The Sparrow

Original Text: 
Arthur Christopher Benson, Selected Poems (London: John Lane the Bodley Head, 1924): 116-18. PR 4099 B5S4 Robarts Library
1O pertest, most self-satisfied
2    Of aught that breathes or moves,
3See where you sit, with head aside,
4    To chirp your vulgar loves:
5Or raking in the uncleanly street
6    You bolt your ugly meal,
7Undaunted by the approaching feet,
8    The heedless splashing wheel.
9Old poets in your praise were stirred --
10    I fear you must forget --
12    You were his lady's pet.
13You heard her dainty breathing, perched
14    Beside her when she slept;
15You died: -- her pretty cheeks were smirched; --
16    And 'twas for you she wept.
18    Across the grassy waste;
20    He trampled into paste;
21The Oriole falls, a flaming sprite,
22    Before the unsparing gun;
23Whilst thou by some diviner right
24    Dost wanton in the sun.
25When prey is scarce, when tempests fret
26    And freeze the stiffening loam,
27The worm has tunnelled deeper yet,
28    The beetle sits at home,
29You shake your chilly limbs, and puff
30    Your crest in mild surprise,
31And peep, a ball of downy fluff,
32    With bright and beaded eyes.
33No secret raptures thrill your throat
34    On fragrant moonlit nights;
35You never had the mind to note
36    Indignities or slights;
37The soul that craves, but rarely finds
38    The vague, the high, the true,
39The weaknesses of noble minds, --
40    They never troubled you.
41Your selfish purpose never swerves
42    From its appointed end;
43Your sturdy bonhomie deserves
44    Success, but ne'er a friend.
45Where sweetness languishes, and grace,
46    You multiply and thrive; --
47It proves you, of the feathered race,
48    The fittest to survive.
49Contentment and equality
50    Are pleasing names enough;
51But we prefer, we know not why,
52    A more ethereal stuff.
53Ignoble welfare, -- doubtful good --
54    We see with clouded eyes;
55We did not make the world, -- yet would
56    To God 'twere otherwise!

Notes

11] Catullus, Latin poet (ca. 82-54 BC), who wrote about his mistress Clodia (Lesbia) and her love for a sparrow:
Lugete, O Veneres Cupidinesque,
et quantum est hominum uenustiorum:
passer mortuus est meae puellae
passer, deliciae meae puellae,
quem plus illa oculis suis amabat.
nam mellitus erat suamque norat
ipsam tam bene quam puella matrem,
nec sese a gremio illius mouebat,
sed circumsiliens modo huc modo illuc
ad solam dominam usque pipiabat.
qui nunc it per iter tenebricosum
illuc, unde negant redire quemquam.
at uobis male sit, malae tenebrae
Orci, quae omnia bella deuoratis:
tam bellum mihi passerem abstulistis
O factum male! O miselle passer!
tua nunc opera meae puellae
flendo turgiduli rubent ocelli.
See Catullus: The Poems, ed. Kenneth Quinn, 2nd edn. (London: Macmillan, 1973). Back to Line
17] Bustard: "The great bustard (Otis tarda) is the largest European bird, and was formerly common in England, though now extinct, or found only as a rare visitant" (OED). Back to Line
19] Ruff: "The male of a bird of the sandpiper family (Tringa or Machetes pugnax), distinguished during the breeding-season by a ruff and ear-tufts" (OED; now rare but still sighted). Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1895
Publication Notes: 
Arthur Christopher Benson, Lyrics (London: John Lane, 1895): 61-64. PR 4099 B5L8 Robarts Library
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
2001
Rhyme: