Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Owl Critic


This doggerel has absolutely no literary merit but my father loved it and loved to read it aloud to me when I was a young boy and for this I greatly esteem it. It is a poem to be read aloud and is for those who enjoy heavy 19th century humour as I very much do. I have no idea who wrote it. Something brought it into my mind this evening for the first time in decades. It is a great joy to meet it again and I couldn't resist sharing it. 

The Owl Critic

"Who stuffed that white owl?" No one spoke in the shop;
The barber was busy and he couldn't stop;
The customers waiting their turns were all reading
The Daily, the Herald, the Post, little heeding
The young man who blurted out such a blunt question;
Not one raised a head, or even made a suggestion;
And the barber kept on shaving.

"Don't you see, Mister Brown,"
Cried the youth with a frown.
"How wrong the whole thing is,
How flattened the head is, how jammed down the neck is_
In short the whole owl, what and ignorant wreck is;
I make no apology;
I've passed days and nights in a hundred collections,
And cannot be blinded to any deflections
Arising from unskillful fingers that fail
To stuff a bird right, from the beak to his tail,
Mister Brown ! Mister Brown !
Do take that bird down,
Or you'll soon be the laughing-stock all over town!"
And the barber kept on shaving.

"I've studied owls,
And other night fowls,
And I tell you
What I know to be true;
An owl cannot roost
With his limbs so unloosed;
No owl in this world
Ever had his claws curled,
Ever had his legs slanted,
Ever had his tail canted,
Ever had his neck screwed
Into that attitude.
He can't do this, because
"Tis against all bird laws.
Anatomy teaches.
Ornithology preaches,
An owl has a toe
That can't turn out so !

I've made the white owl my study for years.
And to see such a job almost moves me to tears;
Mister Brown, I'm amazed
You should have gone crazed
As to put up a bird
In that posture absurd !
To look at that owl really brings on a dizziness;
The man who stuffed him didn't know half his business
And the barber kept on shaving.

"Examine those eyes,
I'm filled with surprise
Taxidermists should pass
Off on you such poor glass;
So unnatural they seem
They'd make Audubon scream,
And John Burroughs laugh
To encounter such chaff.
Do take that bird down;
Have him stuffed again, Brown!"
And the barber kept on shaving.

"With some sawdust and bark
I could stuff in the dark
An owl better than that.
I could make an old hat
Look more like an owl
Than that horrid fowl
Stuck up there so stiff like a side of coarse leather.
In fact, about him there's not one natural feather."

Just then, with a wink and a sly normal lurch.
The owl very gravely got down from his perch,
Walked around, and regarded his fault-finding critic
(Who thought he was stuffed) with a glance analytic,
And then fairly hooted, as if he would say;
"Your learning's at fault this time, anyway;
Don't waste it again on a live bird, I pray.
I'm an owl; your're another. Sir Critic, good day!"
And the barber kept on shaving

Reprinted in Ward's Natural Science Bulletin No. 3, Rochester, New York, April 1, 1882, page 15

1 comment:

  1. “Something brought it into my mind this evening for the first time in decades.”

    Here is that little something: