Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Samuel Rogers' epitaph on a robin redbreast

Samuel Rogers, almost forgotten today, was celebrated as a poet in his own day and was so highly regarded that he was requested to give an opinion on the suitability of Tennyson for the post of Poet Laureate. No less a bard than William Wordswoth was an admirer of Rogers' poetry.
In his 365 poem book Poem for the Day (Chatto & Windus) the late Nicholas Albery wrote that Rogers was a man who had a sharp tongue but a generous purse.
Albery noted that Samuel Rogers was born in Stoke Newington on 18th December 1855. That date is in fact Rogers' deathday. An illustration of Samuel Rogers' tomb in a churchyard in Hornsey, London, was published in the Illustrated News of the World on 3rd July 1858.
With Christmas approaching, cards bearing pictures of robin redbreasts, often perched on snowy branches, are fluttering onto doormats and into letterboxes around the world. And so with this in mind the following poem is presented as a seasonal greeting to all Poet-in-Residence readers and in memory of a man with a generous purse.

An Epitaph on a Robin Redbreast (1806)

Tread lightly here, for here, 'tis said,
When piping winds are hushed around,
A small note wakes from underground,
Where now his tiny bones are laid.
No more in lone and leafless groves,
With ruffled wing and faded breast,
His friendless, homeless spirit roves;
Gone to the world where birds are blest!
Where never a cat glides o'er the green,
Or schoolboy's giant form is seen;
But Love, and Joy, and smiling Spring
Inspire their little souls to sing!

Samuel Rogers (30th July 1763 - 18th December 1855)


  1. Thanks for this. You learn something every day. I don't know any Samuel Rogers: if I'd been asked to guess the author I'd have said John Clare.

    I had to rescue a (more fortunate)Robin from the cat very recently.

  2. Iabsolutely love it. The trouble is that in "real" life (whatever that is!) the robin is not the sweet little bird he appears on the Christmas cards - he is a little agressive monster.The poem, however, is a delight. Never heard of the poet, so thanks for that.

  3. Dominic,
    I remembered the poem from somewhere in my childhood but of course I had no idea who wrote it. The author of 'clod & pebble'? You're right, he'd be on the short list.
    So the Xmas card from England with a pair of redbreasts kusheling on a snowy twig of holly next to my kitchen table is a false image; they'd more likely be at each others throats. Ah well, another Xmas illusion bites the dust.


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