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      An Online Edition

 edited and annotated, with an introduction by Dr. Luke A. Powers

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Saturday, June 20, 1914

[The Catbird]



     "Miaow," drawled a strange voice in the magnolia at sunrise, and even the birds supposed that the Cat had managed to get through the fence until they saw the trim figure and slate-colored wings and back of one of the best singers of the land. "Miaow--I am the Catbird: I am he that sings the silvern-chill as the dreaming dew; I am he!"

     Without further preliminary there began a shower of silvery flutings and spraylike "pizzicato" notes, that make up a performance second only to that of the Mockingbird or the Woodthrush--an uninterrupted torrent of sheer ecstatic delight in being alive.

     "I look up at the sky," he sang; "I drink the steady splendor of light from its blue bowl. The intense life of the summer day burns round me as if every blade and leaf were a green torch in the thousand thousand grasses, in the million million leaves. I am breathing, I am singing, I am filled with the most ancient vital flood.

     "All the air hums with life. I drink it as the hot sand drinks the sun. Through the grass, through the veined and patterned leaves, through the brown markings and the notes of little brother birds; through the mayfl[i]es murmur and the golden velvet fans of butterflies; through the countless iridescent wings in soft azure air; through all the life that has been lived on earth by vigorous and beautiful creatures since the first lizard-dragons wallowed in muddy seas--through all the same deep current flows, beneath the Mother's hand, I am kin to these all, I am kin!

     "But withal I am myself the Catbird, and none other knows of my life or my song. Only the Catbird soul, wherever incarnate or whenever in the interminable universe, has the song that is mine. From the blue egg in the soft cuplike nest, from the cunning hunter in slate-colored feathers it comes, the jewel carried in that one sole casket and none other, over the planet and down the endless cycles of time.

     "Miaow--I am he--I am he!"

     "Where did he get it?" marveled the Sparrow, listening with h[i]s head on one side. "Not of himself," said the White Pigeon. "It is one of the wonders of the Good Gray Mother's working--the song that is her gift to his kind. It is the song that brings him love--and the lifework of rearing his young--and so sometime his death. But the song is deathless; it is part of him that cannot perish--that survives, handed on from generation to generation."

     "Then it is not he that sings, but the Catbird soul in his tiny body," said the Gray Pigeon.

     "True," agreed the iron Fireman. "As the sparrow rounding his little grassy cup according to the immemorial pattern is not a bird, but the bird, the most ancient Sparrow type of age-long instinct and unbroken recolletion. The Catbird sings the song of his race as it was sung a myriad years ago, in faultless repetition. He did not consciously learn the song; the echo of his father's thrillings above his nest-cradle was instinctive, an impulse risen from the sea of organic memory--deep, dim memory of other quintillions of lives, when the ancestral ghost of him sang to summer morning astir with life in forest turned to dust centuries ago.

     "The memory of animals in regard to individual experiences is dim and weak. But the organic memory of experience accumulated through countless vanished lives is superhumanly vivid and sure. Its knowledge is the knowledge of other existences; its song is of the glad ideals of happiest remembered hours."

 

 




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