Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  From “The Paradise of Birds.” II. Ode—To the Roc

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

William John Courthope b. 1842

From “The Paradise of Birds.” II. Ode—To the Roc

O UNHATCH’D Bird, so high preferr’d,

As porter of the Pole,

Of beakless things, who have no wings,

Exact no heavy toll.

If this my song its theme should wrong,

The theme itself is sweet;

Let others rhyme the unborn time,

I sing the Obsolete.

And first, I praise the nobler traits

Of birds preceding Noah,

The giant clan, whose meat was Man,

Dinornis, Apteryx, Moa.

These, by the hints we get from prints

Of feathers and of feet,

Excell’d in wits the later tits,

And so are obsolete.

I sing each race whom we displace

In their primeval woods,

While Gospel Aid inspires Free-Trade

To traffic with their goods.

With Norman Dukes the still Sioux

In breeding might compete;

But where men talk the tomahawk

Will soon grow obsolete.

I celebrate each perish’d State;

Great cities plough’d to loam;

Chaldæan kings; the Bulls with wings;

Dead Greece, and dying Rome.

The Druids’ shrine may shelter swine,

Or stack the farmer’s peat;

’T is thus mean moths treat finest cloths,

Mean men the obsolete.

Shall nought be said of theories dead?

The Ptolemaic system?

Figure and phrase, that bent all ways

Duns Scotus lik’d to twist ’em?

Averrhoes’ thought? and what was taught

In Salamanca’s seat?

Sihons and Ogs? and showers of frogs?

Sea-serpents obsolete?

Pillion and pack have left their track;

Dead is “the Tally-ho;”

Steam rails cut down each festive crown

Of the old world and slow;

Jack-in-the-Green no more is seen.

Nor Maypole in the street;

No mummers play on Christmas-day;

St. George is obsolete.

O fancy, why hast thou let die

So many a frolic fashion?

Doublet and hose, and powder’d beaux?

Where are thy songs, whose passion

Turn’d thought to fire in knight and squire,

While hearts of ladies beat?

Where thy sweet style, ours, ours erewhile?

All this is obsolete.

In Auvergne low potatoes grow

Upon volcanoes old;

The moon, they say, had her young day,

Though now her heart is cold;

Even so our earth, sorrow and mirth,

Seasons of snow and heat,

Check’d by her tides in silence glides

To become obsolete.

The astrolabe of every babe

Reads, in its fatal sky,

“Man’s largest room is the low tomb—

Ye all are born to die.”

Therefore this theme, O Birds, I deem

The noblest we may treat;

The final cause of Nature’s laws

Is to grow obsolete.