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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine's Day is for the birds

Or so thought fourteenth-century poet Geoffrey Chaucer (whose work we were discussing in Brit Lit this week). His 1381 Parliament of Fowles popularized (at least in England) the idea that birds choose their mates on February 14. In the poem, a character falls asleep and dreams of love, is disappointed by the Temple of Love and Beauty, and eventually discovers the hillside temple of the goddess Nature, where birds are having a romantic Parliament, akin to the Courts of Love popular in some aristocratic human circles.
  And in a launde, upon an hille of floures,
  Was set this noble goddesse Nature;
  Of braunches were hir halles and hir boures,
  Y-wrought after hir craft and hir mesure;
  Ne ther nas foul that cometh of engendrure,
  That they ne were prest in hir presence,
  To take hir doom and yeve hir audience.

  For this was on seynt Valentynes day,
  Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make,
  Of every kinde, that men thenke may;
  And that so huge a noyse gan they make,
  That erthe and see, and tree, and every lake
  So ful was, that unnethe was ther space
  For me to stonde, so ful was al the place.
 In case you don't read Middle English, the poet A. S. Kline has thoughtfully provided a modern translation of the poem.

And in a clearing on a hill of flowers
Was set this noble goddess, Nature;
Of branches were her halls and her bowers
Wrought according to her art and measure;
Nor was there any fowl she does engender
That was not seen there in her presence,
To hear her judgement, and give audience.

For this was on Saint Valentine’s day,
When every fowl comes there his mate to take,
Of every species that men know, I say,
And then so huge a crowd did they make,
That earth and sea, and tree, and every lake
Was so full, that there was scarcely space
For me to stand, so full was all the place.

 Whoever first decided that February 14 is the date when young birds' fancies turn to thoughts of love, I've no idea, and despite Chaucer and his pals at the Courts of Love, I doubt that many of the birds in our frozen Northern wonderland are thinking of anything but staying warm today. The wind has been fierce, the temperatures are dropping, and any potential nesting materials are covered by a fair amount of snow. But. . . .

Something has had red-shouldered hawks flying through the neighborhood for the last several days, emitting their unmistakeable hawk screech. Last summer there were so many looping about overhead that we wondered if the wanderers were adolescents checking out nesting sites, and 2015 seems to be shaping up to be another Year of the Hawk. 

Maybe love is in the air.  

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