Talking Thrush, The: And Other Tales from India | Annotated Tale

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King Solomon and the Owl

ONCE King Solomon was hunting all alone in the forest. Night fell, and King Solomon lay down under a tree to sleep. Over his head, on the branch of a tree, sat a huge Owl; and the Owl hooted so loud and so long, Too-whit too-woo! Too-whit too-woo! that Solomon could not sleep. Solomon looked up at the Owl, and said--

               "Tell me, O Owl, why do you hoot all night long upon the trees?"

               Said the Owl--

"I hoot to waken those that sleep,           
As soon as day's first beams do peep;           
That they may rise, and say their prayers,           
And not be caught in this world's cares."

               Then he went on again, Too-whit! too-woo! shaking his solemn old head to and fro. He was a melancholy Owl; I think he must have been crossed in love.

               Solomon thought this Owl very clever to roll out beautiful poetry like that, off-hand as it were. He asked the Owl again--

               "Tell me, O wise Owl, why do you shake your very solemn old head?"

               Said the Owl--

"I shake my head, to let all know           
This world is but a fleeting show.           
Men's days are flying with quick wings;           
So take no joy in earthly things.

"Yet men will fix their hearts below           
Upon the pleasures that must go.           
Their joy is gone when they are dead;           
And that is why I shake my head."

               This touched King Solomon in a tender place, for he was himself rather fond of earthly delights. He sighed, and asked again--

               "O most ancient and wise Owl! tell me why you never eat grain?"

               Answered the Owl--

"The bearded grain I do not eat,           
Because, when Adam ate some wheat,           
He was turned out of Paradise:           
So Adam's sin has made me wise.

"If I should eat a single grain,           
The joys of heaven I should not gain.           
And so, to keep my erring feet,           
The bearded grain I never eat."

               Thought Solomon to himself, "I don't remember reading that story in Genesis, but perhaps he is right. I must look it up when I get home." Then he spoke to the Owl once more, and said--

               "And now, good Owl, tell me why you drink no water at night?"

               Said the Owl--

"Since water all the world did drown           
In Noah's day, I will drink none.           
Were I to drink a single drop,           
My life would then most likely stop."

               Solomon was delighted to find the Owl so wise. "O my Owl," said he, "all my life long I have been looking for a counsellor who had reasons to give for what he did; I have never found one until I found you. Now I beg you to come home with me to-morrow, and you shall be my chief counsellor, and whatever I purpose I will first ask your advice."

The Owl was equally delighted, and said, "Thank           
you." Thinking of the greatness that was           
to be his, the Owl stopped crying           
Too-whit! too-woo! and           
Solomon went           
to sleep.           


Told by Munshí Chhoté Khán, teacher of the village school at Ant, District Sitápur, Oudh.

[A new legend of the Fall.]

Solomon hunts alone—An Owl asks him to receive him—Solomon asks, "Why do you hoot all night?"—"To wake men and women early for prayer: travelling is difficult, for treasure is dearer than life"—"Why do you shake your head?"—"To remind mankind that the world is but a fleeting show, and to show my disapproval of their delight in worldly things"—"Why do you eat no grain?"—"Adam ate wheat in heaven, and was turned out of it on that account. Adam prayed, and God sent him into the world, and blessed him to be the father of mankind. If I eat one grain I expect to be cast into hell"—"Why do you drink no water in the world at night?"—"Because Noah's race was drowned in this world in water. If I drink, it would be hard for me to live"—Solomon is pleased, and asks the Owl to remain with him, and advise him on all points.

There is no verse in the original.

All through the eastern world the owl, from its association with graveyards and old ruins, is regarded as a mystic bird, invested with powers of prophecy and wisdom (Crooke, "Popular Religion and Folk-lore of Northern India," i. 279).

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: King Solomon and the Owl
Tale Author/Editor: Crooke, W. & Rouse, W. H. D.
Book Title: Talking Thrush, The: And Other Tales from India
Book Author/Editor: Crooke, W. & Rouse, W. H. D.
Publisher: E. P. Dutton & Co.
Publication City: New York
Year of Publication: 1922
Country of Origin: India
Classification: unclassified

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