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Poem by John Gay


Part I. Fable 21. The Rat-catcher and Cats


  The rats by night such mischief did,
  Betty was every morning chid.
  They undermined whole sides of bacon,
  Her cheese was sapped, her tarts were taken.
  Her pasties, fenced with thickest paste,
  Were all demolished, and laid waste.
  She cursed the cat for want of duty,
  Who left her foes a constant booty.
  An engineer, of noted skill,
  Engaged to stop the growing ill.

     From room to room he now surveys
  Their haunts, their works, their secret ways;
  Finds where they 'scape an ambuscade,
  And whence the nightly sally's made.
     An envious cat from place to place,
  Unseen, attends his silent pace.
  She saw, that if his trade went on,
  The purring race must be undone;
  So, secretly removes his baits,
  And every stratagem defeats.

     Again he sets the poisoned toils,
  And puss again the labour foils.
     'What foe (to frustrate my designs)
  My schemes thus nightly countermines?'
  Incensed, he cries: 'this very hour
  This wretch shall bleed beneath my power.'
     So said. A pond'rous trap he brought,
  And in the fact poor puss was caught.
     'Smuggler,' says he, 'thou shalt be made
  A victim to our loss of trade.'

     The captive cat, with piteous mews,
  For pardon, life, and freedom sues:
  'A sister of the science spare;
  One interest is our common care.'
     'What insolence!' the man replied;
  'Shall cats with us the game divide?
  Were all your interloping band
  Extinguished, of expelled the land,
  We rat-catchers might raise our fees,
  Sole guardians of a nation's cheese!'

     A cat, who saw the lifted knife,
  Thus spoke, and saved her sister's life:
    'In every age and clime we see,
  Two of a trade can ne'er agree.
  Each hates his neighbour for encroaching;
  Squire stigmatises squire for poaching;
  Beauties with beauties are in arms,
  And scandal pelts each other's charms;
  Kings too their neighbour kings dethrone,
  In hope to make the world their own.

  But let us limit our desires;
  Nor war like beauties, kings, and squires!
  For though we both one prey pursue,
  There's game enough for us and you.'



                      John Gay


John Gay's other poems:
  1. Sweet William's Farewell To Black-Ey'd Susan
  2. Part II. Fable 17. Ay and No
  3. To A Young Lady, With Some Lampreys
  4. The Quidnunckis
  5. He That Tastes Woman


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