His is the sweetest note in all our woods.
The whistle of the meadow-lark is sweet,
The blackbird's rapid chant fills all the vale,
And touchingly sweet the unincumbered song
That the thrush warbles in the green-wood shade;
Yet is the robin still our sweetest bird,
And beautiful as sweet. His ruddy breast
When poised on high, struck by the unrisen sun,
Glows from its altitude, and to the sight
Presents a burning vestiture of gold;
And his dark pinions, softly spread, improved
By contrast shame, the blackbird's jetty plumes.
Less wild than others of the tuneful choir,
Oft on the tree that shades the farmer's hut,
Close by his door, the little architect
Fixes his home,— though field-groves, and the woods,
Where the small streams murmur sweetly, loves he most.
Who seeks his nest may find it deftly hid
In fork of branching elm, or poplar shade;
And sometimes on the lawn; though rarely he,
The one that sings the sweetest, chooses thus
His habitation. Seek for it in deep
And tangled hollows, up some pretty brook,
That, prattling o'er the loose white pebbles, chides
The echoes with a soft monotony
Of softest music. There, upon the bough
That arches it, of fragrance-breathing birch,
Or kalmia branching in unnumbered forms,
He builds his moss-lined dwelling. First, he lays,
Transverse, dried bents picked from the forest walks;
Or in the glen, where downward with fell force
The mountain torrent rushes,—these all coated
With slime unsightly. Soon the builder shows
An instinct far surpassing human skill,
And lines it with a layer of soft wool,
Picked from the thorn where brushed the straggled flock;
Or with an intertexture of soft hairs,
Or moss, or feathers. Finally, complete, —
The usual list of eggs appear, — and lo!
Four in the whole, and softly tinged with blue.
And now the mother-bird the livelong day
Sits on her charge, nor leaves it for her mate,
Save just to dip her bill into the stream,
Or gather needful sustenance. Meanwhile,
The mate, assiduous, guards that mother-bird
Patient upon her nest; and, at her side,
Or overhead, or on the adverse bank,
Nestled, he all the tedious time beguiles,
Wakes his wild notes, and sings the hours away.
But soon again new duties wake the pair;
Their young appear. Love knocking at their hearts,
Alert they start, as by sure instinct led, —
That beautiful divinity in birds!
And now they hop along the forest edge,
Or dive into the ravines of the woods,
Or roam the fields, or skim the mossy bank
Shading some runnel with its antique forms,
Pecking for sustenance. Or now they mount
Into mid-air; or poise on half-shut wing,
Skimming for insects in the dewy beam,
Gayly disporting; or now, sweeping down
Where the wild brook flows on with ceaseless laughter,
Moisten their bills awhile, then soar away.
And so they weary out the needful hours,
Preaching, meanwhile, sound lesson unto man!
Till plump, and fledged, their little ones essay
Their native element. At first they fail:
Flutter awhile; then, screaming, sink plump down,
Prizes for school-boys. Yet the more escape;
And, wiser grown and stronger, soon their wings
Obedient send they forth; when, confident,
They try the forest tops, or skim the flood,
Or fly up in the skirts of the white clouds, —
Till, all at once, they start, a mirthful throng,
Burst into voice, and the wide forest rings!