Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis), Martin-pêcheur.

2 occurrences (1 halcyon, 1 halcyon's)

The halcyon is a mythical bird which has been identified with the kingfisher, one of the few birds of our temperate regions that really looks exotic with its iridescent plumage. James I had a pet kingfisher.

The ancients believed that it bred in a nest floating on the sea about the time of the winter solstice and that, during the period of fourteen days when it was brooding, it charmed the wind and waves so that the sea was especially calm, hence a poetic name for a period of quietude: "halcyon days".

According to ARMSTRONG (notes p. 43) the metaphor goes on:

It is likely that when he wrote,

Except Saint Martin's summer, halcyon days,

Since I have entered into these wars,

he visualised either the mythological nest floating on the sea or a kingfisher diving into a stream, for the next lines read:

Glory is like a circle in the water,

Which never ceaseth to enlarge itself

Till by broad spreading it disperse to nought.

(1H6, 1 2 131-5)

Another popular belief linked with the kingfisher is to be found in the quotation from King Lear; if hung by the tail or beak it would act as a weathervane:

Renege, affirm, and turn their halcyon beaks

With every gale and vary of their masters,

Knowing nought, like dogs, but following.

(2 2 75-7)

Marlowe in The Jew of Malta refers to the same belief:

But now how stands the wind?

Into what corner peers my halcyon's bill?

Ha! to the east? Yes. See how stands the vanes?

(1 1 38-9)