As a non-native reader I am having a hard time to figure out if the "while" sentence in Wordsworth's poem "The Excursion" in the following section (5th line, "while that poor bird") is merely incomplete or if it has an unusual/unconventional/obsolete meaning:

Why do not these prevail for human life,
To keep two hearts together, that began
Their springtime with one love, and that have need
Of mutual pity and forgiveness, sweet
To grant, or be received; while that poor bird —
O, come and hear him! Thou who hast to me
Been faithless, hear him; — though a lowly creature,
One of God's simple children, that yet know not
The Universal Parent, how he sings!

Is it supposed to be understood as an incomplete sentence "while that poor bird…"?

  • while [on the other hand] that poor bird, ... though a humble creature, one of God's more lowly creations, incapable of a personal relationship with Him, sings joyously! [without the complicated relationship problems we invent] Mar 18, 2015 at 8:16

1 Answer 1


I would tease out the main structure of the poetic lines into the following basic sentence structure:

Why do these prevail for human life, while that poor bird, how he sings!

The comparison is between these and that poor bird. The phrase "how he sings" is an exclamation, like "How lovely!" or "How it snows!" or "How I long for a vacation!". In plainer language the writer is saying

"...while that poor bird sings so beautifully (despite its lack of faith)".

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