06 November 2013

Bird Poems by Alexander Wilson

The American Blue-bird.

"Such are the mild and pleasing manners of the Blue-bird, and so universally is he esteemed, that I have often regretted that no pastoral Muse has yet risen, in this western woody world, to do justice to his name, and endear him to us still more, by the tenderness of verse, as has been done to his representative in Britain, the Robin Redbreast. A small acknowledgment of this kind I have to offer, which the reader I hope will excuse as a tribute to rural innocence."

When Winter's cold tempests and snows are no more,
Green meadows, and brown furrow'd fields reappearing
The fishermen hauling their shad to the shore,
And cloud-cleaving geese to the lakes are a-steering ;
When first the lone butterfly flits on the wing,
When red glow the maples, so fresh and so pleasin';
O then comes the Blue-bird, the herald of Spring,
And hails with his warblings the charms of the season.
Then loud-piping frogs make the marshes to ring,
Then warm glows the sunshine, and fine is the weather;
The blue woodland flowers just beginning to spring,
And spicewood and sassafras budding together;
O then to your gardens, ye housewives, repair.
Your walks border up, sow and plant at your leisure ;
The Blue-bird will chant from his box such an air,
That all your hard toils will seem truly a pleasure.
He flits thro' the orchard, he visits each tree,
The red flowering peach, and the apple's sweet blossoms ;
He snaps up destroyers wherever they be,
And seizes the caitiffs that lurk in their bosoms :
He draws the vile grub from the corn it devours,
The worms from their webs where they riot and welter
His song and his services freely are ours,
And all that he asks, is, in Summer a shelter.
The ploughman is pleas'd when he gleans in his train,
Now searching the furrows, now mounting to cheer him
The gard'ner delights in his sweet simple strain,
And leans on his spade to survey and to hear him;
The slow-ling'ring schoolboys forget they'll be chid,
While gazing intent as he warbles before 'em.
In mantle of sky-blue, and bosom so red.
That each little loiterer seems to adore him.
When all the gay scenes of the Summer are o'er,
And Autumn slow enters so silent and sallow ;
And millions of warblers, that charm'd us before.
Have fled in the train of the sun-seeking swallow ;
The Blue-bird, forsaken, yet true to his home,
Still lingers, and looks for a milder to-morrow ;
Till forc'd by the horrors of Winter to roam,
He sings his adieu in a lone note of sorrow.
While Spring's lovely season, serene, dewy, warm.
The green face of Earth and the pure blue of heaven
Or Love's native music have influence to charm.
Or Sympathy's glow to our feelings are given —
Still dear to each bosom the Blue-bird shall be ;
His voice, like the thrillings of hope, is a treasure ;
For, thro' bleakest storms, if a calm he but see,
He comes to remind us of sunshine and pleasure.

The Humming-bird.

"The Humming Bird is one of the few that are universally beloved; and, amid the sweet dewy serenity of a Summer's morning, his appearance among the arbours of honey-suckle and beds of flowers, is truly interesting."

When morning dawns, and the blest sun again
Lifts his red glories from the eastern main;
Then thro' our woodbines, wet with glittering dews
The flower-fed Humming-Bird his round pursues;
Sips with inserted tube the honeyed blooms,
And chirps his gratitude as round he roams;
While richest roses, tho' in crimson drest.
Shrink from the splendour of his gorgeous breast;
What heav'nly tints in mingling radiance fly
Each rapid movement gives a different dye;
Like scales of burnish'd gold they dazzling show,
Now sink to shade, now like a furnace glow.

The Baltimore Bird.

"The Baltimore inhabits North America, from Canada to Mexico, and is even found as far south as Brazil. Since the streets of our cities have been planted with that beautiful and stately tree, the Lombardy poplar, these birds are our constant visitors during the early part of Summer; and, amid the noise and tumult of coaches, drays, wheelbarrows, and the din of the multitude, they are heard chanting 'their native wood-notes wild;' sometimes too within a few yards of an oysterman, who stands bellowing with the lungs of a Stentor, under the shade of the same tree; so much will habit reconcile even birds to the roar of the city and to sounds and noises, that in other circumstances, would put a whole grove of them to flight.

High on yon poplar, clad in glossiest green,
The orange, black-capp'd Baltimore is seen;
The broad-extended boughs still please him best,
Beneath their bending skirts he hangs his nest;
There his sweet mate, secure from every harm.
Broods o'er her spotted store, and wraps them warm ;
Lists to the noon-tide hum of busy bees.
Her partner's mellow song, the brook, the breeze ;
These day by day the lonely hours deceive.
From dewy morn, to slow-descending eve.
Two weeks elaps'd, behold a helpless crew!
Claim all her care, and her affection too;
On wings of love th' assiduous nurses fly,
Flowers, leaves, and boughs, abundant food supply;
Glad chants their guardian, as abroad he goes.
And waving breezes rock them to repose.

The Fish-Hawk, or Osprey.

"The regular arrival of this noted bird at the vernal equinox, when the busy season of fishing commences, adds peculiar interest to its first appearance, and procures it many a benediction from the fishermen. With the following lines, illustrative of these circumstances, I shall conclude its history " : —

Soon as the sun, great ruler of the year,
Bends to our northern clime his bright career,
And from the caves of ocean calls from sleep
The finny shoals and myriads of the deep;
When freezing tempests back to Greenland ride,
And day and night the equal hours divide;
True to the season, o'er our sea-beat shore,
The sailing osprey high is seen to soar,
With broad unmoving wing, and circling slow,
Marks each loose straggler in the deep below ;
Sweeps down like lightning ! plunges with a roar!
And bears his struggling victim to the shore.
The long-housed fisherman beholds with joy,
The well known signals of his rough employ ;
And as he bears his nets and oars along,
Thus hails the welcome season with a song :

The Fisherman's Hymn

The osprey sails above the Sound,
The geese are gone, the gulls are flying;
The herring shoals swarm thick around.
The nets are launched, the boats are plying.
Yo ho, my hearts ! let's seek the deep.
Raise high the song and cheerly wish her;
Still as the bending net we sweep,
'God bless the fish-hawk and the fisher!'
She brings us fish — she brings us Spring,
Good times, fair weather, warmth and plenty;
Fine store of shad, trout, herring, ling,
Sheeps-head and drum, and old wives' dainty.
Yo ho, my hearts ! let's seek the deep.
Ply every oar, and cheerly wish her,
Still as the bending net we sweep,
'God bless the fish-hawk and the fisher!'
She rears her young on yonder tree.
She leaves her faithful mate to mind 'em;
Like us, for fish she sails the sea,
And, plunging, shows us where to find 'em.
Yo ho, my hearts ! let's seek the deep,
Ply every oar, and cheerly wish her,
While slow the bending net we sweep,
'God bless the fish-hawk and the fisher!'

The Tyrant Fly-catcher, or King Bird.

"Great prejudices are entertained against this little bird; I, however, honour him for his extreme affection for his young; for his contempt of danger, and unexampled intrepidity; for his meekness of behaviour when there are no calls upon his courage; but, above all, for the millions of ruinous vermin of which he rids us! As a friend to this persecuted bird, and an enemy to prejudices of every description, will the reader allow me to set this matter in a somewhat clearer and stronger light, by presenting him with a short poetical epitome of the King-bird's history."

Far in the south, where vast Maragnon flows,
And boundless forests unknown wilds enclose.
Vine-tangled shores and suffocating woods,
Parched up with heat, or drown'd with pouring floods;
Where each extreme alternately prevails,
And nature, sad, the ravages bewails ;
Lo! high in air, above those trackless wastes.
With Spring's return, the King-bird hither hastes.
Coasts the famed Gulf, and from his height explores
Its thousand streams, its long indented shores,
Its plains immense, wide op'ning on the day,
Its lakes and isles where feathered millions play.
All tempt not him; till, gazing from on high,
Columbia's regions wide below him lie;
There end his wanderings and his wish to roam.
There lie his native woods, his fields, his home;
Down, circling, he descends from azure heights,
And on a full blown sassafras alights.
Fatigued and silent, for a while he views
His old frequented haunts, and shades recluse,
Sees brothers, comrades, every hour arrive,
Hears humming round the tenants of the hive;
Love fires his breast, he wooes, and soon is blest,
And in the blooming orchard builds his nest.
Come now, ye cowards! ye whom Heaven disdains,
Who boast the happiest home, the richest plains;
On whom, perchance, a wife, an infant's eye,
Hang as their hope, and on your arm rely.
Yet, when the hour of danger and dismay
Comes on that country, sneak in holes away,
Shrink from the perils ye were bound to face.
And leave these babes and country to disgrace;
Come here, (if such we have) ye dastard herd !
And kneel in dust before this noble bird.
When the specked eggs within his nest appear.
Then glows affection, ardent and sincere;
No discord sours him when his mate he meets.
But each warm heart with mutual kindness beats;
For her repast he bears along the lea
The bloated gad-fly and the balmy bee;
For her repose scours o'er th' adjacent farm,
Whence hawks might dart, or lurking foes alarm, —
For now abroad a band of ruffians prey.
The crow, the cuckoo, and th' insiduous jay;
These, in the owner's absence, all destroy.
And murder every hope, and every joy.
Soft sits his brooding mate, her guardian he,
Perched on the top of some tall neighb'ring tree;
Thence, from the thicket to the concave skies,
His watchful eye around unceasing flies.
Wrens, thrushes, warblers, startled at his note,
Fly in affright the consecrated spot;
He drives the plundering jay, with honest scorn
Back to the woods — the mocker to his thorn ;
Sweeps round the cuckoo, as the thief retreats,
Attacks the crow, the diving hawk defeats,
Darts on the eagle downwards from afar,
And 'midst the clouds, prolongs the whirling war.
All danger o'er, he hastens back elate,
To guard his post, and feed his faithful mate.
Behold him now, his little family flown.
Meek, unassuming, silent, and alone.
Lured by the well-known hum of favourite bees,
As slow he hovers o'er the garden trees;
(For all have failings, passions, whims, that lead
Some favourite wish, some appetite to feed : )
Straight he alights, and from the pear-tree spies
The circling stream of humming insects rise;
Selects his prey, darts on the busy brood,
And shrilly twitters o'er his savoury food.
Ah, ill-timed triumph ! direful note to thee,
That guides thy murderer to the fatal tree;
See where he skulks, and takes his gloomy stand.
The deep-charged musket hanging in his hand.
And, gaunt for blood, he leans it on a rest.
Prepared and pointed at thy snow-white breast.
Ah ! friend, good friend, forbear that barb'rous deed.
Against it, valour, goodness, pity plead;
If ere a family's griefs, a widow's woe
Have reached thy soul, in mercy let him go ! 80
Yet should the tear of pity nought avail;
Let interest speak, let gratitude prevail;
Kill not thy friend, who thy whole harvest shields,
And sweeps ten thousand vermin from thy fields.
Think how this dauntless bird, thy poultry's guard)
Drove ev'ry hawk and eagle from thy yard;
Watch'd round thy cattle as they fed, and slew
The hungry, black'ning swarms that round them flew;
Some small return, some little right resign,
And spare his life whose services are thine!
— I plead in vain ! amid the bursting roar
The poor, lost King-bird, welters in his gore.
Rev. Alexander B. Grosart. 1876. The poems and literary prose of Alexander Wilson, the American ornithologist. Paisley : Alex Gardner. 433 pages.