in Doctor Thorne

Chapter 42 – What Can You Give in Return?


The word “halcyon” comes from an ancient myth in which a woman named Alcyone, at the death of her husband Ceyx at sea, throws herself into the ocean out of grief.  The gods, taking pity on them both, change them into sea birds.  The sea bird which takes her name, the halcyon, nests on the shores, and Aeolus, the king of the winds, compassionately calms the winds during the birds’ nesting periods, giving rise to the phrase “halcyon days.”  The word halcyon itself has come to mean “calm” or “restful.”  Mr. Oriel, the parson, is engaged to be married to Beatrice Gresham.  Domestic concerns are therefore keeping him occupied:  his morning church services have been put on hiatus, and he has had to take on a curate to see to his parish during this time.  Thus these are “halcyon days” for his parishioners, who no longer have to attend so many services, as well as for the couple in love, preparing for their wedding.  [JM 2011]

Sources:  OED.
Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.410-748.