a desultory second courtship

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Meryl Yin

Member
Chinese- Mandarin, Northern Dialect
"From Third Avenue comes the sound of the mad builders—American cicadas, out in the noonday sun. In the garden the sparrow chants—a desultory second courtship, a subdued passion, in keeping with the great heat, love in summertime, relaxed and languorous. I shall miss this apartment when it is gone; we are quitting it come fall..."
From At Turtle Bay by E.B.White

I'm trying to figure out its meaning. Is a second courtship means the sparrow is singing for his or her second partner in life (he may lost his first love due to some reasons), or the sparrow is in the second phase or step of pursuing his love? And what does desultory point to?
Is subdued passion described in a rather sad tone and it can be repalced by repressed? Or can it be replaced by mild(which suggest the basic tone of this part is much more leisured)?

Thanks for your reply.:)
 
  • EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Hi Meryl,

    Is a second courtship means the sparrow is singing for his or her second partner in life (he may lost his first love due to some reasons), or the sparrow is in the second phase or step of pursuing his love?
    I think it means the sparrow has entered what appears a second period of courtship. The first one was in the spring; now it's summertime, and the bird is still singing. (Birds sing as part of the mating ritual.)

    And what does desultory point to?
    I would think it's an allusion to that it's not really a second period of courtship; it only appears to be because of the singing. Thus the sparrow's behavior, in particular it's singing, lacks the determination shown during the actual mating ritual.

    Is subdued passion described in a rather sad tone and it can be repalced by repressed? Or can it be replaced by mild(which suggest the basic tone of this part is much more leisured)?
    No, not sad or repressed, I'd say, but hushed, less vigorous.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    'A second courtship' means the bird has had an earlier relationship and is now starting a second: with a new partner.
    'Desultory' means 'by jumps' or 'by fits and starts': in other words, not by a steady persistent approach, but in occasional episodes.
    'A subdued passion' means 'a lower-level love affair'. This is directly explained in the following words:
    'love in summertime, relaxed and languorous'.
     

    Meryl Yin

    Member
    Chinese- Mandarin, Northern Dialect
    Thank you, EStjarn and wandle. You‘ve enlightened me a lot.
    So desultory in fact describes its way of singing but not the courtship, right? It seems to be a ambiguity on second courtship.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    No ambiguity - the singing is the courtship - that's what sparrows do and how they do it; desultory qualifies courtship.
     

    Meryl Yin

    Member
    Chinese- Mandarin, Northern Dialect
    Thank you,Paul. Yes that‘s how they do it. I mean they have different understanding to THE SECOND COURTSHIP, maybe second does mean the second step?
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    No. Here "courtship" = pairing and mating behaviour.

    A sparrow (and many other birds) mate more than once in a year. Here, the first courtship has already taken place, the eggs have been laid, hatched and the fledglings flown. The male sparrow, with time to spare, starts singing again in the hopes of attracting another female - this is the beginning of he second "courtship".
     

    Meryl Yin

    Member
    Chinese- Mandarin, Northern Dialect
    oh, I see... And I wonder if the comma between “the great heat“and“love in summer time“ means“ the great heat and the great love in summer time“, or LOVE is in fact should next toChants“the sparrow chants love in summertime“.
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    A sparrow (and many other birds) mate more than once in a year.
    eHow supports that:

    Once house sparrows find a mate, they will likely stay monogamous for the rest of their lives. [...] House sparrows can have as many as four broods per season, with four to seven eggs laid each time. The first batch of eggs is usually laid in March, and the female incubates the eggs for about 12 days. Both male and female feed the hatchlings. After 15 to 17 days, the fledglings are able to leave the nest, but the male continues feeding them. The pair can now have their next brood, and they may produce up to 25 young every breeding season.
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    And I wonder if the comma between “the great heat“and“love in summer time“ means“ the great heat and the great love in summer time“, or LOVE is in fact should next toChants“the sparrow chants love in summertime“.
    This is how I read the sentence:

    In the garden the sparrow chants -
    [the chanting of the sparrow is]
    1) a desultory second courtship,
    2) a subdued passion, in keeping with the great heat,
    3) love in summertime [that is] relaxed and languorous.
     
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