Bird of Sorrow is from a compilation of stories called Forty-four Turkish Fairy Tales. This beautiful collection was authored by Ignácz Kúnos and published in 1913. Ignácz Kúnos was a Hungarian linguist, folklorist, and a correspondent member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Kúnos was a celebrated scholar of Turkish folk literature and Turkish dialectology.
Harpies, also called Sirins, Alkonosts, and Gamayuns, are described as having a woman’s head and the body of a bird. They are frequently depicted as predatory birds that bring misfortune. The Sirin and Alkonost are often described as birds of joy and sorrow in Eastern European folklore. Harpies were originally considered wind spirits and were thought to bring hardship by carrying off food, belongings, and even people.
Bird of Sorrow
(Turkish Fairy Tale)
In very remote times there lived a Sultan whose daughter was so much attached to her governess that she scarcely ever left her side. One day, seeing the latter deep in thought, the Princess asked: “Of what are you thinking?”
“I have sorrow,” answered the governess.
“What is sorrow?” questioned the Sultan’s daughter, “let me also have it.”
“It is well,” said the woman, and went to the bazaar, where she bought a Bird of Sorrow in a cage. She presented it to the maiden, who was so delighted that she amused herself day and night with the creature.
Sometime afterwards the Sultan’s daughter, attended by her slaves, paid a visit to the zoo. She took with her the bird in its cage, which she hung upon the branch of a tree. Suddenly the bird commenced to speak. “Set me free a little while, Sultana,” it pleaded, “that I may play with the other birds. I will come back again.” The Princess accordingly set her favorite at liberty.
A few hours later, while the Princess was sauntering idly about the park, the bird returned, seized its mistress and flew off with her to the top of a high mountain. “Behold! This is sorrow,” said the bird, “I will prepare more of it for you!” Saying this it flew away.
The Princess, now hungry and thirsty, wandered about until she met a herdsman, with whom she exchanged raiment, so that she might disguise herself as a man for her better protection. After long wandering she came to a village where, finding a coffeehouse, she entered, and besought the proprietor to engage her as his assistant. The former, regarding her as a young man in need of employment, accordingly engaged her, and towards evening went home, leaving her in charge of the house.
Having closed the shop, the girl lay down to sleep. At midnight, however, the Bird of Sorrow appeared, broke all the cups and saucers in the place, woke the maiden from her sleep, and thus addressed her, “Behold! This is sorrow; I will prepare more of it for you!” Having thus spoken it flew away as before.
All night long the poor girl lay thinking what she should say to her master on the morrow. When morning came the proprietor returned, and seeing the woeful damage done, beat his assistant severely and drove her away.
Her eyes filled with bitter tears, she set out once more, and in many hours arrived at a tailor’s shop. As preparations were being made for a great religious feast, the tailor was busy in executing orders. He was therefore in need of an extra hand, and took the youth, as he supposed the girl to be, into his service. After a day or two the tailor went away, leaving the maiden alone in the house.
When evening came she closed the shop and retired to rest. At midnight came the bird again, and tore to shreds all the clothes on the premises, and waking up the girl, said, “Behold! This is sorrow; I will prepare still more of it for you!” and flew off again. Next morning brought the master, who seeing the clothing all torn up, called his assistant to account. As the girl answered nothing, the master beat her soundly and sent her away.
Weeping bitterly she once more set forth, and by and by came to a fringe-maker’s, where she was taken in. Being again left alone, she fell asleep. The Bird of Sorrow reappeared, tore up the fringes, woke the girl, made the customary speech, and flew away as on previous occasions.
When the master returned next morning and saw the mischief, he beat his assistant more cruelly than ever, and dismissed her.
Overwhelmed with grief, the unhappy maiden again took her lonely way. Feeling sure that the Bird of Sorrow would give her no peace, she went into a mountain pass, where she lived in seclusion for many days, suffering the pangs of hunger and thirst, and in constant fear of the wild beasts that haunted the region. Her nights were spent in the leafy branches of a tree.
One day a Prince, went out hunting, and spied the girl in the tree. Mistaking her for a bird, he shot an arrow at her, but it merely struck one of the branches. On approaching the tree to reclaim his arrow, the royal youth observed that what he had supposed to be a bird appeared to be a man. “What are you?” he called out.
“I am human creature like yourself,” she responded. Where upon the Prince permitted her to descend from the tree, and took the seeming herdsman to the palace. Here, after bathing, she resumed the garments of a maiden. Then the royal youth saw that she was beautiful as the full moon, and straightway fell violently in love with her. Without delay he besought his father, the Sultan, to consent to his wedding with her.
The Sultan commanded the maiden to be brought into his presence, and as he gazed upon her wonderful beauty, her loveliness and grace won his heart. The betrothal took place forthwith; and after a period of festivity lasting forty days and forty nights the marriage was celebrated. In due time a little daughter was born to the princely pair, a child gentle and fair to look upon, and giving early promise of becoming as lovely as its mother.
One midnight came the bird, stole the babe, and besmeared the mother’s lips with blood. Then it woke the Princess, and said, “Behold, I am taking away your child; and still more sorrow will I prepare for you!” So saying the bird flew off.
In the morning the Prince missed his little daughter, and observed that his wife’s lips were blood-stained. Going quickly to his father, he related the ominous occurrence. “From the mountain did you bring the woman,” said the Sultan, “she is indeed a daughter of the mountain and eats human flesh; therefore, I counsel you to send her away!” But the devoted Prince pleaded for his young wife and prevailed over his father.
Sometime later another daughter was born to them, which also the bird stole away under similar circumstances. This time the Sultan commanded that the mother should be put to death, though yielding at length to the earnest entreaties of his son, he grudgingly consented to pardon her.
Time passed away, and eventually a son was born. The Prince, fearing that if this child also should disappear his beloved wife would surely be put to death, determined to lie awake at night and keep watch and ward over his loved ones. Tired nature, however, insisted on her toll and the Prince slept.
Meanwhile the bird returned, stole the babe, besmeared the Princess’s lips with blood as before, and flew away. When the poor mother awoke and discovered her terrible loss, she wept bitterly; and when the Prince also awoke and found the child missing and his wife’s mouth and nose dripping with blood, he hastened to his father with the awful intelligence.
The Sultan, in a violent rage, again condemned the woman to death. The executioners were summoned; they bound her hands behind her and led her forth to execution. But so smitten were they with her ravishing beauty, and so stricken with pity for her sore affliction, that they said to her: “We cannot find it in our hearts to kill you. Go where you will, only return not again to the palace.”
The poor ill-fated woman again sought her mountain refuge, brooding over her sad lot; until one day the bird once more appeared, seized her and carried her off to the garden of a grand palace.
Setting down its burden, the bird shook its wings and transformed into a handsome youth. Taking her by the hand, the creature led the disconsolate woman upstairs into the palace. Here a wonderful sight met her eyes. Attended by many servants, three beautiful children, all radiant and smiling, approached her. As her astonished gaze fell upon them, her eyes filled with tears of joy and her heart melted with tenderness.
Escorting the now happy and wondering Princess into a stately apartment, richly carpeted and furnished with all the art of the luxurious Orient, the youth thus addressed her: “Sultana, though I afflicted you with much grief and sorrow, robbed you of your precious children, and nearly brought you to an ignominious death, yet have you patiently borne it all and not betrayed me. In reward I have built for you this palace, in which I now restore to you your loved ones. Behold your children! Henceforth, Sultana, I am your slave.” The Princess hastened with winged feet to her long-lost children, embraced them, pressed them to her bosom, and covered them with kisses.
How fared it with the Prince?
One day, having no more opium, the old man requested the Prince’s permission to go to the bazaar in order to buy more. On his way there he saw something he had never before beheld: a large and magnificent palace! “It is remarkable,” thought the old fellow; “I frequent this street daily, yet have I not seen this palace before. When can it have been built? I must inspect it.”Sorrowing for his children and for his beloved wife, whom he believed to have been put to death, he grew morose and melancholy, passing the time with his old opium smoker, who beguiled the hours with indifferent stories.
The Sultana, whose palace it was, happened to be at one of the windows and caught sight of her husband’s opium smoker. The slave–formerly her Bird of Sorrow–being in attendance, respectfully suggested: “What say you, lady, to playing a trick on the Prince’s old storyteller?” At these words the bird threw a magic rose at the feet of the greybeard. The latter picked it up, inhaled its exquisite perfume, and muttered to himself: “If your rose is so beautiful, how must it be with yourself!” So instead of returning home he entered the palace.
The Prince in the meantime grew concerned over the prolonged absence of the old man and sent his steward to look for him. The steward, arriving before the palace, the door of which had been left open intentionally by the slave, went in to look round. A number of female slaves received him and led the way up the stairs. At the top he was handed over to the magician slave, who requested him to remove his outer robe and precede him.
The robe was taken off without difficulty, but the steward was astonished to find that in spite of all his efforts he was quite unable to remove his cap. At this the magician ordered him to be cast out “for refusing to take off his cap.” The steward was therefore forcibly ejected. But no sooner was he outside than–wonderful to relate–the cap fell from his head of its own accord! On his way home he overtook the old opium smoker.
Meanwhile the Prince was troubled at the non-return of his steward and dispatched his treasurer after him. The treasurer met both on the road and demanded to know what had befallen them. The old opium smoker answered somewhat enigmatically, “If a rose be thrown from that palace, take care not to smell it, or the consequences be on your own head.” And the steward warned him no less mysteriously, “When you enter that palace, be sure to leave your cap at the door!”
The treasurer considered the behavior of both his companions somewhat peculiar, but taking their warning lightly he entered the palace. Inside he was ordered to wear a dressing-gown before proceeding upstairs. Commencing to undress for the purpose, he discovered that his trousers refused to part company with his person. Consequently he was unceremoniously thrown out of the palace. Hardly, however, was he outside than his trousers came off on their own!
The Prince becoming unable longer to endure the unaccountable absence of his servants, set out himself to discover, if possible, what had happened to them. On the way he met all three, who counselled him in an excited manner, “If a rose be thrown to you from the palace, be careful not to smell it; when you enter, be sure to leave your cap at the door; and before you arrive there, take off your trousers and enter without them!”
The Prince was exceedingly puzzled at such extraordinary advice, yet he straightway went to the Palace and disappeared from sight within the portal. Unlike his servants, the Prince was received with every mark of honor and respect, and conducted to a noble hall. Here a lady of remarkable beauty, surrounded by three lovely children, awaited him.
The lady gave to her eldest child a stool, to the second a towel, and to the youngest a tray; into the tray she put a bowl, into the bowl a pear, and beside it a spoon. The eldest set the stool on the floor, the second offered the towel to the Prince, while the youngest sat himself down in the bowl. The Prince then inquired of the children, “How long has it been the custom to eat pears with a spoon?”
“Since human beings have eaten human flesh,” they answered in chorus. The chord of memory was struck; the past flashed before the mind’s eye of the Prince.
Here the bird appeared and cried, “Oh Prince, behold thy Sultana! Behold also thy children!”
Whereat all–father, mother, and children–fell on each other’s necks weeping for joy.
The magician continued, “My Prince, I am your slave; if, however, you deign to give me my liberty, I will hasten to my own parents.” Overflowing with gratitude for their reunion, they immediately set the bird slave free and prepared a new festival, happy in the knowledge that henceforth they would never be parted from each other.
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