This pious precept, while it stood
In his remembrance, kept him good
When nobody was by him;
For though no human eye was near,
Yet Richard still did wisely fear
The little bird should spy him.
But best resolves will sometimes sleep;
Poor frailty will not always keep
From that which is forbidden;
And Richard one day, left alone,
Laid hands on something not his own,
And hop’d the theft was hidden.
His conscience slept a day or two,
As it is very apt to do
When we with pain suppress it;
And though at times a slight remorse
Would raise a pang, it had not force
To make him yet confess it.
When on a day, as he abroad
Walk’d by his mother, in their road
He heard a sky-lark singing;
Smit with the sound, a flood of tears
Proclaim’d the superstitious fears
His inmost bosom wringing.
His mother, wond’ring, saw him cry,
And fondly ask’d the reason why;
Then Richard made confession,
And said, he fear’d the little bird
He singing in the air had heard
Was telling his transgression.
The words which Richard spoke below,
As sounds by nature upwards go,
Were to the sky-lark carried;
The airy traveller with surprise
To hear his sayings, in the skies
On his mid journey tarried.
His anger then the bird exprest:
“Sure, since the day I left the nest,
I ne’er heard folly utter’d
So fit to move a sky-lark’s mirth,
As what this little son of earth
Hath in his grossness mutter’d.
“Dull fool! to think we sons of
On man’s low actions waste a care,
His virtues or his vices;
Or soaring on the summer gales,
That we should stoop to carry tales
Of him or his devices!
“Our songs are all of the delights
We find in our wild airy flights,
And heavenly exaltation;
The earth you mortals have at heart
Is all too gross to have a part
In sky-lark’s conversation.
“Unless it be in what green field
Or meadow we our nest may build,
Midst flowering broom, or heather;
From whence our new-fledg’d offspring may
With least obstruction wing their way
Up to the walks of ether.
“Mistaken fool! man needs not us
His secret merits to discuss,
Or spy out his transgression;
When once he feels his conscience stirr’d,
That voice within him is the bird
That moves him to confession.”
When beasts by words their meanings could
Some well-drest men and women did repair
To gaze upon two monkeys at a fair:
And one who was the spokesman in the place
Said, in their count’nance you might plainly trace
The likeness of a wither’d old man’s face.