1782
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Pity; or, The Bull-Finch's Nest. A Pastoral.

Universal Magazine 71 (August 1782) 103-04.

Anonymous


A pastoral ballad in seven couplet stanzas, not signed. This sprightly poem develops the famous nest-robbing episode in William Shenstone's Pastoral Ballad in quite a different register. Phillis craves a singing bird, but changes her mind when Damon presents a whole nest: "Ah! Damon, she cry'd, with a heart-piercing sigh, | 'Twould grieve me to death if these charmers shou'd die; | Tho' great should my care be to rear up the nest, | The parent (my Damon) must cherish them best."

While by far the greater number of pastoral ballads were written in anapestic quatrains, pastoral poets were ever experimenting, and a variety of other stanzas and meters were used in addition to the format that Shenstone and John Cunningham had made so popular. Indeed, Cunningham himself made a point of experimenting with the form and gave the warrant, if warrant were needed, for flexibility in what was essentially a lyrical form.



Last spring, when the swallow return'd back again,
And Flora with cowslips had painted the plain,
I ran to the maid whom my heart most approves,
I told her of this, and that bloom deck'd the groves:
She smil'd at the tidings, and made me engage
To furnish a Bull-finch to pipe in her cage.

In time, O ye shepherds, attend to my lay,
I ne'er shall forget whilst there's bloom on the spray;
A ram in a thicket had fasten'd his horn,
And struggled, and baa'd to be quit of the thorn;
I ran to to relieve him, and there I admir'd
A nest of those sweet ones my Phillis requir'd.

I took from the brake the dear innocent train,
Strait, enraptur'd, to Phillis flew over the plain;
The maid was directing the vine o'er her bow'r
To shield from the sun, or to keep off the show'r;
The moment she saw me, the boon she confess'd,
And with rapture accepted the Bull-finch's nest!

(How strange the transition) she look'd on the young,
Her eye drop'd a tear — pity flow'd from her tongue;
Ah! Damon, she cry'd, with a heart-piercing sigh,
'Twould grieve me to death if these charmers shou'd die;
Tho' great should my care be to rear up the nest,
The parent (my Damon) must cherish them best.

I kiss'd her for this, and commended the maid,
That instant we ran with the nest to the shade;
Where scarce had we plac'd it in safety again,
When the finch came delighted to cherish her train.
My Phillis beheld, and with rapture confess'd;
That much might be learn'd from the Bull-finch's nest!

I told her through life it should be my delight,
To copy the precepts display'd to my sight,
And urg'd her that moment to tell me the day,
When at Church she would promise to love and obey;
Most sweetly she answer'd, and blush'd like the rose,
I leave that, my shepherds, for you to disclose.

Although we've been wed a long summer or more,
'Tis true that I love her as well as before;
The fury CONTENTION ne'er enter'd her breast,
She's gentle to me, as the finch to her nest;
Ye swains when you wander in search of a wife,
I'd have you get such, and you're happy for life.

[pp. 103-04]