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The Boy And The Skylark

Charles Lamb 1775 (Inner Temple, London) – 1834 (Edmonton, London)



A FABLE.
'A wicked action fear to do,
When you are by yourself; for though
You think you can conceal it,
A little bird that's in the air
The hidden trespass shall declare,
And openly reveal it.'

Richard this saying oft had heard,
Until the sight of any bird
Would set his heart a-quaking;
He saw a host of wingëd spies
For ever o'er him in the skies,
Note of his actions taking.

This pious precept, while it stood
In his remembrance, kept him good
When nobody was by him;
For though no human eye was near,
Yet Richard still did wisely fear
The little bird should spy him.

But best resolves will sometimes sleep;
Poor frailty will not always keep
From that which is forbidden;
And Richard, one day, left alone,
Laid hands on something not his own,
And hoped the theft was hidden.

His conscience slept a day or two,
As it is very apt to do
When we with pains suppress it:
And though at times a slight remorse
Would raise a pang, it had not force
To make him yet confess it.

When on a day, as he abroad
Walked by his mother, in their road
He heard a skylark singing;
Smit with the sound, a flood of tears
Proclaimed the superstitious fears
His inmost bosom wringing.

His mother, wondering, saw him cry,
And fondly asked the reason why;
Then Richard made confession,
And said, he feared the little bird
He singing in the air had heard
Was telling his transgression.

The words which Richard spoke below,
As sounds by nature upwards go,
Were to the skylark carried;
The airy traveller with surprise
To hear his sayings, in the skies
On his mid journey tarried.

His anger then the bird exprest:
'Sure, since the day I left the nest,
I ne'er heard folly uttered
So fit to move a skylark's mirth,
As what this little son of earth
Hath in his grossness muttered.

'Dull fool! to think we sons of air
On man's low actions waste a care,
His virtues or his vices;
Or soaring on the summer gales,
That we should stoop to carry tales
Of him or his devices!

'Our songs are all of the delights
We find in our wild airy flights,
And heavenly exaltation;
The earth you mortals have at heart
Is all too gross to have a part
In skylark's conversation.

'Unless it be in what green field
Or meadow we our nest may build,
Midst flowering broom, or heather;
From whence our new-fledged offspring may
With least obstruction wing their way
Up to the walks of ether.

'Mistaken fool! man needs not us
His secret merits to discuss,
Or spy out his transgression;
When once he feels his conscience stirred,
That voice within him is the bird
That moves him to confession.'

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

2:24 min read
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Charles Lamb

Charles Lamb was an English essayist, poet, and antiquarian, best known for his Essays of Elia and for the children's book Tales from Shakespeare, co-authored with his sister, Mary Lamb (1764–1847). Friends with such literary luminaries as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, William Wordsworth, and William Hazlitt, Lamb was at the centre of a major literary circle in England. He has been referred to by E. V. Lucas, his principal biographer, as "the most lovable figure in English literature". more…

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