The Bird in the Cage


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The Bird in the Cage

© Copyright. Sakshi Gopal das, 1984.

Many thanks to Sakshi Gopal for kindly allowing the publishers to reproduce his poem, which he has also set to music.

This story, in the form of a poem, relates to the notion of the atman, the real self within, and the need for spiritual nourishment. This song has been sung with mime, using a gigantic bird cage with a model parrot (whose head turns, and who eventually falls off his perch, dead). It is possible to use it in a similar way in school.

Exquisitely the cage was wrought with pillars carved in jade

And perches made of ivory, all beautifully inlaid.

With semi-precious stones and pearls that glittered in the light

Reflected off the golden floor – a truly royal sight.
She saw it though the door way as she passed by on the street,

Standing in the corner of the shop of antiques.

She went inside and said, “My man, that cage is very nice.

But tell me – where’s it come from? And I want to know the price”.

“The Queen of Sheba owned it once”, the man replied with haste.

“A very rare and fine antique for people who’ve got taste.

A bit of polish here and there will bring it up a treat.

But don’t forget the bird inside – he also needs to eat”.

She took it home that very day and placed it in the hall,

Beside the walnut writing desk that stood against the wall.

It sparkled as the evening sun shone through the open door,

For she’d washed it down and polished it until her arms were sore.

“Feed me, feed me” sang the bird. “Feed me please!” he cried.

But the lady only saw the cage and not the bird inside.

That night when she retired to bed she dreamt of royal cages –

That kind enjoyed by kings and queens and princes through the ages.

She dreamt of Chinese mandarins, of Rajas and of Sheikhs,

But no-one had a cage to match her newly found antique.

And when at last the sun arose she woke up from her sleep,

And though she wasn’t washed or dressed she ran to take a peep.

And stood there in the hallway gazing at her new possession,

But never heard the plaintive call – so great was her obsession.

“Feed me feed me,” sang the bird. “Feed me please!” he cried.

But the lady only saw the cage and not the bird inside.

She thought a party would be nice, in honour of the cage,

So going through her address book she went from page to page,

Inviting all the people whom she wanted to impress

To come for tea on Saturday, in formal evening dress.

She hardly could contain herself while sending out the cards,

For thinking curtains would be nice, she purchased several yards

Of silk brocade to make the cage more beautiful than ever,

And stayed up sewing all night long, so great was her endeavour.

“Feed me, feed me” sang the bird. “Feed me please!” he cried.

But the lady only saw the cage and not the bird inside.

On Thursday night she started making all the preparations

From currant buns to angel cakes in great anticipation

Of all the guests who said they’d come to see the new antique:

The Vicar, Mrs Balderdash and all her social clique.

She cleaned the cage on Friday until it sparkled like a pin,

But never heard the starving bird, who begged for food within.

And so, forgotten for too long, he tumbled from his perch,

Yet managed with his dying breath a final, feeble chirp.

“Feed me, feed me”, called the bird. “Feed me please!” he cried.

And then - without another word – he breathed his last and died.

On Saturday she cleaned the cage and polished it with pride –

Quite unaware the bird was dead and lying there inside,

But by the time the doorbell rang, the smell was growing strong.

She thought “Although I’ve cleaned the cage, there’s something very wrong!”

In twos and threes the guests arrived and gathered in the hall,

Around the antique bird cage where it stood against the wall,

Until an unknown guest arrived without an invitation

His shaven head and flowing robes a source of consternation.

A lady dropped her sandwiches, the vicar spilled his tea,

But then the guest began to speak with utmost gravity –

And one by one they all agreed it really was absurd,

That only one with half a brain could fail to feed the bird.

Shocked at her shortsightedness they asked why she’d never

Thought to give the bird some food, enquiring “Is it clever

To only see the cage and not the bird that lives within?

You’ve killed it with your negligence – it really is a sin.”

“The cage, my dear, is very nice, as anyone can see,

And shouldn’t be neglected by the likes of you and me,

But what a dreadful thing you’ve done, so foolish and absurd,

To think the cage is everything and never feed the bird!”

So great was her embarrassment, she tried to run and hide,

But slipped upon the Persian rug and fell upon her side

Into the antique birdcage which then toppled to the floor

And broke into a thousand pieces – some say even more.

For those who haven’t understood, we’ll leave you with a clue:

The pampered cage is flesh and bone, it’s owner really you

Who think this body all in all, who starve the soul inside,

And risk the chance of human life – misled by foolish pride.

“Feed me, feed me”, sings the bird. “Feed me please!” he cries.

“The passing cage is flesh and bone, but take a look inside!”


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