Sounding Childhood

"A cry for liberty"

"A Cry for Liberty" (Eddy #56): words anonymous, music by M. W. Seeley, is a ballad-like song from a caged-bird’s perspective, thus evoking the passionate issue of individual freedom, certainly a charged concept for American listeners who were only decades out from a Civil War fought to free slaves: “O Liberty! Sweet Liberty! When wilt thou come to set me free?” intones the bird in the Chorus, which could equally be a line from a slave spiritual.  It was very popular among Victorian children to keep caged birds; thus, this song,  The Little Maiden and the Little Bird” based on a poem by Lydia Maria Child, consists of a dialogue between a young girl calling, “Little bird! Come to me! / I have a green cage all ready for thee” to which the bird responds, “Nay, little damsel, away I’ll fly / To greener fields and warmer sky” (in Eddy, #64*), directly flouting human protection. It indicts the singer him/herself for preventing the bird’s God-given right to be free: “Then would I mount to azure heights, / And chant my Maker’s praise” (v. 4).  Demonstrating Feuerstein’s point about “pastoral power”, the human propensity to supply “daily needs” (v. 20), a “silver-sanded floor” (v. 3), and “bars of glitt’ring brass” (v. 3) are now soundly rejected by the bird-speaker.  Seely’s tune invokes a parlor ballad in its earnestness; its careful use of ascending lines to fit moments of “soar[ing] among the free” appears to be tone-painting to mimic the desired flight of birds.  


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