Monday, October 20, 2008
Statius’ elegy for Melior’s parrot. I found this one down the back of the sofa and thought I might haul it out.
Prince of birds, your master’s eloquent pleaser,
Smooth-tongued psitaccine ventriloquiser,
Who was it cut your song so cruelly short?
Our dinner guest last night! Who’d have thought,
Watching you gather titbits from his plate,
You’d die, party animal, that same night?
That way you had of answering us back!
Now silent Lethe’s stilled your cheeky squawk.
Singing, swan-like, your own requiem,
You’ve struck us poor surviving singers dumb.
And how that beak of yours would xylophone
The shame of it, being locked up, along
The silver bars that lined your polished cage
(Plush décor’s no palliative for such rage) –
The same box whose door now flaps ajar,
Or creaks, at best, a plaintive ‘Nevermore!’
Scholar birds whose power extends to speech,
Ravens, starlings with your mimic touch,
Magpies (Ovid says you’re transformed girls),
Echoing partridges and nightingales –
Shoulder your poor brother to his rest
And swell the chorus of our deep distress:
‘And is he gone from us, and gone so young,
The green eastern kingdom’s uncrowned king
Who outshone the jewels that line the peacock’s
tail, the fowl, and the birds of icy Phasis?
Such things he’d call the mighty to their faces!
Not even Caesar himself was spared the names
He’d hurl as lightly as the guests their crumbs,
His only pay. Never until now could
Melior say he knew true solitude.
Seeing the parrot off with due aplomb
He perfumed his ashes with Assyrian balm,
The feathers with saffron; but though his fragrant pyre
Flamed high, oh his phoenix soul flamed higher.
Photo (eclectus parrot) found here.