Oft in the sunny mornings have I seen
Bright-yellow birds, of a rich lemon hue,
Meeting in crowds upon the branches green,
And sweetly singing all the morning through.
And others, with their heads greyish and dark,
Pressing their cinnamon cheeks to the old trees,
And striking on the hard, rough, shrivelled bark,
Like conscience on a bosom ill at ease.
And diamond birds chirping their single notes,
Now ’mid the trumpet-flower’s deep blossoms seen,
Now floating brightly on with fiery throats,
Small-winged emeralds of golden green;
And other larger birds with orange cheeks,
A many-colour-painted chattering crowd,
Prattling for ever with their curved beaks,
And through the silent woods screaming aloud.
Colour and form may be conveyed in words,
But words are weak to tell the heavenly strains
That from the throats of these celestial birds
Rang through the woods and o’er the echoing plains.
There was the meadow-lark, with voice as sweet,
But robed in richer raiment than our own;
And as the moon smiled on his green retreat,
The painted nightingale sang out alone.
Words cannot echo music’s winged note,
One bird alone exhausts their utmost power;
’Tis that strange bird whose many-voic’ed throat
Mocks all his brethren of the woodland bower;
To whom indeed the gift of tongues is given,
The musical rich tongues that fill the grove,
Now like the lark dropping his notes from heaven,
Now cooing the soft earth-notes of the dove.
Oft have I seen him, scorning all control,
Winging his arrowy flight rapid and strong,
As if in search of his evanished soul,
Lost in the gushing ecstasy of song;
And as I wandered on, and upward gazed,
Half lost in admiration, half in fear,
I left the brothers wondering and amazed,
Thinking that all the choir of heaven was near.
Was it a revelation or a dream?—
That these bright birds as angels once did dwell
In heaven with starry Lucifer supreme,
Half sinned with him, and with him partly fell;
That in this lesser paradise they stray.
Float through its air, and glide its streams along,
And that the strains they sing each happy day
Rise up to God like morn and even song.
[The earlier stanzas of this description of Paradise are principally founded upon the Anglo-Saxon version of the poem “De Phenice,” ascribed to Lactantius, and which is at least as old as the earlier part of the eleventh century.]
As on this world the young man turns his eyes,
When forced to try the dark sea of the grave,
Thus did we gaze upon that Paradise,
Fading, as we were borne across the wave.
And, as a brighter world dawns by degrees
Upon Eternity’s serenest strand,
Thus, having passed through dark and gloomy seas,
At length we reached the long-sought Promised Land.