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The Owl

from Popular Rhymes And Nursery Tales - NATURE SONGS





To-whoo--to-whoo!
Cold toe--toe!

expresses the hooting of the owl. This bird, according to old ballads
and legends, was of exalted parentage. A rural ballad, cited in
Waterton's Essays on Natural History, 1838, p. 8, says:

Once I was a monarch's daughter,
And sat on a lady's knee;
But am now a nightly rover,
Banished to the ivy tree.

Crying hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo,
Hoo, hoo, hoo, my feet are cold.
Pity me, for here you see me
Persecuted, poor, and old.

An anonymous writer, in the Gentleman's Magazine, vol. lxxiv. p. 1003,
mentions an old fairy tale respecting the owl, which, he says, is well
known to the nurses of Herefordshire. A certain fairy, disguised as an
old distressed woman, went to a baker's shop, and begged some dough of
his daughter, of whom she obtained a very small piece. This she farther
requested leave to bake in the oven, where it swelling to the size of a
large loaf, the baker's daughter refused to let her have it. She,
however, gave the pretended beggar another piece of dough, but still
smaller than the first; this swelled in the oven even more than the
other, and was in like manner retained. A third and still smaller piece
of dough came out of the oven the largest of all, and shared the same
fate. The disguised fairy, convinced of the woman's covetousness by
these repeated experiments, no longer restrained her indignation. She
resumed her proper form, and struck the culprit with her wand, who
immediately flew out of the window in the shape of an owl. This story
may be a version of the legend alluded to by Ophelia in Hamlet, iv. 5:
"They say the owl was a baker's daughter. Lord, we know what we are, but
know not what we may be."





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