A Tale. June 1793
In Scotland's realm, where trees are few
Nor even shrubs abound;
But where, however bleak the view
Some better things are found;
For husband there and wife may boast
Their union undefiled,
And false ones are as rare almost
As hedge-rows in the wild;
In Scotland's realm forlorn and bare
The history chanced of late,--
This history of a wedded pair,
A chaffinch and his mate,.
The spring drew near, each felt a breast
With genial instinct filled;
They paired, and would have built a nest,
But found not where to build.
The heaths uncovered and the moors
Except with snow and sleet,
Sea-beaten rocks and naked shores
Could yield them no retreat.
Long time a breeding-place they sought,
Till both grew vexed and tired;
At length a ship arriving brought
The good so long desired.
A ship? -- could such a restless thing
Afford them place of rest?
Or was the merchant charged to bring
The homeless birds a nest?
Hush! -- silent hearers profit most,--
This racer of the sea
Proved kinder to them than the coast,
It served them with a tree.
But such a tree! 'twas shaven deal,
The tree they call a mast,
And had a hollow with a wheel
Through which the tackle passed.
Within that cavity aloft
Their roofless home they fixed,
Formed with materials neat and soft,
Bents, wool, and feathers mixed.
Four ivory eggs soon pave its floor,
With russet specks bedight;
The vessel weighs, forsakes the shore,
And lessens to the sight.
The mother-bird is gone to sea,
As she had changed her kind;
But goes the male? Far wiser he
Is doubtless left behind.
No;-- soon as from ashore he saw
The winged mansion move,
He flew to reach it, by a law
Of never-failing love.
Then perching at his consort's side,
Was briskly borne along,
The billows and the blast defied,
And cheered her with a song.
The seaman with sincere delight
His feathered shipmates eyes,
Scarce less exulting in the sight
Than when he tows a prize.
For seamen much believe in signs,
And from a chance so new
Each some approaching good divines,
And may his hope be true!
Hail, honoured land! a desert where
Not even birds can hide,
Yet parent of this loving pair
Whom nothing could divide.
And ye who, rather than resign
Your matrimonial plan,
Were not afraid to plough the brine
In company with man;
For whose lean country much disdain
We English often show,
Yet from a richer nothing gain
But wantonness and woe;
Be it your fortune, year by year,
The same resource to prove,
And may ye, sometimes landing here,
Instruct us how to love!
William Cowper's Other Poems
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