A lot of magpies, aren’t there? When I was young, seeing a magpie was a relatively rare occurrence; nowadays, they are practically flocking.
Considered in purely aesthetic terms, the magpie is a beautiful bird but, perhaps more than any other bird, the magpie has baggage. It is hard to separate its appearance from its reputation, a bit like Justin Bieber.
Magpies have long been associated with bad luck; are regularly outed as thieves; and are surrounded by more superstition than a black cat walking under a ladder on Friday the Thirteenth.
The traditional nursery rhyme, “One for Sorrow”, of which there are numerous variants––traditional and modern; four lines, seven lines and thirteen lines––is often cited when magpies appear.
However, so populous have magpies become in recent times that even thirteen is no longer sufficient to count groups of them, so I have taken the liberty of extending the verse to accommodate the birds’ expanding numbers.
One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret, never to be told.
Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss,
Ten a surprise, you should be careful not to miss.
Eleven for health,
Twelve for wealth,
Thirteen beware, it’s the devil himself.
Fourteen for guilt,
Fifteen for fear,
Sixteen for scandal, of which more we will hear.
Seventeen for laughter,
Eighteen for tears,
Nineteen for silence, as end of day nears.
Twenty for truth,
Twenty-one is a lie,
Twenty-two, three and four are just birds for the pie.
© The Mudskipper