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To Our Mocking-Bird

Sidney Lanier 1842 (Macon) – 1881 (Lynn)

Died of a cat, May, 1878.

  I.

Trillets of humor, -- shrewdest whistle-wit, --
 Contralto cadences of grave desire
 Such as from off the passionate Indian pyre
Drift down through sandal-odored flames that split
About the slim young widow who doth sit
 And sing above, -- midnights of tone entire, --
 Tissues of moonlight shot with songs of fire; --
Bright drops of tune, from oceans infinite
Of melody, sipped off the thin-edged wave
And trickling down the beak, -- discourses brave
 Of serious matter that no man may guess, --
 Good-fellow greetings, cries of light distress --
  All these but now within the house we heard:
  O Death, wast thou too deaf to hear the bird?

  II.

Ah me, though never an ear for song, thou hast
 A tireless tooth for songsters: thus of late
 Thou camest, Death, thou Cat! and leap'st my gate,
And, long ere Love could follow, thou hadst passed
Within and snatched away, how fast, how fast,
 My bird -- wit, songs, and all -- thy richest freight
 Since that fell time when in some wink of fate
Thy yellow claws unsheathed and stretched, and cast
Sharp hold on Keats, and dragged him slow away,
And harried him with hope and horrid play --
 Ay, him, the world's best wood-bird, wise with song --
 Till thou hadst wrought thine own last mortal wrong.
  'Twas wrong! 'twas wrong! I care not, WRONG's the word --
  To munch our Keats and crunch our mocking-bird.

  III.

Nay, Bird; my grief gainsays the Lord's best right.
 The Lord was fain, at some late festal time,
 That Keats should set all Heaven's woods in rhyme,
And thou in bird-notes. Lo, this tearful night,
Methinks I see thee, fresh from death's despite,
 Perched in a palm-grove, wild with pantomime,
 O'er blissful companies couched in shady thyme,
-- Methinks I hear thy silver whistlings bright
Mix with the mighty discourse of the wise,
 Till broad Beethoven, deaf no more, and Keats,
'Midst of much talk, uplift their smiling eyes,
 And mark the music of thy wood-conceits,
  And halfway pause on some large, courteous word,
  And call thee "Brother", O thou heavenly Bird!

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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Sidney Lanier

Sidney Lanier was a poet, writer, composer, critic, professor of literature at Johns Hopkins and first flutist with the Peabody Symphony Orchestra in Baltiimore. He wrote the Centennial cantata for the opening ceremony of the 1876 Centennial celebration in Philadelphia. more…

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