The Voyage Of St. Brendan. A.D. 545. - The Paradise Of Birds.

A poem by Denis Florence MacCarthy

"Post resurrectionis diem dominicae navigabitis ad altam insulam ad occidentalem plagam, quae vocatur PARADISUS AVIUM."--"Life of St. Brendan," in Capgrave, fol. 45.

It was the fairest and the sweetest scene--
The freshest, sunniest, smiling land that e'er
Held o'er the waves its arms of sheltering green
Unto the sea and storm-vexed mariner:--
No barren waste its gentle bosom scarred,
Nor suns that burn, nor breezes winged with ice,
Nor jagged rocks (Nature's grey ruins) marred
The perfect features of that Paradise.

The verdant turf spreads from the crystal marge
Of the clear stream, up the soft-swelling hill,
Rose-bearing shrubs and stately cedars large
All o'er the land the pleasant prospect fill.
Unnumbered birds their glorious colours fling
Among the boughs that rustle in the breeze,
As if the meadow-flowers had taken wing
And settled on the green o'er-arching trees.

Oh! Ita, Ita, 'tis a grievous wrong,
That man commits who uninspired presumes
To sing the heavenly sweetness of their song--
To paint the glorious tinting of their plumes--
Plumes bright as jewels that from diadems
Fling over golden thrones their diamond rays--
Bright, even as bright as those three mystic gems,
The angel bore thee in thy childhood's days.[8]

There dwells the bird that to the farther west
Bears the sweet message of the coming spring;[9]
June's blushing roses paint his prophet breast,
And summer skies gleam from his azure wing.
While winter prowls around the neighbouring seas,
The happy bird dwells in his cedar nest,
Then flies away, and leaves his favourite trees
Unto this brother of the graceful crest.[10]

Birds that with us are clothed in modest brown,
There wear a splendour words cannot express;
The sweet-voiced thrush beareth a golden crown,[11]
And even the sparrow boasts a scarlet dress.[12]
There partial nature fondles and illumes
The plainest offspring that her bosom bears;
The golden robin flies on fiery plumes,[13]
And the small wren a purple ruby wears.[14]

Birds, too, that even in our sunniest hours,
Ne'er to this cloudy land one moment stray,
Whose brilliant plumes, fleeting and fair as flowers,
Come with the flowers, and with the flowers decay.[15]
The Indian bird, with hundred eyes, that throws
From his blue neck the azure of the skies,
And his pale brother of the northern snows,
Bearing white plumes, mirrored with brilliant eyes.[16]

Oft in the sunny mornings have I seen
Bright-yellow birds, of a rich lemon hue,
Meeting in crowds upon the branches green,
And sweetly singing all the morning through.[17]
And others, with their heads greyish and dark,
Pressing their cinnamon cheeks to the old trees,
And striking on the hard, rough, shrivelled bark,
Like conscience on a bosom ill at ease.[18]

And diamond birds chirping their single notes,
Now 'mid the trumpet-flower's deep blossoms seen,
Now floating brightly on with fiery throats,
Small-winged emeralds of golden green;[19]
And other larger birds with orange cheeks,
A many-colour-painted chattering crowd,
Prattling for ever with their curved beaks,
And through the silent woods screaming aloud.[20]

Colour and form may be conveyed in words,
But words are weak to tell the heavenly strains
That from the throats of these celestial birds
Rang through the woods and o'er the echoing plains.
There was the meadow-lark, with voice as sweet,
But robed in richer raiment than our own;
And as the moon smiled on his green retreat,
The painted nightingale sang out alone.[21]

Words cannot echo music's winged note,
One bird alone exhausts their utmost power;
'Tis that strange bird whose many-voic'ed throat
Mocks all his brethren of the woodland bower;
To whom indeed the gift of tongues is given,
The musical rich tongues that fill the grove,
Now like the lark dropping his notes from heaven,
Now cooing the soft earth-notes of the dove.[22]

Oft have I seen him, scorning all control,
Winging his arrowy flight rapid and strong,
As if in search of his evanished soul,
Lost in the gushing ecstasy of song;
And as I wandered on, and upward gazed,
Half lost in admiration, half in fear,
I left the brothers wondering and amazed,
Thinking that all the choir of heaven was near.

Was it a revelation or a dream?--
That these bright birds as angels once did dwell
In heaven with starry Lucifer supreme,
Half sinned with him, and with him partly fell;
That in this lesser paradise they stray.
Float through its air, and glide its streams along,
And that the strains they sing each happy day
Rise up to God like morn and even song.[23]

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