To Mrs. P********, with some Drawings of Birds and Insects

Original Text: 
The Works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld, Volume I (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, Paternoster-Row, 1825), pp. 39-46. PR 4057 B7 1825 v.1. Robarts Library.
The kindred arts to please thee shall conspire,
One dip the pencil, and one string the lyre.
2I seize the pencil, or resume the pen;
3No other call my willing hand requires,
4And Friendship, better than a Muse inspires.
5Painting and Poetry are near allied;
6The kindred arts two sister Muses guide:
7This charms the eye, that steals upon the ear;
8There sounds are tuned, and colours blended here:
9This with a silent touch enchants our eyes,
10And bids a gayer, brighter world arise:
11That, less allied to sense, with deeper art
12Can pierce the close recesses of the heart;
13By well-set syllables, and potent sound,
14Can rouse, can chill the breast, can soothe, can wound;
15To life adds motion, and to beauty soul,
16And breathes a spirit through the finished whole:
17Each perfects each, in friendly union joined;--
18This gives Amanda's form, and that her mind.
19But humbler themes my artless hand requires,
20No higher than the feathered tribe aspires.
21Yet who the various nations can declare
22That plough with busy wing the peopled air?
23These cleave the crumbling bark for insect food;
24Those dip their crooked beak in kindred blood:
25Some haunt the rushy moor, the lonely woods;
26Some bathe their silver plumage in the floods;
27Some fly to man, his household gods implore,
28And gather round his hospitable door,
29Wait the known call, and find protection there
30From all the lesser tyrants of the air.
32High on the cliff, and feasts his young with blood.
34Whose beetling cliffs o'erhang the Western main,
35The royal bird his lonely kingdom forms
36Amidst the gathering clouds and sullen storms;
37Through the wide waste of air he darts his sight,
38And holds his sounding pinions poised for flight;
39With cruel eye premeditates the war,
40And marks his destined victim from afar:
41Descending in a whirlwind to the ground,
42His pinions like the rush of waters sound;
43The fairest of the fold he bears away,
44And to his nest compels the struggling prey;
45He scorns the game by meaner hunters tore,
46And dips his talons in no vulgar gore.
47With lovelier pomp along the grassy plain
48The Silver Pheasant draws his shining train.
50He spreads his plumage to the sunny gleam;
51But when the wiry net his flight confines,
52He lowers his purple crest, and inly pines:
53The beauteous captive hangs his ruffled wing,
54Opprest by bondage and our chilly spring.
55To claim the verse unnumbered tribes appear,
56That swell the music of the vernal year:
57Seized with the spirit of the kindly May,
58They sleek the glossy wing, and tune the lay;
59With emulative strife the notes prolong,
60And pour out all their little souls in song.
61When winter bites upon the naked plain,
62Nor food nor shelter in the groves remain,
63By instinct led, a firm united band,
64As marshaled by some skillful general's hand,
65The congregated nations wing their way
66In dusky columns o'er the trackless sea;
67In clouds unnumbered annual hover o'er
69Thence spread their sails to meet the southern wind,
70And leave the gathering tempest far behind;
71Pursue the circling sun's indulgent ray,
72Course the swift seasons, and o'ertake the day.
73Not so the insect race, ordained to keep
74The lazy sabbath of a half-year's sleep:
75Entombed beneath the filmy web they lie,
76And wait the influence of a kinder sky.
78The heaving tomb distends with vital heat;
79The half-formed brood, impatient of their cell,
80Start from their trance, and burst their silken shell;--
81Trembling awhile they stand, and scarcely dare
82To launch at once upon the untried air:
83At length assured, they catch the favouring gale,
86He found a nymph in every trunk confined;
87The forest labours with convulsive throes,
88The bursting trees the lovely births disclose,
89And a gay troop of damsels round him stood,
90Where late was rugged bark and lifeless wood.
91Lo! the bright train their radiant wings unfold!
92With silver fringed, and freckled o'er with gold:
93On the gay bosom of some fragrant flower
94They idly fluttering live their little hour;
95Their life all pleasure, and their task all play,
96All spring their age, and sunshine all their day.
97Not so the child of sorrow, wretched Man,
98His course with toil concludes, with pain began;
99That his high destiny he might discern,
100And in misfortune's school this lesson learn ....
101Pleasure's the portion of the inferior kind;
102But glory, virtue, Heaven for Man designed.
103What atom-forms of insect life appear!
104And who can follow Nature's pencil here?
105Their wings with azure, green and purple glossed,
106Studded with coloured eyes, with gems embossed,
107Inlaid with pearl, and marked with various stains
108Of lively crimson through their dusky veins.
109Some shoot like living stars athwart the night,
110And scatter from their wings a vivid light,
111To guide the Indian to his tawny loves,
112As through the woods with cautious step he moves.
113See the proud giant of the beetle race;
114What shining arms his polished limbs enchase!
115Like some stern warrior formidably bright,
116His steely sides reflect a gleaming light:
117On his large forehead spreading horns he wears,
118And high in air the branching antlers bears:
119O'er many an inch extends his wide domain,
120And his rich treasury swells with hoarded grain.
121Thy friend thus strives to cheat the lonely hour,
122With song or paint, an insect or a flower:--
123Yet if Amanda praise the flowing line,
124And bend delighted o'er the gay design,
125I envy not nor emulate the fame
126Or of the painter's or the poet's name:
127Could I to both with equal claim pretend,
128Yet far, far dearer were the name of Friend.


1] Title: the poem is addressed to Mrs. Priestley, the wife of Dr. Joseph Priestley, clergyman, chemist, and discoverer of oxygen, who taught at the same school, Warrington, as Anna's father.
Epigraph: a little misquoted from Alexander Pope's "Epistle to Mr. Jervas," lines 69-70. Back to Line
31] tawny Eagle: perhaps the golden eagle is intended. Back to Line
33] Snowdon: highest mountain in Wales, to the northwest.
Orkney's wide domain: islands in northern Scotland. Back to Line
49] Phasis: a river of Colchis, ancient country on the Black Seasouth of the Caucasus mountains. Back to Line
68] Bass: an island in the Firth of Forth, an estuary in central Scotland.
Kilda: St. Kilda, an island west of the Hebrides. Back to Line
77] vernal: of Spring. Back to Line
84] ether: upper air. Back to Line
85] Tancred: a Norman commander (ca. 1078-1112) in the first crusade. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1997.