Archive for May 15th, 2020

Friday, 15 May 2020

The Crow and Other Birds by William Wilkie


In ancient times, tradition says,
When birds like men would strive for praise;
The bullfinch, nightingale, and thrush,
With all that chant from tree or bush,
Would often meet, in song to vie;
The kinds that sing not, sitting by.
A knavish crow, it seems, had got
The knack to criticise by rote:
He understood each learned phrase,
As well as critics nowadays:
Some say, he learn’d them from an owl,
By listening where he taught a school.
‘Tis strange to tell, this subtle creature,
Though nothing musical by nature,
Had learn’d so well to play his part,
With nonsense couch’d in terms of art,
As to be own’d by all at last
Director of the public taste.
Then, puff’d with insolence and pride,
And sure of numbers on his side,
Each song he freely criticised;
What he approved not was despised:
But one false step in evil hour
For ever stripp’d him of his power.
Once when the birds assembled sat,
All listening to his formal chat;
By instinct nice he chanced to find
A cloud approaching in the wind,
And ravens hardly can refrain
From croaking, when they think of rain:
His wonted song he sung: the blunder
Amazed and scared them, worse than thunder;
For no one thought so harsh a note
Could ever sound from any throat:
They all at first with mute surprise
Each on his neighbour turn’d his eyes:
But scorn succeeding soon took place,
And might be read in every face,
All this the raven saw with pain,
And strove his credit to regain.
Quoth he: ‘The solo which ye heard
In public should not have appear’d:
The trifle of an idle hour,
To please my mistress once when sour:
My voice, that’s somewhat rough and strong,
Might chance the melody to wrong,
But, tried by rules, you’ll find the grounds
Most perfect and harmonious sounds,’
He reason’d thus; but, to his trouble,
At every word the laugh grew double:
At last, o’ercome with shame and spite,
He flew away quite out of sight.

From: Jenyns, Soame; Graeme, James; and Wilkie, William, The Poems of Jenyns, Wilkie, and Graeme, 1822, C. Whittingham: Chiswick, pp. 199-201.

Date: 1768

By: William Wilkie (1721-1772)