We meant to be very kind,
But if ever we find
Another soft, grey-green, moss-coated, feather-lined nest in a hedge,
We have taken a pledge--
Susan, Jemmy, and I--with remorseful tears, at this very minute,
That if there are eggs or little birds in it--
Robin or wren, thrush, chaffinch or linnet--
We'll leave them there
To their mother's care.
There were three of us--Kate, and Susan, and Jem--
And three of them--
I don't know their names, for they couldn't speak,
Except with a little imperative squeak,
Exactly like Poll,
Susan's squeaking doll;
But squeaking dolls will lie on the shelves
For years and never squeak of themselves:
The reason we like little birds so much better than toys
Is because they are really alive, and know how to make a noise.
There were three of us, and three of them;
Kate,--that is I,--and Susan, and Jem.
Our mother was busy making a pie,
And theirs, we think, was up in the sky;
But for all Susan, Jemmy, or I can tell,
She may have been getting their dinner as well.
They were left to themselves (and so were we)
In a nest in the hedge by the willow tree;
And when we caught sight of three red little fluff-tufted, hazel-eyed,
open-mouthed, pink-throated heads, we all shouted for glee.
The way we really did wrong was this:
We took them for Mother to kiss,
And she told us to put them back;
Whilst out on the weeping-willow their mother was crying "Alack!"
We really heard
Both what Mother told us to do, and the voice of the mother-bird.
But we three--that is Susan and I and Jem--
Thought we knew better than either of them:
And in spite of our mother's command and the poor bird's cry,
We determined to bring up her three little nestlings ourselves on the sly.
We each took one,
It did seem such excellent fun!
Susan fed hers on milk and bread,
Jem got wriggling worms for his instead.
I gave mine meat,
For, you know, I thought, "Poor darling pet! why shouldn't it have roast beef to eat?"
But, oh dear! oh dear! oh dear! how we cried
When in spite of milk and bread and worms and roast beef, the little birds died!
It's a terrible thing to have heart-ache,
I thought mine would break
As I heard the mother-bird's moan,
And looked at the grey-green, moss-coated, feather-lined nest she had taken such pains to make,
And her three little children dead, and as cold as stone.
Mother said, and it's sadly true,
"There are some wrong things one can never undo."
And nothing that we could do or say
Would bring life back to the birds that day.
The bitterest tears that we could weep
Wouldn't wake them out of their stiff cold sleep. But then,
We--Susan and Jem and I--mean never to be so selfish, and wilful, and cruel again.
And we three have buried those other three
In a soft, green, moss-covered, flower-lined grave at the foot of the willow tree.
And all the leaves which its branches shed
We think are tears because they are dead.