european kingfisher

Halcyon Days

IMG_2760_1000x667Halcyon Days (C) 2013 by Debi Bradford

Not from successful love alone,
Nor wealth, nor honor’d middle age, nor victories of politics or war;
But as life wanes, and all the turbulent passions calm,
As gorgeous, vapory, silent hues cover the evening sky,
As softness, fulness, rest, suffuse the frame, like freshier, balmier air,
As the days take on a mellower light, and the apple at last hangs
really finish’d and indolent-ripe on the tree,
Then for the teeming quietest, happiest days of all!
The brooding and blissful halcyon days!

Walt Whitman

These days the phrase “halcyon days” refers to lovely days well remembered, usually in the summer with abundant sunshine.  Calm, blissful days.  This Walt Whitman poem is a favorite of mine and seems to capture that feeling, that mood of the blissful halcyon days.

Looking further into the word I discovered that “Halcyon” is a bird of Greek legend, also the name of the European kingfisher.  The website “The Phrase Finder,”  states “The ancients believed that the bird made a floating nest in the Aegean Sea and had the power to calm the waves while brooding her eggs. Fourteen days of calm weather were to be expected when the Halcyon was nesting – around the winter solstice, usually 21st or 22nd of December. The Halcyon days are generally regarded as beginning on the 14th or 15th of December.”

By the 16th century the phrase ‘halcyon days’ had lost its association with the nesting time of the bird and had taken on the figurative meaning of ‘calm days’.  Shakespeare used this phrase in his works.

An interesting bit about the kingfisher and “halcyon days.”  The kingfisher is associated with other powers relating to the weather. In mediaeval times it was thought that if the dried carcass of a kingfisher was hung up it would always point its beak in the direction of the wind, according to the same site.  Perhaps that’s where the idea came from for weathervanes.

Language, phrases morph, evolve over time.  I enjoy learning how and where a phrase or word originated.