Edd Winfield Parks and Aileen Wells Parks (eds), The Collected Poems of Henry Timrod: A Variorum Edition
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.
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.
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.
line 5 1859: bird capitalized
25 1859: acute accent on renowned; comma and dash after Bird; Hayne and Mem: two dots over second e of renowned