A cool and heavy day of spring’s,
And through a wet oak woods you walk,
When what sweeps by on silent wings?—
For all the world, a headless hawk!
That chicken-like had fled the scene
Of a reign of terror’s guillotine?
That’s not so mad a claim to make,
With angry blue jays in its wake.
But then it lights upon a bough
And neatly folds each wing aside,
And such a face peers on you now!—
You’ve never been so keenly eyed.
You find upon this strange beholder
As fine a head as graced a shoulder.
Your headless hawk is a barred owl,
The mastermind of woodland fowl.
His sloe eyes gleam with native wit
In his medieval scholar’s cowl,
And all around them rings are writ;
He’s surely read it all, this owl.
His wakeful head if interests weaken
Turns like a willful lighthouse beacon,
And all who watch will see they lack
The art of watching their own back.
His wings are hatched, his breast is streaked
In handsome hues of cream and brown,
And he is sharply yellow-beaked
Where you’d expect a pensive frown.
And though he looks to win your favor
He’s no-one else’s welcome neighbor:
This Moriarty of the wood
Is never up to any good.
You’ve heard him by the moon, no doubt,
And as the dusk gives up its blue,
When through his range he roams about
And wants to know who cooks for you.
And why he asks is no mere whim.
See, no one—no one cooks for him.
(His spouse, maybe? You must be kidding.)
And so you just might sense a bidding,
A mute appealing in his eyes,
Before the jaybirds drive him on
Into the spring’s late heavy skies:
If you he might impose upon
Once you are back inside the house—
Say, a deviled, deep-fried meadow mouse,
Would you arrange that helpful task?
No? He thought not. That’s why he didn’t ask.