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Poem by Paul Hamilton Hayne


A Meeting of the Birds


OF a thousand queer meetings, both great, sir, and small
The bird-party I sing of seemed oddest of all!

How they come to assemble--a multiform show--
From all parts of the earth, is--well--more than I know.

I only Can vow that, one fine night of June,
In a vast, varied garden, made bright by the moon,

Such bird-throngs I saw, with plumes brilliant or dark,
As had ne'er met, I deem, since the age of the ark:

There the phoenix, upborne on a tall jasper spar,
His fair mate by his side, shone serene a star;

With a calm sort of pride glancing down on all others,
As scorning to claim such canaille for his brothers!

He alone of earth's creatures (more wise far than Adam),
When Eve tempted him, said "Excuse me, good madam!

"No juice from that fruit shall e'er moisten my thrapple!
Delicious! perhaps . . but who gave you the apple?"

Then--his tiny red optics upturned to this king
Of all species that court the light air with a wing--

Lo, the rooster! his top-knot bright crimson and blue,
With his impudent strut and his cock-doodle-doo,

Is resolved, one can see, the king's hauteur to balk!
What's a phoenix, for sooth, to such cocks of the walk!

Oh! he bustles along, and he bullies his wife,
Till the poor humbled partlet is weary of life--

When, phew! like a bolt of blue lightning or brown,
Outflashed from the trees, a swift bee-bird whirls down

Upon cocky's great top-knot upreared like a dome,
To cut, just for once, his big highness's comb!

From the rooster's discomfiture, laughing, I turn
To where, 'mid the garden's cool avenues, burn

The fair cinnamon tufts of those hipooes that sold
To King Solomon, once, their true crownlets of gold--

And beyond where the shadow waves dim by the sheen,
The gay humming-bird darts--a live rainbow--between:

While the parrakeets glitter, the orioles float
Through the moonlighted mist and fine vapors remote;

And by sides of small streams and clear lakelets outspread
Stalks the long-legged flamingo, all scarlet and red:

In sooth, birds of all climes, whether wild birds or tame,
Whether dove-hued and sad, or high-colored like flame,

Walked, wobbled and sauntered, paused, fluttered and flew,
With vast blending of plumes, and, ah! endless ado.

The eagle's loud anger set deaf'ningly loose,
Shrilled fierce o'er the arrogant hiss of the goose,

And a peacock, who screeched till his gills were half black,
Could not drown, after all, a professional "quack;"

The nightingale pitted his voice and his lore
'Gainst the skylark, that never had trilled thus before;

And the cock now recovered, and fresh, sir, as dew,
Strove to bear them both down with his cock-doodle-doo:

Till--one volume of strange, contradictory sound,
The air, like a millwheel, whizzed round us and round.

And while still the white moonshine, on vapors of fleece,
Rained down its ineffable splendors in peace,

That bird congregation broke up in a row,
Whose noises, half dreaming, I catch even now.

But the last glimpse of all that flashed quick on my eyes,
Ere the whole meeting faded 'twixt garden and skies,

Was the cuckoo's unwearied, nefarious leg
Scratching fast to discover a phoenix's egg,

Which, if found, I've no doubt, was close-hidden and pressed
By the vile little wretch, with quite mother-like breast.

Yet I've seen other creatures than creatures with wings
Who dared to make free with thrice sanctified things,

From whose false incubation what creeds came in vogue!
Even truth's egg is marred if hatched out by a rogue!



Paul Hamilton Hayne


Paul Hamilton Hayne's other poems:
  1. A Morning after Storm
  2. The Old Man of the Sea
  3. A New Version of Why the Robins Breast Is Red
  4. In Harbor
  5. A New Philosophy; or, Star Showers Explained


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