Hydrogen Jukebox Press
An Online Edition
edited and annotated, with an introduction by Dr. Luke A. Powers
Saturday, May 2, 1914
The two doves who oftenest converse with the iron Fireman were leisurely crossing the city with the perfect and wonderful grace of birds who have mastered the art of flight, with almost no perceptible motion of the wings. They had been away--perhaps foraging about the feed and grain stores; perhaps visiting the white and purple iris beds in the quiet of the Confederate cemetary; perhaps picking up gravel on the lonely roof spaces, those miniature Saharas that are just overhead and yet remote as Kamschaika from the city's life--and were now making their way back to the fountain.
"Listen!" cried the White Pigeon, suddenly, veering closer to her companion as they crossed the Library building. "Oh, listen to that!"
"From the thunderous canyon of the street ascended a bird's voice, singing as a wild heart sings that cannot rest for song. In the intervals of the clang and whir of passing trolleys it arose, and above the quarrels of innumerable sparrows, piercing sweet through the roaring rush of traffic, up it soared, like a freed soul winging its way to its God.
The sister doves circled, slowed, and dropped to a perch on the edge of the Flatiron's roof, whence they peered over into the street below, without, however, catching a glimpse of the singer. They sat mute and motionless, drinking, as from a strong fountain, that marvel of melody capriciously intermingled with mimicry. In all the song there was scarcely a note of sadness. There were tender calls, hauntingly sweet, for the mate that would never come; there were long whistles that awakened images of field and orchard, of sunshine and little silver-sandalled showers; there were quaint humoresques and trillets as of a mountain waterfall; there were imitated voices of all the singers of the summer forest interspersed with single bars of his own original melody, and all the rest that goes to make up this voodoo whirl of springtime magic, the performance of the troubadour of a thousand loves.
"I know who it is," whispered the Gray Pigeon. "It is the Mockingbird, who lives in the Flatiron on the second floor. His cage is hung out on the balcony on warm days."
The blind negro standing at his post on the corner heard the song in his rayless night; passersby on foot and on wheels, and the dwellers in the building heard; even to the ears of the policeman whose whistle controls the traffic at the steep crossing of Eighth street and Georgia avenue, it came like "horns of elfland faintly blowing," making him dream of a not too distant boyhood and wish he were barefoot again.
They told the Fireman all about it when they reached the dripping basin.
"It was a wild song that could only come from a wilder soul," said the White Pigeon. "Why is he doomed never to open his wings, Fireman? Why do men keep him in a cage?"
"To sing for them, I suppose," said the Gray Pigeon, seeing that the Fireman made no answer.
"But it is not for them he sings--any more than for the sky and the streets. He sings, remembering the ages of happy days in which the song was learned, when the wild ancestral ghost of him sang to his love in a wild world. He has forgotten cold and hunger, the storms that beat his wings, the hawks that watched for him, the tragedy of a torn nest, the sadness of parting; but he remembers the love and its song. So he sings now for the bride that will never come."
"Oh, cruel, cruel, to cage a winged life!" cried the Gray Pigeon. "Think of his unending pain, his longing to be free!"
"He may not suffer so much as that," said the White Pigeon. "Perhaps he does not greatly want to fly."
"He is not a slave," said the gray sister, indignantly. "He is a prisoner. The prisoner longs for freedom; the slave is content in his bonds. It is true that canaries grow to love the narrow confines of their homes--I have seen one, who for his affectionate docility was gradually given the liberty of a whole suburban house, repeatedly fly out at a window and return through an open door, as a sort of game; but there were born in captivity and might not survive a day of freedom in this alien land. They are undoubtedly content, and even happy."
"It is very sad," admitted the White Pigeon. "Men make so many cages for each other, too--cages visible and invisible, for both prisoners and slaves."
"You don't think the Mockingbird can really be as happy as his song sounds, do you?"
The Fireman's gravely sympathetic voice commented: "When has great song ever arisen from the shallows of happiness? Only on the strong wings of deep desire, out of the depth and mystery of pain, can rise the songs that bear upward the hearts of men."