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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Grand Chorus of Birds

By Aristophanes (c. 448–c. 388 B.C.)

From ‘The Birds’: Translation of Algernon Charles Swinburne

COME on then, ye dwellers by nature in darkness, and like to the leaves’ generations,

That are little of might, that are molded of mire, unenduring and shadowlike nations,

Poor plumeless ephemerals, comfortless mortals, as visions of shadows fast fleeing,

Lift up your mind unto us that are deathless, and dateless the date of our being;

Us, children of heaven, us, ageless for aye, us, all of whose thoughts are eternal:

That ye may from henceforth, having heard of us all things aright as to matters supernal,

Of the being of birds, and beginning of gods, and of streams, and the dark beyond reaching,

Trustfully knowing aright, in my name bid Prodicus pack with his preaching!

It was Chaos and Night at the first, and the blackness of darkness, and Hell’s broad border,

Earth was not, nor air, neither heaven; when in depths of the womb of the dark without order

First thing, first-born of the black-plumed Night, was a wind-egg hatched in her bosom,

Whence timely with seasons revolving again sweet Love burst out as a blossom,

Gold wings glittering forth of his back, like whirlwinds gustily turning.

He, after his wedlock with Chaos, whose wings are of darkness, in Hell broad-burning,

For his nestlings begat him the race of us first, and upraised us to light new-lighted.

And before this was not the race of the gods, until all things by Love were united:

And of kind united in kind with communion of nature the sky and the sea are

Brought forth, and the earth, and the race of the gods everlasting and blest. So that we are

Far away the most ancient of all things blest. And that we are of Love’s generation

There are manifest manifold signs. We have wings, and with us have the Loves habitation;

And manifold fair young folk that forswore love once, ere the bloom of them ended,

Have the men that pursued and desired them subdued by the help of us only befriended,

With such baits as a quail, a flamingo, a goose, or a cock’s comb staring and splendid.

All best good things that befall men come from us birds, as is plain to all reason:

For first we proclaim and make known to them spring, and the winter and autumn in season;

Bid sow, when the crane starts clanging for Afric in shrill-voiced emigrant number,

And calls to the pilot to hang up his rudder again for the season and slumber;

And then weave a cloak for Orestes the thief, lest he strip men of theirs if it freezes.

And again thereafter the kite reappearing announces a change in the breezes.

And that here is the season for shearing your sheep of their spring wool. Then does the swallow

Give you notice to sell your great-coat, and provide something light for the heat that’s to follow.

Thus are we as Ammon or Delphi unto you. Dodona, nay, Phœbus Apollo.

For, as first ye come all to get auguries of birds, even such is in all things your carriage,

Be the matter a matter of trade, or of earning your bread, or of any one’s marriage.

And all things ye lay to the charge of a bird that belong to discerning prediction:

Winged fame is a bird, as you reckon; you sneeze, and the sign’s as a bird for conviction;

All tokens are “birds” with you—sounds, too, and lackeys and donkeys. Then must it not follow

That we are to you all as the manifest godhead that speaks in prophetic Apollo?