21 October 2009

Bird-Themed Poetry From the Atlantic Monthly in the 1860s

The Titmouse.

You shall not be over-bold
When you deal with arctic cold,
As late I found my lukewarm blood
Chilled wading in the snow-choked wood
How should I fight? my foeman fine
Has million arms to one of mine
East, west, for aid I looked in vain;
East, west, north, south, are his domain.
Miles off, three dangerous miles, is home;
Must borrow his winds who there would come.
Up and away for life! be fleet!
The frost-king times my fumbling feet,
Sings in my ears, my hands are stones,
Curdles the blood to the marble bones,
Tugs at the heartstrings, numbs the sense,
Hems in the life with narrowing fence.
Well in this broad bed lie and sleep,
The punctual stars will vigil keep,
Embalmed by purifying cold,
The winds shall sing their dead-march old,
The snow is no ignoble shroud,
The moon thy mourner, and the cloud.
Softly, — but this way fate was pointing,
'T was coming fast to such anointing,
When piped a tiny voice hard by,
Gay and polite, a cheerful cry,
"Chic-chic-a-dee-dee!" saucy note,
Out of sound heart and merry throat,
As if it said, "Good day, good Sir!
Fine afternoon, old passenger!
Happy to meet you in these places,
Where January brings few men's faces."
This poet, though he lives apart,
Moved by a hospitable heart,
Sped, when I passed his sylvan fort,
To do the honors of his court,
As fits a feathered lord of land,
Flew near, with soft wing grazed my hand,
Hopped on the bough, then, darting low,
Prints his small impress on the snow,
Shows feats of his gymnastic play,
Head downward, clinging to the spray,
Here was this atom in full breath.
This scrap of valor just for play
Fronts the north-wind in waistcoat gray,
As if to shame my weak behavior.
I greeted loud my little savior;
"Thou pet! what dost here? and what for?
In these woods, thy small Labrador,
At this pinch, wee San Salvador!
What fire burns in that little chest,
So frolic, stout, and self-possest?
Didst steal the glow that lights the West?
Henceforth I wear no stripe but thine:
Ashes and black all hues outshine.
Why are not diamonds black and gray,
To ape thy dare-devil array?
And I affirm the spacious North
Exists to draw thy virtue forth.
I think no virtue goes with size:
The reasons of all cowardice
Is, that men are overgrown,
And, to be valiant, must come down
To the titmouse dimension."
'T is good-will makes intelligence,
And I began to catch the sense
Of my bird's song: "Live out of doors,
In the great woods, and prairie floors.
I dine in the sun; when he sinks in the sea,
I, too, have a hole in a hollow tree.
And I like less when summer beats
With stifling beams on these retreats
Than noontide twilights which snow makes
With tempest of the blinding flakes:
For well the soul, if stout within,
Can arm impregnably the skin;
And polar frost my frame defied,
Made of the air that blows outside."
With glad remembrance of my debt,
I homeward turn. Farewell, my pet!
When here again they pilgrim comes,
He shall bring store of weeds and crumbs.
Henceforth I prize thy wiry chant
O'er all that mass and minister vaunt:
For men mishear thy call in spring,
As 't would accost some frivolous wing,
Crying out of the hazel copse, "Phe-be!"
And in winter, "Chic-a-dee-dee!"
I think old Caesar must have heard
In Northern Gaul my dauntless bird,
And, echoed in some frosty wold,
Borrowed the battle-numbers bold.
And thank thee for a better clew:
I, who dreamed not, when I came here,
To find the antidote of fear,
Now hear thee say in Roman key,
"Paean! Ve-ni, Vi-di, Vi-ci."
Anonymous. May, 1862. Atlantic Monthly 9(55): 585-587.

The Bobolinks

When Nature had made all her birds,
And had no cares to think on,
She gave a rippling laugh — and out
There flew a Bobolinkon.
She laughed again, — out flew a mate.
A breeze of Eden bore them
Across the fields of Paradise,
The sunrise reddening o'er them.
Incarnate sport and holiday,
They flew and sang forever;
Their souls through June were all in tune,
Their wings were weary never.
The blithest song of breezy farms,
Quaintest of field-notes flavors,
Exhaustless fount of trembling trills
And demisemiquavers.
Their tribe, still drunk with air and light
And perfume of the meadow,
Go reeling up and down the sky,
In sunshine and in shadow.
One springs from out the dew-wet grass,
Another follows after;
The morn is thrilling with their songs
And peals of fairy laughter.
From out the marshes and the brook,
They set the tall reeds swinging,
And meet and frolic in the air,
Half prattling and half singing.
When morning winds sweep meadow lands
In green and russet billows,
And toss the lonely elm-tree's boughs,
And silver all the willows,
I see you buffeting the breeze,
Or with its motion swaying,
Your notes half drowned against the wind,
Or down the current playing.
When far away o'er grassy flats,
Where the thick wood commences,
The white-sleeved mowers look like specks
Beyond the zigzag fences.
And noon is hot, and barn-roofs gleam
White in the pale-blue distance,
I hear the saucy minstrels still
In chattering persistence.
When Eve her domes of opal fire
Piles round the blue horizon,
Or thunder rolls from hill to hill
A Kyrie Eleison, —
Still, merriest of the merry birds,
Your sparkle is unfading, —
Pied harlequins of June, no end
Of song and masquerading.
What cadences of bubbling mirth
Too quick for bar or rhythm!
What ecstasies, too full to keep
Coherent measures with them!
O could I share, without champagne
Or muscadel, your frolic,
The glad delirium of your joy,
Your fun un-apostolic.
Your drunken jargon through the fields,
Your bobolinkish gabble,
Your fine anacreontic glee,
Your tipsy reveller's babble!
Nay, — let me not profane such joy
With similes of folly, —
No wine of earth could waken songs
So delicately jolly!
O boundless self-contentment, voiced
In flying air-born bubbles!
O joy that mocks our sad unrest,
And drowns our earth-born troubles!
Hope Springs with you; I dread no more
Despondency and dullness;
For Good Supreme can never fail
That gives such perfect fullness.
The Life that floods the happy fields
With song and light and color
Will shape our lives to richer states,
And heap our measures fuller.
C.P. Cranch. September, 1866. Atlantic Monthly 18(107): 321-322.

No comments:

Post a Comment