Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE THREE WRENS, by PHOEBE CARY



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THE THREE WRENS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Mr. Wren and his dear began early one year
Last Line: You must be one: -- as I never was, I can't say!
Subject(s): Birds; Wrens


MR. WREN and his dear began early one year --
They were maried, of course, on St. Valentine's Day, --
To build such a nest as was safest and best,
And to get it all finished and ready by May.

Their house, snug and fine, they set up in a vine
That sheltered a cottage from sunshine and heat:
Mrs. Wren said: "I am sure, this is nice and secure;
And besides, I can see in the house, or the street."

Mr. Wren, who began, like a wise married man,
To check his mate's weak inclination to roam,
Shook his little brown head, and reprovingly said:
"My dear, you had better be looking at home.

"You'll be trying the street pretty soon with your feet,
And neglecting your house and my comfort, no doubt,
And you'll find a pretext for a call on them next,
If you watch to see what other folks are about.

"There's your own home to see, and besides there is me,
And this visiting neighbors is nonsense and stuff!
You would like to know why? well, you'd better not try; --
I don't choose to have you, and that is enough!"

Mrs. Wren did not say she would have her own way, --
In fact, she seemed wonderfully meek and serene;
But she thought, I am sure, though she looked so demure,
"Well I don't care; I think you're most awfully mean!"

Mr. Wren soon flew off, thinking, likely enough,
I could manage a dozen such creatures with ease;
She began to reflect, I see what you expect,
But if I know myself, I shall look where I please!

However, at night, when he came from his flight,
Both acted as if there was nothing amiss:
Put a wing o'er their head, and went chirping to bed,
To dream of a summer of sunshine and bliss.

I need scarcely remark, they were up with the lark,
And by noon they were tired of work without play;
And thought it was best for the present to rest,
And then finish their task in the cool of the day.

So, concealed by the leaves that grew thick to the eaves,
He shut himself in, and he shut the world out; --
"Now," said she, "he's asleep, I will just take a peep
In the cottage, and see what the folks are about."

Then she looked very sly, from her perch safe and high,
Through the great open window, left wide for the sun;
And she said: "I can't see what the danger can be,
I am sure here is nothing to fear or to shun!

"There's an old stupid cat, half asleep on the mat,
But I think she's too lazy to stir or to walk; --
Oh, you just want to show your importance, I know,
But you can't frighten me, Mr. Wren, with your talk!

"Now to have my own will, I'll step down on that sill;
I'm not an inquisitive person -- oh, no;
I don't want to see what's improper for me,
But I like to find out for myself that it's so."

Then this rash little wren hopped on farther again,
And grown bolder, flew in, and sat perched on a chair;
Saying, "What there is here that is dreadful or queer,
I have n't been able to find, I declare.

"Well, I wish for your sake, Mr. Wren, you would wake,
And see what effect all your warning has had;
Ah! I'll call up that cat, and we'll have a nice chat,
And rouse him with talking -- oh, won't he be mad!"

So she cried, loud and clear, "Good-day, Tabby, my dear!
I think neighbors a neighborly feeling should show."
"How your friendliness charms," said Puss; "come to my arms,
I have had my eye on you some time, do you know!"

Something like a sharp snap broke that moment his nap,
And Mr. Wren said, with a stretch and a wink:
"I suppose, dear, your sleep has been tranquil and deep;
I just lost myself for a moment, I think.

"Why! she's gone, I declare! well, I'd like to know where?"
And his head up and down peering round him he dips;
All he saw in the gloom of the shadowy room,
Was an innocent cat meekly licking her lips!

"'T is too bad she's away; for, of course, I can't stay,"
Said the great Mr. Wren, "shut in this little space:
We must come and must go, but these females, you know,
Never need any changes of work or of place.

And then he began, like a badly-used man,
To twitter and chirp with an impatient cry;
But soon pausing, sang out, "She's gone off in a pout,
But if she prefers being alone, so do I!

"Yet the place is quite still, so I'll whistle until
She returns to her home full of shame and remorse;
I'm not lonesome at all, but it's no harm to call;
She'll come back fast enough when she hears me, of course!"

So he started his tune, but broke off very soon,
As if he'd been wasting his time, like a dunce;
For he suddenly caught at a very wise thought,
And he altered his whole plan of action at once.

"Now, that cat," he exclaimed, "may be wrongfully blamed;
And since it's a delicate matter to broach,
I don't say of her, that she is not sans peur,
But I'm sure in this matter she's not sans reproche!

"Ah! I can't love a wren, as I loved her, again,
But I'll try to be manly and act as I ought;
And the birds in the trees, like the fish in the seas,
May be just as good ones as ever were caught.

"And if one in the hand, as all men understand,
Is worth two in the bush," Mr. Wren gravely said,
"Then it seems to me plain, by that same rule again,
That a bird in the bush is worth two that are dead."

So he dropped his sad note, and he smoothed down his coat,
Till his late-ruffled plumage shone glossy and bright;
And light as a breeze, through the fields and the trees,
He floated and caroled till lost to the sight.

And in no longer time than it takes for my rhyme, --
Now would you believe it? and is n't it strange! --
He returned all elate, bringing home a new mate:
But birds are but birds, and are given to change.

Of course, larger folks are quite crushed by such strokes,
And never are guilty of like fickle freaks; --
Ah! a bird's woe is brief, but our great human grief
Will sometimes affect us for days and for weeks!

But this does not belong of good right to my song,
For I started to tell about birds and their kind;
So I'll say Mr. Wren, when he married again,
Took a wife who had not an inquiring mind.

For he said what was true: "Mrs. Wren, number two,
You would not have had such good fortune, my dear,
If the first, who is dead, had believed what I said,
And contented herself in her own proper sphere."

Now, to some it might seem like the very extreme
Of folly to ask what you know very well;
But this Mrs. Wren did, and behaved as he bid,
Never asking the wherefore, and he didn't tell.

Yes, this meek little bird never thought, never stirred,
Without craving leave in the properest way:
She said, with the rest, "Shall I sit on my nest
For three weeks or thirteen? I'll do just as you say!"

Now I think, in the main, it is best to explain
The right and the reason of what we command;
But he wouldn't, not he; a poor female was she,
And he was a male bird as large as your hand!

And one more thing, I find, is borne in on my mind:
Mr. Wren may be right, but it seems to me strange,
That while both his grief and his love were so brief,
He should claim such devotion and trust in exchange!

And yet I've been told, that with birds young and old,
All the males should direct, all the females obey;
Though, to speak for a bird, so at least I have heard,
You must be one: -- as I never was, I can't say!





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