Icon by Tim Wong (The Noun Project)
The Peacock at Home
Have fun with the poem by trying this...
This is a lovely, long poem to read out loud or to listen to. Try to read it out loud with a partner (ask an older reader if you think this will help) - one of you say out loud only the names of the birds that are mentioned (there are lots!). Talk about which ones are your favourite - either because you might like that bird, or because you like the way the poet has described them. Don’t worry if you have not heard of all the birds - you can look some of them up if you’d like to.
This long poem has been divided into nine sections. If you want to recite a smaller part of it, we recommend sections five, six or seven.
When the Butterfly burst from her chrysalis state,
And gave to the Insects a Ball and a Fête;
When the Grasshopper’s minstrelsy charm’d every ear,
And delighted the guests with his mirth and good cheer;
The fame spread abroad of their revels and feasts,
And excited the spleen of the birds and the beasts;
For the gilded-wing’d Dragon-Fly made it his theme,
And the Gnat blew his horn as he danc’d in the beam;
The Gossip whose chirping beguil’d the long night.
By the cottage fireside told the tale of delight;
While, suspending his labours, the Bee left his cell,
To murmur applause in each blossom and bell;
It was humm’d by the Beetle, and buzz’d by the Fly,
And sung by the myriads that sport thro’ the sky.
The quadrupeds listen’d in sullen displeasure;
But the tenants of air were enrag’d beyond measure.
The Peacock resplendent, unfurl’d his broad fan,
And addressing his mates, thus indignant began:
“Ye people of plume! whether dwellers in woods,
Whether wading thro’ marshes, or diving in floods,
Will you suffer the Insects, the birth of a day,
To be talk’d of as all that is tasteful and gay?
And shall we like domestic, inelegant fowls,
Unpolish’d as Geese, and more stupid than Owls,
Sit tamely at home tête-a-tête with our spouses.
While the offspring of grub-worms throw open their houses?
Forbid it, ye powers, o’er our Class who preside,
And help me to humble the Butterfly’s pride!
It provokes me to see such pretenders to fashion,
Cousin Turkey-Cock, well may you quiver with passion!
When such pitiful beings affect to compare
With us! the legitimate children of air!
Some bird of high rank should his talents exert
In the general cause, and our honour assert.
But the Eagle, while soaring thro’ Ether on high.
Overlooks what is passing in our nether sky;
The Swan calmly sails down the current of life,
Without ruffling a plume in the national strife;
And the Ostrich—for birds who on iron are wont
Their breakfast to make, can digest an affront.
But, if ever I suffer such airs to prevail,
May Juno pluck out all the eyes in my tail!
To revenge our disgrace, I’ll for once lead the way,
And send out my cards for St. Valentine’s Day,
Round my standard to rally each order and genus,
From the Eagle of Jove to the Sparrow of Venus.”
This determin’d, six fleet Carrier-Pigeons went out,
To invite all the Birds to Sir Argus’s rout.
The nest-loving Turtle-Dove, simple recluse,
Pleaded family-duties, and sent an excuse;
With matron importance Dame Partlet alledg’d,
That her numerous progeny scarcely were fledg’d;
The Turkey, poor soul! was confin’d to the rip,
For all her young brood had just fail’d with the pip.
The Partridge was ask’d; but a neighbour hard by,
Had engag’d a snug party to meet in a pye;
And the Wheatear declin’d—recollecting, her cousins
Last year to a feast were invited by dozens;
But, alas! they return’d not:—and she had no taste
To appear in a costume of vine-leaves or paste.
The Woodcock preferr’d his lone haunt on the moor;
And the traveller Swallow was still on his tour;
While the Cuckoo, who should have been one of the guests,
Was rambling on visits to other birds’ nests:
But the rest all accepted the kind invitation,
And much bustle prevail’d in the Plumed Creation.
Such ruffling of feathers, such pruning of coats,
Such chirping, such whistling, such clearing of throats,
Such polishing bills, and such oiling of pinions,
Had never been known in the biped dominions!
The Taylor-Bird offer’d to make up new clothes,
For all the young birdlings who wish’d to be beaux;
He made for the Robin a doublet of red,
And a new velvet cap for the Goldfinch’s head.
He added a plume to the Wren’s golden crest,
And spangled with silver the Guinea-fowl’s breast.
While the Halcyon bent over the streamlet to view,
How pretty she look’d, in her boddice of blue.
Thus equipp’d, they set off for the Peacock’s abode,
With the guide Indicator, who shew’d them the road.
From all points of the compass flock’d birds of all feather,
And the Parrot can tell who and who were together.
There was Lord Cassowary, and General Flamingo,
And Don Peroquito, escap’d from Domingo.
From his high rock-built eyrie the Eagle came forth,
And the Duchess of Ptarmigan flew from the North:
The Grebe and the Eider-Duck came up by water,
With the Swan, who brought out the young Cygnet, her daughter:
From his woodland abode came the Pheasant, to meet
Two kindred arriv’d by the last India fleet;
The one like a Nabob, in habit most splendid,
Where gold, with each hue of the rainbow, was blended;
In silver and black, like a fair pensive maid
Who mourns for her love, was the other array’d.
The Chough came from Cornwall, and brought up his wife;
The Grouse travell’d South from his lairdship in Fife;
The Bunting forsook her soft nest in the reeds,
And the Widow-bird came, tho’ she still wore her weeds.
A veteran Decoy-Duck, whose falsehoods and wiles
Had ensnar’d all the youth of the fins in her toils,
Swam in, full of hope some new conquest to make,
Tho’ captives unnumber’d sail’d close in her wake.
Next enter’d a party of Puffins and Smews,
And the Dodo — who chapron’d the two Miss Cushews;
Sir John Heron, of the Lakes, strutted in a grand pas:
But no card had been sent to the pilfering Daw, —
As the Peacock kept up his progenitor’s quarrel,
Which Aesop relates, about cast-off apparel:
For birds are like men in their contests together,
And in questions of right can dispute for a feather.
The Peacock Imperial, the pride of his race,
Receiv’d all his guests with an infinite grace;
Wav’d high his blue neck, and his train he display’ d,
Embroider’d with gold, and with sapphires inlaid;
Then led to a bow’r, where the musical throng,
Amateurs and professors, were all in full song:
A holly-bush form’d the orchestra, and in it
Sat the Blackbird, the Thrush, the Lark, and the Linnet.
The Bullfinch, a captive almost from the nest.
Just escap’d from his cage, and, with liberty blest,
In a sweet mellow tone join’d the lessons of art,
With the accents of nature which flow’d from his heart.
The Canary, a much-admir’d foreign musician,
Condescended to sing to the fowls of condition:
While the Nightingale warbled and quaver’d so fine,
That they all clapp’d their wings and pronounc’d it divine.
The Sky-Lark, in ecstasy, sang from a cloud;
And Chanticleer crow’d, and the Yaffil laugh’d loud.
The dancing began when the music was over;
A Dotterel first open’d the Ball with the Plover.
Baron Stork, in a waltz, was allow’d to excel,
With his beautiful partner the fair Demoiselle.
And a newly fledg’d Gosling, so slim and genteel,
A minuet swam with the spruce Mr.Teal.
A London-bred Sparrow, a pert forward cit,
Danc’d a reel with Miss Wagtail and little Tomtit.
The Sieur Guillemot next perform’d a pas seul,
While the elderly Bipeds were playing a pool.
The Dowager Lady Toucan first cut in,
With old Dr. Buzzard and Adm’ral Penguin.
From ivy-bush tow’r came dame Owlet the wise,
And Counsellor Crossbill sat by to advise.
But the Rook, who protested ’twas all mighty dull,
Chicken Hazard propos’d to the Pigeon and Gull;
And next day it was whisper’d, he kept them so late,
That the Pigeon had mortgag’d the pease-cod estate;
And the Gull who, it seems, nothing more had to lose,
Had made his escape, and sail’d out on a cruise.
Some birds, past their prime, o’er whose heads it was fated
Should pass many St. Valentines, yet be unmated,
Sat by and remark’d, that the prudent and sage
Were quite overlook’d in this frivolous age,
When birds scarce pen-feather’d were brought to a rout,
Forward chits from the egg-shell but newly come out;
In their youthful days they ne’er witness’d such frisking;
And how wrong in the Greenfinch to flirt with the Siskin.
So thought Lady Mackaw, and her friend Cockatoo,
And the Raven foretold that no good would ensue.
They censur’d the Bantam for strutting and crowing
In those vile pantaloons, which he fancied look’d knowing:
And a want of decorum caus’d many demurs
Against the Game-Chicken, for coming in spurs.
To the Peacock’s acquaintance ’twas wrong to object,
Yet they hop’d his next party would be more select;
For admitting the Bat, in his pinions of leather,
Was a shocking intrusion on people of feather:
Doubtful characters might be excluded at least,
And creatures that class not with birds nor with beast.
The Magpie, renown’d for discretion and candour,
Who always profess’d an abhorrence to slander,
Was much griev’d that the Pelican — meaning no ill,
So unkindly was peck’d by each ill-natured bill,
For attempting some delicate bits to secrete
For her young ones at home, just by way of a treat;
And before they were safe in her ridicule pack’d,
She was caught by the sharp-sighted Hawk in the fact.
Old Alderman Corm’rant, for supper impatient,
At the eating-room door for an hour had been station’d,
Till a Jay, in rich liv’ry, the banquet announcing,
Gave the signal long-wish’d-for of clamouring and pouncing.
At the well-furnish’d board all were eager to perch,
But the little Miss Creepers were left in the lurch.
Description must fail, and the pen is unable
To recount all the lux’ries which cover’d the table.
Each delicate viand that taste could denote,
Wasps à la sauce piquante, and flies en compôte;
Worms and frogs en friture for the web-footed fowl,
And a barbecued mouse was prepar’d for the Owl;
Nuts, grain, fruit, and fish, to regale every palate,
And groundsel and chickweed serv’d up in a salad.
The Razorbill carv’d for the famishing group,
And the Spoonbill obligingly ladled the soup:
While such justice was done to the dainties before ’em,
That the tables were clear’d with the utmost decorum.
When they gaily had carroll’d till peep of the dawn,
The Lark gently hinted, ’twas time to be gone;
And his clarion so shrill gave the company warning
That Chanticleer scented the gales of the morning:
So they chirp’d in full concert a friendly adieu,
And, with hearts beating light as the plumage that grew
On their merrythought bosoms, away they all flew.
Then long live the Peacock, in splendour unmatch’d,
Whose Ball shall be talk’d of by birds yet unhatch’d;
His fame let the Trumpeter loudly proclaim,
And the Goose lend her quill to transmit it to fame!