A Celebration of Women Writers

"The Owl Describing Her Young Ones" by Anne Kingsmill Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661 - 1720)
From Winchilsea, Anne (Kingsmill) Finch, Countess of. Miscellany Poems, on Several Occasions, London: printed for J[ohn] B[arber] and sold by Benj. Tooke at the Middle-Temple-Gate, William Taylor in Pater-Noster-Row, and James Round, in Exchange-Alley, Cornhil, 1713. pp. 104-108.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

The Owl Describing her Young Ones.

Why was that baleful Creature made,
Which seeks our Quiet to invade,
And screams ill Omens through the Shade?

'Twas, sure, for every Mortals good,
When, by wrong painting of her Brood,
She doom'd them for the Eagle's Food:

[Page 105]

Who proffer'd Safety to her Tribe,
Wou'd she but shew them or describe,
And serving him, his Favour bribe.

When thus she did his Highness tell;
In Looks my Young do all excel,
Nor Nightingales can sing so well.

You'd joy to see the pretty Souls,
With wadling Steps and frowzy Poles,
Come creeping from their secret Holes.

But I ne'er let them take the Air,
The Fortune-hunters do so stare;
And Heiresses indeed they are.

This ancient Yew three hundred Years,
Has been possess'd by Lineal Heirs:
The Males extinct, now All is Theirs.

I hope I've done their Beauties right,
Whose Eyes outshine the Stars by Night;
Their Muffs and Tippets too are White.

[Page 106]

The King of Cedars wav'd his Power,
And swore he'd fast ev'n from that Hour,
Ere he'd such Lady Birds devour.

Th' Agreement seal'd, on either part,
The Owl now promis'd, from her Heart,
All his Night-Dangers to divert;

As Centinel to stand and whoop,
If single Fowl, or Shoal, or Troop
Should at his Palace aim or stoop.

But home, one Evening without Meat,
The Eagle comes, and takes his Seat,
Where they did these Conditions treat.

The Mother-Owl was prol'd away,
To seek abroad for needful Prey,
And forth the Misses came to play.

What's here ! the hungry Monarch cry'd,
When near him living Flesh he spy'd,
With which he hop'd to be supply'd.

[Page 107]

But recollecting, 'twas the Place,
Where he'd so lately promis'd Grace
To an enchanting, beauteous Race;

He paus'd a while, and kept his Maw,
With sober Temperance, in awe,
Till all their Lineaments he saw.

What are these Things, and of what Sex,
At length he cry'd, with Vultur's Becks, {1}
And Shoulders higher than their Necks?

These wear no Palatines, nor Muffs, {2}
Italian Silks, or Doyley Stuffs,
But motley Callicoes, and Ruffs.

Nor Brightness in their Eyes is seen,
But through the Film a dusky Green,
And like old Margery is their Mien.

Then for my Supper they're design'd,
Nor can be of that lovely Kind,
To whom my Pity was inclin'd.

[Page 108]

No more Delays; as soon as spoke,
The Plumes are stripped, the Grisles broke,
And near the Feeder was to choak.

When now return'd the grizly Dame,
(Whose Family was out of Frame)
Against League-Breakers does exclaim.

How! quoth the Lord of soaring Fowls,
(Whilst horribly she wails and howls)
Were then your Progeny but Owls?

I thought some Phoenix was their Sire,
Who did those charming Looks inspire,
That you'd prepar'd me to admire.

Upon your self the Blame be laid;
My Talons you've to Blood betray'd,
And ly'd in every Word you said.

Faces or Books, beyond their Worth extoll'd,
Are censur'd most, and thus to pieces pulled.

[Page 109]

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


Notes originally by Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1713) are preceded by the notation [AF]. Notes by Myra Reynolds (1903) are credited with the notation [MR]. Uncredited notes are the addition of the page maintainer.

  1. [MR] In Tusser, Husbandry, (1573) "bex" is the plural form, as in the lines, (chap. 34, st. 11):
    So doing, more tender and greater they wex
    If peacock and turkey leave jobbing their bex.
    Murray (Dict.) gives "beck" as still in use in the eighteenth century.
  2. [MR] "Palatines" were fur tippets. Cent. Dict. quotes from Ladies Dictionary, 1694: "Palatine", that which used to be called a sable tippet, but that name is changed." Doily was a woolen stuff introduced for summer wear in the latter part of the seventeenth century. Dryden speaks of "Doily petticoats" (Limberham, Act IV, Sc. 1, 1678). Spectator 283, speaks of doily as stuff at once genteel and cheap. Arbuthnot (John Bull, I, vi) says: "His Children were reduced from rich silks to Doily stuffs," and Congreve speaks of "a fool and a doily stuff" (The Way of the World, Act III, Sc. 3), but Gay makes doily synonymous with silken drugget (Trivia, 1:43), and Lady Winchilsea classes her "Doily stuffs" with silks as opposed to calicoes. Dr. Johnson (Dict.) defines "calico" as "an Indian stuff made of cotton; sometimes stained with gay and beautiful colors." Murray (Dict.) quotes from J. Roberts, Spinster, 347 (1719): "A tawdry, pie-spotted, flabby, ragged, low-priced thing, called Callicoe, made by a parcel of Heathens and Pagans that Worship the Devil, and work for half a penny a day. "

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom