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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Birds, the Beasts, and the Bat

By Francis Hopkinson (1737–1791)

[From “Translation of a Letter, written by a Foreigner on his Travels.” The Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings of Francis Hopkinson, Esq. 1792.]

A WAR broke out in former days,—

If all is true that Æsop says,—

Between the birds that haunt the grove,

And beasts that wild in forests rove.

Of fowl that swim in water clear,

Of birds that mount aloft in air,—

From every tribe vast numbers came

To fight for freedom, as for fame.

The beasts from dens and caverns deep,

From valleys low and mountains steep,

In motley ranks determined stood,

And dreadful howlings shook the wood.

The bat,—half bird, half beast,—was there,

Nor would for this or that declare,—

Waiting till conquest should decide,

Which was the strongest, safest side:

Depending on this doubtful form,

To screen him from the impending storm.

With sharpened beaks and talons long,

With horny spurs and pinions strong,

The birds in fierce assault, ’tis said,

Amongst the foe such havoc made—

That, panic-struck, the beasts retreat

Amazed, and victory seemed complete.

The observant bat, with squeaking tone,

Cried, “Bravo, Birds! The day’s our own;

For now I am proud to claim a place

Amongst your bold aspiring race;

With leathern wing I skim the air,

And am a bird though clad in hair.”

But now the beasts, ashamed of flight,

With rallied force renew the fight;

With threatening teeth, uplifted paws,

Projecting horns and spreading claws,

Enraged advance—push on the fray

And claim the honors of the day.

The bat, still hovering to and fro,

Observed how things were like to go,

Concludes those best who best can fight,

And thinks the strongest party right;

“Push on,” quoth he. “Our’s is the day!

We’ll chase these rebel birds away,

And reign supreme—for who but we

Of earth and air the lords should be?

That I’m a beast I can make out,

By reasons strong beyond a doubt.

With teeth and fur ’twould be absurd

To call a thing like me a bird;

Each son and daughter of my house,

Is styled at least a flying mouse.”

Always uncertain is the fate

Of war and enterprises great:—

The beasts, exulting, pushed too far

Their late advantage in the war;

Sure of success, insult the foe,

Despise their strength and careless grow;

The birds not vanquished but dismayed,

Collect their force, new powers displayed;

Their chief, the eagle, leads them on

And with fierce rage the war’s begun.

Now in their turn the beasts must yield

The bloody laurels of the field;

Routed they fly, disperse, divide,

And in their native caverns hide.

Once more the bat with courtly voice,

“Hail, noble birds! Much I rejoice

In your success and come to claim

My share of conquest and of fame.”

The birds the faithless wretch despise:

“Hence, traitor, hence!” the eagle cries;

“No more, as you just vengeance fear,

Amongst our honored ranks appear.”

The bat, disowned, in some old shed

Now seeks to hide his exiled head;

Nor dares his leathern wings display,

From rising morn to setting day.

But when the gloomy shades of night

Screen his vile form from every sight,

Despised, unnoticed, flits about;

Then to his dreary cell returns

And his just fate in silence mourns.