss.
The piece is very melancholy and jazzy, with some elements of Debussy. Messiaen admired Debussy a lot, and used Debussy as a major influence on his early works.
The piece is most likely in binary form, with two A sections and a developmental B section. There's a long piano interlude that modulates to a major key. Here the singer's line and the piano settle on tonic, like a terminative section.