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Poem by Henry Timrod

To a Captive Owl

I should be dumb before thee, feathered sage!
 And gaze upon thy phiz with solemn awe,
But for a most audacious wish to gauge
 The hoarded wisdom of thy learned craw.

Art thou, grave bird! so wondrous wise indeed?
 Speak freely, without fear of jest or gibe
What is thy moral and religious creed?
 And what the metaphysics of thy tribe?

A Poet, curious in birds and brutes,
 I do not question thee in idle play;
What is thy station?  What are thy pursuits?
 Doubtless thou hast thy pleasureswhat are THEY?

Or is 't thy wont to muse and mouse at once,
 Entice thy prey with airs of meditation,
And with the unvarying habits of a dunce,
 To dine in solemn depths of contemplation?

There may be muchthe world at least says so
 Behind that ponderous brow and thoughtful gaze;
Yet such a great philosopher should know,
 It is by no means wise to think always.

And, Bird, despite thy meditative air,
 I hold thy stock of wit but paltry pelf
Thou show'st that same grave aspect everywhere,
 And wouldst look thoughtful, stuffed, upon a shelf.

I grieve to be so plain, renownëd Bird
 Thy fame 's a flam, and thou an empty fowl;
And what is more, upon a Poet's word
 I'd say as much, wert thou Minerva's owl.

So doff th' imposture of those heavy brows;
 They do not serve to hide thy instincts base
And if thou must be sometimes munching MOUSE,
 Munch it, O Owl! with less profound a face.

Henry Timrod

Henry Timrod's other poems:
  1. Hymn Sung at an Anniversary of the Asylum of Orphans at Charleston
  2. Hymn Sung at the Consecration of Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, S.C.
  3. A Cry to Arms
  4. Too Long, O Spirit of Storm
  5. Lines to R. L.

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