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Poem by James Beattie

An Eclogue. In the Manner of Mr. Gay


All by the side of a clear winter-fire,
A swain and nymph, whom mutual flames inspire,
Alternate sung: Ye Muses, all and some,
Tho' long the journey, from Parnassus come;
Be it your task these lofty lays to sing,
For 'faith poor poets can't do every thing.

The nymph began. I love my Tom so well,
I love him more than any tongue can tell.
'Tis sweet to hear the beggar blackbeard's rhyme;
'Tis sweet to sleep at church in sermon-time;
I like a tale of fairies, or a ghost;
I like foul stories of the parish-toast;
To learn a secret yields me huge delight,
And, oh! to publish it transports me quite.
Maids love to munch their gingerbread alone;
And Margery joys to scold her husband John:
But scolding so delights not Margery's soul,
As it delights me on your knee to loll:
Songs, slander, gingerbread, and sleep in pew,
Secrets or goblin-tales are tasteless without you.

In mornings raw to quaff the gusty dram;
To feed on frothing ale and bacon-ham;
Do what the priest forbids, and sport and play
Fearless on Sunday, as on holyday;
To glut my eager maw with savoury leek;
Idly to stroll three several days a-week:
These could delight me; but were you unkind,
In these, alas! poor Tom no joy could find.
With you I'll chearful work, my Bible read,
Live on pure element and barley-bread:
For you, my dear, tobacco I'd give o'er,
Take snuff, get drunk, and swear, and stroll no more.

Ah, did your heart bear witness to your tongue,
Martha were happy as the day is long.
But, wo is me! though sweet your speeches seem,
Sweeter by much than strawberries and cream,
Some lass prank'd up with greater cost and art,
I fear sticks closely to my Tommy's heart.
Doubtless your strain has many a maid beguil'd,
For you was given to lying from a child.
When but a boy, (I'll ne'er forget the day,
Just then I learn'd at blindman's buff to play),
Stealing the parson's pease when you was caught,
(Could parsons pardon, 'twas a venial fault);
With tears and curses you deny'd the fact,
Though they surpris'd you in the very act.
But all in vain; for to your bare backside
The parson's man his whirling whip applied.
I saw, I lov'd; deep in my constant breast
The beauteous image yet remains impress'd.
Happy, alas! too happy had I been,
If that lashing-bout had never seen.
Ah, did you know, what restless nights I've past,
What dreams, what qualms endur'd, from first to last;
What jealousies and fears, and all for you;
Sure to his Martha Tommy would prove true.

Who does ill dreads ill, says the proverb old,
And falsehood never was in proverbs told.
You thought I saw you not when late you sat
With rake-hell Roger in familiar chat.
Nay, more, I saw you (could the sight be born!)
With busy needle mend his breeches torn.
Gnashing my teeth I stood, my heart throbb'd thick,
O had your needle pierc'd him to the quick!
Just my suspicions, justly I upbraid;
Are these the manners of a modest maid?

False is the imputation; for, heav'n knows,
'Twas not his breeches, Tom, it was his hose.
And since you seem to jealousies inclin'd,
Though loath to fret old sores, I'll speak my mind.
Why Susan pin'd of late all were surpris'd;
Wan wax'd her looks, each feature seem'd disguis'd;
Her beef-red lips assum'd a yellow hue,
And each dead eye was sunk in circle blue.
Sullen she grew and sad; and gossips said,
That chalk and cinders were her daily bread.
But since from market you with Susan came,
No longer mourns the solitary dame;
Brightens to red her colour erst so pale,
She dances, sings, and tells a wanton tale;
And fatter far she seems then e'er beforeЧ
Ah! Thomas, Thomas! Ч but I say no more.

Whence could so strange a whim your fancy strike!
Think you that I the ugly hussy like?
Vile slut! like rotten carrion stinks her breath,
Blacker than soot are her distorted teeth.
The snail shall with the roebuck vie in speed,
On foxes geese, and cats on mustard feed;
The butterfly too shall woo the bat, and puss
Be join'd in bands of wedlock with the mouse:
No more shall ghosts glide grinning through the dark;
The firmament shall fall and crush the lark;
In water our fat squire his thirst shall slake,
When Martha fair for Susan I forsake.

Great was my dread when late we went to fair,
To find the tall recruiting serjeant there:
But when your half-reluctant hand he took,
Fear chill'd my heart, and all my members shook.
He prais'd, both when you walk'd, and when you stood,
Your manly mien, and ay he damn'd his blood:
A proper man you was, he said, and swore,
As e'er neats leather trode, or firelock bore:
And offer'd gold and crowns, would you enlist,
And shook the gingling guineas in his fist.
Dear Tom, take care, nor mix in war and blood;
To sleep in an unwounded skin is good.
Ah! let not these rough redcoats e'er decoy
Far from his native home my only joy!
In foreign parts are savages, more black
Than Satan's self, a fell blood-thirsty pack!
Who (heaven preserve us now and evermore!)
Eat living men, and drink like ale their gore.
Take care, my Tom, these dreadful soldiers shun;
Touch not their guineas, or you are undone;
Then, wo is me! alas! and well-a-day!
I'll see my Tom no more for ever and for ay.

And did my danger so disturb your mind?
Sure I'm a villain if I prove unkind.
No, Martha, fear me not; with heart sincere,
Eternal love I promise and I swear.
When I forsake thee, Martha, may my soul,
Deep plung'd in hell, burn red as any coal!
On me turn'd broomstick, may the witches ride
To France and Spain across the roaring tide!
The Red sea be my bed, where conjur'd ghosts,
Thicker than minnows, swarm along the coasts!
May I be doom'd to drink up all the seas,
And eat the new moon like a piece of cheese!

Hold, Tom, I'm now convinc'd you love indeed:
Henceforth my heart no jealousies shall breed:
And when I'm false, may Susan Ч here she stopp'd,
For here a mouse from cat-watch'd hole elop'd;
As cross the floor he wander'd on his way,
'Midst Martha's flaunting garments chanc'd to stray.
Loud shriek'd the nymph; nor had her fears been vain,
If unknown courage had not fir'd the swain.
Headlong, his darling to defend, he flew,
(Mice yet unborn that hunting-match may rue),
And chas'd, with fearless hand, the felon round,
Through every maze of the forbidden ground;
Till at the last the trembling foe he squeez'd,
And instant death the squeaking recreant seiz'd.
Martha with joy the dangling carcase eyes;
Then puss, with one consent, obtains the prize.
Forgetful thus of merit's dangerous toil,
Some lazy minion oft enjoys the spoil.

James Beattie

James Beattie's other poems:
  1. On reading the Declaration of War in 1756
  2. Elegy (Tir'D with the Busy Crouds)
  3. Verses occasioned by the Death of the Revd. Mr. Charles Churchill
  4. An Epitaph
  5. Law

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