Ye Children of Man! whose life is a span,
Protracted with sorrow from day to day,
Naked and featherless, feeble and querulous,
Sickly calamitous creatures of clay!
Attend to the words of the Sovereign Birds,
(Immortal, illustrious, lords of the air),
Who survey from on high, with a merciful eye,
Your struggles of misery, labor, and care.
Whence you may learn and clearly discern
Such truths as attract your inquisitive turn;
Which is busied of late with a mighty debate,
A profound speculation about the creation,
And organical life, and chaotical strife,
With various notions of heavenly motions,
And rivers and oceans, and valleys and mountains,
And sources of fountains, and meteors on high,
And stars in the sky… We propose by and by,
(If you’ll listen and hear,) to make it all clear.
And Prodicus henceforth shall pass for a dunce,
When his doubts are explained and expounded at once.
Our antiquity proved, it remains to be shown
That Love is our author and master alone;
Like him we can ramble, and gambol and fly
O’er ocean and earth, and aloft to the sky;
And all the world over, we’re friends to the lover,
And when other means fail, we are found to prevail,
When a Peacock or Pheasant is sent as a present.
All lessons of primary daily concern
You have learnt from the Birds, and continue to learn,
Your best benefactors and early instructors;
We give you the warning of seasons returning.
When the Cranes are arranged, and muster afloat
In the middle air, with a creaking note,
Steering away to the Libyan sands,
Then careful farmers sow their lands;
The crazy vessel is hauled ashore,
The sail, the ropes, the rudder and oar
Are all unshipped and housed in store.
The shepherd is warned, by the Kite reappearing,
To muster his flock, and be ready for shearing.
You quit your old cloak at the Swallow’s behest,
In assurance of summer, and purchase a vest.
For Delphi, for Ammon, Dodona, in fine
For every oracular temple and shrine,
The Birds are a substitute equal and fair,
For on us you depend, and to us you repair
For counsel and aid when a marriage is made,
A purchase, a bargain, a venture in trade:
Unlucky or lucky, whatever has struck ye,
An ox or an ass that may happen to pass,
A voice in the street, or a slave that you meet,
A name or a word by chance overheard,
If you deem it an omen, you call it a Bird;
And if birds are your omens, it clearly will follow
That birds are a proper prophetic Apollo.