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Poem by Robert William Service


I watched one day a parrot grey; 'twas in a barber shop.
"Cuckold!" he cried, until I sighed: "You feathered devil, stop!"
Then balefully he looked at me, and slid along his perch,
With sneering eye that seemed to pry me very soul to search.
So fierce, so bold, so grim, so cold, so agate was his stare:
And then that bird I thought I heard this sentiment declare: -

"As it appears, a hundred years a parrot may survive,
When you are gone I'll sit upon this perch and be alive.
In this same spot I'll drop my crot, and crack my sunflower seeds,
And cackle loud when in a shroud you rot beneath the weeds.
I'll carry on when carrion you lie beneath the yew;
With claw and beak my grub I'll seek when grubs are seeking you."

"Foul fowl! said I, "don't prophesy, I'll jolly well contrive
That when I rot in bone-yard lot you cease to be alive."
So I bespoke that barber bloke: "Joe, here's a five pound note.
It's crisp and new, and yours if you will slice that parrot's throat."
"In part," says he, "I must agree, for poor I be in pelf,
With right good will I'll take your bill, but; cut his throat yourself."

So it occurred I took that bird to my ancestral hall,
And there he sat and sniggered at the portraits on the wall.
I sought to cut his wind-pipe but he gave me such a peck,
So cross was I, I swore I'd try to wring his blasted neck;
When shrill he cried: "It's parrotcide what you propose to do;
For every time you make a rhyme you're just a parrot too."

Said I: "It's true. I bow to you. Poor parrots are we all."
And now I sense with reverence the wisdom of his poll.
For every time I want a rhyme he seems to find the word;
In any doubt he helps me out; a most amazing bird.
This line that lies before your eyes he helped me to indite;
I sling the ink but often think it's he who ought to write.
It's he who should in mystic mood concoct poetic screeds,
And I who ought to drop my crot and crackle sunflower seeds.

A parrot nears a hundred years (or so the legend goes),
So were I he this century I might see to its close.
Then I might swing within my ring while revolutions roar,
And watch a world to ruin hurled; and find it all a bore.
As upside-down I cling and clown, I might with parrot eyes
Blink blandly when excited men are moulding Paradise.
New Christs might die, while grimly I would croak and carry on,
Till gnarled and old I should behold the year TWO THOUSAND dawn.

But what a fate! How I should hate upon my perch to sit,
And nothing do to make anew a world for angels fit.
No, better far, though feeble are my lyric notes and flat,
Be dead and done than anyone who lives a life like that.
Though critic-scarred a humble bard I feel I'd rather be,
Than flap and flit and shriek and spit through all a century.

So feathered friend, until the end you may divide my den,
And make a mess, which (more or less) I clean up now and then.
But I prefer the doom to share of dead and gone compeers,
Than parrot be, and live to see ten times a hundred years.

Robert William Service

Robert William Service's other poems:
  1. The Wee Shop
  2. The Sum-Up
  3. Resolutions
  4. The Robbers
  5. Pedlar

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