In olden times every sound still had its meaning and significance.
When the smith's hammer resounded, it cried, 'Strike away, strike
away.' When the carpenter's plane grated, it said, 'Here goes, here
goes.' If the mill wheel began to clack, it said, 'Help, Lord God,
help, Lord God.' And if the miller was a cheat and set the mill
a-going, it spoke high german, and first asked slowly, 'Who is
there? Who is there?' And then answered quickly, 'The miller,
the miller.' And at last quite in a hurry, 'He steals bravely,
He steals bravely, three pecks in a bushel.'
At this time the birds also had their own language which every
one understood. Now it only sounds like chirping, screeching, and
whistling, and sometimes like music without words. It came into
the birds' mind, however, that they would no longer be without a
ruler, and would choose one of themselves to be their king. One
alone among them, the green plover, was opposed to this. He
had lived free and would die free, and anxiously flying hither
and thither, he cried, 'Where shall I go? Where shall I go?' He
retired into a solitary and unfrequented marsh, and showed himself
no more among his fellows.
The birds now wished to discuss the matter, and on a fine may
morning they all gathered together from the woods and fields,
eagles and chaffinches, owls and crows, larks and sparrows, how
can I name them all. Even the cuckoo came, and the hoopoe, his
clerk, who is so called because he is always heard a few days
before him, and a very small bird which as yet had no name,
mingled with the band. The hen, which by some accident had
heard nothing of the whole matter, was astonished at the great
assemblage. What, what, what is going to be done, she cackled.
But the cock calmed his beloved hen, and said, only a lot of
rich people, and told her what they had on hand. It was
decided that the one who could fly the highest should be king.
A tree-frog which was sitting among the bushes, when he heard
that, cried a warning, no, no, no, no, because he thought that
many tears would be shed because of this. But the crow said, caw,
caw, and that all would pass off peaceably.
It was now determined that on this fine morning they should at
once begin to ascend, so that hereafter no one should be able
to say, I could easily have flown much higher, but the evening
came on, and I could do no more. On a given signal, therefore,
the whole troop rose up in the air. The dust ascended from the
land, and there was tremendous fluttering and whirring and
beating of wings, and it looked as if a black cloud was rising
up. The little birds were soon left behind. They could go no
farther, and fell back to the ground. The larger birds held
out longer, but none could equal the
eagle, who mounted so high that he could have plucked the eyes
out of the sun. And when he saw that the others could not get
up to him, he thought, why should you fly still higher. You are
the king, and began to let himself down again. The birds beneath
him at once cried to him, you must be our king, no one has flown
so high as you. Except me, screamed the little fellow without a
name, who had crept into the breast-feathers of the eagle. And
as he was not at all tired, he rose up and mounted so high that
he reached heaven itself. However, when he had gone as far as
this, he folded his wings together, and called down with clear
and penetrating voice, I am king. I am king.
You, our king, cried the birds angrily. You have managed it
by trick and cunning. So they made another condition. He
should be king who could go down lowest in the ground. How
the goose did flap about with its broad breast when it was once
more on land. How quickly the cock scratched a hole. The
duck came off the worst of all, for she leapt into a ditch,
but sprained her legs, and waddled away to a neighboring pond,
crying, cheating, cheating. The little bird without a name,
however, sought out a mouse-hole, slipped down into it, and
cried out of it with his small voice, I am king. I am king.
You our king, cried the birds still more angrily. Do you
think your cunning shall prevail. They determined to keep him
a prisoner in the hole and starve him out. The owl was placed
as sentinel in front of it, and was not to let the rascal out
if she had any value for her life. When evening was come and all
the birds were feeling very tired after the exertion of so much
flying, they went to bed with their wives and children.
The owl alone remained standing by the mouse-hole, gazing
steadfastly into it with her great eyes. Then she, too, grew
tired and thought to herself, you might certainly shut one eye,
you will still watch with the other, and the little villain
shall not come out of his hole. So she shut one eye,
and with the other looked straight at the mouse-hole. The
little fellow put his head out and peeped, and wanted to slip
away, but the owl came forward immediately, and he drew his head
back again. Then the owl opened the one eye again, and shut the
other, intending to shut them in turn all through the
night. But when she next shut the one eye, she forgot to open
the other, and as soon as both her eyes were shut she
fell asleep. The little fellow soon observed that, and slipped
From that day forth, the owl has never dared to show herself by
daylight, for if she does the other birds chase her and pluck her
feathers out. She flies out only by night, but hates and
pursues mice because they make such ugly holes. The little
bird, too, is very unwilling to let himself be seen,
because he is afraid it will cost him his life if he is caught.
He steals about in the hedges, and when he is quite safe, he
sometimes cries, I am king, and for this reason, the other
birds call him in mockery, king of the hedges. No one, however,
was so happy as the lark at not having to obey the little
king. As soon as the sun appears, she ascends high in the air
and cries, ah, how beautiful that is. Beautiful that is.
Beautiful'beautiful. Ah, how beautiful that is.