The Mockingbird: On wings of song

Mockingbirds are a group of songbirds best known for their habit of mimicking the sounds of other birds, insects and amphibians. Native to the Americas, the Mockingbird is cited in a poem by Walt Whitman and, of course, in the only novel by Harper Lee.

Mockingbird(1)The Mockingbird measures about nine inches and weighs about two ounces. It has long legs, a long tail, and a slightly curved bill. It is greyish-brown in colour and has two parallel white wing bars and a broad white wing patch, which are easily seen in flight. Like the Myna bird of Asia to which the Mockingbird is related, it has an extraordinarily diverse repertoire of calls and sounds.

In To Kill A Mockingbird, lawyer Atticus Finch, who willingly defends his black neighbour Tom Robinson accused of raping a white woman, has never lost faith in human nature. He understands that, rather than being simply creatures of good or evil, most people have both qualities. What is important, as he tries to teach his children by example, is to appreciate the good qualities and to try to understand the bad qualities. The moral is summed up in three sentences:

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

There is a Mayan Legend about how the Mockingbird became the best singer. When X-Chol-Col-Chek, the mockingbird, was young, her family was very poor, and she could only dress in dingy feathers. Since being hatched, however, X-col had displayed a magnificent voice. She wanted to take singing lessons, but could not afford them.

The Mockingbird was fortunate to obtain work with a rich and noble family of cardinals. That winter, a famous singing professor, Dr. Xcau, the melodious blackbird, came to Maya Land. The father cardinal immediately imagined that his daughter, Col-pol-che, could become a fine singer. She was lazy vain and hated to study. But by promising her many fine gifts, the father convinced her to try singing lessons.

When Col-pol-che went with Dr. Xcau to a quiet part of the woods to begin her music course, X-col followed and hid in the bushes to listen and learn. Then she raced back to finish her chores. For weeks, the professor tried to make the girl cardinal sing sweetly, but without success. He soon realized she had neither the voice nor the ambition. He was afraid to tell her wealthy father after such a long time, having accepted a lot of money. So, he finally flew far away and forgot the whole affair.

Meanwhile, X-col had been practicing. One morning, Col-pol-che happened to hear her and was very surprised at her little maid’s ability. That same day, the father cardinal decided his daughter should give a concert for their friends. The indolent girl was terrified, yet she dared not tell her parents that she couldn’t sing. She thought of the mockingbird’s lovely voice and decided to ask her for help.

The two birds asked Colote, the woodpecker, to bore a hole into the tree trunk where Col-pol-che would perch. Then the mockingbird would hide inside. While Col-pol-che pretended to be singing, the real voice would come from X-col within.

Mockingbird(2)On the day of the concert, all the nobles, singers, artists and musicians among the birds came. Col-pol-che hopped out on a limb of the purple-flowering tree chosen by her father, bowed to the audience and opened her bill. The most exquisite voice ever heard in the Maya World came pouring out and echoed through the woods. The birds in the audience flapped their wings and cried for curtain call after curtain call.

The father, however, was not applauding. He had discovered the truth just before the concert began when he saw X-col crawl into the little hole. When the applause ended and the cardinal finished many bows, her father flew up beside her and asked for silence. He hopped over to the hole and called the mockingbird to come out.

The small, colourless bird was trembling with fright, but Col-pol-che’s father gently led her to a perch in front of the entire audience. Then he explained that his daughter had tricked everyone, including him. “It was really this shy little ‘nightingale’ who sang the whole time,” he announced.

The crowd went wild and demanded that X-col sing again. This time, outside and free of her fright, the mockingbird sang as never before and won every bird’s heart. From that time on, all her descendants inherited her lovely voice, but the cardinals have never learned how to sing.

Published by

Philip Lee

Writer and musician who tries to join up the dots.

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