Verse > John Greenleaf Whittier > The Poetical Works in Four Volumes
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892).  The Poetical Works in Four Volumes.  1892.
Religious Poems
The Common Question
BEHIND us at our evening meal
  The gray bird ate his fill,
Swung downward by a single claw,
  And wiped his hookëd bill.
He shook his wings and crimson tail,        5
  And set his head aslant,
And, in his sharp, impatient way,
  Asked, “What does Charlie want?”
“Fie, silly bird!” I answered, “tuck
  Your head beneath your wing,        10
And go to sleep;”—but o’er and o’er
  He asked the self-same thing.
Then, smiling, to myself I said:
  How like are men and birds!
We all are saying what he says,        15
  In action or in words.
The boy with whip and top and drum,
  The girl with hoop and doll,
And men with lands and houses, ask
  The question of Poor Poll.        20
However full, with something more
  We fain the bag would cram;
We sigh above our crowded nets
  For fish that never swam.
No bounty of indulgent Heaven        25
  The vague desire can stay;
Self-love is still a Tartar mill
  For grinding prayers alway.
The dear God hears and pities all;
  He knoweth all our wants;        30
And what we blindly ask of Him
  His love withholds or grants.
And so I sometimes think our prayers
  Might well be merged in one;
And nest and perch and hearth and church        35
  Repeat, “Thy will be done.”


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