* "The present life of man upon earth, O King, seems to me in comparison with that time which is unknown to us like the swift flight of a sparrow through mead-hall where you sit at supper in winter, with your Ealdormen and thanes, while the fire blazes in the midst and the hall is warmed, but the wintry storms of rain or snow are raging abroad. The sparrow, flying in at one door and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry tempest, but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, passing from winter to winter again. So this life of man appears for a little while, but of what is to follow or what went before we know nothing at all."
The coda is the oldest of the king's men saying 'Even in the dark the sparrow is not lost but knows her nest.'
ETA Ha! Ha! Ha! Found it, and it's Turgenev after all, Rudin.
"I remember a Scandinavian legend,' thus he concluded, ‘a king is sitting with his warriors round the fire in a long dark barn. It was night and winter. Suddenly a little bird flew in at the open door and flew out again at the other. The king spoke and said that this bird is like man in the world; it flew in from darkness and out again into darkness, and was not long in the warmth and light. . . . 'King,' replies the oldest of the warriors, 'even in the dark the bird is not lost, but finds her nest.' Even so our life is short and worthless; but all that is great is accomplished through men. The consciousness of being the instrument of these higher powers ought to outweigh all other joys for man; even in death he finds his life, his nest.’"