Poems of Childhood/The Fire-Hangbird's Nest

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AS I am sitting in the sun upon the porch to-day,
I look with wonder at the elm that stands across the way;
I say and mean "with wonder," for now it seems to me
That elm is not as tall as years ago it used to be!
The old fire-hangbird's built her nest therein for many springs—
High up amid the sportive winds the curious cradle swings,
But not so high as when a little boy I did my best
To scale that elm and carry off the old fire-hangbird's nest!

The Hubbard boys had tried in vain to reach the homely prize
That dangled from that upper outer twig in taunting wise,
And once, when Deacon Turner's boy had almost grasped the limb,
He fell! and had to have a doctor operate on him!
Philetus Baker broke his leg and Orrin Root his arm—
But what of that? The danger gave the sport a special charm!
The Bixby and the Cutler boys, the Newtons and the rest
Ran every risk to carry off the old fire-hangbird's nest!

I can remember that I used to knee my trousers through,
That mother used to wonder how my legs got black and blue,
And how she used to talk to me and make stern threats when she
Discovered that my hobby was the nest in yonder tree;
How, as she patched my trousers or greased my purple legs,
She told me 'twould be wicked to destroy a hangbird's eggs,
And then she'd call on father and on gran'pa to attest
That they, as boys, had never robbed an old fire-hangbird's nest!

Yet all those years I coveted the trophy flaunting there,
While, as it were in mockery of my abject despair,
The old fire-hangbird confidently used to come and go,
As if she were indifferent to the bandit horde below!
And sometimes clinging to her nest we thought we heard her chide
The callow brood whose cries betrayed the fear that reigned inside:
"Hush, little dears! all profitless shall be their wicked quest—
I knew my business when I built the old fire-hangbird's nest!"

For many, very many years that mother-bird has come
To rear her pretty little brood within that cosey home.
She is the selfsame bird of old—I 'm certain it is she—
Although the chances are that she has quite forgotten me.
Just as of old that prudent, crafty bird of compound name
(And in parenthesis I'll say her nest is still the same);
Just as of old the passion, too, that fires the youthful breast
To climb unto and comprehend the old fire-hangbird's nest!

I like to see my old-time friend swing in that ancient tree,
And, if the elm's as tall and sturdy as it used to be,
I'm sure that many a year that nest shall in the breezes blow,
For boys aren't what they used to be a forty years ago!
The elm looks shorter than it did when Brother Rufe and I
Beheld with envious hearts that trophy flaunted from on high;
He writes that in the city where he's living 'way out West
His little boys have never seen an old fire-hangbird's nest!

Poor little chaps! how lonesomelike their city life must be—
I wish they 'd come and live awhile in this old house with me!
They'd have the honest friends and healthful sports I used to know
When Brother Rufe and I were boys a forty years ago.
So, when they grew from romping lads to busy, useful men,
They could recall with proper pride their country life again;
And of those recollections of their youth I'm sure the best
Would be of how they sought in vain the old fire-hangbird's nest!