Sarah Orne Jewett

(1849-1909 / the USA)

A Caged Bird - Poem by Sarah Orne Jewett

High at the window in her cage,
    The old canary sits and sings,
Nor sees across the curtain pass
    The shadow of a swallow's wings.

A poor deceit and copy this
    Of larger lives that count their span,
Unreckoning of wider worlds,
    Or gifts that Heaven keeps for man!

She gathers piteous bits and shreds,
    This solitary mateless thing,
Patient to build again the nest
    So rudely scattered spring by spring;

And sings her brief, unheeded songs,
    Her dreams of bird-life wild and free,
Yet never beats her prison bars
At sound of song from bush or tree.

Yet in my busiest hours I pause,
    Held by a sense of urgent speech,
Bewildered by that spark-like soul
    Able my very soul to reach.

She will be heard; she chirps me loud
    When I forget those gravest cares,
Her small provision to supply—
    Clear water or the seedsman's wares.

She begs me now for that chief joy
    The round great world is made to grow—
Her wisp of greenness. Hear her chide
    Because my answering thought is slow!

What can my life seem like to her?
    A dull, unpunctual service mine,
Stupid before her eager speech,
    Her flitting steps, her insight fine!

To open wide thy prison door,
Poor friend, would give thee to thy foes;
And yet a plaintive note I hear,
    As if to tell how slowly goes

The time of thy long prisoning.
    Bird! does some promise keep thee sane?
Will there be better days for thee?
    Will thy soul too know life again?

Ah, none of us have more than this—
    If one true friend green leaves can reach
From out some fairer, wider place,
    And understand our wistful speech!

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Poem Submitted: Friday, September 3, 2010

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