Charles Lamb

The Sparrow And The Hen

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A sparrow, when sparrows like parrots could speak,
Addressed an old hen who could talk like a jay:
Said he, "It's unjust that we sparrows must seek
Our food, when your family's fed every day.


"Were you like the peacock, that elegant bird,
The sight of whose plumage her master may please,
I then should not wonder that you are preferred
To the yard, where in affluence you live at your ease.


"I affect no great style, am not costly in feathers,
A good honest brown I find most to my liking,
It always looks neat, and is fit for all weathers,
But I think your grey mixture is not very striking.


"We know that the bird from the isles of Canary
Is fed, foreign airs to sing in a fine cage;
But your note from a cackle so seldom does vary,
The fancy of man it cannot much engage.


"My chirp to a song sure approaches much nearer,
Nay the nightingale tells me I sing not amiss;
If voice were in question I ought to be dearer;
But the owl he assures me there's nothing in this.


"Nor is it your proneness to domestication,
For he dwells in man's barn, and I build in man's thatch,
As we say to each other--but, to our vexation,
O'er your safety alone man keeps diligent watch."


"Have you e'er learned to read?" said the hen to the sparrow,
"No, madam," he answered, "I can't say I have."
"Then that is the reason your sight is so narrow,"
The old hen replied, with a look very grave.


"Mrs. Glasse in a Treatise--I wish you could read--
Our importance has shown, and has proved to us why
Man shields us and feeds us: of us he has need
Even before we are born, even after we die."

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Charles Lamb