With September upon us and the swallows beginning to gather on wires and gables it is an appropriate time to enjoy this particular story from Lord Dunsany's Book of Fifty One Tales, first published in 1915. Dunsany, with his vulpine wit, was a master of the concise and this short aphoristic piece juxtaposes his sweeping lyrical love for wonder and beauty with his contempt for the squalid, parochial and suburban...you should hear our hen! THE HEN All along the farmyard gables the swallows sat a-row, twittering uneasily to one another, telling of many things, but thinking only of Summer and the South, for Autumn was afoot and the North wind waiting. And suddenly one day they were all quite gone. And everyone spoke of the swallows and the South."I think I shall go South myself next year," said a hen. And the year wore on and the swallows came again, and the year wore on and they sat again on the gables, and all the poultry discussed the departure of the hen. And very early one morning, the wind being from the North, the swallows all soared suddenly and felt the wind in their wings; and a strength came upon them and a strange old knowledge and a more than human faith, and flying high they left the smoke of our cities and small remembered eaves, and saw at last the huge and homeless sea, and steering by grey sea-currents went southward with the wind. And going South they went by glittering fog-banks and saw old islands lifting their heads above them; they saw the slow quests of the wandering ships, and divers seeking pearls, and lands at war, till there came in view the mountains that they sought and the sight of the peaks they knew; and they descended into an austral valley, and saw Summer sometimes sleeping and sometimes singing song. "I think the wind is about right," said the hen; and she spread her wings and ran out of the poultry-yard. And she ran fluttering out onto the road and some way down it until she came to a garden. At evening she came back panting. And in the poultry-yard she told the poultry how she had gone South as far as the high road, and saw the great world's traffic going by, and came to lands where the potato grew, and saw the stubble upon which men live, and at the end of the road had found a garden, and there were roses in it--beautiful roses!--and the gardener himself was there with his braces on. "How extremely interesting," the poultry said, "and what a really beautiful description!" And the Winter wore away, and the bitter months went by, and the Spring of the year appeared, and the swallows came again. "We have been to the South," they said, "and the valleys beyond the sea. "But the poultry would not agree that there was a sea in the South: "You should hear our hen," they said. Top: Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany
Middle: Swallows. Bottom: Hens.