To John Clare

Well, honest John, how fare you now at home?
The spring is come, and birds are building nests;
The old cock robin to the stye is come,
With olive feathers and its ruddy breast;
And the old cock, with wattles and red comb,
Struts with the hens, and seems to like some best,
Then crows, and looks about for little crumbs,
Swept out by little folks an hour ago;
The pigs sleep in the stye; the bookman comes--
The little boy lets home-close nesting go,
And pockets tops and taws, where daisies bloom,
To look at the new number just laid down,
With lots of pictures, and good stories too,
And Jack the Giant-killer's high renown.


Arevanye said...

We were just discussing robins the other day on the Narnia site! I had no idea how different the European Robin was from the American version. Anyway, there are a few very charming legends about the robin I thought you might like to read--here's a copy of the pertinent thread:


“The folk-lore of the British Isles abounds with quaint beliefs and stories concerning birds. There is a charming Welsh legend concerning the robin, which the Rev. T.F.T. Dyer quotes from Notes and Queries:-- "Far, far away, is a land of woe, darkness, spirits of evil, and fire. Day by day does this little bird bear in his bill a drop of water to quench the flame. So near the burning stream does he fly, that his dear little feathers are scorched; and hence he is named Brou-rhuddyn (Breast-burnt). To serve little children, the robin dares approach the infernal pit. No good child will hurt the devoted benefactor of man. The robin returns from the land of fire, and therefore he feels the cold of winter far more than his brother birds. He shivers in the brumal blast; hungry, he chirps before your door."

This quote is taken from Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland, by Lady Francesca Speranza Wilde [1887]:

“…but most unlucky of all things is to kill the robin redbreast. The robin is God's own bird, sacred and holy, and held in the greatest veneration because of the beautiful tradition current amongst the people, that it was the robin plucked out the sharpest thorn that was piercing Christ's brow on the cross; and in so doing the breast of the bird was dyed red with the Saviour's blood, and so has remained ever since a sacred and blessed sign to preserve the robin from harm and make it beloved of all men.”

and further on in the same text:

“Whoever kills a robin redbreast will never have good luck were they to live a thousand years.”

Incidentally, the American robin does not have "olive" feathers. Rather, its back feathers are a dark brown, and its breast is more of a red-orange.

Roger R. said...

Great posting...thank you. Hence perhaps the onld English Folk Song:

Who killed Cock Robin?
I, said the Sparrow,
with my bow and arrow,
I killed Cock Robin.

Who saw him die?
I, said the Fly,
with my little eye,
I saw him die.

Who caught his blood?
I, said the Fish,
with my little dish,
I caught his blood.

Who'll make the shroud?
I, said the Beetle,
with my thread and needle,
I'll make the shroud.

Who'll dig his grave?
I, said the Owl,
with my pick and shovel,
I'll dig his grave.

Who'll be the parson?
I, said the Rook,
with my little book,
I'll be the parson.

Who'll be the clerk?
I, said the Lark,
if it's not in the dark,
I'll be the clerk.

Who'll carry the link?
I, said the Linnet,
I'll fetch it in a minute,
I'll carry the link.

Who'll be chief mourner?
I, said the Dove,
I mourn for my love,
I'll be chief mourner.

Who'll carry the coffin?
I, said the Kite,
if it's not through the night,
I'll carry the coffin.

Who'll bear the pall?
We, said the Wren,
both the cock and the hen,
We'll bear the pall.

Who'll sing a psalm?
I, said the Thrush,
as she sat on a bush,
I'll sing a psalm.

Who'll toll the bell?
I said the bull,
because I can pull,
I'll toll the bell.

(Chorus after each verse)
All the birds of the air
fell a-sighing and a-sobbing,
when they heard the bell toll
for poor Cock Robin.

Incidentally, the poem "To John Clare" was written in 1860.

Arevanye said...

What a cute little song. I've never heard it before, but I have heard of Cock Robin. He must be in some children's stories, too. Interesting, the things that make it across the pond and the things that remain purely British.