Sunday, November 21, 2010

`This Effectual Close'

On the stones below the front window, almost lost among the fallen leaves, lay a sooty bit of fluff, a willow goldfinch, the state bird of Washington. He was smaller than a cotton boll, black and yellow feathers ruffled and wet from rain. Perhaps he slammed into the glass, driven by recent wind storms. His legs were bent, almost retracted, and looked pitifully stick-like. His eyes and beak were shut. I wrapped him in a big-leaf maple leaf, buried him in the backyard and thought of Cowper’s goldfinch who gives thanks “for this effectual close / And cure of ev'ry ill!”

Thoreau reserved a special fondness for the goldfinch and his song, describing it as “sprightly and varied” and a “fine, sprightly, richly warbled strain.” On July 24, 1852, he writes in his journal:

“I heard this afternoon the cool water twitter of the goldfinch, and saw the bird. They come with the springing aftermath. It is as refreshing as a cup of cold water to a thirsty man to hear them, now only one at a time.”

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