Gamaun, The Prophetic Bird — Viktor Vasnetsov

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Cassowary — Jean-Baptiste Oudry

“Birds and Birds and Birds” — Walt Whitman

A little later—bright weather.—An unusual melodiousness, these days, (last of April and first of May) from the blackbirds; indeed all sorts of birds, darting, whistling, hopping or perch’d on trees. Never before have I seen, heard, or been in the midst of, and got so flooded and saturated with them and their performances, as this current month. Such oceans, such successions of them. Let me make a list of those I find here:

Black birds (plenty,) Meadow-larks (plenty,)
Ring doves, Cat-birds (plenty,)
Owls, Cuckoos,
Woodpeckers, Pond snipes (plenty,)
King-birds, Cheewinks,
Crows (plenty,) Quawks,
Wrens, Ground robins,
Kingfishers, Ravens,
Quails, Gray snipes,
Turkey-buzzards, Eagles,
Hen-hawks, High-holes,
Yellow birds, Herons,
Thrushes, Tits,
Reed birds, Woodpigeons.

Early came the

Blue birds, Meadow-lark,
Killdeer, White-bellied swallow,
Plover, Sandpiper,
Robin, Wilson’s thrush,
Woodcock, Flicker.

From Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days.

 

“The Image of the Lost Soul” — Saki

 

“The Image of the Lost Soul” by Saki—

There were a number of carved stone figures placed at intervals along the parapets of the old Cathedral; some of them represented angels, others kings and bishops, and nearly all were in attitudes of pious exaltation and composure. But one figure, low down on the cold north side of the building, had neither crown, mitre, not nimbus, and its face was hard and bitter and downcast; it must be a demon, declared the fat blue pigeons that roosted and sunned themselves all day on the ledges of the parapet; but the old belfry jackdaw, who was an authority on ecclesiastical architecture, said it was a lost soul. And there the matter rested.

One autumn day there fluttered on to the Cathedral roof a slender, sweet-voiced bird that had wandered away from the bare fields and thinning hedgerows in search of a winter roosting-place. It tried to rest its tired feet under the shade of a great angel-wing or to nestle in the sculptured folds of a kingly robe, but the fat pigeons hustled it away from wherever it settled, and the noisy sparrow-folk drove it off the ledges. No respectable bird sang with so much feeling, they cheeped one to another, and the wanderer had to move on.

Only the effigy of the Lost Soul offered a place of refuge. The pigeons did not consider it safe to perch on a projection that leaned so much out of the perpendicular, and was, besides, too much in the shadow. The figure did not cross its hands in the pious attitude of the other graven dignitaries, but its arms were folded as in defiance and their angle made a snug resting-place for the little bird. Every evening it crept trustfully into its corner against the stone breast of the image, and the darkling eyes seemed to keep watch over its slumbers. The lonely bird grew to love its lonely protector, and during the day it would sit from time to time on some rainshoot or other abutment and trill forth its sweetest music in grateful thanks for its nightly shelter. And, it may have been the work of wind and weather, or some other influence, but the wild drawn face seemed gradually to lose some of its hardness and unhappiness. Every day, through the long monotonous hours, the song of his little guest would come up in snatches to the lonely watcher, and at evening, when the vesper-bell was ringing and the great grey bats slid out of their hiding-places in the belfry roof, the brighteyed bird would return, twitter a few sleepy notes, and nestle into the arms that were waiting for him. Those were happy days for the Dark Image. Only the great bell of the Cathedral rang out daily its mocking message, “After joy . . . sorrow.”

The folk in the verger’s lodge noticed a little brown bird flitting about the Cathedral precincts, and admired its beautiful singing. “But it is a pity,” said they, “that all that warbling should be lost and wasted far out of hearing up on the parapet.” They were poor, but they understood the principles of political economy. So they caught the bird and put it in a little wicker cage outside the lodge door.

     That night the little songster was missing from its accustomed haunt, and the Dark Image knew more than ever the bitterness of loneliness. Perhaps his little friend had been killed by a prowling cat or hurt by a stone. Perhaps . . . perhaps he had flown elsewhere. But when morning came there floated up to him, through the noise and bustle of the Cathedral world, a faint heart-aching message from the prisoner in the wicker cage far below. And every day, at high noon, when the fat pigeons were stupefied into silence after their midday meal and the sparrows were washing themselves in the street-puddles, the song of the little bird came up to the parapets — a song of hunger and longing and hopelessness, a cry that could never be answered. The pigeons remarked, between mealtimes, that the figure leaned forward more than ever out of the perpendicular.

One day no song came up from the little wicker cage. It was the coldest day of the winter, and the pigeons and sparrows on the Cathedral roof looked anxiously on all sides for the scraps of food which they were dependent on in hard weather.

“Have the lodge-folk thrown out anything on to the dust-heap?” inquired one pigeon of another which was peering over the edge of the north parapet.

“Only a little dead bird,” was the answer.

There was a crackling sound in the night on the Cathedral roof and a noise as of falling masonry. The belfry jackdaw said the frost was affecting the fabric, and as he had experienced many frosts it must have been so. In the morning it was seen that the Figure of the Lost Soul had toppled from its cornice and lay now in a broken mass on the dustheap outside the verger’s lodge.

     “It is just as well,” cooed the fat pigeons, after they had peered at the matter for some minutes; “now we shall have a nice angel put up there. Certainly they will put an angel there.”

“After joy . . . sorrow,” rang out the great bell.

 

“A Snake Is Afraid of a Man That Is Naked,” and Other Great Occult Tips on Animals (Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim)

From Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy or Magic, (1533)

The bird called bustard flies away at the sight of a horse, and a hart runs away at the sight of a ram, as also of a viper.

An elephant trembles at the hearing of the grunting of a hog, so doth a lion at the sight of a cock; and panthers will not touch them that are anointed all over with the broth of a hen, especially if garlic hath been boiled in it.

There is also enmity betwixt foxes and swans, bulls and jackdaws.

Amongst birds, also, some are at perpetual strife one with another, as also with other animals, as jackdaws and owls, the kite and crows, the turtle and ring-tail, egepis and eagles, harts and dragons.

Also amongst water animals there is enmity, as betwixt dolphins and whirlpools, mullets and pikes, lampreys and congers.

Also the fish called pourcontrel makes the lobster so much afraid that the lobster, seeing the other but near him, is struck dead.

The lobster and conger tear one the other.

The civet cat is said to stand so in awe of the panther that he hath no power to resist him or touch his skin; and they say that if the skins of both of them be hanged up one against the other, the hairs of the panther’s skin fall off.

And Orus Apollo saith in his hieroglyphics, if any one be girt about with the skin of the civet cat that he may pass safely through the middle of his enemies and not at all be afraid.

Also the lamb is very much afraid of the wolf and flies from him. And they say that if the tail or skin or head of a wolf be hanged upon the sheep-coate the sheep are much troubled and cannot eat their meat for fear.

And Pliny makes mention of a bird, called marlin, that breaks crows’ eggs, whose young are so annoyed by the fox that she also will pinch and pull the fox’s whelps, and the fox herself also; which when the crows see, they help the fox against her, as against a common enemy.

The little bird called a linnet, living in thistles, hates asses, because they eat the flowers of thistles.

Also there is such a bitter enmity betwixt the little bird called esalon and the ass that their blood will not mix together, and that at the braying of the ass both the eggs and young of the esalon perish.

There is also such a disagreement betwixt the olive-tree and a wanton, that if she plant it, it will either be always unfruitful or altogether wither.

A lion fears nothing so much as fired torches, and will be tamed by nothing so much as by these; and the wolf fears neither sword nor spear, but a stone—by the throwing of which, a wound being made, worms breed in the wolf.

A horse fears a camel so that he cannot endure to see so much as his picture.

An elephant, when he rageth, is quieted by seeing of a cock.

A snake is afraid of a man that is naked, but pursues a man that is clothed.

A mad bull is tamed by being tied to a fig-tree.

(NB: I took the editorial liberty of turning Agrippa’s marvelous paragraphs into a list, which I think reads a bit better, or at least more absurdly).

Bird — Salvador Dali