Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > American
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vols. I–V: American
 
The Owl-Critic
By James Thomas Fields (1817–1881)
 
A Lesson to Fault-finders

“WHO stuffed that white owl?” No one spoke in the shop:
The barber was busy, and he couldn’t stop;
The customers, waiting their turns, were all reading
The Daily, the Herald, the Post, little heeding
The young man who blurted out such a blunt question;        5
Not one raised a head or even made a suggestion;
        And the barber kept on shaving.
 
“Don’t you see, Mister Brown,”
Cried the youth, with a frown,
“How wrong the whole thing is,        10
How preposterous each wing is,
How flattened the head is, how jammed down the neck is—
In short, the whole owl, what an ignorant wreck ’tis!
I make no apology;
I’ve learned owl-eology.        15
I’ve passed days and nights in a hundred collections,
And cannot be blinded to any deflections
Arising from unskilful fingers that fail
To stuff a bird right, from his beak to his tail.
Mister Brown! Mister Brown!        20
Do take that bird down,
Or you’ll soon be the laughing-stock all over town!”
        And the barber kept on shaving.
 
“I’ve studied owls,
And other night fowls,        25
And I tell you
What I know to be true:
An owl cannot roost
With his limbs so unloosed;
No owl in this world        30
Ever had his claws curled,
Ever had his legs slanted,
Ever had his bill canted,
Ever had his neck screwed
Into that attitude.        35
He can’t do it, because
’Tis against all bird-laws
Anatomy teaches,
Ornithology preaches
An owl has a toe        40
That can’t turn out so!
I’ve made the white owl my study for years,
And to see such a job almost moves me to tears!
Mister Brown, I’m amazed
You should be so gone crazed        45
As to put up a bird
In that posture absurd!
To look at that owl really brings on a dizziness;
The man who stuffed him don’t half know his business!”
        And the barber kept on shaving.        50
 
“Examine those eyes.
I’m filled with surprise
Taxidermists should pass
Off on you such poor glass;
So unnatural they seem        55
They’d make Audubon scream,
And John Burroughs laugh
To encounter such chaff.
Do take that bird down;
Have him stuffed again, Brown!”        60
        And the barber kept on shaving.
 
“With some sawdust and bark
I would stuff in the dark
An owl better than that;
I could make an old hat        65
Look more like an owl
Than that horrid fowl,
Stuck up there so stiff like a side of coarse leather.
In fact, about him there’s not one natural feather.”
 
Just then, with a wink and a sly normal lurch,        70
The owl, very gravely, got down from his perch,
Walked round, and regarded his fault-finding critic
(Who thought he was stuffed) with a glance analytic,
And then fairly hooted, as if he should say:
“Your learning’s at fault this time, anyway;        75
Don’t waste it again on a live bird, I pray.
I’m an owl; you’re another. Sir Critic, good-day!”
        And the barber kept on shaving.
 
 
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