John Ford



(Contention of a Bird and a Musician)

Passing from Italy to Greece, the tales
Which poets of an elder time have feign'd
To glorify their Tempe, bred in me
Desire of visiting that paradise.
To Thessaly I came, and living private,
Without acquaintance of more sweet companions
Than the old inmates to my love, my thoughts,
I day by day frequented silent groves
And solitary walks. One morning early
This accident encounter'd me: I heard
The sweetest and most ravishing contention
That art or nature ever were at strife in. . . .
A sound of music touch'd mine ears, or rather
Indeed entranced my soul: as I stole nearer,
Invited by the melody, I saw
This youth, this fair-faced youth, upon his lute
With strains of strange variety and harmony
Proclaiming (as it seem'd) so bold a challenge
To the clear quiristers of the woods, the birds,
That as they flock'd about him, all stood silent,
Wondering at what they heard. I wonder'd too.
. . . A nightingale,
Nature's best skill'd musician, undertakes
The challenge; and, for every several strain
The well-shaped youth could touch, she sung her own;
He could not run division with more art
Upon his quaking instrument, than she
The nightingale did with her various notes
Reply to. . . .
Some time thus spent, the young man grew at last
Into a pretty anger; that a bird,
Whom art had never taught cliffs, moods, or notes,
Should vie with him for mastery, whose study
Had busied many hours to perfect practice:
To end the controversy, in a rapture
Upon his instrument he plays so swiftly,
So many voluntaries, and so quick,
That there was curiosity and cunning,
Concord in discord, lines of differing method
Meeting in one full centre of delight.
. . . The bird (ordain'd to be
Music's first martyr) strove to imitate
These several sounds: which when her warbling throat
Fail'd in, for grief down dropt she on his lute
And brake her heart. It was the quaintest sadness,
To see the conqueror upon her hearse
To weep a funeral elegy of tears. . . .
He looks upon the trophies of his art,
Then sigh'd, then wiped his eyes, then sigh'd, and cried.
"Alas! poor creature, I will soon revenge
This cruelty upon the author of it.
Henceforth this lute, guilty of innocent blood,
Shall never more betray a harmless peace
To an untimely end": and in that sorrow,
As he was pashing it against a tree,
I suddenly stept in.


English Literature: An Illustrated Record. Vol II, part II
Edmund Gosse and Richard Garnett, Eds.
New York: The MacMillan Company, 1904. 358-359.


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