Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


A Charm Of Birds
by [?]

And so it may be, that in some simpler age, poets may go back, like the old Minnesingers, to the birds of the forest, and learn of them to sing.

And little do most of them know how much there is to learn; what variety of character, as well as variety of emotion, may be distinguished by the practised ear, in a ‘charm of birds’ (to use the old southern phrase), from the wild cry of the missel-thrush, ringing from afar in the first bright days of March, a passage of one or two bars repeated three or four times, and then another and another, clear and sweet, and yet defiant–for the great ‘stormcock’ loves to sing when rain and wind is coming on, and faces the elements as boldly as he faces hawk and crow–down to the delicate warble of the wren, who slips out of his hole in the brown bank, where he has huddled through the frost with wife and children, all folded in each other’s arms like human beings, for the sake of warmth,–which, alas! does not always suffice; for many a lump of wrens may be found, frozen and shrivelled, after a severe winter. Yet even he, sitting at his house-door in the low sunlight, says grace for all mercies (as a little child once worded it) in a song so rapid, so shrill, so loud, and yet so delicately modulated, that you wonder at the amount of soul within that tiny body; and then stops suddenly, as a child who has said its lesson, or got to the end of the sermon, gives a self-satisfied flirt of his tail, and goes in again to sleep.

Character? I know not how much variety of character there may be between birds of the same species but between species and species the variety is endless, and is shown–as I fondly believe–in the difference of their notes. Each has its own speech, inarticulate, expressing not thought but hereditary feeling; save a few birds who, like those little dumb darlings, the spotted flycatchers, seem to have absolutely nothing to say, and accordingly have the wit to hold their tongues; and devote the whole of their small intellect to sitting on the iron rails, flitting off them a yard or two to catch a butterfly in air, and flitting back with it to their nest.

But listen to the charm of birds in any sequestered woodland, on a bright forenoon in June. As you try to disentangle the medley of sounds, the first, perhaps, which will strike your ear will be the loud, harsh, monotonous, flippant song of the chaffinch; and the metallic clinking of two or three sorts of titmice. But above the tree-tops, rising, hovering, sinking, the woodlark is fluting, tender and low. Above the pastures outside the skylark sings–as he alone can sing; and close by, from the hollies rings out the blackbird’s tenor–rollicking, audacious, humorous, all but articulate. From the tree above him rises the treble of the thrush, pure as the song of angels: more pure, perhaps, in tone, though neither so varied nor so rich, as the song of the nightingale. And there, in the next holly, is the nightingale himself: now croaking like a frog; now talking aside to his wife on the nest below; and now bursting out into that song, or cycle of songs, in which if any man finds sorrow, he himself surely finds none. All the morning he will sing; and again at evening, till the small hours, and the chill before the dawn: but if his voice sounds melancholy at night, heard all alone, or only mocked by the ambitious black-cap, it sounds in the bright morning that which it is, the fulness of joy and love. Milton’s

‘Sweet bird, that shun’st the noise of folly,
Most musical, most melancholy,’