The shepherd touch'd his reed; sweet Philomel
Essay'd, and oft essay'd to catch the strain,
And treasuring, as on her ear they fell,
The numbers, echo’d note for note again.

The peevish youth, who ne'er had foundbefore
A rival of his skill, indignant heard,
And soon (for various was his tuneful store)
In loftier tones defied the simple bird.

She dared the task, and, rising as he rose,
With all the force that passion gives inspired,
Return’d the sounds awhile, but in the close
Exhausted fell, and at his feet expired.

Thus strength, not skill prevail'd. O fatal strife,
By thee, poor songstress, playfully begun;
And, O sad victory, which cost thy life,
And he may wish that he had never won!

More verses by William Cowper

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