Not long ago, I was preparing a program for a senior center and sang the song “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” which has a melody that is based on Chopin’s “Fantaisie-Impromptu.” In practicing the song, I was struck by one line (“I'm always chasing rainbows, waiting to find a little bluebird in vain”) that seemed awfully similar to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (“If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why, oh why can’t I?”) This got me wondering how long the bluebird has been associated with happiness and good fortune. Apparently, quite some time.
The first reference to a bluebird comes from ancient China and dates back all the way back to 1766 BCE. During the Shang dynasty, a blue or green bird was the messenger bird of the Queen Mother of the West. Among many Native American nations, the bluebird is an animal associated with dawn and good fortune. In Russia, the blue bird is often seen as a messenger of hope. Throughout the rest of Europe, the blue bird appears in many stories and fairy tales, apparently always as a symbol of happiness and prosperity.
It is interesting that if we tell someone we are “blue” it means we are sad. When we sing “the Blues” we are singing a lament. And yet the bluebird has become a symbol of happiness. Why? Is the bluebird’s song particularly lovely? To me, most birds have a very pleasing song. I am personally fond of the robin and the house sparrow, as far as their songs go. The bluebird is neither more nor less cheerful than other birds. The Audubon society website says that the bluebird’s song is cheer, cheer-lee, chur. Maybe that’s why they are associated with happiness? But the same site lists the robin’s call ascheer-up, cheerily, cheer-up, cheerily. I think a lot of birdsong is going to fall in the cheercategory. (Except for the finch. I have it on excellent authority that they kept calling a dear friend a bitch. Bitch, bitch.)
Perhaps it has to do with how bright and colorful they are. But the indigo bunting is also a bright vivid blue, and yet no one refers to the indigo bunting of happiness. Cardinals are a lovely shade of red. And yet no one refers to the cardinal of happiness.
I have no answers. Do you have any ideas? Why are bluebirds more cheerful thank other birds? What is your favorite song that includes a bluebird reference? I’ll be playing some bluebird songs this week on my Minnich Music Facebook page, so check those out.
Until next time!