“The Story of the Little Bird”: An Irish Folktale

Many years ago there was a very religious and holy man, one of the monks of a convent, and he was one day kneeling at his prayers in the garden of his monastery, when he heard a little bird singing in one of the rose-trees of the garden, and there never was anything that he had heard in the world so sweet as the song of that little bird.

And the holy man rose up from his knees where he was kneeling at his prayers to listen to its song; for he thought he never in all his life heard anything so heavenly.

And the little bird, after singing for some time longer on the rose-tree, flew away to a grove at some distance from the monastery, and the holy man followed it to listen to its singing, for he felt as if he would never be tired of listening to the sweet song it was singing out of its throat.

And the little bird after that went away to another distant tree, and sung there for a while, and then to another tree, and so on in the same manner, but ever farther and farther away from the monastery, and the holy man still following it farther, and farther, and farther still listening delighted to its enchanting song.

But at last he was obliged to give up, as it was growing late in the day, and he returned to the convent; and as he approached it in the evening, the sun was setting in the west with all the most heavenly colours that were ever seen in the world, and when he came into the convent, it was nightfall.

And he was quite surprised at everything he saw, for they were all strange faces about him in the monastery that he had never seen before, and the very place itself, and everything about it, seemed to be strangely altered; and, altogether, it seemed entirely different from what it was when he had left in the morning; and the garden was not like the garden where he had been kneeling at his devotion when he first heard the singing of the little bird.

And while he was wondering at all he saw, one of the monks of the convent came up to him, and the holy man questioned him, “Brother, what is the cause of all these strange changes that have taken place here since the morning?”

And the monk that he spoke to seemed to wonder greatly at his question, and asked him what he meant by the change since morning? for, sure, there was no change; that all was just as before. And then he said, Brother, why do you ask these strange questions, and what is your name? for you wear the habit of our order, though we have never seen you before.”

So upon this the holy man told his name. and said that he had been at mass in the chapel in the morning before he had wandered away from the garden listening to the song of a little bird that was singing among the rose-trees, near where he was kneeling at his prayers.

And the brother, while he was speaking, gazed at him very earnestly, and then told him that there was in the convent a tradition of a brother of his name, who had left it two hundred years before, but that what was become of him was never known.

And while he was speaking, the holy man said, “My hour of death is come; blessed be the name of the Lord for all his mercies to me, through the merits of his only-begotten Son.”

And he kneeled down that very moment, and said, “Brother, take my confession, for my soul is departing.”

And he made his confession, and received his absolution, and was anointed, and before midnight he died.

The little bird, you see, was an angel, one of the cherubim or seraphim; and that was the way the Almighty was pleased in His mercy to take to Himself the soul of that holy man.

Note:  Originally Attributed to T. Crofton Croker who says he wrote it word for word as he heard it from an old woman at a holy well. This version is edited and adapted from Traditional Tales from Long , Long Ago retold by Philip Wilson. It’s also retold by W. B Yeats in his famous book Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888).

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“The Eagle (A Fragment)” by Alfred Lord Tennyson

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands. 

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls, 
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Alfred Lord Tennyson

golden-eagle-in-flight

Spotted Owl

SpottedOwl

This morning, when there was not yet bright light in the sky, I was walking across the University of La Verne Campus. I saw a bird crouched behind the leopard statue beneath one of our giant oak trees in Sneaky Park. It flew up from the ground to one of the oak-tree branches. I was sure from the shape of its head that it was an owl, not a hawk, though I was surprised it was still abroad in the morning! I quietly walked under the oak-tree canopy and looked up, and the owl turned her head to look at me:  her eyes were so dark! The dark eyes, along with the large size of the bird, confirmed that I was looking at a Spotted Owl — a rare bird these days, but one that does live in oaks near the San Gabriel Mountains. After we had looked into each other’s eyes for a few moments, the owl swooped away across the street into the branches of another oak tree. I went to my class, where I was teaching (among other poems), Tennyson’s “The Eagle” — and I couldn’t help mentioning my first owl of the day!

  • The image I share here captures the pose of the bird I saw this morning, tho’ of course this one is in a pine tree.

Sora

sora_robinarnold

Sora

On Saturday, I went walking in Bonelli Regional Park with my neighbor Michelle. When we were by the reeds along the edge of Puddingstone Reservoir, I spotted a lone Sora hunting in the waters — her white tail bobbing behind her! There were many other birds to see there, too, of course, including the ubiquitous red-winged blackbirds, American coots, white-crowned sparrows, purple finches, hummingbirds, Canadian geese, mallard ducks, black phoebes, and the always-beautiful Great White Egrets.

 

“Albatross”

Dore-Albatross-RimeoftheAncientMariner

“At length did cross an albatross,

thorough the fog came;

as if it had been a Christian soul,

we hailed it in God’s name”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Rime of the Ancient Mariner

(drawing by Gustav Doré)

Green Heron

Photos by Alice Holthuis

 

Belted Kingfisher

My sister Alice recently came to visit me, and we went hiking this past Thursday. We had the pleasure of seeing pairs of belted kingfishers flying over Puddingstone Reservoir in Bonelli Regional Park. Their call is quite distinctive!