The Language of Birds

It was times of war at the Valley of Granada, and Maria would not get away unescorted from the castle where she lived. Even though she was surrounded by muskets and crossbows, she felt like a prisoner. Hernando was always with her. He was a young Moor, whose presence for her was so precious that everything seemed more beautiful when he was near.    

One afternoon, they both left the castle and walked by the narrow and steep trails surrounded by very old olive trees. They both paused to contemplate an antique Moor castle, almost completely destroyed by the war and the passing of years. From a creek, the clear and sonic song of a small bird was heard.    

- What bird is that? - asked Maria admiringly.    

- It is the nightingale calling his companion - replied Hernando.    

- But, doesn’t the nightingale tend to sing at night?    

- It sings night and day, and even all those hours are not enough for chirping. But by night, all the noise stops, and there is enough tranquility to actually hear what during the day cannot be heard.    

- Is it true that birds can talk to each other? - asked Maria.    

- At least they can understand each other.    

- When I was a child, I used to think that animals and things could talk just like people do, and I would enjoy listening to the stories of wise men that understood the language of birds and plants. Do you know any of these beautiful tales?    

- There are some that are still told in Granada. My favorite one is the one about the prince in love.    

- Please, tell it to me - begged Maria, sitting at the bottom of a wild fig tree.    

Many years ago, there was a despotic and cruel king in Granada, whose people feared him. His oldest son, Prince Hassan, on the contrary, was kind and he loved to be among the famers and the common people. And it turns out that the prince fell in love with the daughter of Abahul, a farmer of the valley.    

The two lovers secretly maintained their love. But rumors are faster than the wind; and the king found out and prohibited his son from seeing the farmer’s daughter again. The prince answered by confessing that he wanted the farmer’s daughter as his wife. Furious, the king locked the prince in the Alhambra, the highest part of the tower of Comares, without any other company but that of a moody jailer. Hassan would pass his hours in complete solitude, sadly looking out at the valley. Hundreds of birds would fly near the tower. He would watch them fly and listen to their songs; that is how he would entertain himself and control his sadness. After some months, the prince was able to understand the language of birds.    

One morning, a wounded turtledove landed at his feet. Hassan picked her up very carefully and healed her wounds. He quenched her thirst and spoke with her the language of birds. During the days that the turtledove stayed in the tower, they both became good friends. She would tell him beautiful stories about the wind and he would confess to her the reason behind his sadness. The bird was finally healed, and one luminous morning, the prince set the turtledove free, however, with sorrow, since with her gone his solitude would return.    

The turtledove flew towards the valley and Hassan saw her flight until she got lost in the distance. He then fell into a deep depression until the sunset when the turtledove landed on the window.    

She told him that she saw the beautiful farmer’s daughter crying in the garden. This made Hassan’s pain and depression increase so much that he did not want to eat or drink.    

The moon came out, and the waters of the Darro turned silver. From afar, one could see the brilliant white crowns of the summits of the Sierra Nevada. The nightingale sang and its chirp was even clearer than the river. But the prince would look out and could not see the beauty of the mountain; he heard but could not listen to the nightingale’s song. The dawn found the prince with his elbows on the window sill, sadly looking towards the valley.    

The turtledove gathered all the birds of the plains and the mountains, and together made a plan to get Hassan out of the prison. During the sunset, hundreds and hundreds of birds arrived at the bottom of the Alhambra.    

The jailer was in surveillance mode. The key hung down his neck and the lock had three turns. All of a sudden, the wind became music. Surprised, he heard: what was that sweet sound that came from outside the tower? I never heard such a thing…

The birds continued singing and the jailer heard them as if under a spell. What a beautiful melody! But through those thick walls, it was difficult to listen. He climbed up a couple of steps; the music became clearer. He went up a little bit more; the sweet music notes were almost crystal clear. He climbed all the way up until he reached the highest point of the tower. Finches, larks, greenfinches, nightingales... they threshed their songs together. The moon then rose, and a marvelous sleep took over him. When dawn came, the jailer jumped awake from his spell. The key no longer hung down his neck. The valley woke up with the morning sun, and the prince and Abahul’s daughter galloped towards Cordoba.    

Hernando finished the story, and the nightingale continued to sing.    

- What a beautiful song! – whispered Maria. The spell of the jailer does not surprise me. Hernando, do you think it is possible to understand the language of birds?   

 - Not like Hassan. But, by observing their ways and listening to their songs, we should be able to understand them. The afternoon was setting as they went back. A couple of doves came out from the olive tree and flew towards the castle. Maria followed them with her gaze; they flew in harmony and their flight was calm yet vigorous. They paused on one of the towers, cooing, giving each other peaks, and combing their feathers.   

 - That is the language of love of the doves, isn’t it true? – asked Maria. – seems to be, and I think they feel very happy.    Maria looked up once again and her heart was beating with anguish. Nearby, a bowman appeared! Maria yelled, and the dove fell down on the battlements.    

The dove’s companion flew up frightened, but did not go far away; she circled around in a shaky flight. Maria screamed: "Fly away dove!" The circles of the dove’s flight were more and more closing in, the flight more insecure, with more anxiety, and finally, the dove landed next to her fallen companion. They cooed, she offered him peaks, gently smoothed his feathers ... and as she could not wake him, she tried to open the tail and desperately invited him to take flight. She got up, and once again went by his side.    

The bowman doubted for a bit, but in the end he shot the arrow and the other dove fell down on the battlements.    Hernando, do you know if love is more beautiful than life? – asked Maria with sorrow. Hernando did not know what to answer. The silence became painful and Maria entered the castle.    

Concha López Narváez. La tierra del Sol y la Luna (Adaptation)

Instructions: select one of the buttons with letters a, b and c. The selected answer will appear in red.


1.- Maria and Hernando lived in:
a) Granada.

b) Cordoba.

c) Sevilla.

2.- One afternoon, they heard the song of:  
a) A calender.

b) A finch.

c) A nightingale. 

3.- What did Maria and Hernando talk about?
a) The silence of the night.

b) The language of birds.
c) The wars between the Moors and the Christians.

4.- A story from Granada told about:  
a) Castles and battlements.

b) Singing birds.

c) Prince Hassan. 

5.- Prince Hassan fell in love with:
a) The daughter of Abahul the farmer.
b) Maria.
c) A Christian princess.

6.- The furious king locked the prince inside the tower of:
a) The mosque.
b) Comares.
c) An abandoned castle.

7.- Hassan became friends with:
a) A nightingale.
b) A dove.
c) A wounded nightingale.

8.- The song of hundreds of birds was able to:
a) Make the jailer fall into a spell and sleep.
b) Make everyone happy.
c) Fill the air with music.

9.- Hassan and Abahul’s daughter galloped away towards:
a) Granada.
b) Cordoba.
c) Sevilla.

10.- When watching both doves die, Maria asked:
a) If love is more beautiful than life.
b) If people can understand the language of birds.
c) If such a death was fair.

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®Arturo Ramo García.-Record of intellectual property of Teruel (Spain) No 141, of 29-IX-1999 Plaza Playa de Aro, 3, 1º DO 44002-TERUEL