Thursday, January 3, 2013

3 January 2013 “How The Caged Bird Sings, Keeping Finches, Building Cages and Northanger Abbey”


puppyundertree This past Christmas morning I was surprised with one of my favorite types of gifts: something living! Of course the ideal such gift is a darling puppy, beribboned and softly playful in a big box. However, such docile results are hard to come by with barking and weeing and all sorts of mayhem an actual puppy is like to bring to your treasures under the tree.

goldenoriole For me, however, it was something just as nice: Birds. Finches to be exact, three darling little zebra finches. My niece, who lives with us, recalled how I always long for a cute living gift and so surprised us all Christmas morning with the little darlings.

Today they are happily chirruping away in my little sitting room as I type this in their antique bamboo cages. I love antique cages and have always been fascinated by animal keeping in the past. Their cage now is adequate at best, but I intend to build them a larger one to my own specifications. The cost of modern cages being far too high and not esthetically pleasing to my eye. I detest plastic and when it is glowing in bright pinks with shocks of lime green and purple, I cringe.

We recently had our friends with children over the other day and I remarked how sad any little child I may have ended up with might have been. For, I would not have had any of the ugly bright plastic toys I see littered all over toy shops and families play room floors. Wood, painted tin and cloth would be his only joys. Of course he would also have animals to play with and probably far more antique taxidermy animals in his home than any of his little friends. Thank goodness then the poor little tyke doesn’t exist. But, I digress.

Back to the birds. I am torn between making a combination book shelf bird cage and one which looks more antiquated. For the book shelf idea, I simply thought to replace the bookshelf I currently have in this room with one of my making that combines a floor to ceiling three foot wide caged front aviary and book shelves stepped back and to the sides.

However, finding more wonderful old books on line sets my mind to dreaming of making something more fanciful.

cagebirdbookinsidepage Here is a wonderful old book on caged birds from the early 19th century. I have, of course, put its link in the Library and it can also be found HERE to read online or download to your chosen device.

aviaryfordrawingroomI was happily surprised to see see this image. If you can see, their tree branches sprout from a fishbowl which provide water for drinking and also beauty in the fishes movement. Quite on my own when I was anticipating making a new home for the finches, I thought, “Well, we had better have living plants (safe for the birds of course) and some form of water which will also contain fish of some sort” I just like the idea of making a mini microcosm in their pen. The feel of real tree branches, the smell from actual plants the sound of water (maybe a little waterfall into the water? Not sure yet) and the movement of the fish. Of course I will have to set it up so that any new babies born wont fall into too deep water, but we shall see. I will share the result with you. It is my task today after finishing this post, to design and try out a new cage.

canarycageforparlourYou can see here from that same book, a lovely Gothic version of a cage. The Victorians were quite smitten with Gothic and there was a Gothic revival in architecture and even to paintings and furniture heavily inspired by their idea of what Gothic meant. Of course it is of interest to note that the term Gothic for things, buildings, art etc. was never meant as a compliment. During the Renaissance, the term was coined to refer to the dark past in which no symmetry and pureness of line and form and function existed as had been in the classical look of old Greece and Rome. And so it was Gothic or Barbarian. All higgeldgy piggeldy with flying buttresses and odd corners dark and without reason.

Of course, this suited the Victorians to a tee. And the Gothic fiction thought ruinous to young ladies constitutions was becoming rampantly popular during The late 18th and early 19th century. At the time that the young future Princess Victoria was growing up. This also happened to be the time in which Jane Austen was writing and the popular gothic tales were always full of dark mysterious men and Gothic stone arched castles and cathedrals. And, of course, Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey has such a heroine who reads far too much Gothic fiction. Northanger Abbey can be found and downloaded for free HERE if you like and will be in the Library under Fiction of course.

birdcage1Back to birdcages. Such lovely detailed cages as these certainly strike my fancy but I think I may try a combination of mini slice of nature and also an antique look. As I said, I will share what ever monstrosity my fevered Gothic brain dreams up for my poor little darlings. Hopefully they will be happy with more room and many branches upon which to perch.

 paulaurencedunbar Thinking of cages, of course, brought to mind that famous poem by the African American Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy” in which he compares the plight of low to caged birds.


“In 1890 Dunbar wrote and edited Dayton's first weekly African-American newspaper, The Tattler, printed by the fledgling company of his high school acquaintances Wilbur and Orville Wright. The paper lasted only 6 weeks.”

His works are rather beautiful and the book of Poems can be found HERE and in the Library under Poetry. Now, with true “Charm of Notions” manner I will share this odd video of Dunbar reading out his poem Sympathy. But before you watch you must understand that it is simply a photo that has been altered with 3D animation. Here I MUST mention the Uncanny Valley, which is a theory used in Robotics and 3D animation that states the closer a represented figure (robot or animation) gets to the movements and actions of a real human but just falls short of it, that is you can sense it is not real, it causes a true revulsions in humans. Read more of it HERE.  However, this little clip is so odd that I had to include it here. It will also reside on my new Youtube channel under Ephemera from Literature and Poetry.

And as many of us know the line in that poem, “Why the caged bird sings” inspired Maya Angelou to write a novel with that title. I found a great made for tv movie based on that book. The quality is a bit low but it is all round a good little film. Here is the first part and to see all of this lovely film go to my channel HERE.

I hope you all have a lovely day and I will close with these words from Henry David Thoreau:

“I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.”


  1. Your post put me in mind of the emblem poets of the 17th century, such as Quarles...the bird in a cage was a frequently used metaphor of those poems. Anyway, happy new year, good luck with the puppy and the new cage, and I love the new blog!

  2. As an FYI, kids do fine with wood an cloth toys. Just stay away from the tin ones until they're (the children, not they toys) over 6 as they (they toys not the children) often have lead paint.