It does seem curious, yet at the same time quite befitting in some respects that, to give point to a homily involving all this mighty world of men and their myriad activities, one should discover, an apt illustration in the fate of one of the smallest and lowliest of earth's small creatures. For there are few smaller than those of the tribe of Jasper, who was a blue wren - the merest scrap of sentient matter, yet with a brain and a heart and a temperament that was wholly jealous and care-free till his obsession conquered him. Thereafter he lived miserably, and died horribly, a pathetic victim of his own foolish imagining and unnecessary fear.
I think that we all have come to realise that a rather large proportion of humanity today has gone a little mad. A strong, nameless fear has crept over the earth. Nation fears nation, class fears class, man fear his brother man till the state of the world today presents the very antithesis of that bright dream of man's brotherhood that glowed so briefly with promise during the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Jasper, when we first met him was a male blue wren of singular promise. He was just approaching maturity, and had already begun to acquire his blue cap and cape. And how obvious was his pride in this regalia of his full male wrenhood.
At first he came every day with the others to be fed on crumbs, and we began to identify him then by the rather untidy scraps of blue that began to sprout here and there among the soberer plumage. And when, finally, he acquired full feather, his perky air of inordinate pride and comic arrogance marked him out as a wren in a thousand -- a wren of promise, destined for great things and rare happiness if he could only manage to keep his head.
Then, just as he had gained the full glory of his shining azure garb, Jasper discovered what he thought lurked behind one of the front diningroom windows.
Thereafter, life became for him one long, dreary round of dragging misery, of angry and ridiculous fear, of perpetual warfare against the non-existent and the impalpable.
For behind that window Jasper has discovered another blue wren -- an aggressive, bellicose, ruffling blade, a bullying braggart of a fellow who gave him no rest. In vain he strove, hour after hour, to get at this insolent enemy and annihilate him; but he seemed inviolable, seemed to be clad in some strange, invisible armor that made him magically invincible.
After, in the first instance, an hour of it, we drove Jasper away and told him not to be silly. But immediately he found another window, and, behind it, another impervious enemy.
There are some 20 windows in the house, and, in course of time Jasper discovered an enemy behind every one of them. All through the day he was at it, at one window or the other. Nothing could divert him. We hunted him away repeatedly; but he discovered another enemy-haunted windows in the garage and the workshop and the fight went on, everlastingly, hopelessly.
Jasper was surrounded by imaginary foes. He tried every stratagem -- direct assault, surprise attack -- he would sneak round to window frame and try to take the foe by surprise; but he found him ever there and ever ready.
I don't know what Jasper did for food; but I am sure the lack of it weakened him toward the end, and certainly affected him mentally. He became a mad wren, crazed with fear and baffled effort. The obsession had claimed him utterly.
I came upon Jasper one day this week beneath the study window among the little English daisies that are beginning to spangle the lawn. He was dead. A tiny spot of blood at the end of his broken beak told plainly the manner of his end. In one last desperate effort he had made a furious frontal attack. He and the enemy came at each other and met, like knights at a tourney. Then Jasper crashed and died (quickly I hope).
There seems to be a lesson here for all of us who are haunted by this strange modern fear; but each man must find it for himself, keeping before him the picture of poor, foolish, dead Jasper at rest at last among the fearless daisies.
For my part, if I find the energy I shall raise an inscription over Jasper's tiny grave. It will be something like this:
"The bones lie here Of one who might Have been a bird of goodly worth. He lived in fear -- He dies of fright, Yet had no enemy on earth."
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2003-06|