Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  An Autumn Flitting

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

George Cotterell b. 1839

An Autumn Flitting

MY roof is hardly picturesque—

It lacks the pleasant reddish brown

Of the tiled house-tops out of town,

And cannot even hope to match

The modest beauty of the thatch:

Nor is it Gothic or grotesque—

No gable breaks, with quaint design,

Its hard monotony of line,

And not a gargoyle on the spout

Brings any latent beauty out:

Its only charm—I hold it high—

Is just its nearness to the sky.

But yet it looks o’er field and tree,

And in the air

One breathes up there

A faint, fresh whiff suggests the sea.

And that is why, this afternoon,

The topmost slates above the leads

Were thick with little bobbing heads,

And frisking tails, and wings that soon

Shall spread, ah me!

For lands where summer lingers fair,

Far otherwhere.

I heard a muttering,

Saw a fluttering,

Pointed wings went skimming past,

White breasts shimmered by as fast,

Wheel and bound and spurt and spring—

All the air seemed all on wing.

Then, like dropping clouds of leaves,

Down they settled on the eaves—

All the swallows of the region,

In a number almost legion—

Frisked about, but did not stop

Till they reached the ridge atop.

Then what chirping, what commotion!

What they said I have no notion,

But one cannot err in stating

There was very much debating.

First a small loquacious swallow

Seemed to move a resolution;

And another seemed to follow,

Seconding the subject-matter

With a trick of elocution.

After that the chirp and chatter

Boded some more serious end, meant

For a quarrelsome amendment;

Bobbing heads and flapping wings,

Eloquent of many things,

Gathered into lively rows,

“Pros” and “cons” and “ayes” and “noes.”

As the clatter reached my ears,

Now it sounded like “hear, hears”;

But again a note of faction,

With a clash of beaks in action,

Gave an aspect to the scene

Not exactly quite serene.

Fretful clusters flew away,

All too much incensed to stay;

Wheeled about, then took a tack,

Halted and came darting back.

Others, eager to be heard,

Perched upon the chimney-top,

Chirped, as they would never stop,

Loud and fluent every bird.

But the turmoil passed away:

How it happened I can’t say,—

All I know is, there was peace.

Whether some more thoughtful bird

Said the quarrelling was absurd,

And implored that it should cease;

Whether what appeared contention

Was a difference not worth mention,

Just some mere exchange of words

Not uncommon among birds,

I have only my own notion,

You may make a nearer guess;

All at once the noise was over,

Not a bird was now a rover,

Some one seemed to put the motion,

And the little heads bobbed “Yes.”

Oh, that sudden resolution,

So unanimously carried!

Would they ’d longer talked and tarried,

With their fiery elocution!

What it bodes I cannot doubt;

They were planning when to go,

And they have settled it, I know;

Some chill morning, when the sun

Does not venture to shine out,

I shall miss them—overnight

They will all have taken flight,

And the summer will be gone.