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Poem by Joanna Baillie
Lines to a Parrot
IN these our days of sentiment When youthful poets all lament Some dear lost joy, some cruel maid; Old friendship changed and faith betrayed; The world's cold frown and every ill That tender hearts with anguish fill; Loathing this world and all its folly, In lays most musical and melancholy,-- Touching a low and homely string, May poet of a Parrot sing With dignity uninjured? say!-- No; but a simple rhymester may. Well then, I see thee calm and sage, Perched on the summit of thy cage, With broad, hooked beak and plumage green, Changing to azure in the light, Gay pinions tipped with scarlet bright, And, strong for mischief, use or play, Thick talons, crisped with silver grey,-- A gallant bird, I ween! What courtly dame, for ball-room drest-- What gartered lord in silken vest-- On wedding morn what country bride With groom bedizened by her side-- What youngsters in their fair-day geer, Did ever half so fine appear? Alas! at ball, or, church, or fair, Were ne'er assembled visions rare Of moving creatures all so gay As in thy native woods, where day In blazing torrid brightness played Through checkered boughs and gently made A ceaseless morris-dance of sheen and shade! In those blest woods, removed from man, Thy early being first began, 'Mid gay compeers, who, blest as thou, Hopped busily from bough to bough, Robbing each loaded branch at pleasure Of berries, buds and kerneled treasure; Then rose aloft with outspread wing, Then stooped on flexile twig to swing, Then coursed and circled through the air, Mate chasing mate, full many a pair. It would have set one's heart a dancing To 've seen their varied feathers glancing, And thought how many happy things Creative Goodness into being brings. But now how changed! it is thy doom Within a walled and windowed room To hold thy home, and (all forgot The traces of thy former lot), Clutching the wires with progress slow, Still round and round thy cage to go. Or cross the carpet:--altered case! This now is all thy daily travel's space. Yet here thou art a cherished droll, Known by the name of Pretty Poll; Oft fed by lady's gentle hand With sops and sugar at command, And sometimes too a nut or cherry, Which in thy claws to beak and eye Thou seemest to raise right daintily, Turning it oft, as if thou still Wert scanning it with cautious skill, Provoking urchins near to laughter loud and merry. See, gathered round, a rosy band, With eager upcast eyes they stand, Marking thy motions and withal Delighting on thy name to call; And hear, like human speech, reply Come from thy beak most curiously. They shout, they mowe, they grin, they giggle, Clap hands, hoist arms, and shoulders wriggle; O here, well may we say or sing, That learning is a charming thing! For thou, beneath thy wire-wove dome, A learned creature hast become; And hast, by dint of oft repeating, Got words by rote, the vulgar cheating Which, once in ten times well applied, Are to the skies with praises cried. So lettered dunces oft impose On simple fools their studied prose. Aye; o'er thy round though unwigged head, Full many a circling year has sped, Since thou kept terms within thy college, From many tutors, short and tall, In braid or bonnet, cap or caul, Imbibing wonderous stores of seeming knowledge. And rarely Bachelor of Arts Or Master (dare we say it?) imparts To others such undoubted pleasure From all his stores of classic treasure: And ladies sage, whose learned saws To cognoscenti friends give laws, Rarely, I trow, can so excite A listening circle with delight. And rarely their acquirements shine Through such a lengthened course as thine. The grannums of this group so gay, Who round thee now their homage pay, Belike have in such youthful glee, With admiration gazed on thee; And yet no wrinkled line betrays The long course of thy lengthened days, Thy bark of life has kept afloat As on a shoreless sea, where not Or change or progress may be traced; Time hath with thee been leaden-paced. But ah! proud beauty, on whose head Some three-score years no blight hath shed, Untoward days will come at length, When thou, of spirit reft and strength, Wilt mope and pine, year after year, Which all one moulting-time appear, And this bright plumage, dull and rusty, Will seem neglected shrunk and dusty, And scarce a feather's rugged stump Be left to grace thy fretted rump. Mewed in a corner of thy home, Having but little heart to roam, Thou'lt wink and peer--a wayward elf, And croon and clutter to thyself, Screaming at visitors with spite, And opening wide thy beak to bite. Yet in old age still wilt thou find Some constant friend thy wants to mind, Whose voice thou'lt know, whose hand thou'lt seek, Turning to it thy feathered cheek; Grateful to her though cross and froward To all beside, and it will go hard But she will love thee, even when life's last goal Thou'st reached, and call thee still her Pretty Poll. Now from these lines, young friends, I know A lesson might be drawn to shew How, like our bird, on life's vain stage, Pass human childhood, prime and age: But conned comparisons, I doubt, Might put your patience to the rout, And all my pains small thanks receive, So this to wiser folks leave.
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