Sleeping in the spare bedroom/library of someone who has a great many more books than I have, I recently came across something which you all may know already, but I didn't and I loved it!
It was John Skelton's poem, 'Speke, Parrot' -- not that I've read any more than a few bits, but the part which amazed and enchanted me was the portrait of the parrot itself, in the parrot's own voice.
I was amazed (which I shouldn't have been, because crusaders and trade routes and 1521 being early modern anyway, really, and also because nothing new under the sun) by there being parrots and dates and almonds and parrot-cages with little mirrors at the court of Henry the Eighth!
And then, I was entranced by the whole picture presented... by Tudor England's view of the romance of the exotic bird from distant lands:
My name is Parrot, a byrd of paradyse,
By nature devysed of a wonderous kynde,
Daintily dieted with dyvers dylycate spyce,
Tyl Euphrates, that flode, dryveth me into Inde
Where men of that countrey by fortune me fynd,
And by how the parrot in a cage is so like the way people do keep birds in cages, mirror and all, and say the same things to them ("Parrot is a good bird"!).
And send me to greate ladyes of estate :
Then Parot must have an almon or a date ;
A cage curyously carven, with sylver pyn,
Properly paynted, to be my covertowre
A myrrour of glasse, that I may toote therin
(Does anybody have a lead on what "toote" means here? Any etymology or other use of the word?)
These maidens ful mekely with many a divers flowre
Freshly they dresse, and make swete my bowre,
With, "Speke, Parrot, I pray you," full curtesly they say;
"Parrot is a goodly byrd, a pretty popinjay":
And then, and most especially, by the parrot's self-portrait:
With my becke bent, my lyttyl wanton eye,
(I love that! the "little wanton eye"!)
My fedders freshe as is the emrawde grene,
About my neck a cyrculet lyke the ryche rubye,
(Gasp! I raced off and googled until I decided it was an African (or Indian?) Ring-necked Parakeet)
My lyttyll leggys, my feet both fete and clene,
(I loved that too, the little legs, and the feet both feat and clean. It jumped my mind to "foot it featly, here and there".)
I am a mynyon to wayt uppon a quene ;
"My proper Parrot, my lyttyl prety foole";
With ladyes I lerne, and go with them to scole.
"Hagh, ha, ha, Parrot, ye can laugh pretyly! "
Parrot hath not dyned of al this long day :
Lyke your puss-cat, Parrot can mute and cry
In Lattyn, in Ebrew, Araby, and Caldey;
In Greke tong Parrot can bothe speke and say,
As Percyus, that poet, doth reporte of me,
'Quis expedivit psitlaco mum chaire?"
I don't know what that last line means: "who has made the parrot something something"??? The Latin would be in odd oldish spelling as much as the English, and I don't know Latin anyway. Information gladly received!
And there's lots more, including Katherine of Aragon being called a "peerless pomegranate", and what looks like, to me, the first use of what has developed into an Australian slang expression. But this entry has probably gone on long enough. I really hope that someone gets as much pleasure from the scraps as I did!
(I used https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=zJYNAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&authuser=0&hl=en&pg=GBS.PA1 and pages following for the text, and modernised the spelling very mildly in a few places.)