« AnteriorContinuar »
And you, soft winds so clear,
That dance upon the leaves, and make them sing
Gentle love-lays to the spring,
Gilding all the vales below,
Raise their forms from under ground
With a soft and happy sound.
Now daisies pied, and violets blue,
And lady-smocks all silver white,
Do paint the meadows with delight:
The distinguishing characteristic of the weather during this month is fickleness; the most lovely sunshiny days are succeeded by others, which by the force of contrast often seem the most unpleasant of any in the year; the bright green of the fresh leaves, and the delightful view of newly opened flowers, are too frequently obscured by clouds, and chilled by rough wintry blasts.
The most perfect image of spring, however, is exhibited in this month; no production is yet come to maturity, and the vicissitudes of warm gleams and gentle showers have the most powerful effect in hastening that universal springing of the vegetable tribes, whence the season derives its appellation.
April generally begins with raw unpleasant weather, the influence of the equinoctial storms in some degree still prevailing. Its opening is thus described in a poem of Mr. Warton's—
Mindful of disaster past,
Early in the month, that welcome guest and harbinger of summer, the swallow, returns.* Of this genus of birds
* Stanley tells us " that the flight of the common swallow has been computed at ninety miles, that of the swift at nearly one hundred and eighty miles per hour. We can scarcely indeed calculate or limit the speed SWALLOWS, SAND MABTINS, ETC.
there are four species that visit our island, all of which are known by the shortness of their legs, the extent of their wings, and the ease and swiftness of their flight, by which they escape the attacks of the kite and sparrow-hawk, that commit such havoc among the other small birds. The kind first seen is the chimney swallow, remarkable by its long-forked tail and red breast, and by a twittering note, on account of which it might, perhaps, with no great impropriety, be called a singing bird; it makes its nest in chimneys. At first, here and there, only one appears, glancing by as if scarcely able to endure the cold.
The swallow for a moment seen,
But in a few days their number is greatly increased, and they sport with much seeming pleasure in the warm sunshine. The second in the order of arrival is the housemartin, which constructs its nest of clay under the eaves of houses and in the corners of windows: this is the most numerous species, and is known by its white breast and black back. The next species is the sand-martin; this is the smallest of the genus, being called in Spain the mountain butterfly: its favourite residence is in a steep sandbank above a large pool or river, in which it scoops out holes to the depth of about two feet, and in this secure retreat deposits its eggs. The largest species, and that which arrives the latest, is the swift, known by its lofty and remarkably rapid flight: these are seen in fine mornings sporting about and displaying their various evolutions at a vast height in the air: and in the evening the males collect together in parties of ten or a dozen, approach nearer the
which can be produced by the effort of a wing's vibration. Truly may the country people in many parts of England designate the
Martin and the swallow,
God Almighty's bow and arrow."
And reflecting upon the almost miraculous speed of a little bird's wing, do we not feel most sensibly the wonderful appropriateness of the popular belief which has clothed the angels of God with mighty, strong pinions, upon which, with the speed of lightning, they wing their way through the universe.—Ed.
ground, and hurry round the tops of large buildings, uttering at the same time a piercing scream, by way of serenade to their mates, who make their nests under the tiles of houses.
As these birds live on insects, their appearance is a certain proof that many of this minute class of animals are now abroad from their winter retreats.
Another pleasing occurrence in this month is the pairing of birds, their assiduity in building nests, and the various melody with which the groves are filled.
The nightingale, that most enchanting of songsters, is heard soon after the arrival of the swallow.
First heard before the shallow cuckoo's bill.
It sings by day as well as by night, but in the day-time its voice is drowned in the multitude of performers: on which account the poets have always made the song of the nightingale a nocturnal serenade.
Sweet bird that shunn'st the noise of folly,
Most musical, most melancholy!
Thee, chauntress, oft, the woods among
I woo to hear thy even song. Milton.
The singing of birds is usually supposed to be the language of courtship: "All this waste of music is the voice of love," says Thomson; but though for the most part it is coincident with the pairing and hatching of birds, yet there are several circumstances which show it to be rather the effect of a particular state of the body, depending considerably on the weather, and in a great measure instinctive, that is, involuntary, than the consequence of the sentiment of love or desire. If a bird be made prematurely to moult, he will be in song while the rest are out of song. A solitary nightingale, or any other bird kept in a cage, will not only