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Poem by John Gay


Part I. Fable 1. The Lion, the Tiger, and the Traveller


  Accept, young Prince, the moral lay
  And in these tales mankind survey;
  With early virtues plant your breast,
  The specious arts of vice detest.
     Princes, like beauties, from their youth
  Are strangers to the voice of truth;
  Learn to contemn all praise betimes;
  For flattery's the nurse of crimes;
  Friendship by sweet reproof is shown,
  (A virtue never near a throne);

  In courts such freedom must offend,
  There none presumes to be a friend.
  To those of your exalted station
  Each courtier is a dedication.
  Must I too flatter like the rest,
  And turn my morals to a jest?
  The Muse disdains to steal from those
  Who thrive in courts by fulsome prose.
     But shall I hide your real praise,
  Or tell you what a nation says?

  They in your infant bosom trace
  The virtues of your royal race;
  In the fair dawning of your mind
  Discern you generous, mild, and kind;
  They see you grieve to hear distress,
  And pant already to redress.
  Go on, the height of good attain,
  Nor let a nation hope in vain.
  For hence we justly may presage
  The virtues of a riper age.

  True courage shall your bosom fire,
  And future actions own you sire.
  Cowards are cruel, but the brave
  Love mercy, and delight to save.
     A tiger roaming for his prey,
  Sprung on a traveller in the way;
  The prostrate game a lion spies,
  And on the greedy tyrant flies;
  With mingled roar resounds the wood,
  Their teeth, their claws distil with blood;

  Till vanquished by the lion's strength,
  The spotted foe extends his length.
  The man besought the shaggy lord,
  And on his knees for life implored.
  His life the generous hero gave,
  Together walking to his cave,
  The lion thus bespoke his guest:
     'What hardy beast shall dare contest
  My matchless strength! you saw the fight,
  And must attest my power and right.

  Forced to forego their native home,
  My starving slaves at distance roam.
  Within these woods I reign alone,
  The boundless forest is my own.
  Bears, wolves, and all the savage brood,
  Have dyed the regal den with blood.
  These carcases on either hand,
  Those bones that whiten all the land,
  My former deeds and triumphs tell,
  Beneath these jaws what numbers fell.'

     'True,' says the man, 'the strength I saw
  Might well the brutal nation awe:
  But shall a monarch, brave like you,
  Place glory in so false a view?
  Robbers invade their neighbours' right,
  Be loved: let justice bound your might.
  Mean are ambitious heroes' boasts
  Of wasted lands and slaughtered hosts.
  Pirates their power by murders gain,
  Wise kings by love and mercy reign.

  To me your clemency hath shown
  The virtue worthy of a throne.
  Heaven gives you power above the rest,
  Like Heaven to succour the distress'd.'
     'The case is plain,' the monarch said;
  'False glory hath my youth misled;
  For beasts of prey, a servile train,
  Have been the flatterers of my reign.
  You reason well: yet tell me, friend,
  Did ever you in courts attend?

  For all my fawning rogues agree,
  That human heroes rule like me.'



John Gay


John Gay's other poems:
  1. Trivia, or The Art of Walking the Streets of London. Book 1
  2. Trivia, or The Art of Walking the Streets of London. Book 2
  3. Trivia, or The Art of Walking the Streets of London. Book 3
  4. To A Young Lady, With Some Lampreys
  5. An Elegy on a Lap-dog


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