[PW] ? "Bird Sings" Quote (Quotation Query #729)

K. Stewart kjostew at verizon.net
Fri Apr 24 08:39:55 PDT 2015

This quotation, in varying forms, is seen frequently with the simple attribution of "Chinese proverb."  I suspect that it may be connected with the book Wu Wei, a Phantasy Based on the Philosophy of Lao-Tse.  This book was published in 1911 by M.E. Reynolds, New York, and is translated from the Dutch of Henri Borel. It can be viewed on HathiTrust at http://hdl.handle.net/2027/hvd.32044060301603?urlappend=%3Bseq=42.  The quotation from the book reads:

"Why does the bird sing? Do you know that, my son? "Because they cannot help it, Father, because they simply must give their nature vent in that way! It is Wu Wei!"

However, I've also found a couple of other similar quotations.  One is from a story called "Eudora; or, the Haunted House." (A Fairy Tale for Young People.)  It was published in The Ladies' Companion, and Monthly Magazine, Ser. 2, v. 5, 1854, and may also be found on HathiTrust at http://hdl.handle.net/2027/chi.105227098?urlappend=%3Bseq=289.  The relevant excerpt (p. 263)  is:
"That bird, again," said the fairy, gravely, "is the picture of yourself, Eudora! Such you have been at home--a vain, pert, conceited thing, dressed out in all the colours of the rainbow, parading in empty-headed vanity before your glass, indulging in all the airs and graces imaginable, regardless of all but a glittering outside; without one redeeming quality to set off against the loud, discordant voice, inflated by bad temper, loaded with abuse! That bird has no reason, and acts merely after its nature; but you are gifted with it; and which, think you, is the most disgusting peacock of the two? The beautiful feathers that adorn that bird are its own--the magnificent gift of Nature; and he may well be a little proud of them; but you, from whence come all your gaudy articles of attire, of which you are so vain? Do you know? You shall see!"
The last similar quotation I found was post-1967 but again, purports to have its origins in international wisdom or proverbs, although the poem was written by Anthony de Mello.  It's called "The Song of the Bird" and was first published in 1982.  It reads:
“Why does the bird sing?” said the Master.
Not because he has a statement, but because he has a song.
The words of the Scholar are to be understood. The words of the Master are not to be understood. They are to be listened to as one listens to the wind in the trees and the sound of the river and the song of the bird. They will awaken something within the heart that is beyond all knowledge."
This can be viewed online on many sites; one is http://www.yin4men.com/blog-3/files/026bf408b6d31e7613351b51dbd93e74-9.html.
I don't know if this will help, but it's all I've been able to find to this point.
Karen Stewart
On 04/24/15, Burton, Donna wrote:

Would this qualify or is it too far off the mark:

"The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that
sang best" --Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933)

Donna Burton
Reference Librarian
Schaffer Library
burtond at union.edu
Union College
Schenectady, NY 12308

On Thu, Apr 23, 2015 at 10:27 PM, Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at yale.edu>

> Joan Walsh Anglund wrote "“A bird does not sing because he has an answer.
> He sings because he has a song.” in a 1967 book. Does anyone know of any
> similar sayings that appeared before 1967?
> Fred Shapiro
> _______________________________________________
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