Have you ever listened to a catbird singing at dusk, at the leading edge of a midsummer’s night? And have you noticed that the song often takes on a melancholy quality, a plaintive tone? I have noticed this, though I’m not sure others do. Maybe it’s just my ears, or else my particular uniqueness of mind … or both.
So tonight, on the evening of July 15, 2012, I ventured out into my neighborhood at dusk, a little after 8 pm. I could hear several catbirds in the distance, from singing from shrubbery or hedgerow trees in a nearby overgrown field. But just as I began walking in their direction, a male landed right in front of me, near the top of the tamarack tree next to our little pond, and began his lugubrious song. I was lucky enough to capture it, as bullfrogs periodically sounded off the background:
Gray Catbird singing at dusk. 8:15 pm, July 14, 2012, near Ithaca, NY. Recorded by Lang Elliott
I definitely hear a mournful hint, perhaps even more than a hint. Do you? And if you do, I wonder if this a widespread phenomenon, a mid-summer “dusk song” noticed only by those with a certain pensive quality of mind and a certain emotional sensitivity of the ear?
IMPORTANT NOTE: I am not implying here that the singer (the male catbird) is melancholy in mood, only that we humans (or some portion of us) might be effected by the catbird’s dusk-song in this way. It is important to consider such things because our emotions largely define the landscape of our felt, poetic experience.
A melancholy bird? Oh, idle thought!
In nature there is nothing melancholy.
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge