My caged munias & the birds in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s mind

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The captive munias (rignos, mayas; chestnut mannikins,) didn’t escape my mind when I read the old elegant lines from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s paean for the birds, part of what he wrote in May-Day and Other Pieces. The 19th century American essayist-poet’s beautifully crafted words made my heart thumping as thoughts of childhood crossed my mind. All the birds which I wanted as pets died. I was regretful. From the ugly experience, I wondered if I truly learned wholesome values mentioned by the great inspiring American writer-philosopher in the following lines:


O birds, your perfect virtues bring,
Your song, your forms, your rhythmic flight,
Your manners for your heart’s delight,
Nestle in hedge, or barn, or roof,
Here weave your chamber weather-proof,
Forgive our harms, and condescend
To man, as to a lubber friend,
And, generous, teach his awkward race
Courage, and probity, and grace!”

—from May Day and Other Pieces by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

I felt remorse over keeping those mayas in a small bamboo cage. For measly 5 centavos each, I bought the tiny birds at the gate of the grade school where I studied. At home, I was excited to play with the popular avian species which frequent the grasses and rice paddies of Bicol. With fast wings ready to fly, their feet were restrained by strings tied on my hand.

The mayas were good to see inside the bamboo cage on the window sill. Each time I went near, feathers hummed like the sound of an electric razor. Brighter and more vibrant than Joseph’s dream coat, their fluffy feathers and tiny feet were wonderful.

I sensed their fear and boredom even if I fed them with rice grains from the fields. It was stupid of me to egg them to bathe in a water basin the way ducks do in the marsh. Recalling how they groomed when rain left pools of water on the pavement outside, I watched them flap their fiery brown wings. I craved that they lay eggs in a nest I made from dried zakate leaves.

Their silvery beaks were no match to the rigid bamboo enclosure which they tried to break. Their brown puzzling eyes sought every little chance to escape and be free.

If they could speak, they might have insisted flying up the lemon tree or have them build nests in a bush as thorny as the bougainvilleas. I heard them burst in a beautiful song with the soul of a passing breeze. In spite of my watch, all of them didn’t last. One after another, they died.

Although I was pure and diligent in my care for the munias, I knew they succumbed to stress. The alert birds badly needed liberty and they might have been distressed like the idle prisoners in jail. So self-absorbed of having them, I couldn’t resist keeping them in the cage. At that age, I had little idea what cruelty meant.

Nobody convinced me that my effort to make the birds happy made them even more sad. Had I known, I would have treated them humanely by just setting them free. As Ralph Waldo Emerson whose respect for nature and God were strong when he wrote years ago, I couldn’t resist saying, “forgive our harms, and condescend.” (Photo Credits: Edmondcv210;____; neon2rosell; CharlesLam; floridapfd; GurpalKaher; Nils) =0

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