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Poem by John Gay


Part II. Fable 2. The Vulture, the Sparrow, and other Birds


To a Friend in the Country

  Ere I begin, I must premise
  Our ministers are good and wise;
  So, though malicious tongues apply,
  Pray what care they, or what care I?
     If I am free with courts; be't known,
  I ne'er presume to mean our own.
  If general morals seem to joke
  On ministers, and such like folk,
  A captious fool may take offence;
  What then? he knows his own pretence.

  I meddle with no state affairs,
  But spare my jest to save my ears.
  Our present schemes are too profound,
  For Machiavel himself to sound:
  To censure them I've no pretension;
  I own they're past my comprehension.
     You say your brother wants a place,
  ('Tis many a younger brother's case,)
  And that he very soon intends
  To ply the Court, and tease his friends.

  If there his merits chance to find
  A patriot of an open mind,
  Whose constant actions prove him just
  To both a king's and people's trust;
  May he with gratitude attend,
  And owe his rise to such a friend.
     You praise his parts, for business fit,
  His learning, probity, and wit;
  But those alone will never do,
  Unless his patron have them too.

  I've heard of times (pray God defend us,
  We're not so good but He can mend us)
  When wicked ministers have trod
  On kings and people, law and God;
  With arrogance they girt the throne,
  And knew no interest but their own.
  Then virtue, from preferment barr'd,
  Gets nothing but its own reward.
  A gang of petty knaves attend 'em,
  With proper parts to recommend 'em.

  Then if their patron burn with lust,
  The first in favour's pimp the first.
  His doors are never closed to spies,
  Who cheer his heart with double lies;
  They flatter him, his foes defame,
  So lull the pangs of guilt and shame.
  If schemes of lucre haunt his brain,
  Projectors swell his greedy train;
  Vile brokers ply his private ear
  With jobs of plunder for the year;

  All consciences must bend and ply;
  You must vote on, and not know why:
  Through thick and thin you must go on;
  One scruple, and your place is gone.
  Since plagues like these have cursed a land,
  And favourites cannot always stand;
  Good courtiers should for change be ready,
  And not have principles too steady:
  For should a knave engross the power,
  (God shield the realm, from that sad hour,)

  He must have rogues, or slavish fools:
  For what's a knave without his tools?
     Wherever those a people drain,
  And strut with infamy and gain,
  I envy not their guilt and state,
  And scorn to share the public hate.
  Let their own servile creatures rise
  By screening fraud, and venting lies;
  Give me, kind heaven, a private station,[7]
  A mind serene for contemplation:

  Title and profit I resign;
  The post of honour shall be mine.
  My fable read, their merits view,
  Then herd who will with such a crew.
     In days of yore (my cautious rhymes
  Always except the present times)
  A greedy vulture skilled in game,
  Inured to guilt, unawed by shame,
  Approached the throne in evil hour,
  And step by step intrudes to power;

  When at the royal eagle's ear,
  He longs to ease the monarch's care.
  The monarch grants. With pride elate,
  Behold him minister of state!
  Around him throng the feathered rout;
  Friends must be served, and some must out,
  Each thinks his own the best pretension;
  This asks a place, and that a pension.
     The nightingale was set aside,
  A forward daw his room supplied.

     'This bird,' says he, 'for business fit,
  Hath both sagacity and wit.
  With all his turns, and shifts, and tricks,
  He's docile, and at nothing sticks.
  Then, with his neighbours one so free,
  At all times will connive at me.'
  The hawk had due distinction shown,
  For parts and talents like his own.
     Thousands of hireling cocks attends him,
  As blustering bullies, to defend him.

     At once the ravens were discarded,
  And magpies with their posts rewarded.
     'Those fowls of omen I detest,
  That pry into another's nest,
  State-lies must lose all good intent;
  For they foresee and croak the event.
  My friends ne'er think, but talk by rote,
  Speak what they're taught, and so to vote.'
     'When rogues like these,' a sparrow cries,
  'To honours and employments rise,

  I court no favour, ask no place;
  For such preferment is disgrace.
  Within my thatched retreat I find
  (What these ne'er feel) true peace of mind.'



                      John Gay


John Gay's other poems:
  1. Part II. Fable 17. Ay and No
  2. Sweet William's Farewell To Black-Ey'd Susan
  3. The Quidnunckis
  4. To A Young Lady, With Some Lampreys
  5. Part II. Fable 12. Pan and Fortune


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