Tuesday, July 4, 2023

John Gay (1)

These poems come from The Fables of John Gay, with illustrations by William Harvey. John Gay first published his fables in 1727, with addition fables in 1738. Gay is probably the best known of the "original" fabulists of England; you can read more about his life and career at Wikipedia. Click here for all the John Gay fables at this blog.

The Lion, the Tiger, and the Traveller

A tigress prowling for her prey
Assailed a traveller on his way;
A passing lion thought no shame
To rob the tigress of her game.
They fought: he conquered in the strife;
Of him the traveller begged for life.
His life the generous lion gave,
And him invited to his cave.
Arrived, they sat and shared the feast.

The lion spoke: he said, "What beast
Is strong enough to fight with me?
You saw the battle, fair and free.
My vassals fear me on my throne:
These hills and forests are my own.
The lesser tribes of wolf and bear
Regard my royal den with fear;
Their carcases, on either hand,
And bleaching bones now strew the land."

"It is so," said the man, "I saw
What well might baser natures awe;
But shall a monarch, like to you,
Place glory in so base a view?
Robbers invade a neighbour's right,
But Love and Justice have more might.
O mean and sordid are the boasts
Of plundered lands and wasted hosts!
Kings should by love and justice reign,
Nor be like pirates of the main.
Your clemency to me has shown
A virtue worthy of a throne:
If Heaven has made you great and strong,
Use not her gifts to do us wrong."

The lion answered: "It is plain
That I have been abused; my reign
By slaves and sophisters beset.
But tell me, friend, didst ever yet
Attend in human courts? You see,
My courtiers say they rule like me."

The Spaniel and the Chameleon

A spaniel mightily well bred,
Ne'er taught to labour for his bread,
But to play tricks and bear him smart,
To please his lady's eyes and heart,
Who never had the whip for mischief,
But praises from the damsel--his chief.

The wind was soft, the morning fair,
They issued forth to take the air.
He ranged the meadows, where a green
Cameleon--green as grass--was seen.

"Halloa! you chap, who change your coat,
What do you rowing in this boat?
Why have you left the town? I say
You're wrong to stroll about this way:
Preferment, which your talent crowns,
Believe me, friend, is found in towns."

"Friend," said the sycophant, "'tis true
One time I lived in town like you.
I was a courtier born and bred,
And kings have bent to me the head.
I knew each lord and lady's passion,
And fostered every vice in fashion.
But Jove was wrath--loves not the liar--
He sent me here to cool my fire,
Retained my nature--but he shaped
My form to suit the thing I aped,
And sent me in this shape obscene,
To batten in a sylvan scene.
How different is your lot and mine!
Lo! how you eat, and drink, and dine;
Whilst I, condemned to thinnest fare,
Like those I flattered, feed on air.
Jove punishes what man rewards;--
Pray you accept my best regards."

The Mother, the Nurse, and the Fairy

"Give me a son, grant me an heir!"
The fairies granted her the prayer.
And to the partial parent's eyes
Was never child so fair and wise;
Waked to the morning's pleasing joy,
The mother rose and sought her boy.
She found the nurse like one possessed,
Who wrung her hands and beat her breast.
"What is the matter, Nurse--this clatter:
The boy is well--what is the matter?"

"What is the matter?  Ah! I fear
The dreadful fairy has been here,
And changed the baby-boy. She came
Invisible; I'm not to blame
She's changed the baby: here's a creature!--
A pug, a monkey, every feature!
Where is his mother's mouth and grace?
His father's eyes, and nose, and face?"

"Woman," the mother said, "you're blind:
He's wit and beauty all combined."

"Lord, Madam! with that horrid leer!--
That squint is more than one can bear."

But, as she spoke, a pigmy wee soul
Jumped in head-foremost through the key-hole,
Perched on the cradle, and from thence
Harangued with fairy vehemence:

"Repair thy wit--repair thy wit!
Truly, you are devoid of it.
Think you that fairies would change places
With sons of clay and human races--
In one point like to you alone,
That we are partial to our own;
For neither would a fairy mother
Exchange her baby for another;
But should we change with imps of clay,
We should be idiots--like as they."

The Eagle, and the Assembly of Animals

As Jove once on his judgment-seat,
Opened the trap-door at his feet;
Up flew the murmurs of creation,
Of every brute that had sensation.
The Thunderer, therefore, called his Eagle,
Which came obedient as a beagle,--
And him commanded to descend,
And to such murmurs put an end.
The eagle did so--citing all
To answer the imperial call.

He spoke: "Ye murmurers declare
What are these ills which trouble air?--
Just are the universal laws.
Now let the dog first plead his cause."

A beagle answered him: "How fleet
The greyhound's course, how nerved his feet!
I hunt by scent, by scent alone;
That lost, and all my chance has flown."

Answered the greyhound: "If I had
That which he scorns, I should be glad;
Had I the hound's sagacious scent,
I ne'er had murmured discontent."

The lion murmured he had not
Sly Reynard's wits to lay a plot;
Sly Reynard pleaded that, to awe,
He should possess the lion's paw.
The cock desired the heron's flight;
The heron wished for greater might.
And fish would feed upon the plain,
And beasts would refuge in the main.
None their ambitious wish could smother,
And each was envious of another.

The eagle answered: "Mutineers,
The god rejects your idle prayers.
But any may exchange who wishes,
And chop and change,--birds, beasts, and fishes."
The eagle paused; but none consented
To quit the race they represented,
And recognised the restless mind
And proud ambition of mankind.

The Wild Boar and the Ram

A sheep lay tethered, and her life
Fast ebbing on the butcher's knife;
The silly flock looked on with dread.
A wild boar, passing them, then said:
"O cowards! cowards! will nought make
The courage of your hearts awake?
What, with the butcher in your sight,
Flaying--ere life be parted quite--
Your lambs and dams! O stolid race!
Who ever witnessed souls so base?"

The patriarch ram then answered him:
"My face and bearing are not grim,
But we are not of soul so tame
As to deny Revenge her claim:
We have no whetted tusks to kill,
Yet are not powerless of ill.
Vengeance, the murdering hand pursues,
And retribution claims her dues;
She sends the plagues of war and law,
Where men will battle for a straw--
And our revenge may rest contented,
Since drums and parchment were invented."

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