Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. III. Addison to Blake
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. III. The Eighteenth Century: Addison to Blake
 
On the Death of Mrs. Throckmorton’s Bullfinch
By William Cowper (1731–1800)
 
YE Nymphs, if e’er your eyes were red
With tears o’er hapless favourites shed,
    Oh share Maria’s grief!
Her favourite, even in his cage
(What will not hunger’s cruel rage?)        5
    Assassined by a thief.
 
Where Rhenus strays his vines among
The egg was laid from which he sprung;
    And though by nature mute,
Or only with a whistle blessed,        10
Well-taught, he all the sounds expressed
    Of flageolet or flute.
 
The honours of his ebon poll
Were brighter than the sleekest mole,
    His bosom of the hue        15
With which Aurora decks the skies,
When piping winds shall soon arise
    To sweep away the dew.
 
Above, below, in all the house,
Dire foe alike of bird and mouse,        20
    No cat had leave to dwell;
And Bully’s cage supported stood
On props of smoothest-shaven wood,
    Large built and latticed well.
 
Well latticed,—but the grate, alas!        25
Not rough with wire of steel or brass,
    For Bully’s plumage sake,
But smooth with wands from Ouse’s side,
With which, when neatly peeled and dried,
    The swains their baskets make.        30
 
Night veiled the pole; all seemed secure;
When, led by instinct sharp and sure,
    Subsistence to provide,
A beast forth sallied on the scout,
Long backed, long tailed, with whiskered snout,        35
    And badger-coloured hide.
 
He, entering at the study door,
Its ample area ’gan explore;
    And something in the wind
Conjectured, sniffing round and round,        40
Better than all the books he found,
    Food chiefly for the mind.
 
Just then, by adverse fate impressed,
A dream disturbed poor Bully’s rest;
    In sleep he seemed to view        45
A rat fast clinging to the cage,
And screaming at the sad presage,
    Awoke and found it true.
 
For, aided both by ear and scent,
Right to his mark the monster went,—        50
    Ah, Muse! forbear to speak
Minute the horrors that ensued;
His teeth were strong, the cage was wood.—
    He left poor Bully’s beak.
 
Oh, had he made that too his prey!        55
That beak, whence issued many a lay
    Of such mellifluous tone,
Might have repaid him well, I wote,
For silencing so sweet a throat,
    Fast stuck within his own.        60
 
Maria weeps,—the Muses mourn;—
So, when by Bacchanalians torn,
    On Thracian Hebrus’ side
The tree-enchanter Orpheus fell,
His head alone remained to tell        65
    The cruel death he died.
 
 
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