SONGBIRDS >> Gladness from Good and Truth
We have admired in the eagle the strong sweeps with which he climbs to the upper air, the penetration of his sight, and a general nobility of character. Not for these things do we love our little singing birds, nor yet for any power of work, but chiefly for what they say, and their manner of saying it. Of all created things outside of humanity, these are the only ones which we value primarily for their voices and their vocal expressions. They love to take short flights in the air; their sight is very quick, though of limited range compared with that of the eagle; they love the sunshine, the growing plants, with their flowers and fruits and the busy insects among them; and in the time of spring and early summer, for which they seem to exist through the rest of the year, from the first dawn of the morning till the last golden light fades from the sky, they continually express their delight by songs.
There is immense variety in their tones, from the busy chatter of the sparrows and the twitter of the swallows to the sweetly varied responses of the wood thrushes, as they answer one another from the distant treetops, giving assurance of friendly neighborhood and sympathy, far into the shades of the night.
The singing birds embody the love of conversation and vocal expression, so far as these relate to good human life. We find in their tones the counterparts of human expressions of gladness and affection, innocent converse and tender song. If our conversation be wholly and thoroughly sincere; if our friendship be the sympathy of spiritual love for truth and goodness; our love of doing good and giving pleasure unselfish; and our delights, from the heavenly sunshine of the Lord’s presence—we shall have in the social communication of such affection the correspondence of the songs of birds. Spiritual song birds do not love sustained thought and abstract truth; but they enjoy seeing everywhere the evidences and illustrations of truth. Swedenborg says:
There are some persons who, as soon as they hear the truth, perceive that it is truth; these are represented in the spiritual world as eagles. There are others who do not perceive truth, but conclude it from confirmations by appearances; and these are represented by singing birds. There are others who believe a thing to be true because it was asserted by a man of authority; these are represented by magpies. And also there are others who are not willing, and then not able, to perceive truth, but only falsity; . . . the thoughts of these are represented by owls, and their speech by screech owls. (True Christian Religion #42)
It does not belong to our present work to distinguish carefully the varieties of social affection represented by the many song birds. They all are included under the common term tsippor, in the Hebrew, and, with rare exceptions, are not mentioned separately in the Bible. The principal exception occurs in the verse, “Even the sparrow hath found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself where she may lay her young, near thine altars, O Jehovah of hosts, my King and my God” (Psalm 84:4).
“Sparrow” in this passage is tsippor, and means any singing, chirping bird. And the name “liberty,” as applied to a bird which builds in the temple, can hardly mean any other than the swallow, which lives on the wing, perpetually going and coming, and cannot bear the least confinement.
The Psalm from which these words are taken is a song of desire from the captives in Babylon for return to their temple and their homes in Jerusalem. The song bird and the swallow can go, but they cannot; that is, their affection for the spiritual truth of the service of the Lord, and for natural, free delight in His service, all center there as in their homes; but their own daily lives are still in spiritual captivity to evil and falsity. With careful attention, those who are familiar with birds will readily see their analogies. But, without attempting perfect accuracy, I may say that among our common birds the one which we familiarly call the robin, industrious, domestic, loud-voiced, at home in the orchards and mowing fields, talks to me of the cares of house and family, and gives thanks for abundant supplies; his friend, the bluebird, not less domestic, but softer and more varied in voice, and of more elegant plumage and form, tells of modest content, and of the pleasures of natural tastefulness in a frugal home. The merry, boastful bobolink, tumbling his notes out promiscuously as he flies, reminds me of children just from school, and tells of the joys of recreation after labor. (The bobolink dons his gay black and white plumage, comes to his summer home and bursts into song, quite late in the season—not until summer is fully established. After a very short season he silently resumes his sober robes and retires for a long winter. As a song bird, he probably expresses the joys of deliverance from temptations, of relief from suffering, as well as “recreation after labor.” It is significant in this connection, that in winter he is so fond of rice as to take the name of “rice bird” in the South. The correspondence of rice is with duties done from obedience).
The sweet minor song of the mountain sparrow brings the restfulness of spiritual views of nature in solitude. And the several kinds of thrushes, living in the woods and by the waters, some with the power of appreciating and imitating the notes of all other birds, and most of them having of their own sweeter and more varied songs than any others, seem the very poets and singers of our social world. They sing to me of the sweetest and most interior domestic affections and friendships. All these, and many others, represent affections which enjoy illustrations of truth and evidences of goodness; of these they talk and sing, innocently and with charity. ( Apocalypse Explained #391)
Author: JOHN WORCESTER 1875