Charles Lamb

The Magpie's Nest

When the arts in their infancy were,

In a fable of old 'tis expressed,

A wise magpie constructed that rare

Little house for young birds, called a nest.

This was talked of the whole country round;

You might hear it on every bough sung,

"Now no longer upon the rough ground

Will fond mothers brood over their young.

"For the magpie with exquisite skill

Has invented a moss-covered cell,

Within which a whole family will

In the utmost security dwell."

To her mate did each female bird say,

"Let us fly to the magpie, my dear;

If she will but teach us the way,

A nest we will build us up here.

"It's a thing that's close arched overhead,

With a hole made to creep out and in;

We, my bird, might make just such a bed

If we only knew how to begin."

To the magpie soon all the birds went,

And in modest terms made their request,

That she would be pleased to consent

To teach them to build up a nest.

She replied: "I will show you the way,

So observe everything that I do.

First, two sticks 'cross each other I lay—"

"To be sure," said the crow, "why, I knew

"It must be begun with two sticks,

And I thought that they crossed should be,"

Said the pie, "Then some straw and moss mix

In the way you now see done by me."

"Oh, yes, certainly," said the jackdaw,

"That must follow, of course, I have thought;

Though I never before building saw,

I guessed that, without being taught."

More moss, more straw, and feathers, I place

In this manner," continued the pie.

"Yes, no doubt, madam, that is the case;

Though no builder myself, so thought I."

Whatever she taught them beside,

In his turn every bird of them said,

Though the nest-making art he ne'er tried,

He had just such a thought in his head.

Still the pie went on showing her art,

Till the nest she had built up halfway;

She no more of her skill would impart,

But in her anger went fluttering away.

And this speech in their hearing she made,

As she perched o'er their heads on a tree:

"If ye all were well skilled in my trade,

Pray, why came ye to learn it of me?"