Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > British
The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vols. VI–IX: British
Pairing-Time Anticipated
By William Cowper (1731–1800)
I SHALL not ask Jean Jaques Rousseau
If birds confabulate or no;
’Tis clear that they were always able
To hold discourse, at least in fable;
And e’en the child who knows no better        5
Than to interpret by the letter,
A story of a cock and bull,
Must have a most uncommon skull.
  It chanced, then, on a winter’s day,
But warm, and bright, and calm as May,        10
The birds, conceiving a design
To forestall sweet St. Valentine,
In many an orchard, copse, and grove,
Assembled on affairs of love,
And with much twitter and much chatter        15
Began to agitate the matter.
At length a Bullfinch, who could boast
More years and wisdom than the most,
Entreated, opening wide his beak,
A moment’s liberty to speak;        20
And, silence publicly enjoin’d,
Deliver’d briefly thus his mind:
  “My friends, be cautious how ye treat
The subject upon which we meet;
I fear we shall have winter yet.”        25
  A Finch, whose tongue knew no control,
With golden wing and satin poll,
A last year’s bird, who ne’er had tried
What marriage means, thus pert replied:
“Methinks the gentleman,” quoth she,        30
“Opposite in the apple-tree,
By his goodwill would keep us single
Till yonder heaven and earth shall mingle,
Or—which is likelier to befall—
Till death exterminate us all.        35
I marry without more ado.
My dear Dick Redcap, what say you?”
  Dick heard, and tweedling, ogling, bridling,
Turned short round, strutting, and sideling,
Attested, glad, his approbation        40
Of an immediate conjugation.
Their sentiments, so well express’d,
Influenced mightily the rest;
All pair’d, and each pair built a nest.
  But though the birds were thus in haste,        45
The leaves came on not quite so fast,
And destiny, that sometimes bears
An aspect stern on man’s affairs,
Not altogether smiled on theirs.
The wind, of late breathed gently forth,        50
Now shifted east, and east by north;
Bare trees and shrubs but ill, you know,
Could shelter them from rain or snow.
Stepping into their nests, they paddled,
Themselves were chill’d, their eggs were addled.        55
Soon every father bird and mother
Grew quarrelsome, and peck’d each other,
Parted without the least regret,
Except that they had ever met,
And learn’d in future to be wiser        60
Than to neglect a good adviser.
    Misses, the tale that I relate
      This lesson seems to carry:
    Choose not alone a proper mate,
      But proper time to marry.        65

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