Tag Archives: Nursery rhymes

Four and twenty blackbirds

Chante une chanson de six sous,
Une poche pleine de seigle.
Quatre et vingt merles,
Cuit dans une tarte.

Quand la tarte a été ouverte,
Les oiseaux se commencé à chanter;
Était-ce pas un plat savoureux,
Pour régler devant le roi?

Le roi était dans sa maison comptage,
Compter son argent;
La reine était dans le salon,
En mangeant du pain et de miel.

La femme de chambre était dans le jardin,
Raccrocher les vêtements,
Quand le bas est venu un merle
Et picoté hors de son nez.

Blackbirds are a common in Europe and America and considered a nuisance when they gather in flocks. We go to great trouble to get rid of them. But some good must come of them.

I speak of the common blackbird, although there are certainly others such as the red-wing, grackle, raven, rook, or jackdaw. Yes, I speak of the blackbird that in autumn and winter gathers in flocks by the thousands and makes a mess of cars, tables, and porches. In the country they can be seen in the cut fields gathering what remains of the  wheat and corn; in the city they perch on telephone wires and buildings, watching, it seems, as if to descend and strike back at us for cutting down their habitat.

Who doesn’t recall Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds? If we let the mind wander and soar, then I prefer Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire.

damme-blackbirds
Four blackbirds

Wander I must.

Here I am in Belgium, outside Brugge, walking along the canal on the way to Damme. It is early September, a little early for the blackbirds to gather together in flocks, but someone has to put out the word.

“Four and twenty blackbirds…” goes the rhyme, first appearing in print in 1744 in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Songbook.

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish,
To set before the king?

The king was in his counting house,
Counting out his money;
The queen was in the parlour,
Eating bread and honey.

The maid was in the garden,
Hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird
And pecked off her nose.

Ouch!

In the Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder had ma improvise when pa shot the blackbirds that ate the crops. There is no great loss without some small gain.

Ma made a pie.

damme-blackbirds-2

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