The Poets’ Birds: The Mockingbird (and a Donkey)

Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)

 

José Rosas Moreno (1838-1883), a native of Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco, Mexico, served in various governmental positions during his lifetime, but was equally well-regarded as an author. One of his best-known works centered on the life of  Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648 – 1695), a nun sometimes known as the Tenth Muse because of her work as a poet, dramatist, and scholar. 

Sor Juana, as she is known, emerged as an outstanding writer during the Latin American colonial period, although it was not until Octavio Paz’s 1982 biographical and literary study of her writings, Sor Juana: Or, The Traps of Faith that José Rosas Moreno himself became known to a wider audience outside of Mexico. Moreno also devoted himself to poetry, drama, and children’s literature; a series of Aesop-like fables he authored has remained popular in Mexico.

In 1872, American poet William Cullen Bryant was invited to become an honorary member of the Sociedad Mexicana de Geografía y Estadística (Mexican Society of Geography and Statistics).  In order to accept the honor in person, Bryant sailed to Veracruz, then took a stagecoach to Mexico City. There, he met Moreno and translated nine of the Mexican’s Fábulas, or Fables. Writing in The Spanish Background of American Literature, Stanley Williams notes that Bryant may have been “the first major American poet to recognize the achievements of his Mexican brothers” and to allow, for the first time, “a poet of Mexico [receiving] in the United States the most substantial of recognitions: namely, adequate translation into the English language.”

After returning to the United States, Bryant wrote the following letter dated October 2, 1876, to one Miss Bates from his residence on Long Island, New York:

Dear Miss Bates.
It seems to me almost certain that I answered your inquiry concerning the author of the little poem which I translated from the Spanish. His name is Rosas — José Rosas — a Mexican, whose little volume entitled “Fabulas” is adopted as a leading book in the schools of the Mexican capital. From the preface by his friend Ignacio Altamirano, a literary gentleman of note — and of the pure aboriginal race — I learn that he was known as a poet before the “Fabulas” were published in 1872.

The Libro de Fábulas consists of five volumes. Each contains twenty original verse fables (although only nineteen are included in Book IV), plus an appendix of thirteen verse fables. Some, like a well-known fable involving a camel, have been included in public memorials. While I haven’t been able to locate all fables translated by Bryant, I was charmed by the humor in the mockingbird’s poem, and appreciated the introduction to a new Mexican poet.

A mock-bird in a village
Had somehow gained the skill
To imitate the voices
Of animals at will.
And singing in his prison
Once, at the closing of the day,
He gave, with great precision,
The donkey’s heavy bray.
Well pleased, the mock-bird’s master
Sent to the neighbors ’round,
And bade them come together
To hear that curious sound.
They came, and all were talking
In praise of what they heard,
And one delighted lady
Would fain have bought the bird.
The donkey listened sadly,
And said: “Confess I must
That these are shallow people,
And terribly unjust.
“I’m bigger than that mock-bird,
And better bray than he,
Yet not a soul has uttered
A word in praise of me.”
                              The Mockingbird and the Donkey  ~  José Rosas Moreno 
 

 

Comments always are welcome.

139 thoughts on “The Poets’ Birds: The Mockingbird (and a Donkey)

  1. Oh, I didn’t see that ending coming how utterly delightful!
    Lovely image, seems he’s posing for you.
    In awe as usual, at your research skills.

    1. The little twist at the end often was what I liked best about the Aesop’s fables I learned as a kid. There’s nothing like a surprise, especially when the lesson’s offered up with some humor. This nice mocker posed beautifully; I have some other photos of him on a vine-covered fencepost that I really like.

      As for the research, this was another of those one-thing-leads-to-another posts. I’ve got a number of bookmarked articles about Sor Juana now; she was an absolutely fascinating woman.

    1. Isn’t it funny how we often prefer imitations to the real thing? The tale did remind me of a mockingbird who lived near me years ago. The silly thing had learned to imitate the mallards, and it took a good long time to figure out who was quacking in the trees.

      1. There was a nature special I watched a bit ago about the birds of paradise and their mating rituals. The MacGregor bowerbird did some disturbing imitations in how complex and spot-on they were. The whole special is entertaining and educational, but even just the clip of the children playing imitation is worth it.

    1. On the other hand, the bird was caged and the implication is the donkey had a degree of freedom, even if he had to work. Maybe the bird was hoping that his new trick would get him out of the cage.

  2. Poetry is more difficult than prose to translate, and still capture the rhythm and flow of the original. Without having read the Spanish version it seems nonetheless to have been successful in this case. And a pleasant little verse it is too, with lessons for mankind perhaps.

    1. I’ve thought of a number of lessons that might be learned from this one, including “Be careful who you imitate.” Still, the oddest detail, for me, was that the poem’s mockingbird was caged. I finally went looking, and found this in a 2014 article from the Tallahassee [Florida] Democrat:

      “[The serenading ability of mockingbirds] almost led to their demise in several colonial cities during the 19th century, when scoundrels regularly took mocker chicks right out of their nests and trapped adults, which they then sold as caged birds. In 1828, a sweet-singing mockingbird fetched the then-princely sum of $50.”

      “No fewer than four U.S. presidents—Thomas Jefferson, Rutherford B. Hayes, Grover Cleveland and Calvin Coolidge—kept caged mockers in the White House. Fortunately federal legislation put a stop to this practice.”

      I’d never heard of such a thing, but José Rosas Moreno obviously was aware of the practice.

      1. I vaguely remember reading somewhere that Jefferson kept one. Mockingbirds are such fierce fighters – at least when they are chasing a cat or defending their nests – that it is sad to think of them caged. But I hate to see any bird caged. The poem told a good story with that little twist at the end.

  3. As your linked article makes clear from the outset, William Cullen Bryant, like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, has almost completely disappeared from our schools and our culture.

    I found Bryant’s nine fable translations beginning on p. 94 at
    https://archive.org/stream/poemsfromworksof00brya/poemsfromworksof00brya_djvu.txt

    Thanks for the introduction to José Rosas Moreno. I went through a Mexican book with dozens of his fables but couldn’t find the one about the mockingbird and the donkey. In the process I learned that the Spanish word for mockingbird is zenzontle, and that the original Aztec version of the word meant ‘having 400 [voices].’

    1. Thanks for searching out those other fables. I was intrigued by Bryant’s travels to Cuba and Mexico, and his translation work. He clearly got around more than I realized — more than within New England and Europe, for sure.

      It seems the Aztecs weren’t that far off with their estimate of 400 voices for the mockingbird. According to a 1986 Q&A in the New York Times:

      “A typical mockingbird has 250 to 350 songs in its repertoire. Most songs are direct repetitions of other birds’ songs, but some are original improvisations. The male mockingbird uses its repertoire of songs to attract females, according to Dr. Kim Derrickson, a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution. A female mockingbird will choose the male with the largest repertoire because he is most likely to have the most territory… For this reason, mockingbirds are constantly expanding the number of songs they sing.”

      “Mockingbirds can imitate sounds made by other animals, such as the bark of a squirrel, and can also reproduce the sounds of inanimate objects such as fire alarms, dripping water or the squeak of a washing machine.”

      I do have a question about Spanish names. If I were to quote William Cullen Bryant, and then mention him again, I’d use his full name first, and then might simply use ‘Bryant.’ I wasn’t sure what to do with José Rosas Moreno. Some sources referred to him as ‘Moreno,’ some as ‘Rosas,’ some as ‘José Rosas,’ and some by his full name. Is there a standard practice that should be followed?

      1. You raised a good question. You’ll find a general answer at

        https://blog.myheritage.com/2011/07/spanish-naming-conventions-%E2%80%93-part-1-the-basics/

        I see that Picasso’s baptismal name was Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso. Ruiz was his father’s paternal surname and Picasso was his mother’s paternal surname. Because Ruiz is a common Spanish family name and Picasso is not (it’s actually Italian), Pablo Ruiz y Picasso became known distinctively as Pablo Picasso.

    1. I keep thinking of this poem in different ways. This morning, it occurred to me how often something that’s annoying in one context (a braying donkey that won’t stop, for example) is admired in a different context — like a mockingbird imitating the same sound. Once I thought of that, other examples came to mind. What’s cute in a toddler, for example, isn’t always cute in an adult.

  4. Definitely learned something new this morning by reading your post. What a great way to start day that has given over to freezing rain! The poem is not only fun but also has a little lesson in it. Also was struck by how complicated travel was in the 1870s.

    1. Travel was complicated, but expectations were different, too. Reading journals written in the 1800s by Americans heading west, or naturalists exploring this ‘new world’ is enlightening and sometimes amazing. Immigrant stories are fascinating, too. I once knew an old German woman whose parents arrived in Indianola, Texas, by ship, and then walked inland to Victoria, some forty miles away. Don’t I wish I’d asked her more questions when I had the chance!

      I saw your post about the beginning of the nasty weather. I hope that’s over now, and that you kept your power.

    1. If I had to choose one to listen to, I’d go with the mockingbird, too. On the other hand, the very few donkeys I’ve known seem better behaved than the mockingbirds that have shown up at my feeders. Thos birds can be bullies!

  5. The catbirds behind our house in the summer are relatives of the mockingbird. They seem to imitate some of my attempts to converse with them. They remind me of improv jazz musicians.

    1. I found this truly wonderful video done by an ornithologist that demonstrates the ability of the catbird to mimic other species. I didn’t realize they were so accomplished; I’ve only been aware of them mewing like a cat. Now I’m wondering if some of the birds I’ve assumed to be mockingbirds might be catbirds. I need to look more closely.

      Some people who commented on the video carry on conversations with their birds, too.

      1. Wow! That was impressive. We will have to listen more carefully this summer. I have tried calling back, making up my own phrasing. Sometimes I get a call back that sounds similar. These examples were great. Thanks for sharing that.

  6. Love the ending of that poem. Again, you blew me away with your research and ability to make me see the world through your eyes and interests.

    1. I really enjoyed the poem, myself. Since I don’t speak Spanish, I can’t say how closely Bryant adhered to the original, but he did a wonderful job of maintaining rhyme and rhythm without falling into the sort of stiffness that can be annoying.

      I do enjoy following little trails, and there were a few to follow with this one. You do a lot of research yourself, just in the process of the kind of downsizing you’re doing, and I suspect you enjoy that research as much as I do.

  7. Poor donkey. Seems quite apt though that the one with the biggest mouth making the most noise is the one who gets all the attention! The world hasn’t changed much in all these years, has it?

    1. There are a lot of noise-makers among us, that’s for sure. Sometimes sorting out the real donkeys from the pretend donkeys can be a bit of a chore, but it’s usually worth the time and energy.

  8. Thank you for for making me smile, Linda, and for introducing us to a Mexican poet. I don’t know the Spanish original, but the translation is wonderful. I always resolve to read more poetry, but then don’t make the time for it. I am renewing my resolution today.

    1. There’s very little that’s better than a smile, and when poetry and smiles are combined — well, that’s even better. And I agree that this was an appealing, well-translated poem.

      As for your resolution, one thing you might enjoy is subscribing to the newsletter from The Writer’s Almanac. There’s a lot that arrives from them in my inbox that I don’t like, but sometimes I find a mention of a poet I’ve forgotten, or a new poet who seems especially appealing.

      1. Thank you for the link, Linda. We used to get TWA on our radio, but that was years ago. We also really enjoyed “A Prairie Home Companion” before Garrison Keillor retired. Haven’t been able to get into it since they redesigned the show.

    1. I’m always intrigued when I find another Canadian or Mexican (or Latin American) writer or artist I’ve not been introduced to. Since there are so many American writers I don’t know, I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me, but it does pay to look across the borders from time to time.

  9. There is more to the poem than a donkey’s lament, that is for sure. It is so true through human society. And it is a wonderful poem.

    As a neighbor, a century and a half or so removed, I visit his home occasionally but was not aware of his travel to Mexico or introduction of the Mexican literary arts to the U.S.

    With all the possibilities mockingbird brings to mind, Harper Lee’s book, James Taylor and Carly Simon, etc., a Facebook meme find regarding that might amuse you.

    1. The cartoon was amusing. One detail I noticed was the way the eagle was holding the fish. An osprey flies with a fish facing forward, to reduce wind resistance. Apparently eagles will carry a fish any old way, since they don’t fly such long distances with their catch.

      Here’s another tidbit about Bryant that I either didn’t know or had forgotten: that he was the editor of the New York Evening Post for many years. I wondered where the homestead was, and that led to some time with its website, and a Massachusetts state map. Eventually, I found out that it’s 140 miles across your state, east to west, and that made me laugh. It’s a hundred miles to my favorite meat market, and 360 miles to the home of a friend I visit on weekends from time to time (albeit usually one three or four day weekends). I keep forgetting how large Texas is, or how much variety that size provides.

      1. I would guess that the position of the fish in the eagle’s talons was more for the artist’s desire for impact rather than to be biologically correct…but it could be despite my doubts.

        And if you think that Texas’ size makes Massachusetts seem small, they don’t call it Little Rhody for no reason. It’s basically Providence and suburbs. Bryant’s house is about a half hour ride along Route 9 from here and then a short ride up 112. If I had to drive 100 miles to a meat market I might become a vegan. I realize that it’s your favorite and not only. I am generally found within 50 miles of home and your friend’s house would be a trip to Acadia, Cape Cod, or Baxter State Park for me.

        1. One reason the Bellville market’s so well-known and well-respected is that they’re one of the best at wild game processing. They have a reputation for honesty, for one thing. You know that the game you drop off will be the game you pick up; everything is tagged and tracked through the process.

          I make a trip every two or three months for their tamales, sweet chipotle breakfast links and sausage, and a fresh pan sausage that tastes exactly like my grandmother used to make. I do have a local market where I buy beef occasionally. Nothing is prepackaged; you even can pick out a piece of meat and have it ground if you prefer. It’s like the old-fashioned lockers I grew up with. My folks would buy a half, have it hung for a time, and then packaged. A half would fill the freezer for almost a year, although we had to be careful not to eat all our favorite cuts in the beginning.

    1. You surely are surrounded by mockingbirds. They adapt very well to urban environments, and they always were around when I was living inside the loop. They have a habit of spreading their wings even when they’re just walking around on the ground, so if you see a big, gray bird doing that, it’s probably a mockingbird.

      I took the photo of this one on Settegast Road, on Galveston Island — very near the Artist Boat preserve. This map shows the exact location with a red star. The bird was sitting atop a gate at the 90 degree bend in the road.

  10. First of all, your pic of the mockingbird is a very good one. Your camera is great but so are your skills. One of my very good friends has a granddaughter named Juana. I had often wondered how her name was selected so maybe her mother knew of the history of the person you wrote about here. The father is Mexican. I adore the poem. It is uncomplicated and I love the rhyming and rhythm of the words. And is about one of my favorite birds and also a favorite animal.

    1. This mockingbird was very obliging, indeed. After sitting on the gate for a while, he flew to a nearby post, and kept on posing. I thanked him, and then he flew off.

      I think Juana’s a lovely name, but I hadn’t come across it until I read about Sor Juana. I can’t help thinking that ‘Juanita’ probably is related, and it may even be that ‘Juana’ is a feminine version of ‘Juan’ — perhaps like our ‘Don’ and ‘Donna’. (Now that I think about it, those may be related to Spanish names, too.)

      I’m glad you enjoyed the poem. Mockingbirds are interesting. On the one hand, they are beautiful singers, and have that wonderful ability to ‘mock’ others. On the other hand, they do seem to have an attitude. Like bluejays, they’re willing to engage squirrels and other birds, and generally cause a ruckus. But I like them very much, and am delighted with the pair that’s begun to show up at my bird feeders. I’d not seen any, but I put out some dried mealworms, and they showed up within the hour.

      1. About the name Juana I had deducted that is/was probably variation of Juan. I suppose her dad likely named her. It is most interesting that the mockers showed up soon after you added meal worms. I would think that the those are fairly expensive though. I looked up Val’s mention of the popular 60’as song and I was so pleased to hear the song again. I loved it back in my early twenties and I loved it just now. I will surely go back and listen to it again and again. I love the beat of the song. Thanks to Val for the song.

  11. Yay! A talking donkey! But yeah, I get the message. Not sure why the surprise of a mocking bird in a cage, though – historically many wild birds were kept as pets in cages. Horrible practice that should be got rid of completely by now, but I’m guilty too as I had a pet canary in a cage (two, actually, one after the other) when I was a child. I loved them, but I’ll never do that again.

    And, a bit off topic, whenever I see ‘Mocking Bird’ I think of this.

    1. Of course I’ve known of canaries, cockatiels, and other birds being kept as pets, but this is the first time I’ve come across reports of mockingbirds being kept for their song. They’re so common here, and their song is so often heard, it seems strange that anyone would feel the need to capture them, but strange things happen.

      I have seen several wonderful installations of finches in nursing homes and extended care facilities, but those aviaries are designed with the needs of the birds in mind. It’s wonderful to watch people who are confined by age and illness watching the birds as they mate, nest, raise their young, and so on — especially since they have plenty of room to fly.

      I’d forgotten that song, but it was very popular here. The one I remember from childhood is “Listen to the Mockingbird. It’s an old song, and was used as a marching tune during our Civil War; it’s said to have been a favorite of Abraham Lincoln. I thought you’d enjoy the old portraits used in the video, too. The song’s still used in fiddle contests. This fellow does a fine job. At about 1:40, he mimics the sound of the bird with his fiddle.

      1. I wonder if there were any mockingbirds in the vicinity while he was playing it? I remember a pied wagtail being quite alarmed when we played pied wagtail song on the computer too loudly a few years ago!

    1. That made me laugh, and brought back the consoling words of church choir directors around the world: the Bible says to make a joyful noise unto the Lord. As for donkeys being helpful, don’t forget that Ansel Adams had a donkey named Mistletoe!

  12. Oh, what fun. I do love mockingbirds. there was one one year when I lived in the city the included the sound of someone trying to start their car. I have a small book of Aesop fables with lovely illustrations that I would read to the kids when they were small.would the ‘well known fable involving a camel’ be The Camel Dances? it was one of my kids’ favorites.

    1. I’d forgotten Aesop’s fable about the camel, and had to look it up. It’s not the same as José Rosas Moreno’s, which was titled “The Dromedary and the Camel.” It’s not long, and goes like this (roughly — I’m not sure how satisfactory the translation is):

      “God bless me, what do I see?” a camel told a dromedary. “You in the desert are necessary, but truthfully, friend, you are very ugly, with your singular high hump bigger than a couch!” The dromedary was amused, since the camel who made fun of him himself had two great humps!

      Men often find nothing good in others; even though they themselves are flawed, they look for the mote in others’ eyes, and never see the beam in their own.”

      I found this fable about a dancing camel on a school site. It’s a cuter story, actually; is it the one you remember?

      1. No, that one is different. The Camel Dances goes like this (and I wish I could post the illustration that goes with the story):

        The Camel had her heart set on being a ballet dancer.

        “To make every movement a thing of grace and beauty,” said the Camel. “That is my one and only desire.”

        Again and again she practiced her pirouettes, her releves, and her arabesques. She repeated the five basic positions a hundred times each day. She worked for long months under the hot desert sun. Her feet were blistered, and her body ached with fatigue, but not once did she think of stopping.

        At last the Camel said, “Now I am a dancer.” She announced a recital and danced before an invited group of camel friends and critics. When her dance was over she made a deep bow.

        There was no applause.

        “I must tell you frankly,” said a member of the audience, “as a critic and a spokesman for this group, that you are lumpy and humpy. You are baggy and bumpy. You are, like the rest of us, simply a camel. You are not and never will be a ballet dancer!”

        Chuckling and laughing, the audience moved away across the sand.

        “How very wrong they are!” said the Camel. I have worked hard. There can be no doubt that I am a splendid dancer. I will dance and dance just for myself.”

        That is what she did. It gave her many years of pleasure.

        (in italics) Satisfaction will come to those who please themselves.

        1. That’s wonderful. I’ve never read this fable before, but there was a real-life story that resembles it. Have you heard of the New York socialite who considered herself an opera singer? Florence Foster Jenkins? I wrote about her here, and the movie about her (with Hugh Grant and Meryl Streep) was wonderful. Here’s the trailer. I really recommend the film; it’s just great. She was as close to that camel as you could get, and she had just as much spunk.

  13. Now I enjoy the bray of a donkey as much as anyone, Linda. Although I doubt I would pay to hear one. Now a mocking bird that could bray like a donkey so well you couldn’t tell the difference.. that’s a bird of a different feather. I’d pay big. Grin. Guess the moral of the story fell on deaf ears. –Curt

    1. The nice thing about donkeys is that, if there is one in the neighborhood, you won’t have to pay — you’ll hear him whether you want to or not. If you had a braying bird, you at least might have a chance to silence it by putting a cover over the cage once you’d had enough. On the other hand, my mockingbirds usually start at 3 a.m. Darkness might not discourage the bray-bird.

      1. Laughing. There has been a mocking bird or two I would have gladly gone after with a slingshot if I weren’t such a nature lover! What’s with those birds and their early morning serenades. They don’t even have the decency of a rooster and wait for the crack of dawn. As for donkeys, I’ve never lived close enough to one to be overly bothered by their hee-hawing. –Curt

  14. O, that was utterly delightful! Thanks for giving me a chuckle on this cold Saturday evening. Hopefully the donkey got his due by outstripping the mockingbird by imitating the voices of humans at will.

    1. Isn’t it fun? There’s nothing like a twist at the end. In fact, fables and parables have that in common, I’d say; it’s one reason even people who can’t quote chapter and verse still remember certain Biblical stories. The thought of the donkey imitating human speech reminds me of the story of “The Talking Cat,” written by Loren Eiseley and included in his book of collected essays called All the Strange Hours. The essence of the story is here. It’s a wonderful read, and maybe even worth tucking into the files for later in the year.

    1. That made me laugh, Gerard! I remember seeing illustrations of the large goose that would carry Mother Goose on her back, but as far as I know, that the only bird that’s been imagined to do so. (Now I’m wondering if the famous “Spruce Goose” created by Howard Hughes got its name from Mother Goose — even though it was built primarily of birch and not spruce.

      On the other hand, the stork traditionally brings babies, so there’s that. But for mountain passes, I’d stick with the donkeys — or Hannibal’s elephants.

  15. Such a sad little poem. The donkey makes such a good point! We marvel at imitation while ignoring the original. A good lesson for us all.

    Loved the idea of travelling from Mexico City to Veracruz by stage coach, except for the abuse no doubt on the horses that had to endure that long journey.

    Thanks for this thought provoking post.

    Peta

    1. I didn’t experience the poem as sad, precisely, but it certainly is poignant, and points to a truth of life: the need to distinguish between the ‘real’ and ‘imitators’ has become more and more necessary over the years. When I started thinking about illustrations, food came to mind first, but there are examples galore.

      From what I’ve read, stagecoach travel wasn’t much more comfortable for the human passengers. Even smaller conveyances were a hard ride: a carriage carrying Susan Shelby Magoffin across Kansas in 1846 tipped over on the rough road, and caused a pregnancy miscarriage. I’m sure there were similar instances all across the American West and the Mexican routes.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the poem and the post. It’s good to remember that even our early American writers were interested in the larger world.

  16. Am struck by two thoughts: How works of “primitive” peoples only gain a widespread and appreciative audience when they are repackaged by the more “sophisticated” (European) culture. I think this is a sly allusion made by this poem. The attitude of the times is obvious when Bryant feels the need to point out that Ignacio Altamirano is both “a literary gentleman of note — and of the pure aboriginal race —” (I.e., Native American). I think that is another sly allusion of the poem.

    And of course there is my personal mockingbird story, of the mockingbird that learned to imitate the squeak in the door of my mom’s Dodge Coronet. As a latchkey child, and left to my own devices during summer vacation, I would hear the squeak and know that mom was home from work. Imagine when I heard the squeak at a time when my mom would not have been coming home! Took me a while to figure out what was going on.

    1. I wouldn’t say that José Rosas Moreno depended on American acceptance for an appreciative audience. He was well known and celebrated in Mexico, and even during his lifetime his fables were part of the school curriculum in Mexico City and elsewhere. As a matter of fact, they’re still used in the schools, and probably are better known that Aesop’s fables are here. His fables, written for children, were meant to teach how to live a good and satisfying life. We can read more into them now, but those secondary readings probably weren’t a part of his original intention.

      I was curious about Bryant’s reference to Altimirano as a member of the “pure aboriginal race” myself. It seems that he probably wasn’t referring to Native Americans as we understand them. Since Altimirano was involved with the Sociedad Mexicana de Geografía y Estadística at the time of Bryant’s visit (and was president for some years), Bryant probably knew that Altimirano had been born in Tixtla, Guerrero, of indigenous Nahua heritage. The Nahuas comprise the largest indigenous group in Mexico; both Aztec and Toltec cultures were of Nahua ethnicity.

      That’s a wonderful mockingbird story you have. The thought of a bird imitating a car door is one thing; your temporary confusion is understandable!

  17. It is interesting that we of humankind tend to revere the imitators — the actors, the performers — more than the people who they portray. It is undeniably a talent, but there are lots of talents. That is only one of them.

    1. And the other side of that coin is that we often don’t cherish the talents we have. We see others who are far better at [fill in the blank], and we do our best to mimic them, for a multitude of reasons. Some want a short cut to fame and acceptance; some are insecure; some never have seen their talents as talents. It’s worth some thought.

      1. I have known many people who demean their own abilities, and in the process invalidate themselves as individuals. I’ve known quite a few others who have a vastly overinflated sense of ability and self importance. Then there are those in the middle who have a good sense of their ability and worth. But it seems that only a relatively small proportion of those recognize their abilities and talents and hone them into something truly great. Too many seem to be content with their lot and are willing, or even anxious, to fawn over and mimic others at the expense of themselves and thus slowly degrade themselves and the talents and abilities they do have. The donkey had no illusions about being a donkey, but apparently knew that he was a damn good donkey.

        1. While Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech probably is more famous, my favorite is generally known as the “street sweeper” speech, and your wise comment reminded me of it:

          ““Now the thing about the length of life: after accepting ourselves and our tools, we must discover what we are called to do. And once we discover it we should set out to do it with all of the strength and all of the power that we have in our systems. And after we’ve discovered what God called us to do, after we’ve discovered our life’s work, we should set out to do that work so well that the living, the dead, or the unborn couldn’t do it any better…

          “What I’m saying to you this morning, my friends, even if it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, go on out and sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures; sweep streets like Handel and Beethoven composed music; sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry; sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.”

  18. Maybe not exactly great poetry but amusing nevertheless. It is sad that we so often are not familiar with poetry and poets from non-English speaking countries. I admire your tenacity in finding them.

    1. It’s not great poetry at all, but of course the fables were written for the moral instruction of children, so they’re going to have a certain ‘flavor’ from the start. Still, this one is clever, and sweet, and Bryant’s translation is very nice. I do enjoy finding off-the-beaten-track poets, whether from earlier eras, or other cultures. Thanks to the internet, there are hundreds of thousands of ‘poets’ who aren’t, at all; it makes the search worthwhile.

    1. I found myself wondering if Aesop’s fables still are enjoyed today. I suppose they are, although they were as much a part of my childhood — and that of my friends — as Star Wars and Harry Potter are today. Somehow, the lessons they taught were more acceptable when they didn’t come directly from our parents. A good story can be the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down!

  19. The thought of a mockingbird sounding like a donkey is delightful itself – but the donkey’s lament is a brilliant turnaround to this poem/tale. Bryant’s homestead in Cummington is much more of a journey for me than Steve, but not by Texas standards!

    1. The best part of the tale is that I’m sure a mockingbird could pull it off. I’m certainly glad there aren’t any donkeys around here to tempt one of mine to try it! The ending of the poem is a great turnaround; it made me want to find the donkey and tell him that yes, indeed — he is appreciated. I’ll take an apple to the one donkey I know, instead. He’s only a couple of hundred miles away!

  20. Ah, it’s always nice to see images of the mockingbirds from ‘up there.’ We have a ‘Long-tailed Mockingbird’ which looks a bit more ragged and scruffy.

    As with any post that’s not easily read in a short session, this will stay on the screen for reading when I am home. You’ll laugh; the owners of the restaurant close for about an hour in the afternoon, and today is the second time they encouraged me to stay and keep working — and they pull down the security door and retreat to their living quarters! an office away from home!

    1. I looked for a photo of your mockingbird, and I see what you mean. It is a little scruffy, but I think it’s the spotted breast and the differently patterned feathers elsewhere that make it look both “like” and “unlike” our mockingbirds.

      I love that you have a little private office of your own! Anything that adds both comfort and convenience to life is good, and I suspect your place in the restaurant offers both. It’s nice to be so trusted, too. Not everyone would be willing to do such a thing, but they clearly know you’re equally trustworthy. It’s a great arrangement!

      1. Last night I went thru most of the bird images to put together an ID chart for the ‘neighborhood’ — There were several good images of the Mockingbird…

        Si, the family is very nice here, and I’m back tonight to be sure all’s ‘clear’ to return to Poza Honda tomorrow. The two teenage sisters have birthdays – one today and one tomorrow, and their party is tomorrow – always a quiet gathering, strictly the immediate family and the other three people that live nearby – plus me!

        I loved this poem, btw, and it almost made me cry — so true how humans sometimes overlook the humble.. This has been on the screen since your post about the Night Heron… lovely story, which you might have seen:
        https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/colonels-birdwatching-city-urban-night-heron-oakland

        1. That’s an absolutely wonderful article:both the text and the photos. I especially enjoyed the detail at the end about the folkloric belief that the birds begin to ‘glow’ as they age. If my friend stays around for a good while, I might actually be able to see it glowing in its tree. I’ll certainly keep watching!

    1. The Netflix film originally was a Mexican television series, and from what I’ve read it may not be historically accurate in all details. I’ve seen some suggestions that her relationship with another woman in the film is based on a letter written as a response to a fellow nun, Sor Filotea. In the end, Sor Filotea turned out to be the pseudonym of a man — the bishop Manuel Fernández de Santa Cruz. That’s as interesting as anything the dramatists could come up with. In any event, it would be well worth watching. She was a fascinating woman.

    1. It’s great the way the poet moves us from admiring the mockingbird to feeling sympathy for the donkey. It’s a great reversal, and helps the poem make its point in an entertaining way. I do like a poem that’s fun as well as meaningful.

  21. A wonderful poem, Linda that put a big smile on my face this cold morning. (We have ice on the lawn after the storm Ciara hit us for two days) Love your capture of the Mocking bird, one I have never seen in real life.
    Hope your week has started good.

    1. I’m always surprised — and delighted — when I can show something new to people who are so well traveled! The mockingbirds are southern, though. I’d never come across them until I moved to Texas. Now, they help to fill the space that was created when I lost my midwestern robins.

      I hope you didn’t suffer any real damage from Ciara. I’ve seen some extraordinary photos of the seas in a couple of coastal towns. We have wind, fog, clouds, and rain, but nothing like that — thank goodness!

      1. Thank you for asking, Ciara and Dennis only left minor damages on the north east coast of Norfolk. It’s still very windy though. It breaks my heart to see the flooding in Wales and the western counties.

        1. Anyone who’s been through a flood has to feel sympathy. No disaster is ‘better’ than another, but many people think floods would be easier to recover from. It’s just not so. Not only are flood waters forceful enough to cause great damage, they’re filled with nasty things you’d never find in your bathtub or a swimming pool!

  22. What a great image Linda. It goes to show the Canon 70-300mm IS is a great, sharp lens. I’m also glad you shared José Rosas Moreno’s fable, as it’s so full of wit and candor. Fables are so full of important lessons in life, at least that’s how I feel about them. Also many thanks to William Cullen Bryant for bringing this treasure to American soil so that everyone could read it alike.

    As for Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, I now remember that I watched the Mexican TV series’ production ‘Juana Inés’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juana_Inés) on 2017 on the Netflix channel, and although I found it a bit tough and depressing for the feminist crowd, it recreated the epoch quite well I thought, filmed entirely in Mexico

    1. It certainly helped that the mockingbird couldn’t have been more than twenty feet away — I was shooting through the passenger side window of the car. I have learned to turn the car off in such circumstances. Even though I don’t have a rattletrap for a car, there is enough vibration from a running car to make a difference now and then.

      The fable is wonderful, and I was intrigued to know that Bryant was involved in its translation. Clearly, there was more openness to other cultures in his day than there sometimes is today: at least, his openness is obvious. I went over the Netflix and watched the trailer for the tv series. I’ve considered dropping Amazon Prime and subscribing to Netflix instead; I need to think about that again.

      1. I have the most basic Netflix subscription, the one that supposedly excludes the HD transmission and costs less than $7 or $8. However, they do air international tv series that may be a tad more interesting than other channels. ‘Juana Ines’ is certainly one of them, in my opinion, although it’s extremely tough on feminist audiences who may have wished for a better outcome in her situation, keeping in mind, however, that it’s mostly fiction based on vague 17th century facts.

    1. Thanks, Damyanti! I do love the mockingbirds. They’re sometimes belligerent, but most of the time they’re just cocky and self-assured, and they seem to enjoy being around people — which is great for us. I was happy this one was willing to pose.

  23. Fun poem, Linda. Mockingbirds are one of the most brilliant birds we have on this planet, learning how to mimic so many different sounds. And not only do they mimic other living beings, but they mimic human sounds like car alarms and sirens. Really fun poem in its understanding of the bird, and also being in defense of the donkey.

    1. The poem’s a great reminder that there usually are two sides to every story! I thought it was clever in its conception, and the translation was well done, making it enjoyable for adults as well as children.

      I’ve always admired the mockingbird, even though it can be a bit of a bully around the feeders. From what I’ve observed, though, other birds seem to know that it doesn’t mean them any real harm. They may flutter away, but they come right back, and the mockingbird goes back to his songs.

    1. Isn’t it a fun poem? And who wouldn’t have some sympathy for that donkey? It’s one thing to be upstaged by one of your own kind, but when some stranger rolls into town and pulls it off? That’s flat annoying!

        1. Why, thank you, ma’am! I mostly get a kick out of sharing things that entertain or interest me. I figure if I’m bored, my readers will be, too, so I try to avoid the boring!

  24. Now isn’t that just the way?! In the art world there are forgers who become famous in their own right! ’tain’t right, I tell you. This was so interesting. I do enjoy reading Mexican writers. They have a distinctive take on the world.

    1. That’s an interesting thought: a forger, as a different sort of imitator. The mockingbird, of course, didn’t care if people recognized his little trick. I presume forgers are more secretive — at least, it seems as if they’d need to be if they want to profit from their imitations.

      There have been some interesting court cases recently in music, too — musicians claiming that riffs from their songs have been sampled and added to others’ recordings. There’s no question such issues are hard to sort out — far more difficult than figuring out who’s doing all that braying!

      1. I’ve been hearing about that, too. Sometimes it is shockingly blatant. At the little art center I was briefly a member of, a few of the “artists” would straight up copy a Degas (badly, too!) sign their name to it, and put a price tag on it! I sputtered over that but nobody in charge there saw anything wrong with it so I quit.
        This post put me in mind of blue jays, who are also wonderful mimics. And come to think of it, so are starlings. I had a pair nesting on a balcony for awhile and they could imitate traffic, phone rings, and train whistles.

        1. We’re all influenced by others’ work; there’s no question about that. It’s part of the learning process. Still, I can’t imagine any gallery or art center tolerating obvious copying. You’re better out of it. For one thing, if the word got out that they were allowing such imitations (if not frank copies), anyone associated with the art center might get painted with the same brush, so to speak.

          I still remember the day I found a photograph on a blog, described by the blog-writer as his own. I’d seen the photo elsewhere, and knew it wasn’t his. I never felt the same about his blog after that. In the beginning of blogs, there was a lot of confusion about what was allowable and what wasn’t, and a lot of ignorance. That’s different, and more forgivable. But directly claiming another’s work as one’s own? Not cool.

          1. Right, not cool at all. I’ve come across both artists and bloggers who are quite open about taking images from the internet, as if they have never even heard of the idea of intellectual property. They were young, so perhaps they hadn’t.

            1. What’s wrong with the Quote Investigator? He’s done a fabulous job of ferreting out misquotations misattributions. I use his site all the time, and have the book he’s published, too.

              ps: I just figured out that you were talking about Job’s book — at least, I think so.

            2. Oh yes, just the book, not the Quote Investigator. Sorry I wasn’t clear. There has been a rash of cheap books flooding the market aimed at young artist wannabes, basically to go ahead and call themselves artists and it is generating a lot of upstarts eager to steal from those of us who have worked hard to develop our skills and voice.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I got a kick out of it myself — the tale is fun, but there’s a nice little edge to it, as well. And you’re right that the history’s interesting. The older I get, the more I realize I don’t know nearly as much about our country’s history as I’d like to.

      1. Yeah, I’ve found a good rule for life is that when you open your mouth, pause first. Then if it’s still a good idea, speak. Otherwise, just listen and try to soak up some knowledge.

    1. That made me laugh. I know people whose situational awareness probably is less than that donkey’s!
      It certainly is true that the world’s not always fair, and if the donkey does nothing else, he proves a little gentle complaining about that is perfectly acceptable.

  25. Thanks for sharing. It was fascinating to learn of the professional relationship between these two poets, Bryant and Rosas. The poem is outstanding, and the ending brings delight.

    1. That relationship certainly was a surprise to me. And I will confess that every time I see a donkey now, I think of the poem. I’d say that’s a sign of a memorable piece of literature!

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