On a Goldfinch Starved to Death in His Cage

Time was when I was free as air,
The thistle’s downy seed my fare,
   My drink the morning dew:
I perch’d at will on ev’ry spray,
My form genteel, my plumage gay,
   My strains for ever new.

But gaudy plumage, sprightly strain,
And form genteel were all in vain
   And of a transient date;
For, caught and caged and starved to death,
In dying sighs my little breath
   Soon pass’d the wiry grate.

Thanks, gentle swain, for all my woes,
And thanks for this effectual close
   And cure of ev’ry ill!
More cruelty could none express,
And I, if you had shown me less,
   Had been your pris’ner still.

         —William Cowper (1731-1800)

The Dirge

What is th’Existence of Mans life?
But open war, or slumber’d strife.
Where sickness to his sense presents
The combat of the Elements:
And never feels a perfect Peace
Till deaths cold hand signs his release.

   It is a storm where the hot blood
Out-vies in rage the boyling flood;
And each loud Passion of the mind
Is like a furious gust of wind,
Which beats his Bark with many a Wave
Till he casts Anchor in the Grave.

   It is a flower which buds and growes,
And withers as the leaves disclose;
Whose spring and fall faint seasons keep,
Like fits of waking before sleep:
Then shrinks into that fatal mold
Where its first being was enroll’d.

   It is a dream, whose seeming truth
Is moraliz’d in age and youth:
Where all the comforts he can share
As wandring as his fancies are;
Till in a mist of dark decay
The dreamer vanish quite away.

   It is a Diall, which points out
The Sun-set as it moves about:
And shadowes out in lines of night
The subtile stages of times flight,
Till all obscuring earth hath laid
The body in perpetual shade.

   It is a weary enterlude
Which doth short joyes, long woes include.
The World the Stage, the Prologue tears,
The Acts vain hope, and vary’d fears:
The Scene shuts up with loss of breath,
And leaves no Epilogue but Death.

         —Henry King (1592-1669)


The skies they were ashen and sober;
       The leaves they were crispéd and sere—
       The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
       Of my most immemorial year;
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
       In the misty mid region of Weir—
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
       In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

Here once, through an alley Titanic,
       Of cypress, I roamed with my soul—
       Of cypress, with Psyché, my soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
       As the scoriac rivers that roll—
       As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
       In the ultimate climes of the pole—
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
       In the realms of the boreal pole.

Our talk had been serious and sober,
       But our thoughts they were palsied and sere—
       Our memories were treacherous and sere—
For we knew not the month was October,
       And we marked not the night of the year—
       (Ah, night of all nights in the year!)
We noted not the dim lake of Auber,
       (Though once we had journeyed down here)—
Remember’d not the dank tarn of Auber,
       Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

And now, as the night was senescent,
       And star-dials pointed to morn—
       As the star-dials hinted of morn —
At the end of our path a liquescent
       And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
       Arose with a duplicate horn—
Astarte’s bediamonded crescent
       Distinct with its duplicate horn.

And I said—“She is warmer than Dian:
       She rolls through an ether of sighs—
       She revels in a region of sighs:
She has seen that the tears are not dry on
       These cheeks, where the worm never dies,
And has come past the stars of the Lion
       To point us the path to the skies—
       To the Lethean peace of the skies—
Come up, in despite of the Lion,
       To shine on us with her bright eyes—
Come up through the lair of the Lion,
       With love in her luminous eyes.”

But Psyché, uplifting her finger,
       Said—“Sadly this star I mistrust—
       Her pallor I strangely mistrust:
Oh, hasten!—oh, let us not linger!
       Oh, fly!—let us fly!—for we must.”
In terror she spoke, letting sink her
       Wings till they trailed in the dust—
In agony sobbed letting sink her
       Plumes till they trailed in the dust—
       Till they sorrowfully trailed in the dust.

I replied —“This is nothing but dreaming:
       Let us on by this tremulous light—
       Let us bathe in this crystalline light!
Its sybilic splendor is beaming
       With hope and in beauty to-night:
       See, it flickers up the sky through the night!
Ah, we safely may trust to its gleaming,
       And be sure it will lead us aright—
We safely may trust to a gleaming
       That cannot but guide us aright,
       Since it flickers up to heaven through the night.”

Thus I pacified Psyché and kissed her,
       And tempted her out of her gloom—
       And conquered her scruples and gloom;
And we passed to the end of the vista,
       But were stopped by the door of a tomb—
       By the door of a legended tomb;
And I said, “What is written, sweet sister,
       On the door of this legended tomb?”
She replied, “Ulalume—Ulalume—
‘T is the vault of thy lost Ulalume!”

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
       As the leaves that were crispéd and sere—
       As the leaves that were withering and sere,
And I cried, “It was surely October
       On this very night of last year,
       That I journeyed—I journeyed down here—
       That I brought a dread burden down here—
       On this night of all nights in the year
       Oh, what demon has tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber,
       This misty mid region of Weir—
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber,
       In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”

Said we then—the two, then—“Ah, can it
       Have been that the woodlandish ghouls—
       The pitiful, the merciful ghouls—
To bar up our way and to ban it
       From the secret that lies in these wolds—
       From the thing that lies hidden in these wolds—
Have drawn up the spectre of a planet
       From the limbo of lunary souls—
This sinfully scintillant planet
       From the hell of the planetary souls?”

        —Edgar Allan Poe (1809—1849)