[ocr errors]

step, with its legs set well wide apart, with miod”! and believed (or pretended to be. all the circumspection of a Chinaman, but lieve, which, in Cowper especially, was keeping its eyes as keenly about it for worse) that it "committed its eggs inchance morsels of refuse as a London cautious to the dust"! It is amusing to scavenger. The traffic, both of vehicles find Montgomery thus apologizing for the and foot passengers, may be considerable, ostrich's supposed neglect of its treasbut the vulture is there as a municipal | ures:institution – and knows it. No one thinks of molesting it; indeed if it chose And to the desert's mercies left thy nest ?

Hast thou expelled the mother from thy heart, to obstruct the footway, the natives would Ah! 10. The mother in me knows her part. make way for it; children let them alone, Yon glorious sun is warmer than my heart. and dogs do not run after them.

So they go plodding through their day's work, sol. It seems almost a pity that the poets did emn and shabby and hungry, uncom- not know the tradition that the ostrich plaining and poor, and at night flap up hatches her eggs simply by looking at into some tree and quietly doze off to them. What openings here for iinaginasleep. This is the lowest, the meanest of tion and metaphor ! all the vulture family, but what is there

*Greedy" is a favorite ostrich, or to lose one's temper over in the poor dust. “optridge,” epithet in poetry; but it was and-dirt bird, this hardworking and dull reserved for Lovelace to condense their lived vulture? Why bombard it with animadversions into a quatrain of er. such magnificent abuse and waste so much rors :expensive poetic frenzy over a bird that Ostrich! Thou feathered fool, and easy prey, will breakfast with relish off a dirty dish. That larger sails to thy house vessel need'st! clout and lunch, dine, and sup on the rec- Snakes through thy gutter-neck hiss all the day, ollection of its breakfast? "As Words- Then in thy iron mess at supper feed’st ! worth said to the robin that would go on

n Such, then, is the sum of the poets' chasing a butterfly, I would say to the ostrich' love; but I would hesitate to poers who persist in pursuing the vul.

pronounce it adequate in either quantity ture :

or quality. Love him, or leave him alone,

*The sad pelican — subject divine Of the ostrich “the steele digesting

For poetry, bird," as Quarles delights in calling it. says Marvell. And yet, but for one very the poets bad only the usual popular igno- notable exception, the poets' pelican

For them this magnificent lowl might be summed up as an “indulgent “the silliest of the feathered kind,"desert-bird,” that kills herself to feed her and a “feathered fool,” because they, the young. The absurdity of this might have poets, believed antiquity, when it told been supposed immense enough even to the story of the ostrich burying its head strike a poet, but no-one after the other in the sand, and thinking that it could we find themsinsisting on the mother pelnot be seen because it could not see.

So, ican sacrificing her life to give her chilit is true

dren a meal. It was well enough for

Savage to say, Whole nations, fooled by falsehood, fear, or pride,

In the soft pelican is love expressed, Their ostrich heads in self-illusion hide ;

Who opens to the young her tender breast; but an ostrich never does so.

On the but those who extend this devotion unto contrary, next to the goose, it is one of self-destruction stretch the idea too far. the very wisest of birds. It takes a good | Thus, Moore, always an enemy to sense, horse and a good man to make one Arab sings, of the desert, and it takes three Arabs of No, thy chains as they rankle, thy blood as it the desert to hunt one ostrich - and

runs, then they do not kill it, as a rule; while if But make thee more painfully dear to thy the ostrich only gets the wind fairly aster. wards, they have not a chance.

Whose hearts, like the young of the desert

bird's nest, It is also one of the most careful of parents -- the male and female vying with Drink love in each life-drop that flows from

thy breast. each other, even to a breach of the do. mestic peace, in attending to their eggs The “notable exception " alluded to

Yet the poets said it was above is, of course, Montgomery's lengthy “forined of God, without a parent's / poem, " The Pelican Island,” in which the


[ocr errors]



and young.






“ solemn pellicon." receives such an elab- His crest, an ibis brandishing her beak, orate delineation as has not fallen to the And winding in loose folds her spiral neck. lot of any other bird in all the range of Garth's solitary reference to the ibis poetry. For the most part the natural bird upon which rested so much of the history of the poem is of a high order, superstition of old Egypt — is a striking and this, too, without detracting materi-instance of the curious preferences shown ally from the beauty of the passages. in by the poets. The sanctity and mystic which we meet with such very unpoet-like potencies of the ibis are among the earliaccuracy.

est records of bird-lore, and its absence The noble birds, with skill spontaneous, framed from poetry can only be accounted for by A nest of weeds among the giant grass, its corresponding absence from heraldry ; That waved in lights and shadows o'er the soil. Garth's single reference to the bird reThere, in sweet thraldom, yet unknowing why, The patient dam, who ne'er till now had known sulting from his own creation of an imagiParental instinct, brooded:o'er her eggs,

nary crest.

Another illustration of the Long e'er she found the curious secret out,

same caprice as to birds is the complete That life was hatching in their brittle shells.

silence of our poets as to the famingo, Then from a wild, rapacious bird of prey,

and except again in Montgomery (and an Tamed by the kindly process, she became incidental allusion in Shelley) I do not That gentlest of all living things — a mother; know where I should look for it between Gentlest while yearning o'er her naked young, Chaucer and Wordsworth. Fiercest when stirred by anger to defend them. Her mate himself the softening power con- Wading through marshes where the rank sea. fessed,

weed Forgot his sloth, restrained his appetite, With spongy moss and flaccid lichens strove, And ranged the sky and fished the stream for Flamingos in their crimson tunics stalked

On stately legs with far-exploring eye ; Or, when o'er-wearied nature forced her off Or fed and slept in regimental lines, To shake her torpid feathers in the breeze, Watched by their sentinels, whose clarion And bathe her bosom in the cooling flood, He took her place, and felt through every All in an instant woke the startled troop,

That mounted like a glorious exhalation While the plump nestlings throbbed against Nor paused till, on some lonely coast alighting, his heart,

Again their gorgeous cohort took the field. The tenderness that makes the vulture mild; Yea, half unwillingly his post resigned,

The flamingo is not, of course, a bird When, homesick with the absence of an hour, that our poets need be expected to know She hurried back, and drove him from her seat well, seeing how little they know of their With pecking bill and cry of fond distress, own nightingales and doves, but it is well Answered by him with murmurs of delight, worth noting how, while they ignore such Whose gutturals, harsh to her, were love's own notable birds as the ibis and flamingo,

music. Then, settling down, like foam upon the wave,

they should conspire to immortalize the White, Aickering, effervescent, soon subsiding

“sic-sac” plover. Her ruffled pinions smoothly she composed,

One of the most conspicuous curiosities And, while beneath the comfort of her wings,

of natural history is, no doubt, the friendly Her crowded progeny quite filled the nest : alliance between Leviathan and the “sic. The halcyon sleeps not sounder, when the wind sac” plover – Is breathless, and the sea without a curl, Nor dreams the halcyon of serener days,

The bold bird on the banks of the Nile, Or nights more beautiful with silent stars, That picks the teeth of the dire crocodile. Than, in that hour, the mother Pelican, When the warm tumults of affection sunk Herodotus was the first to tell Europe of Into calm sleep and dreams of what they were, this phase of Egyptian crocodile worship, Dreams more delicious than reality.

and ibere is nothing to add to his account. He sentinel beside her stood, and watched The sic-sac, finding the crocodile asleep With jealous eye the raven in the clouds, yvith its jaws open, flits round the reptile's And the rank sea-mews whirling round the bead, hawking for insects that infest its cliffs.

maw, and even pecks up those that have The remarkable poem from which this settled inside the jaws, the crocodile lying extract is made rescues the pelican very as placid and contented during the sootheffectually from the category of totally ing operation as a cow when starlings are neglected birds. Otherwise, it would keeping off flies from its face. Spenser, only have lived in verse as a " desert-fcuriously enough, cites the procedure of bird," which it is not that commits the sic-sac as an instance of the small suicide out of affection, which it does not. compelling the great, making it enter the

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

jaws of Leviathan as a conqueror rather | and of liberty; but why of liberty they do than a bumble minister:

not explain. Besides the fruitfull shore of muddie Nile,

Part more wise, Upon a sunnie bank outstretched lay

In common, ranged in figure, wedge their way, In monstrous length a mightie crocodile,

Intelligent of seasons, and set forth That, cram'd with guiltless blood and greedy Flying, and over lands, with mutual wing

Their airy caravan ; high over seas pray Of wretched people travailing that way,

Easing their fight --so steers the prudent Thought all things lesse than his disdainful pride.

This “embody'd flight” of the migrating I saw a little bird called Tedula,

crane is a poetical image as old as the The least of thousands which on earth abide, Iliad — and therefore older — but it is That forced this hideous beast to open wide

one to which many besides Milton bave The grisly gates of his devouring hell, And let him feede, as nature doth provide,

recourse as a simile from nature for dis. Upon his jaws that with black vermine swell that the mutual wing" should be a fic.

cipline and mutual reliance. It is a pity Why then should greatest things the least disdain,

tion, for the idea that each bird rests its Sith that so small so mightie can constrain ?

head on the back of the bird before it in fight, is a charming one.

But the other I am not sure that this extension of the feature of the crane's personality — its natural parable, itself so very poetical, is stateliness in walking – which is popular attended with any advantage. Nor does with the poets, is undeniably accurate ; Moore's translation of it benefit the origi- for, as Drayton says, Dal fact.

The stately crane doth stryde * as though he The puny bird that dares with teasing hum

marched to Warre. Within the crocodile's stretch'd jaws to come,

It is, however, as usual, a legend that is the poet's characteristically inaccurate chiefly attracts the poets to the bird, and reference to the sic-sac, for he makes the reference to “ that small infantry warred error of supposing it — from its legendary on by the cranes" is, as a rule, the prename of trochilus

to be a “humming 5 text for its introduction. These pigmies, t bird. It does not "bum " at all, its own of which we read so much, were, the poets note being “sic-sac.” He then says it is tell us, a tiny race of doubtful localization, "teasing," when, of course, it is especially who plundered the nests of the cranes comforting to Leviathan, and is present of Scythia,” as they needed the shells at the banquet by his express invitation. for building themselves houses. But, as Indeed, the crocodile always takes care to it happens, they were chiefly " cavalry," warn the sic-sac that it is going to shut and not infantry, for they rode to the its jaws, for fear its little friend should campaigns on lambs and kids. The gen. get accidentally hurt! The real point, eral impression seems to be that the therefore, and which the poets carefully cranes used to get the best of the fighting avoid, is the curious league and compact, - which is hardly to be wondered at, see. for mutual comfort, between such incon- ing that the warrior “longshanks” I had gruous creatures.

so much the better of their opponents in The stork has very few, but they are all size; for the pigmies, it would appear, thoroughly appreciative, references; for were of such indifferent stature and even Quarles's “chattering ”is meant in strength that they had to sell corn with a complimentary sense — that the bird is hatchets, as if it had been a forest, and to sociable and of a chattery kind. They clear away from under it when the stalks are " by God's appointment” the birds of came crashing down. Yet they were a “Lebanon's aspiring pride of cedars,” and race of an admirable fortitude. wherever nesting are “by liberty and peace But in itself the crane has much to carest." Their migrations are considered, commend it to more poetical consideraperhaps, from the eye of the birds, to be tion than it has ever received. Its trumsomething more intelligent than ordinary; pet-note deserved some more dignified refand, while several poets ask in wonder how the stork can possibly do so, one Spenser says, “ And stalking stately as a crane, poet boldly attributes to them “human doth stryde at every step.” The image is a favorite virtues," They are, moreover, the em.


"Tribes of pigmy birth,

Who freeze alive, nor dead in dust repose, blems of “true piety” (for the poets still

High hung in forests to the casing snows.' hold with the fiction of the young stork

Rogers. carrying its mother about on its back), Crane" = "


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]



[ocr errors]

erence than mere “clamor" or "scream,” Those golden birds that, in the spice time, while its conspicuous elegance would drop command remark in any one who wrote About the gardens, drunk with that sweet food of it from observation. Cranes are also Whose scent hath lured them o'er the summer

flood. of singular intelligence (punctuality is in itself wisdom, and “punctual” is one of The plumage of the birds of paradise its poetical epithets from antiquity), for has always been in great request all over though they do not carry stones in their the East, their price being paid in pearls claws to balance themselves when they by Indian princes, or in slaves; the perfiy, nor sand in their beaks, as the an- fect skin of the “emerald ” species being cients thought, and heraldry still believes; considered a fair equivalent for a beautiand though they have not that sagacity in ful girl. In one solitary instance its flesh the detection of crime which is supposed also was placed beyond price, for Helioto have brought the murderers of Ibycus gabalus, determined to eat “the phenix," to the gallows; yet they are as wise as ordered the rare fowl in Arabian woods shepherds' dogs — and I do not know embossed, anything wiser than that, unless it be

That no second knows nor kind, Mother Shipton or the “ Vox Stellaruin” of Old Moore.

to be caught for the table. Eventually he It was a favorite, both as a pet and a received a bird of paradise, and conroast, among all the nations of antiquity, vinced from its beauty that it was the verand in more modern times has been the table phenix, he até it up and went to dish of honor at royal banquets in all the his fathers contented. countries of Europe. It was and is a

In nature, nothing can be inore strangefavorite device and crest, and heraldry is ly poetical than this feathered wonder, full of cranes. It was a favorite in fables and never surely was any beauty so false;

was a favorite wedding present;* in for the pride that it takes in its own lovefact, a favorite everywhere, and with liness often betrays the bird of paradise everybody, except the poets.

to the hunter, whilst its floating, trailing As the bird of paradise is a crow, it plumes prevent it from finding refuge shares its conscious clumsiness of leg where other birds are safe. In conspicuand foot. The poetical savage of New ous contrast to such exquisite adornments Guinea recognized these appendages as a is its coarse beak, harsh raven's voice, blemish, and when preparing the bird's and favorite cockroach diet. Altogether, skin for sale, used to cut them off.

it abounds with such “ morals ” as poets The “bird of paradise” — the “phe usually delight to draw, but in this case nix” birds of the sun, “birds of God,” they have been rejected even by Eliza for these are among its titles therefore

Cook and Mrs. Hemans. It is very difficame into the European market legless, cult to discover any principle in such re. and, still legless, found its way into her-jection of opportunities;” but as it is aldry and poetry. Whenever used as a with the bird of paradise, so it is with the crest (and it has splendid heraldic tradi. humming-bird. tions) it bore some such motto as “Nil Art thou a bird, or bee, or butterfly? mihi terra,” “Semper sublimis,'

» « Terram indignata fugit,” “Non sum terra tua;”

asks one poet, and the rest answer the and whenever'it occurs in poetry it'is question each to his own fancy: Some either as being perpetually afloat, feeding and half bird. Some make it all bee, and

say half fly, half bird; others, half bee on dew, sleeping on the wing, or “resto others all Ay, while the remainder distribing”in mid-air. Linnæus himself gave an apparent con

ute it in irregular fractions over the three. firmation to the myth by naming the

But there is little or no beauty in the emerald birds of paradise, apodn; and poet's treatment of the humming.bird — Buffon seems really to have believed they vested with such bewitching charm.

a theme that prose writers have often inwere legless; while Tavernica recording the fiction of their becoming intoxicated Thou lovely Bee-bird, may'st thou rove on nutmegs, and of ants eating off their

Thro' spicy vale and citron grove, legs as they lay helpless on the ground,

And woo and win thy Auttering love misled Moore into singing of

With plume so bright, * " From the fact of nine cranes being recorded is only very indifferently “poetical;' among the presents received at the wedding of the while the continuation, daughter of Mr. More, of Loseley, in 1567, it would appear that these birds were tolerably common in En- The rapid fly, more heard than seen, gland at that date.” (British Birds and their Haunts). Mid orange-boughs of polished green,

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

way to

[ocr errors]

is, further, incorrect. The silent flash of And again, in the hymn to Camdeo, the a humming-bird, if once seen, can never Cupid of Hindostan, be forgotten, nor ever "heard.”

O thou for ages born, yet ever young, Nor, when a poet begins an ode to the For ages may thy Brahmin's lay be sung ! humming-bird,

And when thy lory spreads his emerald wings

To waft thee high above the tower of kings. Minstrel of the feathered kind,

For the parrot is a notable bird in the is it possible to entertain any serious re- East, an above all, as the bird of love spect for the writer's appreciation of na. and the steed of the god of the blossomture, however pretty it may be to 'repre- headed snows, exacts the reverence of sent the humming bird as being the the Hindoo millions. But in English “bird-kind's epitome.”

poetry it is only the ape among the birds; It possesses, apparently, a special at- an odious libel on the human voice.” traction for lady poets - Mrs. Hemans, Cowper especially went out of his Eliza Cook, Mary Howitt, and Charlotte affront the parrot - simply because it can Smitb, all expatiating, but without any be taught to initate human speech, and originality, upon this feathered miracle. because it can only say as much as it is Campbell calls the humming birds “swans taught! To base a reproach against the of rainbows," and the same attractive poet for such a display of ill-nature may idea seems to be conveyed in Montgom seem trivial and whimsical enough, but if ery's “showers" of humming-birds, while many such instances of unnecessary and Rogers's “fairy king of flowers ” is unmis commonplace prejudice are accumulated, takably good; but he shares in the poets' it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that error of the humming-bird's “song di- the poet's perpetually vaunted " sympathy vine.”

with nature" does not really exist. The As a bird of beauty, then, the humming: parrot is a bird of extraordinary beauty bird is wasted, while regard is canvassed and astonishing intelligence. Few feathfor it on the fictitious virtue of its song! ered things rival it in brilliance and vari. This is surely a curious reversal of na-ety of plumage, and none in the size of ture's intention.

its brain. Moreover, it is emphatically a Among the "caged birds” of the poets, creature of freedom and space, and reexotics prized either for song or plumage, quires for its proper setting a background are the canary, cockatoo, macaw, and par- with at least a grove of trees, or a great rot. Lyttelton rescues the first from to- sweep of open sky, or an old ruin with its tal neglect by his charming verse : battlement fretted by age into crevices

and loopholes — and above all it is a A bird for Thee in silken bonds I hold, Whose yellow plumage shines like polished heard them gossiping together in pleas

creature of sunlight. Those who have gold: From distant isles the lovely stranger came,

ant, soft undertones, as they swung like And bears the fortunate Canaries' name.

blossoms on the trees; or have seen them,

as if some swift gust of wind had sudGay finds a simile for Frenchmen in the denly taken color, sweep across an open cockatoo,

space, never think of parrots as mere old

maids' pets. Indeed, for any one to do Monkeys in action, parroquets in talk,

so shows a lack of tenderness towards na. They're crowned with feathers like a cockatoo; ture that is not either attractive or poetical. and for courtiers in macaws. The


It is we, the men and women of a sunless rots, poor wretches! “cursed with a pos. country, that cage up parrots in our small tulating resemblance to man,” find no rooms, and it seems hardly worthy, therefriend or even apologist. But Sir Wil- fore, of the poet of the Idiot Lad to sneer liam Jones

and he knew this bird's at the captive stranger delightful Oriental associations — has a Fraught with antics as the Indian bird, word of admiration for it:

That writhes and chatters in her wiry cage. Nor absent he-who leaves the human sound,

Nor, seeing that it is human beings who With wavy gold and moving emeralds crown'd: teach parrots the use and abuse of words, Whose head and breast with polish'd sapphires does it seem to me fair of the poets to glow,

hang so much prejudice against the bird And on whose wings the gens of Ind do grow. on such a peg.


« VorigeDoorgaan »