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

Jane Welsh Carlyle 1801–66

To a Swallow Building under Our Eaves


THOU too hast travell’d, little fluttering thing—

Hast seen the world, and now thy weary wing

Thou too must rest.

But much, my little bird, couldst thou but tell,

I ’d give to know why here thou lik’st so well

To build thy nest.

For thou hast pass’d fair places in thy flight;

A world lay all beneath thee where to light;

And, strange thy taste,

Of all the varied scenes that met thine eye,

Of all the spots for building ’neath the sky,

To choose this waste.

Did fortune try thee? was thy little purse

Perchance run low, and thou, afraid of worse,

Felt here secure?

Ah, no! thou need’st not gold, thou happy one!

Thou know’st it not. Of all God’s creatures, man

Alone is poor.

What was it, then? some mystic turn of thought

Caught under German eaves, and hither brought,

Marring thine eye

For the world’s loveliness, till thou art grown

A sober thing that dost but mope and moan,

Not knowing why?

Nay, if thy mind be sound, I need not ask,

Since here I see thee working at thy task

With wing and beak.

A well-laid scheme doth that small head contain,

At which thou work’st, brave bird, with might and main,

Nor more need’st seek.

In truth, I rather take it thou hast got

By instinct wise much sense about thy lot,

And hast small care

Whether an Eden or a desert be

Thy home, so thou remainst alive, and free

To skim the air.

God speed thee, pretty bird; may thy small nest

With little ones all in good time be blest.

I love thee much;

For well thou managest that life of thine,

While I! Oh, ask not what I do with mine!

Would I were such!