Richard Wilbur

Marché aux Oiseaux

Hundreds of birds are singing in the square.
Their minor voices fountaining in air
And constant as a fountain, lightly loud,
Do not drown out the burden of the crowd. 

Far from his golden Sudan, the travailleur
Lends to the noise an intermittent chirr
Which to his hearers seems more joy than rage,
He batters softly at his wooden cage.

Here are the silver-bill, the orange-cheek,
The perroquet, the dainty coral-beak
Stacked in their cages; and around them move
The buyers in their termless hunt for love.

Here are the old, the ill, the imperial child;
The lonely people, desperate and mild;
The ugly; past these faces one can read
 The tyranny of one outrageous need.

We love the small, said Burke. And if the small
Be not yet small enough, why then by Hell
We’ll cramp it till it knows but how to feed,
And we’ll provide the water and the seed.