Edd Winfield Parks and Aileen Wells Parks (eds), The Collected Poems of Henry Timrod: A Variorum Edition

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Editor’s NoteCritical ApparatusTO A CAPTIVE OWL35

  • 1I should be dumb before thee, feathered sage!
  • 2     And gaze upon thy phiz with solemn awe,
  • 3But for a most audacious wish to gauge
  • 4     The hoarded wisdom of thy learned craw.
  • Critical Apparatus5Art thou, grave bird! so wondrous wise indeed?
  • 6     Speak freely, without fear of jest or gibe —
  • 7What is thy moral and religious creed?
  • 8     And what the metaphysics of thy tribe?
  • pg 539A Poet, curious in birds and brutes,
  • 10     I do not question thee in idle play;
  • 11What is thy station? What are thy pursuits?
  • 12     Doubtless thou hast thy pleasures — what are they?
  • 13Or is't thy wont to muse and mouse at once,
  • 14     Entice thy prey with airs of meditation,
  • 15And with the unvarying habits of a dunce,
  • 16     To dine in solemn depths of contemplation?
  • 17There may be much — the world at least says so —
  • 18     Behind that ponderous brow and thoughtful gaze;
  • 19Yet such a great philosopher should know,
  • 20     It is by no means wise to think always.
  • 21And, Bird, despite thy meditative air,
  • 22     I hold thy stock of wit but paltry pelf —
  • 23Thou show'st that same grave aspect everywhere,
  • 24     And wouldst look thoughtful, stuffed, upon a shelf.
  • Critical Apparatus25I grieve to be so plain, renowned Bird —
  • 26     Thy fame's a flam, and thou an empty fowl;
  • 27And what is more, upon a Poet's word
  • 28     I'd say as much, wert thou Minerva's owl.
  • 29So doff th' imposture of those heavy brows;
  • 30     They do not serve to hide thy instincts base —
  • 31And if thou must be sometimes munching mouse,
  • 32     Munch it, O Owl! with less profound a face.

Notes Settings


Critical Apparatus
The first version is so dissimilar to 1859 that it is given in full; stanzas 6, 8, 9, 11 and 12 are similar to 2, 4, 5, 8 and 9 of the 1859 and Mem versions.
  • R:   Owl! thy composed and solemn mien,
  •            Does justice to thy sage renown—
  •         Amid this strangely novel scene,
  •            Not twenty eyes can look thee down.
  •         Thy own large orbs are gazing round,
  •            But not in awe or admiration—
  •         Some posing theorem must bound
  •            The circle of thy cogitation.
  •         Two obvious causes might explain,
  •            A spirit proof against surprise;
  •         One is a philosophic brain,
  •            And one a pair of useless eyes.
  •         Either you (entering with ease
  •            The inmost principles of things)
  •         Are self-possessed, as one who sees
  •            That coats are natural as wings,
  •         Or else—the dullest from the ark—
  •            The booby of the feathered race,
  •         You have not wit enough to mark,
  •            The simplest difference of place.
  •         Are you so very sage, indeed?
  •            What is your natural bent of mind?
  •         And what the speculative creed,
  •            And metaphysics of your kind?
  •         You have your pleasures, I suppose,
  •            You do not always look so grave,
  •         You like a dinner—and a doze—
  •            And, I dare say, could hoot a stave?
  •         Or do you muse and mouse at once,
  •            Entrap your prey in meditation,
  •         Sup in a serious reverie, and
  •            Dine in a depth of contemplation?
  •         There may be much—I hope 'tis so—
  •            Behind that meditative gaze—
  •         Yet a philosopher should know,
  •            It is not wise to think always.
  •         And Owl, I very much suspect,
  •            Thou art a rascally pretender;
  •         And maugre all thou dost affect.
  •            Thy stock of thought is very slender.
  •         I grieve to speak severely, bird,
  •            Of any philosophic fowl,—
  •         But I love truth, and on my word,
  •            I'll speak it even to an owl.
  •         Oh! look not with those solemn brows—
  •            They do not hide thy instincts base,
  •         And if thou must be munching mouse,
  •            Munch it with less profound a face.
Editor’s Note
35. "To a Captive Owl" was published in Russell's, II (Jan. 1858), 373, with note: These LINES TO A CAPTIVE OWL have been furnished expressly for our Editor's Table, by a Poet who is also a philosophic thinker; Poems (1859), 108; Hayne, 217; Memorial Edition, 125.
Critical Apparatus
line 5 1859: bird capitalized
Critical Apparatus
25 1859: acute accent on renowned; comma and dash after Bird; Hayne and Mem: two dots over second e of renowned
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