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of his letters, "the loud solitary whistle of the curlew in a summer noon, or the wild mixing cadence of a troop of gray plovers in an autumnal morning, without feeling an elevation of soul like the enthusiasm of devotion or poetry."
Even the Greek minor poets, the swarm of them that are represented in the Greek Anthology, rarely make affectionate mention of the birds, except perhaps Sappho, whom Ben Jonson makes speak of the nightingale as
"The dear glad angel of the spring."
The cicada, the locust, and the grasshopper, are often referred to, but rarely by name any of the common birds. That Greek grasshopper must have been a wonderful creature. He was a sacred object in Greece, and is spoken of by the poets as a charming songster. What we would say of birds the Greek said of this favorite insect. When Socrates and Phædrus came to the fountain shaded by the planetree, where they had their famous discourse, Socrates said, "Observe the freshness of the spot, how charming and very delightful it is, and how summer-like and shrill it sounds from the choir of grasshoppers." One of the poets in the Anthology finds a grasshopper struggling in a spider's web, which he releases with the words:
"Go safe and free with your sweet voice of song." Another one makes the insect say to a rustic who had captured him:
"Me, the Nymphs' wayside minstrel whose sweet note
O'er sultry hill is heard, and shady grove to float."
Still another sings how a grasshopper took the place of a broken string on his lyre, and "filled the cadence due."
"For while six chords beneath my fingers cried,
And when he sang, his modulated throat
While we are trying to introduce the lark in this country, why not try this Pindaric grasshopper also?
It is to the literary poets and to the minstrels of a softer age that we must look for special mention of the song-birds and for poetical rhapsodies upon them. The nightingale is the most general favorite, and nearly all the more noted English poets have sung her praises. To the melancholy poet she is melancholy, and to the cheerful she is cheerful. Shakespeare in one of his sonnets speaks of her song as mournful, while Martial calls her the "most garrulous" of birds. Milton sang –
"Sweet bird, that shunn'st the noise of folly,
Most musical, most melancholy,
Thee, chantress, oft the woods among
I woo, to hear thy evening song."
To Wordsworth she told another story:
"O nightingale! thou surely art
A creature of ebullient heart;
they pierce and pierce;
Tumultuous harmony and fierce!
Thou sing'st as if the god of wine
Of shades, and dews, and silent night,
In a like vein Coleridge sang:
"T is the merry nightingale
That crowds and hurries and precipitates
With fast, thick warble his delicious notes."
Keats's poem on the nightingale is doubtless more in the spirit of the bird's strain than any other. It is less a description of the song and more the song itself. Hood called the nightingale
"The sweet and plaintive Sappho of the dell."
I mention the nightingale only to point my remarks upon its American rival, the famous mocking-bird of the Southern States, which is also a nightingale - a night-singer- and which no doubt excels the OldWorld bird in the variety and compass of its powers. The two birds belong to totally distinct families, there being no American species which answers to the European nightingale, as there are that answer to the robin, the cuckoo, the blackbird, and numerous others. Philomel has the color, manners, and habits of a thrush
our hermit-thrush-but it is not a thrush at all, but a warbler. I gather from the books that its song is protracted and full rather than melodious, a capricious, long-continued warble, doubling and redoubling, rising and falling, issuing from the groves and
the great gardens, and associated in the minds of the poets with love and moonlight and the privacy of sequestered walks. All our sympathies and attractions are with the bird, and we do not forget that Arabia and Persia are there back of its song.
Our nightingale has mainly the reputation of the caged bird, and is famed mostly for its powers of mimicry, which are truly wonderful, enabling the bird to exactly reproduce and even improve upon the notes of almost any other songster. But in a state of freedom it has a song of its own which is infinitely rich and various. It is a garrulous polyglot when it chooses to be, and there is a dash of the clown and the buffoon in its nature which too often flavors its whole performance, especially in captivity; but in its native haunts, and when its love-passion is upon it, the serious and even grand side of its character comes out. In Alabama and Florida its song may be heard all through the sultry summer night, at times low and plaintive, then full and strong. A friend of Thoreau and a careful observer, who has resided in Florida, tells me that this bird is a much more marvelous singer than it has the credit of being. He describes a habit it has of singing on the wing on moonlight nights, that would be worth going South to hear. Starting from a low bush, it mounts in the air and continues its flight apparently to an altitude of several hundred feet, remaining on the wing a number of minutes, and pouring out its song with the utmost clearness and abandon -a slowly rising mu
sical rocket that fills the night air with harmonious sounds. Here are both the lark and nightingale in one; and if poets were as plentiful down South as they are in New England, we should have heard of this song long ago, and had it celebrated in appropri ate verse. But so far only one Southern poet, Wilde, has accredited the bird this song. This he has done in the following admirable sonnet:
TO THE MOCKING-BIRD.
Winged mimic of the woods! thou motley fool
Thine ever-ready notes of ridicule
Pursue thy fellows still with jest and gibe.
Aside from this sonnet, the mocking-bird has got into poetical literature, so far as I know, in only one notable instance, and that in the page of a poet where we would least expect to find him- a bard who habitually bends his car only to the musical surge and rhythmus of total nature, and is as little wont to turn aside for any special beauties or points as the most austere of the ancient masters. I refer to Walt Whitman's "Out of the cradle endlessly rocking," in which