The Daws on the Dial

A young jackdaw told his father that he was going to build his nest on the minute hand of the town clock. “That’s the most unthinkable thing you ever thought of,” said old John Daw. Young Jack was not deterred. “We’ll build our nest when the minute hand is level,” he said, “at a quarter of or a quarter after.”

“Those who live in castles in the air have nowhere to go but down,” the old Daw warned, but Jack and his mate built their nest on the clock at a quarter after eight the next morning. At twenty minutes after eight the nest slipped off the minute hand and fell into the street below. “We didn’t start early enough,” the young Daw told his father that evening. “Better never than late. We’ll try again tomorrow at a quarter after six.”

“If at first you don’t succeed, fail, fail again,” said the elder Daw. But he might as well have been talking to a gargoyle. Jack and his mate stole some of the elder Daw’s silverware and built their nest again the following morning, and again it slipped off the minute hand and fell into the street below.

That evening old John Daw had more to say to his reckless offspring. “To stick on a dial, you would need three feet, one of them a rabbit’s. Don’t hang heavy on time’s hands, just because it hangs heavy on yours. Clockwise is not wise enough. Even the cyclone and the merry-go-round know that much.”

And again the young Daws did not listen, and again they swiped some silverware from his parents’ nest to furnish their own. This time, those human beings known as municipal authorities were concealed in the clock tower, and, with brooms and yells and stones and bells, they frightened the foolish daws away from the clock and the tower and the town.

That night old John Daw’s mate counted her silverware and sighed with dismay. “Gone, alas, with our youth, two spoons,” she said, “and half the knives, and most of the forks, and all of the napkin rings.”

“If I told him once, I told him a hundred times, ‘Neither a burglar nor a lender be,'” raged old John, “but I might as well have been talking to a cast-iron lawn Daw.” Not a word was heard from the young Daws as the weeks went on. “No news is bad news,” grumbled old John Daw. “They have probably built their nest this time on a wagon wheel, or inside a bell.”

He was wrong about that. The young Daws had built their last nest in the muzzle of a cannon, and they heard only the first gun of a twenty-one-gun salute fired in honor of a visiting chief of state.

MORAL: The saddest words of pen or tongue are wisdom’s wasted on the young.

The Daws on the Dial

James Thurber

James Grover Thurber (December 8, 1894 – November 2, 1961) was an American cartoonist, author, humorist, journalist, playwright, and celebrated wit. He was best known for his cartoons and short stories published mainly in The New Yorker magazine, such as "The Catbird Seat", and collected in his numerous books. He was one of the most popular humorists of his time, as he celebrated the comic frustrations and eccentricities of ordinary people.

One thought on “The Daws on the Dial

  • November 12, 2013 at 7:40 am
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    A story on the level of Aesop. Being a bit of a jackdaw myself, this was one of my favorite stories when I was a kid. I read it in a book forwarded by Charles Laughton. It’s very hard to tell a good story with a moral & a purpose in less than 500 words. The wording is very clever & the ending perfectly fitting.

    For grown-ups who like classical music, check out “Life Ain’t Kind” by Nelson Donley

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