At first the birds—so runs the gentle story
The priest of Buddha to the people told,
With only feet to bear them o'er the mould,
Hopped to and fro, nor marked the varied glory
Of days and seasons in their wondrous passing;
Saw not the wintry branches overhead
By vernal airs revived, engarlanded,
Saw not the clouds, their forms in rivers glassing,
Dreamed not of birch-tree-haunts on lovely islands
Where sunsets tarry late, as loth to go,—
Nor ever knew what winds delicious blow
From piny mountain-peaks o'er verdurous highlands.
Now here, now there, absorbed in one endeavor—
One single aim—poor birds!—the search for food,
They looked on all which aided that as good,—
Toward any larger goal aspiring never.
But came a morning, strange and unforeboded,
When from their tiny shoulders started things,
Feathered atip, which presently were wings,—
Full irksome to the birds, and heavy-loaded.
Impatient of the undesired burden,
They huddled on the ground, disconsolate,
While some complained reproachfully:—"Does Fate
Lay on us this new care in lieu of guerdon
"For all that we have done and borne so bravely?
Is't not enough that oft, through blight and snow,
We starve—we who from toil no respite know?"
They drooped, they pined; but said the bluebird gravely,
His pretty head with gallant air uplifting:
"This is indeed a burden which we bear—
An added burden; yet—O why despair?"—
Then, from one foot to t' other his weight shifting,
He hopped about, in valor growing bolder,
Till—for new effort new ambition brings—
He found at last that he could stretch his wings! . . .
Straightway the birds forgot the day grown colder—
Forgot the future's care, the past's privation;
And when, their fond desires fixed on high,
They knew—O happy birds!—that they could fly,—
The burden had become their exaltation!