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Alfred H. Miles, ed. The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.

By Poems. III. To the Owl

Bernard Barton (1784–1849)

BIRD of the solemn midnight hour!

Thy Poet’s emblem be;

If arms might be the Muses’ dower,

His crest were found in thee:

Though flippant wits thy dulness blame,

And Superstition fondly frame

Fresh omens from thy song;—

With me thou art a favourite bird,

Of habits, hours, and haunts, preferr’d

To day’s more noisy throng.

Are not thy habits grave and sage,

Thyself beseeming well,

Like hermit’s in his hermitage,

Or nun’s in convent cell?

Secluded as an anchorite,

Thou spend’st the hours of garish light

In silence, and alone:

’Twere well if nuns and hermits spent

Their days in dreams as innocent,

As thine, my bird! have flown.

Are not the hours to thee most dear,

Those which my bosom thrill?

Evening—whose charms my spirit cheer,

And Night, more glorious still?

I love to see thee slowly glide

Along the dark wood’s leafy side,

On undulating wing,

So noiseless in thy dream-like flight,

Thou seem’st more like a phantom-sprite

Than like a living thing.

I love to hear thy hooting cry,

At midnight’s solemn hour,

On gusty breezes sweeping by,

And feel its utmost power:

From Nature’s depths it seems to come,

When other oracles are dumb;

And eloquent its sound,

Asserting Night’s majestic sway,

And bearing Fancy far away

To solitudes profound;—

To wild, secluded haunts of thine,

Which hoary eld reveres;

To ivied turret, mould’ring shrine,

Gray with the lapse of years;

To hollow trees by lightning scath’d;

To cavern’d rocks, whose roots are bath’d

By some sequester’d stream;

To tangled wood, and briery brake,

Where only Echo seems awake

To answer to thy scream.

While habits, hours, and haunts, so lone

And lofty, blend with thee,

Well mayst thou, bird of night! be prone

To touch thought’s nobler key;

To waken feelings undefin’d,

And bring home to the Poet’s mind,

Who frames his vigil-lay,

Visions of higher musings born,

And fancies brighter than adorn

His own ephem’ral day.