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Phoebe Poems

Table of Contents

  1. Phoebe by James Russell Lowell
  2. The Phoebe-Bird (A Reply) by George Parsons Lathrop
  3. To the Phoebe Bird by Arlo Bates

  1. Phoebe

    by James Russell Lowell

    Ere pales in Heaven the morning star,
    A bird, the loneliest of its kind,
    Hears Dawn's faint footfall from afar
    While all its mates are dumb and blind.

    It is a wee sad-colored thing,
    As shy and secret as a maid,
    That, ere in choir the robins sing,
    Pipes its own name like one afraid.

    It seems pain-prompted to repeat
    The story of some ancient ill,
    But Phoebe! Phoebe! sadly sweet
    Is all it says, and then is still.

    It calls and listens. Earth and sky,
    Hushed by the pathos of its fate,
    Listen: no whisper of reply
    Comes from its doom-dissevered mate.

    Phoebe! it calls and calls again,
    And Ovid, could he but have heard,
    Had hung a legendary pain
    About the memory of the bird;

    A pain articulate so long,
    In penance of some mouldered crime
    Whose ghost still flies the Furies' thong
    Down the waste solitudes of time.

    Waif of the young World's wonder-hour,
    When gods found mortal maidens fair,
    And will malign was joined with power
    Love's kindly laws to overbear,

    Like Progne, did it feel the stress
    And coil of the prevailing words
    Close round its being, and compress
    Man's ampler nature to a bird's?

    One only memory left of all
    The motley crowd of vanished scenes,
    Hers, and vain impulse to recall
    By repetition what it means.

    Phoebe! is all it has to say
    In plaintive cadence o'er and o'er,
    Like children that have lost their way,
    And know their names, but nothing more.

    Is it a type, since Nature's Lyre
    Vibrates to every note in man,
    Of that insatiable desire,
    Meant to be so since life began?

    I, in strange lands at gray of dawn,
    Wakeful, have heard that fruitless plaint
    Through Memory's chambers deep withdrawn
    Renew its iterations faint.

    So nigh! yet from remotest years
    It summons back its magic, rife
    With longings unappeased, and tears
    Drawn from the very source of life.

  2. The Phoebe-Bird (A Reply)

    by George Parsons Lathrop

    Yes, I was wrong about the phoebe-bird.
    Two songs it has, and both of them I've heard:
    I did not know those strains of joy and sorrow
    Came from one throat, or that each note could borrow
    Strength from the other, making one more brave
    And one as sad as rain-drops on a grave.

    But thus it is. Two songs have men and maidens:
    One is for hey-day, one is sorrow's cadence.
    Our voices vary with the changing seasons
    Of life's long year, for deep and natural reasons.
    Therefore despair not. Think not you have altered,
    If, at some time, the gayer note has faltered.
    We are as God has made us. Gladness, pain,
    Delight and death, and moods of bliss or bane,
    With love and hate, or good and evil—all,
    At separate times, in separate accents call;
    Yet 't is the same heart-throb within the breast
    That gives an impulse to our worst and best.
    I doubt not when our earthly cries are ended,
    The Listener finds them in one music blended.

  3. To the Phoebe Bird

    by Arlo Bates

    Each blessed morning,
    Much to my scorning,
    You're up and waiting for Phoebe dear;
    And still your calling,
    When day is falling,
    Doleful as ever salutes the ear.

    We all admire
    The constant fire
    Supposed to burn in lover's breast;
    Yet glints of reason
    May do no treason
    To faith and love and all the rest.

    This endless sighing,
    These threats of dying,
    Only provoke the maiden's scorn;
    'Tis arrant folly
    Not to be jolly
    Despite of any maid that's born!

    Your mournful wailing
    Is unavailing;
    You'd more effect if you should swear!
    This heartless Phoebe —
    Whoever she be —
    For all your sighs will nothing care.

    Why don't you flout her,
    And vow you doubt her,
    And rate her for an arrant jade?
    You'd soon subdue her
    If so you'd woo her;
    She'll never love till she's afraid.

    You, silly songster,
    Protest, "Thou wrong'st her!"
    But I've been longer born than you;
    I know the sex, sir,
    Their tricks to vex, sir;
    Flame when you scorn, ice when you sue!