Poems for Bird Day and Respect for Chickens Day

May 4th is Bird Day in the U.S. and Respect for Chickens Day, so here are four poems by four very different poets with four very different views of birds and chickens.

To read the poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar, Elizabeth Madox Roberts, Jack Prelutsky, and Emily Dickinson click: 


by Paul Laurence Dunbar 

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
   When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
   When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats its wing
   Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
   And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting—
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
   When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
   But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!

“Sympathy” from The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar (1913)

 Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) born in Dayton Ohio, the son of freed slaves,  was one of the first African American poets to gain national recognition. When he moved to Chicago in 1893, he became friends with Frederick Douglass, who helped him find a job as a clerk, and arranged a public reading for Dunbar to present his poems. Within two years, his poems were appearing in national magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times. After a reading tour of England in 1897, he received a clerkship at the Library of Congress, but by 1898, he was suffering from tuberculosis, and resigned his position to concentrate on writing and giving readings. He died at age 33.


The Hens

by Elizabeth Madox Roberts

The night was coming very fast;
It reached the gate as I ran past.

The pigeons had gone to the tower of the church
And all the hens were on their perch,

Up in the barn, and I thought I heard
A piece of a little purring word.

I stopped inside, waiting and staying,
To try to hear what the hens were saying.

They were asking something, that was plain,
Asking it over and over again.

One of them moved and turned around,
Her feathers made a ruffled sound,

A ruffled sound, like a bushful of birds,
And she said her little asking words.

She pushed her head close into her wing,
But nothing answered anything.

“The Hens” from Under the Tree, © 1930 by Elizabeth Madox Roberts – Viking Press,
1967 edition

Elizabeth Madox Roberts (1881-1941) American poet, novelist, and short story writer, born in Kentucky; best known for her novel The Time of Man, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1926, and her poetry collection, Under the Tree.


Last Night I Dreamed of Chickens

by Jack Prelutsky 

Last night I dreamed of chickens,
there were chickens everywhere,
they were standing on my stomach,
they were nesting in my hair,
they were pecking at my pillow,
they were hopping on my head,
they were ruffling up their feathers
as they raced about my bed.

They were on the chairs and tables,
they were on the chandeliers,
they were roosting in the corners,
they were clucking in my ears,
there were chickens, chickens, chickens
for as far as I could see…
when I woke today, I noticed
there were eggs on top of me.

“Last Night I Dreamed of Chickens” from Something BIG Has Been Here, © 1990 by Jack Prelutsky – Greenwillow Books

Jack Prelutsky (1940 – ), American poet and children’s author; he has published over 50 poetry collections, mostly for children, and was named as the very first ‘Children’s Poet Laureate’ by the Poetry Foundation (2006-2008). He lives in the Seattle, Washington area, and spends much of his time reading his poems aloud to children in schools and libraries all around the United States.


She sights a Bird — she chuckles — (507)

by Emily Dickinson

She sights a Bird — she chuckles —
She flattens — then she crawls —
She runs without the look of feet —
Her eyes increase to Balls —

Her Jaws stir — twitching — hungry —
Her Teeth can hardly stand —
She leaps, but Robin leaped the first —
Ah, Pussy, of the Sand,

The Hopes so juicy ripening —
You almost bathed your Tongue —
When Bliss disclosed a hundred Toes —
And fled with every one —

“She sights a Bird — she chuckles —” from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by R. W. Franklin – Harvard University Press, 1999

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) American’s best-known woman poet and one of the nation’s greatest and most original authors, lived the life of a recluse in Amherst Massachusetts. She wrote nearly 1800 poems, ignoring the traditional poetic forms prevailing among most of the other poets of her day. The extent of her work wasn’t known until after her death, when her younger sister Lavinia discovered her cache of poems.



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