To Mrs. P********, with some Drawings of Birds and Insects
by Anna LŠtitia Barbauld
The kindred arts to please thee shall conspire,
One dip the pencil, and one string the lyre.
1 Amanda bids;--at her command again
2 I seize the pencil, or resume the pen;
3 No other call my willing hand requires,
4 And Friendship, better than a Muse inspires.
5 Painting and Poetry are near allied;
6 The kindred arts two sister Muses guide:
7 This charms the eye, that steals upon the ear;
8 There sounds are tuned, and colours blended here:
9 This with a silent touch enchants our eyes,
10 And bids a gayer, brighter world arise:
11 That, less allied to sense, with deeper art
12 Can pierce the close recesses of the heart;
13 By well-set syllables, and potent sound,
14 Can rouse, can chill the breast, can soothe, can wound;
15 To life adds motion, and to beauty soul,
16 And breathes a spirit through the finished whole:
17 Each perfects each, in friendly union joined;--
18 This gives Amanda's form, and that her mind.
19 But humbler themes my artless hand requires,
20 No higher than the feathered tribe aspires.
21 Yet who the various nations can declare
22 That plough with busy wing the peopled air?
23 These cleave the crumbling bark for insect food;
24 Those dip their crooked beak in kindred blood:
25 Some haunt the rushy moor, the lonely woods;
26 Some bathe their silver plumage in the floods;
27 Some fly to man, his household gods implore,
28 And gather round his hospitable door,
29 Wait the known call, and find protection there
30 From all the lesser tyrants of the air.
31 The tawny Eagle seats his callow brood
32 High on the cliff, and feasts his young with blood.
33 On Snowdon's rocks, or Orkney's wide domain,
34 Whose beetling cliffs o'erhang the Western main,
35 The royal bird his lonely kingdom forms
36 Amidst the gathering clouds and sullen storms;
37 Through the wide waste of air he darts his sight,
38 And holds his sounding pinions poised for flight;
39 With cruel eye premeditates the war,
40 And marks his destined victim from afar:
41 Descending in a whirlwind to the ground,
42 His pinions like the rush of waters sound;
43 The fairest of the fold he bears away,
44 And to his nest compels the struggling prey;
45 He scorns the game by meaner hunters tore,
46 And dips his talons in no vulgar gore.
47 With lovelier pomp along the grassy plain
48 The Silver Pheasant draws his shining train.
49 On Asia's myrtle shores, by Phasis' stream,
50 He spreads his plumage to the sunny gleam;
51 But when the wiry net his flight confines,
52 He lowers his purple crest, and inly pines:
53 The beauteous captive hangs his ruffled wing,
54 Opprest by bondage and our chilly spring.
55 To claim the verse unnumbered tribes appear,
56 That swell the music of the vernal year:
57 Seized with the spirit of the kindly May,
58 They sleek the glossy wing, and tune the lay;
59 With emulative strife the notes prolong,
60 And pour out all their little souls in song.
61 When winter bites upon the naked plain,
62 Nor food nor shelter in the groves remain,
63 By instinct led, a firm united band,
64 As marshaled by some skillful general's hand,
65 The congregated nations wing their way
66 In dusky columns o'er the trackless sea;
67 In clouds unnumbered annual hover o'er
68 The craggy Bass, or Kilda's utmost shore;
69 Thence spread their sails to meet the southern wind,
70 And leave the gathering tempest far behind;
71 Pursue the circling sun's indulgent ray,
72 Course the swift seasons, and o'ertake the day.
73 Not so the insect race, ordained to keep
74 The lazy sabbath of a half-year's sleep:
75 Entombed beneath the filmy web they lie,
76 And wait the influence of a kinder sky.
77 When vernal sunbeams pierce their dark retreat,
78 The heaving tomb distends with vital heat;
79 The half-formed brood, impatient of their cell,
80 Start from their trance, and burst their silken shell;--
81 Trembling awhile they stand, and scarcely dare
82 To launch at once upon the untried air:
83 At length assured, they catch the favouring gale,
84 And leave their sordid spoils, and high in ether sail.
85 So when brave Tancred struck the conscious rind,
86 He found a nymph in every trunk confined;
87 The forest labours with convulsive throes,
88 The bursting trees the lovely births disclose,
89 And a gay troop of damsels round him stood,
90 Where late was rugged bark and lifeless wood.
91 Lo! the bright train their radiant wings unfold!
92 With silver fringed, and freckled o'er with gold:
93 On the gay bosom of some fragrant flower
94 They idly fluttering live their little hour;
95 Their life all pleasure, and their task all play,
96 All spring their age, and sunshine all their day.
97 Not so the child of sorrow, wretched Man,
98 His course with toil concludes, with pain began;
99 That his high destiny he might discern,
100 And in misfortune's school this lesson learn ....
101 Pleasure's the portion of the inferior kind;
102 But glory, virtue, Heaven for Man designed.
103 What atom-forms of insect life appear!
104 And who can follow Nature's pencil here?
105 Their wings with azure, green and purple glossed,
106 Studded with coloured eyes, with gems embossed,
107 Inlaid with pearl, and marked with various stains
108 Of lively crimson through their dusky veins.
109 Some shoot like living stars athwart the night,
110 And scatter from their wings a vivid light,
111 To guide the Indian to his tawny loves,
112 As through the woods with cautious step he moves.
113 See the proud giant of the beetle race;
114 What shining arms his polished limbs enchase!
115 Like some stern warrior formidably bright,
116 His steely sides reflect a gleaming light:
117 On his large forehead spreading horns he wears,
118 And high in air the branching antlers bears:
119 O'er many an inch extends his wide domain,
120 And his rich treasury swells with hoarded grain.
121 Thy friend thus strives to cheat the lonely hour,
122 With song or paint, an insect or a flower:--
123 Yet if Amanda praise the flowing line,
124 And bend delighted o'er the gay design,
125 I envy not nor emulate the fame
126 Or of the painter's or the poet's name:
127 Could I to both with equal claim pretend,
128 Yet far, far dearer were the name of Friend.