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Alfred Austin (Альфред Остин)

The Owl and the Lark

A grizzled owl at midnight moped
Where thick the ivy glistened;
So I, who long have vainly groped
For wisdom, leaned and listened.

Its perch was firm, its aspect staid,
Its big eyes gleamed and brightened;
Now, now at last, will doubt be laid,
Now yearning be enlightened.

``Tu-whit! Tu-whoo!'' the bird discoursed,
``Tu-whoo! Tu-whit!'' repeated:
Showing how matter was, when forced
Through space, condensed and heated;

How rent, but spinning still, 'twas sphered
In star, and orb, and planet,
Where, as it cooled, live germs appeared
In lias, sand, and granite:

And, last, since nothing 'neath the sun
Avoids material tether,
How life must end, when once begun,
In scale, and hoof, and feather.

Then, flapping from the ivy-tod,
It slouched around the gable,
And, perching there, discussed if God
Be God, or but a fable.

In pompous scales Free Will and Fate
Were placed, and poised, and dangled,
And riddles small from riddles great
Expertly disentangled.

It drew betwixt ``Tu-whit,'' ``Tu-whoo,''
Distinctions nice and nicer:
The bird was very wise, I knew,
But I grew no whit wiser.

Then, letting metaphysics slip,
It mumbled moral thunder;
Showing how Virtue's self will trip
If Reason chance to blunder.

Its pleated wings adown its breast
Were like a surplice folded;
And, if the truth must be confessed,
It threatened me and scolded.

I thought the lecture somewhat long,
Impatient for its ending;
When, sudden, came a burst of song!
It was the lark ascending.

Dew gleamed in many a jewelled cup,
The air was bright and gracious;
And away the wings and the song went up,
Up through the ether spacious.

They bubbled, rippled, up the dome,
In sprays of silvery trilling;
Like endless fountain's lyric foam,
Still falling, still refilling.

And when I could no more descry
The bird, I still could hear it;
For sight, but not for soul, too high,
Unseen but certain Spirit.

All that the perched owl's puckered brow
Had vainly bid me ponder,
The lark's light wings were solving now
In the roofless dome up yonder.

Then brief as lightning-flash,-no more,-
I passed beyond the Finite;
And, borne past Heaven's wide-open door,
Saw everything within it.

Slow showering down from cloudless sphere,
The wanderer Elysian
Dropped nearer, clearer, to the ear,
Then back into the vision.

On his own song he seemed to swim;
Diving through song, descended:
Since I had been to Heaven with him,
Earth now was apprehended.

O souls perplexed by hood and cowl,
Fain would you find a teacher,
Consult the lark and not the owl,
The poet, not the preacher.

While brains mechanic vainly weave
The web and woof of thinking,
Go, mount up with the lark, and leave
The bird of wisdom blinking. 

Alfred Austin's other poems:
  1. To Alfred Tennyson
  2. The Challenge Answered
  3. Why England Is Conservative
  4. Time’s Weariness
  5. Wordsworth At Dove Cottage

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