Today is a great day.
Today, I have found not one, but TWO…or one and a half…NEW DEAD BIRD CARDS!
If you’re an old follower, you know that these are some of my favorite things in existence. I even came up with what I think is the real and true story behind them, and people have since copied that without giving me credit. (Here and here. Bastards.) But I’m not bitter! (Yeah, I know, I can’t prove that they didn’t just figure it out, too, but this is my little niche of the internet, and, dammit, I’m gonna engage in territorial pissings if I want to engage in territorial pissings!)
(And speaking of giving credit where credit’s due, here’s where I found them.)
But I digress. CHECK THIS OUT!
I’ve never seen that one before, not in all the times I’ve trolled the grey web looking for anything remotely like a dead bird.
Now, granted, it’s a New Year card rather than Christmas. But it’s still in the season, and, as we know, a lot of the Christmas and New Year cards from period overlap in sentiment and message.
But check out the blue! The green! That’s some technicolor craziness for a Victorian card, especially compared to the mostly muted versions of the other birds.
And, speaking of vivid, here’s the other. I say it’s really on my half new card because the image is actually identical to another one, although the border and caption is different:
I’ll put older one down below, but what’s really cool about this one is that the message is the only one that actually seems to have some reason to be put with the dead little robin. (Someone please let me know if that’s not a robin. I’m actually terrible at identifying birds…social media or firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!)
The caption, though, suggests that the birds here are connected to the “calm decay” of a happier death after life… that “Peace Divine.” Or at least that seems to be the case.
But…it’s the second quote that gives me a little vibrato in my panties. It’s no secret that I’m not exactly Christian, but that’s a quotation from one of my favorite poems: “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” by John Milton. But the quote takes things in a slightly different direction than I would have expected. See, if I think about these bird cards in relation to a Christian story, I’m probably going to assume that the bird is only dead temporarily…that resurrection is about to happen.
But the quote from Milton is about the very calm night before Jesus was born. That’s certainly appropriate for a Christmas card, but it has a weirder kind of message. Why is that calmness associated with an image of death? In the poem, that part is all about a kind of breathless waiting in anticipation. The next stanza is one of my favorites:
The Stars with deep amaze
Stand fix’d in steadfast gaze,
Bending one way their precious influence;
And will not take their flight,
For all the morning light,
Or Lucifer that often warn’d them thence,
But in their glimmering orbs did glow,
Until their Lord himself bespake, and bid them go.
The stars with “deep amaze” (love that phrase) are transfixed in awe at what’s about to happen. In the next stanza, even the Sun isn’t sure if it should rise yet because a greater Son is about to come on the scene.
Anyway, the point is that it’s not a sad quiet or peace like you’d associate with death. In fact, it’s very alive and paying rapt attention. The same stanza from the quote even has birds: “While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave.” They’re sitting very thoughtfully on calm waters that no longer rave and make noise.
But is that…death? I don’t think so. Death comes later, as a tragedy that the Son’s second more important birth (his ressurection) will bring about.
So…were they just confused? I dunno. But it doesn’t really shine new light on why the Victorians loved these dead cards quite so much. It does suggest that my Wren Day theory may not be quite as universal as I’d expected. But, then, it could also be that the printers just needed something inspirational-sounding, so they grabbed a quote from the blind poet.
Either way, I GOT ME TWO NEW DEAD BIRD CARDS! This is a good day.
Here’s the other image with the more muted colors and a different caption:
And if you enjoy my site, consider buying me a coffee. It helps support the contest, podcast, and to get all the cards ultimately uploaded and searchable.