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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. The Book of Georgian Verse. 1909.

Beau’s Reply

William Cowper (1731–1800)

SIR, when I flew to seize the bird

In spite of your command,

A louder voice than yours I heard,

And harder to withstand.

You cried ‘Forbear!’—but in my breast

A mightier cried ‘Proceed!’—

’Twas Nature, sir, whose strong behest

Impelled me to the deed.

Yet much as Nature I respect,

I ventured once to break

(As you perhaps may recollect)

Her precept for your sake;

And when your linnet on a day,

Passing his prison door,

Had fluttered all his strength away,

And panting pressed the floor,

Well knowing him a sacred thing,

Not destined to my tooth,

I only kissed his ruffled wing,

And licked the feathers smooth.

Let my obedience then excuse

My disobedience now,

Nor some reproof yourself refuse

From your aggrieved Bow-wow;

If killing birds be such a crime

(Which I can hardly see),

What think you, sir, of killing Time

With verse addressed to me?