Speak, parrot, speak, flamboyant popinjay!
Speak, though like me you’ve nothing new to say;
Repeat what I repeated yesterday;
Equally pleased for cracknels to rehearse
Wisdom or prophecy or immortal verse
Or trivial chatter or a filthy curse.
In ages past, though now it seems absurd,
Once you were thought the Bearer of the Word;
Princes paid ransoms for the speaking bird;
Hermetic syllables scattered from your beak;
Great scholars, who even dreamed in Attic Greek,
Were hired to gloss whatever you might speak;
The Laureate poets, honoured by your state,
Would bite a golden phrase off short and wait
Patient to hear the orient fowl orate;
Because, they said, you hailed from Paradise,
The legends grew that parrot never dies:
Poets, too, once had their immortalities.
Speak, parrot! Tell me, would you rather be
A mindless oracle or a man like me
Grubbing in the dry springs of poetry?
Well, at Time’s door we make a pair, my friend:
Both transmit what we scarcely apprehend;
Poets are not so different in the end.