Charles Lamb

The Magpie's Nest, Or A Lesson Of Docility

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When the arts in their infancy were,
In a fable of old 'tis exprest,
A wise magpie constructed that rare
Little house for young birds, called a nest.

This was talked of the whole country round,
You might hear it on every bough sung,
"Now no longer upon the rough ground
Will fond mothers brood over their young.

"For the magpie with exquisite skill
Has invented a moss-covered cell,
Within which a whole family will
In the utmost security dwell."

To her mate did each female bird say,
"Let us fly to the magpie, my dear;
If she will but teach us the way,
A nest we will build us up here.

"It's a thing that's close arched over head,
With a hole made to creep out and in;
We, my bird, might make just such a bed,
If we only knew how to begin."

To the magpie soon every bird went,
And in modest terms made their request,
That she would be pleased to consent
To teach them to build up a nest.

She replied, "I will show you the way,
So observe every thing that I do.
First two sticks cross each other I lay"--
"To be sure," said the crow; "why, I knew

"It must be begun with two sticks,
And I thought that they crossëd should be."
Said the pie, "Then some straw and moss mix,
In the way you now see done by me."

"O yes, certainly," said the jackdaw,
"That must follow of course, I have thought;
Though I never before building saw,
I guessed that without being taught."

"More moss, straw, and feathers, I place,
In this manner," continued the pie.
"Yes, no doubt, madam, that is the case;
Though no builder myself, even I,"

Said the starling, "conjectured 'twas so;
It must of necessity follow:
For more moss, straw, and feathers, I know,
It requires, to be soft, round, and hollow."

Whatever she taught them beside,
In his turn every bird of them said,
Though the nest-making art he ne'er tried,
He had just such a thought in his head.

Still the pie went on showing her art,
Till a nest she had built up half way;
She no more of her skill would impart,
But in anger went fluttering away.

And this speech in their hearing she made,
As she perched o'er their heads on a tree,
"If ye all were well skilled in my trade,
Pray, why came ye to learn it of me?"--

When a scholar is willing to learn,
He with silent submission should hear.
Too late they their folly discern;
The effect to this day does appear:

For whenever a pie's nest you see,
Her charming warm canopy view,
All birds' nests but hers seem to be
A magpie's nest just cut in two.

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