Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE SILVER HERONS, by JOHN LAWSON STODDARD

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THE SILVER HERONS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Within a home for captive beasts
Last Line: Is not to lose one's life, but save.
Subject(s): Freedom; Herons; Mercy; Liberty

Within a home for captive beasts
Whose world had dwindled to a cage,
I noted in their mournful eyes
Such resignation, fear, and rage,
I longed at once to set them free,
And send them over land and sea
To live again in liberty.

For them no more the mountain range,
The desert vast, the jungle's lair!
Their meaner fate through grated bars
To feel the public's hateful stare;
Poor prisoners! doomed henceforth to pace
With stinted strides a narrow space,
And, daily, gaping crowds to face.

At length I stood before a cage,
Where, guarded by a loftier screen,
Were artificial rocks, and pools,
And strips of vegetation green;
There, perched upon some rocky mound,
Or crouching on the miry ground,
A flock of waterfowl I found.

Storks, poised upon a single leg,
Stood dreaming of the eternal Nile, --
The Mecca of their winter flight,
When lured by Egypt's sunny smile;
While ducks and geese, in gabbling mood,
Explored the muddy pond for food,
Attended by their noisy brood.

Their keeper brought their evening meal;
And instantly on broad-webbed feet,
And stilt-like legs, and flapping wings,
The feathered bipeds rushed to greet,
With snaps and cluckings of delight,
The joyful, ever-welcome sight
Of supper at the approach of night.

Yet all came not! Two stood apart,
With plumage like fresh-fallen snow, --
Two "Silver Herons," of a race
As pure and fine as earth can show;
Amid the tumult that was rife,
These loathed the others' greedy strife,
And looked disgusted with their life.

With closed eyes, shrinking from the mass,
They seemed, in thought, removed as far
From all their coarse environment
As sun is separate from star!
The very picture of disdain,
From all such gorging, it was plain,
They had determined to refrain.

The keeper murmured with reproach, --
"Those Silver Herons are too proud!
Why should they not partake of food
Together with the common crowd?
They eat a little from my hand,
But would prefer to starve, than stand
Besmeared by that uncleanly band.

"A month hence, neither will be here;
For both will grieve themselves to death;
And when one falls, its mate expires
With scarcely an additional breath;
And, should there come another pair,
In their turn they the fate will share
Of those two herons standing there."

Poor hapless birds! I see them yet,
Alone and starving in their pride, --
Their glittering plumage still intact,
While standing bravely side by side;
And, although put to hunger's test,
Continuing mutely to protest
Against defilement with the rest.

O Silver Herons, teach mankind
To cherish thus a stainless name!
To shun the vile, ignoble crowd,
Preferring death to smirch and shame!
A foul, unfriendly mob to brave,
And go, unspotted, to the grave,
Is not to lose one's life, but save.

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