Anna Laetitia Barbauld

(20 June 1743 – 9 March 1825 / Leicestershire, England)

To Mrs. P********, With Some Drawings Of Birds And Insects. - Poem by Anna Laetitia Barbauld

The kindred arts to please thee shall conspire,

One dip the pencil, and one string the lyre.

(Pope)


Amanda bids;-at her command again

I seize the pencil, or resume the pen;

No other call my willing hand requires,

And Friendship, better than a Muse inspires.

Painting and Poetry are near allied;

The kindred arts two sister Muses guide:

This charms the eye, that steals upon the ear;

There sounds are tuned, and colours blended here:

This with a silent touch enchants our eyes,

And bids a gayer, brighter world arise:

That, less allied to sense, with deeper art

Can pierce the close recesses of the heart;

By well-set syllables, and potent sound,

Can rouse, can chill the breast, can soothe, can wound;

To life adds motion, and to beauty soul,

And breathes a spirit through the finished whole:

Each perfects each, in friendly union joined;-

This gives Amanda's form, and that her mind.

But humbler themes my artless hand requires,

No higher than the feathered tribe aspires.

Yet who the various nations can declare

That plough with busy wing the peopled air?

These cleave the crumbling bark for insect food;

Those dip their crooked beak in kindred blood:

Some haunt the rushy moor, the lonely woods;

Some bathe their silver plumage in the floods;

Some fly to man, his household gods implore,

And gather round his hospitable door,

Wait the known call, and find protection there

From all the lesser tyrants of the air.

The tawny Eagle seats his callow brood

High on the cliff, and feasts his young with blood.

On Snowdon's rocks, or Orkney's wide domain,

Whose beetling cliffs o'erhang the Western main,

The royal bird his lonely kingdom forms

Amidst the gathering clouds and sullen storms;





Through the wide waste of air he darts his sight,

And holds his sounding pinions poised for flight;

With cruel eye premeditates the war,

And marks his destined victim from afar:

Descending in a whirlwind to the ground,

His pinions like the rush of waters sound;

The fairest of the fold he bears away,

And to his nest compels the struggling prey;

He scorns the game by meaner hunters tore,

And dips his talons in no vulgar gore.


With lovelier pomp along the grassy plain

The Silver Pheasant draws his shining train.

On Asia's myrtle shores, by Phasis' stream,

He spreads his plumage to the sunny gleam;

But when the wiry net his flight confines,

He lowers his purple crest, and inly pines:

The beauteous captive hangs his ruffled wing,

Opprest by bondage and our chilly spring.

To claim the verse unnumbered tribes appear,

That swell the music of the vernal year:


Seized with the spirit of the kindly May,

They sleek the glossy wing, and tune the lay;

With emulative strife the notes prolong,

And pour out all their little souls in song.

When winter bites upon the naked plain,

Nor food nor shelter in the groves remain,

By instinct led, a firm united band,

As marshaled by some skillful general's hand,

The congregated nations wing their way

In dusky columns o'er the trackless sea;

In clouds unnumbered annual hover o'er

The craggy Bass, or Kilda's utmost shore;

Thence spread their sails to meet the southern wind,

And leave the gathering tempest far behind;

Pursue the circling sun's indulgent ray,

Course the swift seasons, and o'ertake the day.

Not so the insect race, ordained to keep

The lazy sabbath of a half-year's sleep:

Entombed beneath the filmy web they lie,

And wait the influence of a kinder sky.


When vernal sunbeams pierce their dark retreat,

The heaving tomb distends with vital heat;

The half-formed brood, impatient of their cell,

Start from their trance, and burst their silken shell;-

Trembling awhile they stand, and scarcely dare

To launch at once upon the untried air:

At length assured, they catch the favouring gale,

And leave their sordid spoils, and high in ether sail.

So when brave Tancred struck the conscious rind,

He found a nymph in every trunk confined;


The forest labours with convulsive throes,

The bursting trees the lovely births disclose,

And a gay troop of damsels round him stood,

Where late was rugged bark and lifeless wood.

Lo! the bright train their radiant wings unfold!

With silver fringed, and freckled o'er with gold:

On the gay bosom of some fragrant flower

They idly fluttering live their little hour;

Their life all pleasure, and their task all play,

All spring their age, and sunshine all their day.

Not so the child of sorrow, wretched Man,

His course with toil concludes, with pain began;

That his high destiny he might discern,

And in misfortune's school this lesson learn….

Pleasure's the portion of the inferior kind;

But glory, virtue, Heaven for Man designed.

What atom-forms of insect life appear!

And who can follow Nature's pencil here?

Their wings with azure, green and purple glossed,

Studded with coloured eyes, with gems embossed,


Inlaid with pearl, and marked with various stains

Of lively crimson through their dusky veins.

Some shoot like living stars athwart the night,

And scatter from their wings a vivid light,

To guide the Indian to his tawny loves,

As through the woods with cautious step he moves.

See the proud giant of the beetle race;

What shining arms his polished limbs enchase!

Like some stern warrior formidably bright,

His steely sides reflect a gleaming light:


On his large forehead spreading horns he wears,

And high in air the branching antlers bears:

O'er many an inch extends his wide domain,

And his rich treasury swells with hoarded grain.

Thy friend thus strives to cheat the lonely hour,

With song or paint, an insect or a flower:-

Yet if Amanda praise the flowing line,

And bend delighted o'er the gay design,

I envy not nor emulate the fame

Or of the painter's or the poet's name:


Could I to both with equal claim pretend,

Yet far, far dearer were the name of Friend.


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Poem Submitted: Monday, September 6, 2010



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