Willow Wren Has Taken Me Captive – May 1903

This spring, the song of a willow wren has taken me captive. It is perhaps ten days since we heard it first; but it is such a delicate little thing, and so sensitive to cold, that it could not really open its heart and its throat until to-day, April 29, when for the first time we actually scent spring.

Soft rounded clouds are melting and weeping so stilly that the drops hang suspended on the leafless twigs of every tree and shrub. The sting has gone out of the air. The thorns are greener.

To-day, I went to examine the orchard to see what promise there is of leaf or fruit and there, the willow-warbler was feasting on microscopic insects and trilling joyously as it lightly hopped from branch to branch. Its song is so carelessly sweet and innocent and artless that one can liken it to nothing but childhood; not youth, for there we have passion and all the other tumultuous things, but happy childhood that looks neither before nor after. Somehow my warbler to-day made me think of a little girl tripping to school, swinging her skipping rope, and lilting her school songs.

Not long ago, I wondered why poets and sages, and the prosaic commonplace of old and middle age, chanted the praises of childhood. Had their early days been happier than mine? To me, mature life seemed so much better; the difficulties and trials of the child so keenly remembered.

But a fractional turn of the wheel, a little circumstance, perhaps some inward and unconscious maturing process — and suddenly, far back, one sees the land of one’s own childhood, lying in an enchanted golden haze. It is more beautiful, because more human, than any fairy dream.

Perhaps that is why this spring, the willow-warbler is the bird I like best. Burns, we remember, liked the plaintive love notes of birds because he was always, poetically if not actually, in love. “When every bird sang o’ its love, And fondly sae did I o’ mine.”

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