A great king once, so I have heard,
Went out to hunt a singing-bird
Whose voice should be so sweet and strong,
So fraught with all the tricks of song,
That they who heard it would confess
The king’s fine taste and perfectness
Of judgment. And it came to pass
That where the wind poured through the grass,
Fringing a brooklet’s sinuous way,
He saw a bird demure and gray,
Of awkward mien and sleepy eyed,
Bathing in the crystal tide.
‘O bird!’ the king said, looking down,
‘A monarch I of high renown,
Out searching for a singing-bird
Whose voice, the sweetest ever heard,
Shall cheer me in my hours of gloom,
And coax my dead loves back to bloom.’
‘Take me, O king,’ the gray bird said.
‘A sad and lonely life I ‘ve led,
Singing with not a soul to hear,
Pining for but one word of cheer.’
‘Thou!’ cried the king, half in surprise,
A sudden anger in his eyes-
‘Thou insignificant, nameless bird!
Thou ninny, hast thou never heard
Of my grand palace and my throne
Of pearl and gold and precious stone?
Thou gray, sad eyed, presumptuous thing!
Thou entertain a court and king!
Begone! Say not another word:
My cage must hold a royal bird.’
There came a silken sound of wings
Above the brooklet’s murmurings;
The wind fell still upon the grass
To watch the gray bird upward pass;
The sunlight milder, softer grew;
The leaves took on a tenderer hue-
As if all Nature, gently stirred,
Bade farewell to the going bird.
The monarch stood with lips compressed,
Regret and choler in his breast,
While from the sky, well-sent and strong,
Came back a Parthian shaft of song.