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Our last quotation shall be from The Biglow Papers in the characteristic Yankee dialect, which adds a piquancy of its own.
Our spring gits everythin' in tune
An' gives one leap from April into June;
Young oak-leaves mist the side-hill woods with pink;
The cat-bird in the laylock bush is loud ;
The orchards turn to heaps o' rosy cloud;
Red cedars blossom tu, though few folks know it,
The lime trees pile their solid stacks o' shade
'Nuff sed. June's bridesman, poet o' the year,
Half hid in tip-top apple blooms he swings,
Or climbs against the breeze with quivering wings,
Or givin' way to't in a mock despair,
Runs down, a brook o' laughter, thru the air.
This superb description of the bobolink reminds us that we have avoided saying anything of Lowell's birds. These figure very prominently in his poetry,
but we reserve them for our last chapter.
LOWELL, as we saw, was a soul in happy touch with Nature. The open air and the sight of trees and flowers acted upon his nervous system like an intoxicant. In the presence of Nature he felt stimulated, elevated, ecstatic. Nothing affected him so much in this way as the birds—the birds of America, which are unfamiliar to us-the bobolink, the oriole, the medrick, the loon, the phoebe, and so on. These are much in evidence in his verse; he has full knowledge of their ways, and he paints them with great vividness and with, for him, unusual brevity. Take first his portrait of the owl as depicted in his little poem, On Planting a Tree at Inverara. The poet had been asked to plant a memorial tree at the Duke of Argyll's mansion-house. He signalised the occasion by some verses, in which one of his reflections is that a tree will live long after the planter is epitaphed
and forgotten; it will expand its branches and become a shelter for man and beast.
The wayfarer at noon reposing
Shall bless its shadow on the grass,
The owl, belated in his plundering,
Hither the busy birds shall flutter,
That is the owl. The rook comes
memorial verses on Agassiz.
The garrulous memories
Gather again from all their far-flown nooks,
Tow'rd Tintern's grey repose of roofless aisles.
An Indian Summer Reverie is full of bird references. We quote two characteristic stanzas :—
The cock's shrill trump that tells of scattered corn,
Dimly I catch the throb of distant flails;
Silently o'erhead the hen hawk sails,
With watchful, measuring eye, and for his quarry waits.
The sobered robin, hunger-silent now,
Seeks cedar-berries blue, his autumn cheer;
The chipmunk, on the shingly shag bark's bough,
The clouds like swans drift down the streaming atmosphere.
We must not forget that the American robin is not our redbreast, but a different bird. The chipmunk is, of course, a squirrel. In his poem, The Cathedral, he describes how the sparrows have built their nests in its weather-beaten pinnacles.
About their shoulders sparrows had built nests,
Irreverently happy. While I thought
How confident they were, what careless hearts
I saw where, nesting in the hoary towers,
With sidelong head that watched the joy below-
These are all good in their
but the poet
best when describing the birds of New England, the oriole and the bobolink, which are undoubtedly
his favourites and touch his heart most intimately. One of his poems called The Nest contrasts May First comes the merry month :
Then from the honeysuckle grey
The oriole with experienced quest
The cordage of his hammock-nest,
High o'er the loud and dusty road
Of downy breasts and throbbing wings,
Thy duty, wingöd flame of spring,
Above the life by mortals led,
Master, not slave, of daily bread,
Wherever sunshine beckons thee.
This is the summer picture; when December comes, there is a sad change; the trees are leafless. And thou, dear nest, whence joy and praise
The thankful oriole used to pour,
Swing'st empty, while the north winds chase
But loyal to the happy past,
I love thee still for what thou wast,