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Nether Lochaber
Chapter V


Bird Music—The Skylark's Song—Imitation of, by a French Poet—Alasdair Macdonald—Scott.

Conscious at last that pouting and inordinate weeping became him not, and that, being constantly on the "rampage," like Mrs. Joe Gargery, was hardly consistent with his place in the calendar, April [1869] betimes resolved to "tak a thocht and mend," and now, like Richard, is himself again—all sunshine and smiles. The rain-gauge, to be sure, with stern impartiality, will still show an occasional " inch," or parts of an inch, if you are very particular in your inquiries, when examined of a morning, but its readings now at least are in no way appalling, for they represent the warm and genial rainfall of April showers, that, after all, are as necessary on the west coast at this moment, and as refreshing to the soil, as the orthodox cup of mulled port of an evening was believed to be to the weary traveller in the good old days of stage-coaches and post-chaises. The country, at all events, is looking very beautiful just now, everything so green and glad, so fresh and fair, and full of promise of a yet gladder, and gayer, and brighter day at hand, when the swallow, twittering, shall dart, a glossy meteor, in the sunlight, and the cuckoo shall challenge the truant schoolboy to repeat its well-known notes, correctly if he can. Now is the time to hear our native song-birds at their best, warbling their sweetest strains, and to decide, once for all, if it be possible, which you like best; the loud, clear, silvery tinkle of the seed-shelling fmch's rich and rapid song; the liquid and mellifluous warblings of the soft-billed tribes; or the soul-entrancing, round, rich, flute-like piping of the throstle, song-thrush, and merle. How it may fare with the reader who trios to decide the point we cannot say. For our own part, no decision that we could ever arrive at could keep its legs for two days together. No sooneT did we decide that the skylark and its congeners had the "best of it, than the goldfinch, with a score of lively cousins to aid and abet, challenged the verdict, and forced us to acknowledge Ida exquisite mastery in song—an admission made, however, only to he retracted again almost as soon as made, for in our walk on the evening of that self-same day did wrc not stand, and for the life of us couldn't help standing—breathless, and hushed, and still—to listen to the merle and song-thrush from the neighbouring copse pouring forth the indescribable riches of their God-taught vespers as the sun went down; and did we not, then and there, vow, in utter forgetfulness of finch and skylark; that no music of earth could for a moment compare, in execution and compass, in distinctness, and cheeriness, and purity of note, with these matchless twilight strains! The truth is that no music is equal to bird-music—wild-bird music, that is—in its season, and amid all its natural surroundings; and the probability is that we shall give the preference at any time to the melody of one bird over that of another, not on any well-defined principles of choice or selection in the matter, but simply in accordance with our own prevailing mood and temperament of the moment. Such, at least, has been our own experience ; but the reader has every opportunity at this season of studying the question for himself and deciding. Except that of the nightingale, perhaps the music of no bird has attracted so much attention by its beauty and suggestiveness as the merry trill of the skylark's ascending song. The poets of every country in which it is to be found have vied with each other in their praises of the only bird that sings as he soars, and soars as he sings, selling on quivering pinions the aerial terraces of heaven, until he can scarcely be discerned, a music-showering speck against the back-ground of the blue profound ! The other day we fell in with some curious verses by the French poet Du Bartas, in which he strives, and not altogether unsuccessfully, to imitate the merry trill and rhythm of the skylark's song :—

The last line, if rapidly repeated with the proper beat and intonation, will be found a really very successful imitation of the concluding notes of the lark's well-known song. Many of our readers will remember that the North Uist bard, Ian Mac Codrum, in his Smeorach Chlann-Domhnuill, manages very happily to imitate the smeorach or song-thrusli's notes in the burden or chorus ; while Alexander Macdonald—Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair—very naturally falls, like the French poet, into an imitation of the wild-bird music of the woods and groves in a stanza that may be quoted not inappropriately at this season :—

The lines of Du Bartas have little meaning in themselves, and are untranslatable, being simply an attempt on the poet's part, in some odd moment of hilarity and abandon, to embody the notes of the skylark's song in something like articulate verse. The general sense of Macdonald's lines describing the irrepressible inclination of all living creatures to be jubilant and joyous at the return of spring, cannot better be rendered than in the first part of Scott's introductory stanza to the second canto of the Lady of the Lake, only that the return of spring in the one case, instead of the return of morn in the other, prompts to the outburst of gladness and song :—

''At morn the black-cock trims his jetty wing,
'Tis morning prompts the linnet's blithest lay,
All Nature's children feel the matin spring
Of life reviving, with reviving day;
And while yon little bark glides down the bay,
Wafting the stranger on his way again,
Morn's genial influence roused a minstrel grey,
And sweetly o'er the lake was heard thy strain,
Mixed with the sounding harp, O white-hair'd Allan-bane!"


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