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
Ode to Mother Carey’s Chicken
Theodore Watts-Dunton (1832–1914)
 
On Seeing a Storm-Petrel in a Cage on a Cottage Wall and Releasing It

GAZE not at me, my poor unhappy bird;
  That sorrow is more than human in thine eye;
Too deep already is my spirit stirred
  To see thee here, child of the sea and sky,
Cooped in a cage with food thou canst not eat,        5
Thy “snow-flake” soiled, and soiled those conquering feet
That walked the billows, while thy “sweet-sweet-sweet”
        Proclaimed the tempest nigh.
 
Bird whom I welcomed while the sailors cursed,
  Friend whom I blessed wherever keels may roam,        10
Prince of my childish dreams, whom mermaids nursed
  In purple of billows—silver of ocean-foam,
Abashed I stand before the mighty grief
That quells all other: Sorrow’s king and chief:
To ride the wind and hold the sea in fief,        15
        Then find a cage for home!
 
From out thy jail thou seest yon heath and woods,
  But canst thou hear the birds or smell the flowers?
Ah, no! those rain-drops twinkling on the buds
  Bring only visions of the salt sea-showers.        20
“The sea!” the linnets pipe from hedge and heath;
“The sea!” the honeysuckles whisper and breathe;
And tumbling waves, where those wild-roses wreathe,
        Murmur from inland bowers.
 
These winds so soft to others,—how they burn!        25
  The mavis sings with gurgle and ripple and plash,
To thee yon swallow seems a wheeling tern.
  And when the rain recalls the briny lash,
Old Ocean’s kiss thou lovest,—when thy sight
Is mocked with Ocean’s horses—manes of white,        30
The long and shadowy flanks, the shoulders bright—
        Bright as the lightning’s flash,—
 
When all these scents of heather and brier and whin,
  All kindly breaths of land-shrub, flower, and vine,
Recall the sea-scents, till thy feathered skin        35
  Tingles in answer to a dream of brine,—
When thou, remembering there thy royal birth,
Dost see between the bars a world of dearth,
Is there a grief—a grief on all the earth—
        So heavy and dark as thine?        40
 
But I can buy thy freedom—I (thank God!),
  Who loved thee more than albatross or gull,
Loved thee when on the waves thy footsteps trod,
  Dreamed of thee when, becalmed, we lay ahull—
’T is I thy friend who once, a child of six,        45
To find where Mother Carey fed her chicks,
Climbed up the stranded punt, and with two sticks
        Tried all in vain to scull,—
 
Thy friend who owed a Paradise of Storm,—
  The little dreamer of the cliffs and coves,        50
Who knew thy mother, saw her shadowy form
  Behind the cloudy bastions where she moves,
And heard her call: “Come! for the welkin thickens,
And tempests mutter and the lightning quickens!”
Then, starting from his dream, would find the chickens        55
        Were only blue rock-doves,—
 
Thy friend who owed another Paradise
  Of calmer air, a floating isle of fruit,
Where sang the Nereids on a breeze of spice
  While Triton, from afar, would sound salute:        60
There wast thou winging, though the skies were calm,
For marvellous strains, as of the morning’s shalm,
Were struck by ripples round that isle of palm
        Whose shores were “Carey’s lute.”
 
And now to see thee here, my king, my king,        65
  Far-glittering memories mirrored in those eyes,
As if there shone within each iris-ring
  An orbèd world—ocean and hills and skies!—
Those black wings ruffled whose triumphant sweep
Conquered in sport!—yea, up the glimmering steep        70
Of highest billow, down the deepest deep,
        Sported with victories!
 
To see thee here!—a coil of wilted weeds
  Beneath those feet that danced on diamond spray,
Rider of sportive Ocean’s reinless steeds—        75
  Winner in Mother Carey’s sabbath-fray
When, stung by magic of the witch’s chant,
They rise, each foamy-crested combatant—
They rise and fall and leap and foam and gallop and pant
Till albatross, sea-swallow, and cormorant        80
        Would flee like doves away!
 
And shalt thou ride no more where thou hast ridden,
  And feast no more in hyaline halls and caves,
Master of Mother Carey’s secrets hidden,
  Master most equal of the wind and waves,        85
Who never, save in stress of angriest blast,
Asked ship for shelter,—never, till at last
The foam-flakes, hurled against the sloping masts,
        Slashed thee like whirling glaives!
 
Right home to fields no seamew ever kenned,        90
  Where scarce the great sea-wanderer fares with thee,
I come to take thee—nay, ’t is I, thy friend—
  Ah, tremble not—I come to set thee free;
I come to tear this cage from off this wall,
And take thee hence to that fierce festival        95
Where billows march and winds are musical,
        Hymning the Victor-Sea!
*        *        *        *        *
Yea, lift thine eyes, my own can bear them now:
  Thou ’rt free! thou ’rt free. Ah, surely a bird can smile!
Dost know me, Petrel? Dost remember how        100
  I fed thee in the wake for many a mile,
Whilst thou wouldst pat the waves, then, rising, take
The morsel up and wheel about the wake?
Thou ’rt free, thou ’rt free, but for thine own dear sake
        I keep thee caged awhile.        105
 
Away to sea! no matter where the coast:
  The road that turns to home turns never wrong:
Where waves run high my bird will not be lost:
  His home I know: ’t is where the winds are strong,—
Where, on her throne of billows, rolling hoary        110
And green and blue and splashed with sunny glory,
Far, far from shore—from farthest promontory—
The mighty Mother sings the triumphs of her story,
        Sings to my bird the song!
 
 
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