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Poem by John Gay


Part II. Fable 10. The Degenerate Bees


To the Reverend Dr Swift, Dean of St Patrick's

  Though Courts the practice disallow,
  A friend at all times I'll avow.
  In politics I know 'tis wrong:
  A friendship may be kept too long;
  And what they call the prudent part,
  Is to wear interest next the heart,
  As the times take a different face,
  Old friendships should to new give place.
     I know too you have many foes,
  That owning you is sharing those,

  That every knave in every station,
  Of high and low denomination,
  For what you speak, and what you write,
  Dread you at once, and bear you spite.
  Such freedoms in your works are shown
  They can't enjoy what's not their own;
  All dunces too, in church and state,
  In frothy nonsense show their hate;
  With all the petty scribbling crew,
  (And those pert sots are not a few,)

  'Gainst you and Pope their envy spurt,
  The booksellers alone are hurt.
     Good gods! by what a powerful race
  (For blockheads may have power and place)
  Are scandals raised and libels writ!
  To prove your honesty and wit!
  Think with yourself: Those worthy men,
  You know, have suffered by your pen.
  From them you've nothing but your due.
  From thence, 'tis plain, your friends are few.

  Except myself, I know of none,
  Besides the wise and good alone.
  To set the case in fairer light,
  My fable shall the rest recite;
  Which (though unlike our present state)
  I for the moral's sake relate.
     A bee of cunning, not of parts,
  Luxurious, negligent of arts,
  Rapacious, arrogant, and vain,
  Greedy of power, but more of gain,

  Corruption sowed throughout the hive,
  By petty rogues the great ones thrive.
     As power and wealth his views supplied,
  'Twas seen in over-bearing pride.
  With him loud impudence had merit;
  The bee of conscience wanted spirit;
  And those who followed honour's rules,
  Were laughed to scorn for squeamish fools,
  Wealth claimed distinction, favour, grace;
  And poverty alone was base.

  He treated industry with slight,
  Unless he found his profit by't.
  Eights, laws, and liberties gave way,
  To bring his selfish schemes in play.
  The swarm forgot the common toil,
  To share the gleanings of his spoil.
     'While vulgar souls of narrow parts,
  Waste life in low mechanic arts,
  Let us,' says he, 'to genius born,
  The drudgery of our fathers scorn.

  The wasp and drone, you must agree,
  Live with more elegance than we.
  Like gentlemen they sport and play;
  No business interrupts the day;
  Their hours to luxury they give,
  And nobly on their neighbours live.'
     A stubborn bee, among the swarm,
  With honest indignation warm,
  Thus from his cell with zeal replied:
     'I slight thy frowns, and hate thy pride.

  The laws our native rights protect;
  Offending thee, I those respect.
  Shall luxury corrupt the hive,
  And none against the torrent strive?
  Exert the honour of your race;
  He builds his rise on your disgrace.
  'Tis industry our state maintains:
  'Twas honest toils and honest gains
  That raised our sires to power and fame.
  Be virtuous; save yourselves from shame.

  Know, that in selfish ends pursuing,
  You scramble for the public ruin.'
     He spoke; and from his cell dismissed,
  Was insolently scoffed and hissed.
  With him a friend or two resigned,
  Disdaining the degenerate kind.
     'These drones,' says he, 'these insects vile,
  (I treat them in their proper style,)
  May for a time oppress the state,
  They own our virtue by their hate;

  By that our merits they reveal,
  And recommend our public zeal;
  Disgraced by this corrupted crew,
  We're honoured by the virtuous few.'



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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