A Dialogue of Birds


As I abroad in fields and woods did walk,
I heard the birds of several things to2 talk,
And on the boughs would gossip, prate, and chat,
And every one discourse of this and that.
“I,” said the Lark, “before the sun do rise,                                 5
And take my flight up to the highest skies,
There sing some notes, to raise Apollo’s head,
For fear that he might lie too long abed.3
And as I mount, or as I come4 down low,
Still do I sing which way soe’er I go.                                           10
Winding my body5 up just like a screw,
So doth my voice wind up a trillo too.
What bird, besides myself, both flies and sings?6
My trillos keep tune7 to my flutt’ring wings.”

“I,” said the Nightingale, “all night do watch,                           15
For fear a serpent should my young ones catch.
To keep back sleep, I several tunes do sing,
Which are so pleasant that they lovers bring8
Into the woods, who list’ning sit, and mark;
When I begin to sing, they cry, ‘hark, hark!’                             20
Stretching my throat to raise my trillos high,
To gain their praises, makes me almost die.”

Then comes the Owl, which says, “Here’s such ado
With your sweet voices,”9 through spite cries, “Wit-a-woo!”

“In winter,” said the Robin, “I should die,                                 25
But that I in a good warm house do fly,
And there do pick up crumbs, which make me fat,
But oft I’m10 scared away with the puss-cat.
If they molest me not, then I grow bold,
And stay so long whilst winter tales are told.                           30
Man superstitiously dares not hurt me,
For if I’m11 killed or hurt ill luck shall be.”

The Sparrow said, “Would our case were no worse,12
But men do with their nets us take by force.13
With guns and bows they shoot us from the trees,                 35
And by small shot, we oft our lives do leese
Because we pick a cherry here and there,
When God knows we do eat them in great fear.14
But men will eat until their bellies15 burst,
And surfeits take; if we eat, we are cursed.                              40
Yet we by Nature are revengèd still:
For eating overmuch themselves they kill.
And if a child do chance to cry and bawl,16
They do us catch17 to please that child withal.
With threads they tie our legs almost to crack,                        45
And18 when we hop away, they pull us back,
And when they cry, “fip, fip!” straight we must come,
And for our pains they’ll give us one small crumb.”

“I wonder,” said Magpie, “you grumble so,
Dame Sparrow; we are used much worse I trow.                    50
For they our tongues do slit, their words to learn,
And with this19 pain, our food we dearly earn.”

“Why,” say the Finches and the Linnets all,
“Do you so prate, Magpie, and so much bawl?20
As if no birds besides were wronged but you,                          55
When we by cruel Man21 are injured too?22
For we to learn their tunes are kept awake,
That with their whistling we no rest can take.
In darkness we are kept, no light must see,
Till we have learned23 their tunes most perfectly.                   60
But Jackdaws, they may dwell their houses nigh,
And build their nests in elms that do grow high,
And there may prate, and fly from place to place,
For why,24 they think they give their house a grace.”

“Lord!” said the Partridge, Cock, Peewit, Snite, and Quail,    65
Pigeons, Larks, “My masters, why d’ye rail?
You’re kept from winter’s cold and summer’s heat,
Are taught new tunes, and have good store of meat.
You have your servants, yet give them no wages,25
Which do make clean your foul and dirty cages,26                  70
When we poor birds are by the dozens killed.
Luxurious men27 us eat till they be filled,
And of our flesh they28 make such cruel waste,
That but some of our limbs will please their taste.
In woodcocks’ thighs they only take delight,                             75
And Partridge wings, which swift were in their flight.
The smaller Lark they eat all at one bite,
But every part is good of Quail and Snite.
The murtherous Hawk they keep, us for to catch,
And teach29 their dogs to crouch, and creep, and watch       80
Until they spring us into30 nets and toils,
And thus, poor creatures, we are made Man’s spoils.
Cruel Nature,31 to make32 us tame and mild!33
They happy are which are more fierce and wild.
O34 would our flesh had been like carrion coarse,                  85
Which to eat35 only famine might enforce.
But when they36 eat us, may they surfeits take;
May they be poor when they a feast37 us make.
The more they eat, the leaner may they grow,
Or else so fat they cannot38 stir nor go.”                                    90

“O,”39 said the Swallow, “let me mourn in black,
For of Man’s cruelty I do not lack.
I am the messenger of summer warm,
Do neither pick their fruit nor eat their corn.40
Yet men41 will take us when alive we be                                    95
(I shake to tell, O horrid cruelty!),42
Beat us alive till we an oil become.
Can there to birds be a worse martyrdom?”

“O Man,43 O Man!44 If we should serve you so,
You would against us your great curses throw.                        100
But Nature, she is good; do not her blame.
We ought to give her thanks, and not exclaim.
For love is Nature’s chiefest law in mind,
Hate but an accident to45 love, we find.
’Tis true, self-preservation is the chief,                                       105
But luxury to Nature is a thief.
Corrupted manners always do breed vice,
Which by persuasion doth the mind entice.
No creature doth usurp so much as Man,
Who thinks himself like God, because he can                           110
Rule other creatures, and make them46 obey;
‘Our souls did never Nature make,’47 say they.
Whatever comes from Nature’s stock and treasure
Created is only to serve their pleasure.
Although the life of bodies comes from Nature,                       115
Yet still the souls come from the great Creator.
And they shall live, though48 we to dust do turn,
Either in bliss, or in hot flames to burn.”

Then came the Parrot with her painted wing,
Spake like an orator in every thing.                                            120
“Sister Jay, neighbor Daw, and gossip49 Pie,
We taken are not, like the rest, to die,
Only to talk and prate the best we can,
To imitate to th’life the speech of Man.
And just like men we pass our time away,                                 125
For many, but not one wise word we50 say,
And speak as gravely nonsense as the best,
As full of empty words as all the rest.
The Nature we will praise, because we51 have
Tongues given us like52 men, our lives to save.                        130
Mourn not, my friends, but sing in sunshine gay,
And while you’ve time, joy in yourselves you may.
What though your lives be short?53 Yet merry be,
Do54 not complain, but in delights agree.”

Straight came the titmouse with a frowning face,55                135
And hopped about, as in an angry pace.
“My masters all, what’s matter? Are you mad?56
Is no regard unto the public had?
Are private home affairs cast all aside?
Your young ones cry for meat; ’tis time to chide.57                  140
For shame, disperse yourselves, and some pains58 take,
Both for the public59 and your young ones’60 sake.
And sit not61 murmuring against62 great Man,
Unless some way63 revenge ourselves we can.
Alas,64 alas!65 We want their shape, for66 they                         145
By it have power to make us all67 obey.
They can lift, bear, strike, pull, thrust,68 turn, and wind
What ways they will, which makes them new arts69 find.
’Tis not their wit that doth70 inventions make,
But ’tis their shapes, which height, breadth, depth can take. 150
Thus they can measure this71 great worldly ball,
And numbers set to prove the truth of all.
What creature else has72 arms, or goes73 upright,
Or has74 all sorts of motion75 so unite?
Man by his shape can Nature imitate,                                        155
Can govern, rule, and can new arts76 create.
Then come away, since talk no good can do,
And what we cannot help, submit unto.”
Then some their wives, others77 their husbands call,
To gather sticks to build their nests withal.                              160
Some shrews did scold, winds had destroyed their nest;78
They had no place where to abide or rest.79
For all they’d80 gathered with great pains81 and care,
Those sticks and straws were blown they knew not where.
But none did labor like the little Wren,                                      165
To build for her young ones her nest again,82
For she doth lay83 more eggs than all the rest,
And with much art and skill84 doth build her nest.
The young85 made love, and kissed each other’s bill;
The Cock caught86 flies to give his mistress still.                      170
The Yellow Hammer cried, “’tis wet, ’tis wet!
For it will rain before the sun doth set.”
Taking their flight as each mind thought it best,
Some flew abroad, and some home to their nest.
Some gathered corn, which out of sheaves was87 strewed,   175
And some did pick up seed that new was88 sowed.
Some courage had89 a cherry ripe to take;
Others caught90 flies when they a feast would91 make.
And some did pick up ants and eggs, though small,
And brought them92 home to feed their young withal.          180
When every crop93 was filled, and night drew nigh,94
Then did they stretch their wings fast home to fly.95
For like as96 men, when they from markets97 come,
Set out alone, but every mile adds some,
Until a troop of neighbors get together,                                     185
So do a flight of birds in sunshine weather.
When to their nests they got,98 Lord99 how they bawled!100
And everyone to his next neighbor called,101
Asking each other if they weary were,
Rejoicing at past dangers and great fear.                                   190
When they their wings had pruned, and young ones fed,
Sat gossiping before they went to bed.
The Blackbird said, “Let us a carol sing102
Before we go to bed103 this fine evening.”
The Thrushes, Linnets, Finches all took104 parts,                     195
A harmony105 by Nature, not by arts.
But all their songs were hymns to God on high,
Praising his name, blessing his majesty.
And when they asked for gifts, to God did pray
He would be pleased to give them a fair day.                            200
At last they drowsy grew, and heavy were106 to sleep,
And then instead of singing, cried, “Peep, peep!”
Just as the eye, when sense is locking up,107
Is neither open wide, nor yet quite shut,108
So by degrees a voice is falling found,109                                   205
For110 as a shadow, so doth waste111 a sound.
Thus went to rest each head under each wing,
For sleep brings peace to every living thing.

  1. of Birds] betwixt Birds. 1664, 1668
  2. to] did 1653, 1664
  3. abed] in Bed; 1664; in Bed: 1668
  4. as I come] if descend 1653
  5. Winding my body] My Body, as’t winds 1664, 1668
  6. sings?] sings, 1653
  7. My trillos keep tune] Just tune my Trilloes keeps 1653
  8. Which are so pleasant that they lovers bring] Which Tunes so pleasant are, they Lovers bring 1653
  9. voices] Voice, 1664; voice; 1668
  10. I’m] am 1653
  11. I’m] I am 1653
  12. “Would our case were no worse,] were our Condition such, 1653
  13. with their nets us take by force.] strive with Nets us for to catch: 1653
  14. When God knows we do eat them in great fear.] When, God he knowes, we eate them in great feare. 1653; (When, God knows, we do eat them in great fear) 1668
  15. bellies] Belly 1653
  16. and bawl,] or brawle, 1653; and Brawl, 1664
  17. do us catch] strive to catch us, 1653
  18. And] That 1653
  19. this] the 1653
  20. bawl?] bawl, 1668
  21. cruel Man] Cruel men 1664; Cruel men, 1668
  22. too?] to. 1653; too; 1664
  23. learned] learnt 1653
  24. why,] why? 1664, 1668
  25. You have your servants, yet give them no wages,] Having a Servant you to wait upon, 1653
  26. Which do make clean your foul and dirty cages,] To make your Cages cleane from filth, and Dung: 1653
  27. Luxurious men] And luxuriously 1653
  28. they] do 1664, 1668
  29. teach] learn 1653
  30. spring us into] have sprung us to 1653
  31. Cruel Nature,] Cruell Nature! 1653; O! Cruel Nature 1664; O Cruel Nature! 1668
  32. to make] made 1664, 1668
  33. tame and mild!] Gentle, Mild: 1653; Tame and Mild, 1664; Tame and Mild; 1668
  34. O] O! 1668
  35. Which to eat] To eate us 1653
  36. when they] now, when th’ 1664, 1668
  37. a feast] Feasts of 1664; Feasts of 1668
  38. they cannot] as not to 1664, 1668
  39. “O,”] O! 1668
  40. Do neither pick their fruit nor eat their corn.] Neither pick Fruit nor Corn, nor do I harm, 1664; Neither pick Fruit, nor Corn, nor do I harm: 1668
  41. men] they 1653
  42. (I shake to tell, O horrid cruelty!),] I shake to tell, O horrid Cruelty! 1653; I Shake to tell, O horrid Cruelty! 1664
  43. Man,] Man! 1668
  44. Man!] Man, 1653
  45. to] from 1653
  46. and make them] makes them to 1653
  47. ‘Our souls did never Nature make,’] We Soules have, Nature never made, 1653
  48. though] when 1664, 1668
  49. and gossip] Gossip 1653
  50. For many, but not one wise word we] With many words, not one wise Speech can 1653
  51. we] she 1653
  52. Tongues given us like] Given us such Tongues, as 1653; Tongues giv’n us, like to 1668
  53. short?] short, 1653, 1664
  54. Do] And 1653
  55. frowning face,] frowning-face, 1668
  56. what’s matter? Are you mad?] what are you mad, 1653
  57. ’tis time to chide.] is’t time to chide? 1668
  58. and some pains] some pains do 1664; some Pains do 1668
  59. public] Common good, 1653
  60. your young ones’] young Chickes 1653
  61. sit not] not sit 1653
  62. against] here against 1653
  63. some way] for to 1653
  64. Alas,] Alas! 1668
  65. alas!] alas, 1653
  66. for] which 1653
  67. us all] all 1653
  68. They can lift, bear, strike, pull, thrust,] For they can Lift, beare, strike, 1653
  69. them new arts] new arts they 1664; new Arts they 1668
  70. that doth] which new 1653
  71. this] the 1653
  72. has] hath 1653
  73. goes] goeth 1653
  74. has] have] 1653
  75. motion] Motions 1653
  76. can new arts] new Arts can 1653
  77. others] some did 1664, 1668
  78. shrews did scold, winds had destroyed their nest;] that were Shrewes, did chide, and scold, and fret, 1653
  79. They had no place where to abide or rest.] The Wind blew downe their Nest where they should sit: 1653
  80. they’d] they 1653
  81. great pains] paines, 1653
  82. for her young ones her nest again,] her Nest, to hatch her young Ones in. 1653
  83. For she doth lay] Shee laies 1653
  84. art and skill] Art 1653
  85. young] younger sort 1653
  86. caught] would catch some 1653; catch’d 1664, 1668
  87. gathered corn, which out of sheaves was] went to gather Corne from Sheaves out 1653
  88. did pick up seed that new was] to pick up Seed thats newly 1653
  89. courage had] had Courage 1653
  90. caught] catcht 1653; catch’d 1664, 1668
  91. would] did 1653
  92. And brought them] To carry 1653
  93. crop] Crap 1653
  94. drew nigh,] came on, 1653
  95. fast home to fly.] to flye fast home. 1653
  96. For like as] And as like 1653
  97. when they from markets] from Market home they 1653
  98. got,] get, 1653
  99. Lord] Lord! 1664, 1668
  100. bawled!] baule, 1653; Bawl’d, 1664
  101. to his next neighbor called,] doth to his Neighbour call: 1653
  102. The Blackbird said, “Let us a carol sing] Let us a Carroll, said the Black-bird, sing, 1653
  103. go to bed] Sleep in 1664; sleep in 1668
  104. all took] taking 1664, 1668
  105. harmony] Consort made 1664, 1668
  106. and heavy were] ready 1664, 1668
  107. Just as the eye, when sense is locking up,] As th’Eye, when Sense is Locking up to rest, 1664; As th’Eye, when Sense is locking up to rest, 1668
  108. quite shut,] shut fast; 1664; shut fast: 1668
  109. by degrees a voice is falling found,] doth a Voice still by degrees fall downe, 1653
  110. For] And 1653
  111. so doth waste] wast so doth 1653