Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. V. Nature
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume V. Nature.  1904.
 
VI. Animate Nature
Birds
James Montgomery (1771–1854)
 
From “The Pelican Island”

—BIRDS, the free tenants of land, air, and ocean,
Their forms all symmetry, their motions grace;
In plumage, delicate and beautiful,
Thick without burden, close as fishes’ scales,
Or loose as full-grown poppies to the breeze;        5
With wings that might have had a soul within them,
They bore their owners by such sweet enchantment,
—Birds, small and great, of endless shapes and colors,
Here flew and perched, there swam and dived at pleasure;
Watchful and agile, uttering voices wild        10
And harsh, yet in accordance with the waves
Upon the beach, the wind in caverns moaning,
Or winds and waves abroad upon the water.
Some sought their food among the finny shoals,
Swift darting from the clouds, emerging soon        15
With slender captives glittering in their beaks;
These in recesses of steep crags constructed
Their eyries inaccessible, and trained
Their hardy broods to forage in all weathers:
Others, more gorgeously apparelled, dwelt        20
Among the woods, on nature’s daintiest feeding,
Herbs, seeds, and roots; or, ever on the wing,
Pursuing insects through the boundless air:
In hollow trees or thickets these concealed
Their exquisitely woven nests; where lay        25
Their callow offspring, quiet as the down
On their own breasts, till from her search the dam
With laden bill returned, and shared the meal
Among her clamorous suppliants, all agape;
Then, cowering o’er them with expanded wings,        30
She felt how sweet it is to be a mother.
Of these, a few, with melody untaught,
Turned all the air to music within hearing,
Themselves unseen; while bolder quiristers
On loftiest branches strained their clarion-pipes,        35
And made the forest echo to their screams
Discordant,—yet there was no discord there,
But tempered harmony; all tones combining,
In the rich confluence of ten thousand tongues,
To tell of joy and to inspire it. Who        40
Could hear such concert, and not join in chorus?
 
 
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