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Sweet Rowdy of the Capitol: How to Testify in Favor of SB 141, the Bobolink Bill

When Senator Susan Wismer (D-1/Britton) testifies to Senate State Affairs on behalf of Senate Bill 141, her proposal to make the Bobolink South Dakota’s official state songbird, the committee should offer her a deal: replicate with her own voice a bobolink song—”musical fireworks… a mad, reckless, song-fantasia, an outbreak of pent-up, irrepressible glee“—and SB 141 gets unanimous passage.

Short of that, the committee should require Britton’s sweetest voice to recite, in full and with passion, William Cullen Bryant’s “Robert of Lincoln,” a poem about the great grassland tweeter:

Merrily swinging on brier and weed,
⁠Near to the nest of his little dame,
Over the mountain-side or mead,
⁠Robert of Lincoln is telling his name.
⁠Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
⁠Spink, spank, spink,
Snug and safe is this nest of ours,
Hidden among the summer flowers.
⁠Chee, chee, chee.

Robert of Lincoln is gayly dressed,
⁠Wearing a bright, black wedding-coat;
White are his shoulders, and white his crest,
⁠Hear him call in his merry note,
⁠Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
⁠Spink, spank, spink,
Look what a nice, new coat is mine;
Sure there was never a bird so fine.
⁠Chee, chee, chee.

Robert of Lincoln’s Quaker wife,
⁠Pretty and quiet, with plain brown wings,
Passing at home a patient life,
⁠Broods in the grass while her husband sings,
⁠Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
⁠Spink, spank, spink,
Brood, kind creature, you need not fear
Thieves and robbers while I am here.
⁠Chee, chee, chee.

Modest and shy as a nun is she;
⁠One weak chirp is her only note;
Braggart, and prince of braggarts is he,
⁠Pouring boasts from his little throat,
⁠Bob-o’-link, bob-‘-link,
⁠Spink, spank, spink,
Never was I afraid of man,
Catch me, cowardly knaves, if you can.
⁠Chee, chee, chee.

Six white eggs on a bed of hay,
⁠Flecked with purple, a pretty sight:
There as the mother sits all day,
⁠Robert is singing with all his might,
⁠Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
⁠Spink, spank, spink,
Nice good wife that never goes out,
Keeping house while I frolic about.
⁠Chee, chee, chee.

Soon as the little ones chip the shell,
⁠Six wide mouths are open for food;
Robert of Lincoln bestirs him well,
⁠Gathering seeds for the hungry brood:
⁠Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
⁠Spink, spank, spink,
This new life is likely to be
Hard for a gay young fellow like me.
⁠Chee, chee, chee.

Robert of Lincoln at length is made
⁠Sober with work, and silent with care,
Off is his holiday garment laid,
⁠Half forgotten that merry air,
⁠Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
⁠Spink, spank, spink,
Nobody knows but my mate and I,
Where our nest and our nestlings lie.
⁠Chee, chee, chee.

Summer wanes; the children are grown;
⁠Fun and frolic no more he knows,
Robert of Lincoln’s a hum-drum drone;
⁠Off he flies, and we sing as he goes,
⁠Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
⁠Spink, spank, spink,
When you can pipe that merry old strain,
Robert of Lincoln, come back again.
⁠Chee, chee, chee.

—William Cullen Bryant, “Robert of Lincoln,” composed sometime before South Dakota statehood.

At the very least, when someone on Senate State Affairs asks Senator Wismer to describe the bobolink, she should respond à la Emily Dickinson:

The Way to know the Bobolink
From every other Bird
Precisely as the Joy of him —
Obliged to be inferred.

Of impudent Habiliment
Attired to defy,
Impertinence subordinate
At times to Majesty.

Of Sentiments seditious
Amenable to Law —
As Heresies of Transport
Or Puck’s Apostacy.

Extrinsic to Attention
Too intimate with Joy —
He compliments existence
Until allured away

By Seasons or his Children —
Adult and urgent grown —
Or unforeseen aggrandizement
Or, happily, Renown —

By Contrast certifying
The Bird of Birds is gone —
How nullified the Meadow —
Her Sorcerer withdrawn!

—Emily Dickinson, “The Way to Know the Bobolink,” also pre-statehood.

The Rowdy of the Meadow awaits calendaring by Senate State Affairs.


  1. Bob Newland 2020-02-04 09:05

    I am in favor of Bob being the state songbird.

  2. grudznick 2020-02-04 10:00

    I am in favor of my good friend Bob being the state songbird too. “The Rowdy of the Meadow” is but another way to say Corporate Narc of the Prairie.

  3. Porter Lansing 2020-02-04 10:18

    What’s a Corporate Narc?

  4. Rosa Stratman 2020-02-04 11:15

    Masterly! Thank you.

  5. mike from iowa 2020-02-04 13:27

    We have bob-o-links in iowa and ours are corn fed. Ours sing a much different song, such as At Least We Aren’t Northern Mississippi, Yet.

  6. Susan Wismer 2020-02-04 16:20

    Thank-you for the publicity and the literary suggestions, Cory. I’ve been meaning to get a post done on this…So your readers know, this was not just my idea. South Dakota has a birdwatchers’ group with many experts among its members. Check them out on Facebook or at their website, They were interested in having a state bird that wasn’t a game bird (the pheasant is not native to the state, either). They organized a competition of sorts and conducted a volunteer vote among membership. The factors they considered were: appears in all counties of the state; isn’t any other state’s state songbird; breeds in the state; has a pleasant song; and is identifiable and colorful. If you’re an expert birder and can do a good job of making a BRIEF statement in favor of the proposal at the committee hearing, please contact me. I’m hoping to make this as much about preservation of grassland habitat and the importance of the recreation of bird-watching as about a state symbol.

  7. grudznick 2020-02-04 18:02

    Ms. Wismer, is it a coincidence that this Dolichonyx oryzivorus has what looks like a Bernie Sanders haircut? I wish you luck and hope those stick-in-the-mud curmudgeon fellows don’t try to hijack your law bill.

  8. Debbo 2020-02-04 20:38

    I like the bobolink. It’s a pretty little bird. However, I love the Western Meadowlark’s song best. It may already be another state’s bird because I think it’s quite widespread and popular.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-02-05 12:23

    Senator Wismer’s point about the birdwatchers’ advocacy is worth noting: it would be nice to have a state bird that we don’t shoot but just appreciate purely for the beauty it creates.

Comments are closed.