The Sparrow

A poem by George MacDonald

O Lord, I cannot but believe
The birds do sing thy praises then, when they sing to one another,
And they are lying seed-sown land when the winter makes them grieve,
Their little bosoms breeding songs for the summer to unsmother!

If thou hadst finished me, O Lord,
Nor left out of me part of that great gift that goes to singing,
I sure had known the meaning high of the songster's praising word,
Had known upon what thoughts of thee his pearly talk he was stringing!

I should have read the wisdom hid
In the storm-inspired melody of thy thrush's bosom solemn:
I should not then have understood what thy free spirit did
To make the lark-soprano mount like to a geyser-column!

I think I almost understand
Thy owl, his muffled swiftness, moon-round eyes, and intoned hooting;
I think I could take up the part of a night-owl in the land,
With yellow moon and starry things day-dreamers all confuting.

But 'mong thy creatures that do sing
Perhaps of all I likest am to the housetop-haunting sparrow,
That flies brief, sudden flights upon a dumpy, fluttering wing,
And chirps thy praises from a throat that's very short and narrow.

But if thy sparrow praise thee well
By singing well thy song, nor letting noisy traffic quell it,
It may be that, in some remote and leafy heavenly dell,
He may with a trumpet-throat awake, and a trumpet-song to swell it!

DECEMBER 23, 1879.


A thousand houses of poesy stand around me everywhere;
They fill the earth and they fill my thought, they are in and above the air;
But to-night they have shut their doors, they have shut their shining windows fair,
And I am left in a desert world, with an aching as if of care.


Cannot I break some little nut and get at the poetry in it?
Cannot I break the shining egg of some all but hatched heavenly linnet?
Cannot I find some beauty-worm, and its moony cocoon-silk spin it?
Cannot I find my all but lost day in the rich content of a minute?


I will sit me down, all aching and tired, in the midst of this never-unclosing
Of door or window that makes it look as if truth herself were dozing;
I will sit me down and make me a tent, call it poetizing or prosing,
Of what may be lying within my reach, things at my poor disposing!


Now what is nearest?--My conscious self. Here I sit quiet and say:
"Lo, I myself am already a house of poetry solemn and gay!
But, alas, the windows are shut, all shut: 'tis a cold and foggy day,
And I have not now the light to see what is in me the same alway!"


Nay, rather I'll say: "I am a nut in the hard and frozen ground;
Above is the damp and frozen air, the cold blue sky all round;
And the power of a leafy and branchy tree is in me crushed and bound
Till the summer come and set it free from the grave-clothes in which it is wound!"


But I bethink me of something better!--something better, yea best!
"I am lying a voiceless, featherless thing in God's own perfect nest;
And the voice and the song are growing within me, slowly lifting my breast;
And his wide night-wings are closed about me, for his sun is down in the west!"


Doors and windows, tents and grave-clothes, winters and eggs and seeds,
Ye shall all be opened and broken and torn; ye are but to serve my needs!
On the will of the Father all lovely things are strung like a string of beads
For his heart to give the obedient child that the will of the father heeds.

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