To a Captive Owl

By Henry Timrod 1828–1867 Henry Timrod
I should be dumb before thee, feathered sage!
   And gaze upon thy phiz with solemn awe,
But for a most audacious wish to gauge
   The hoarded wisdom of thy learned craw.

Art thou, grave bird! so wondrous wise indeed?
   Speak freely, without fear of jest or gibe—
What is thy moral and religious creed?
   And what the metaphysics of thy tribe?

A Poet, curious in birds and brutes,
   I do not question thee in idle play;
What is thy station? What are thy pursuits?
   Doubtless thou hast thy pleasures—what are they?

Or is’t thy wont to muse and mouse at once,
   Entice thy prey with airs of meditation,
And with the unvarying habits of a dunce,
   To dine in solemn depths of contemplation?

There may be much—the world at least says so—
   Behind that ponderous brow and thoughtful gaze;
Yet such a great philosopher should know,
   It is by no means wise to think always.

And, Bird, despite thy meditative air,
   I hold thy stock of wit but paltry pelf—
Thou show’st that same grave aspect everywhere,
   And wouldst look thoughtful, stuffed, upon a shelf.

I grieve to be so plain, renowned Bird—
   Thy fame’s a flam, and thou an empty fowl;
And what is more, upon a Poet’s word
   I’d say as much, wert thou Minerva’s owl.

So doff th’ imposture of those heavy brows;
   They do not serve to hide thy instincts base—
And if thou must be sometimes munching mouse,
   Munch it, O Owl! with less profound a face.

Source: The Collected Poems of Henry Timrod (1865)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Henry Timrod 1828–1867

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Nature, Animals, Humor & Satire

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

Biography

Since Henry Timrod's output before the Civil War was limited to verse sufficient only for a single volume—published in December 1859—his literary reputation at the time was modest. The political activities surrounding the formation of a new nation and the impact of the war itself aroused Timrod's poetic imagination, however, and he quickly became widely known as the literary spokesman and eventually as the so-called poet . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Nature, Animals, Humor & Satire

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.