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Poem by John Gay


Part II. Fable 7. The Countryman and Jupiter


To Myself

  Have you a friend (look round and spy)
  So fond, so prepossessed as I?
  Your faults, so obvious to mankind,
  My partial eyes could never find.
  When by the breath of fortune blown,
  Your airy castles were o'erthrown;
  Have I been over-prone to blame,
  Or mortified your hours with shame?
  Was I e'er known to damp your spirit,
  Or twit you with the want of merit?

     'Tis not so strange, that Fortune's frown
  Still perseveres to keep you down.
  Look round, and see what others do.
  Would you be rich and honest too?
  Have you (like those she raised to place)
  Been opportunely mean and base?
  Have you (as times required) resigned
  Truth, honour, virtue, peace of mind?
  If these are scruples, give her o'er;
  Write, practise morals, and be poor.

     The gifts of fortune truly rate;
  Then tell me what would mend your state.
  If happiness on wealth were built,
  Rich rogues might comfort find in guilt;
  As grows the miser's hoarded store,
  His fears, his wants, increase the more.
     Think, Gay, (what ne'er may be the case,)
  Should fortune take you into grace,
  Would that your happiness augment?
  What can she give beyond content?

     Suppose yourself a wealthy heir,
  With a vast annual income clear!
  In all the affluence you possess,
  You might not feel one care the less.
  Might you not then (like others) find
  With change of fortune, change of mind?
  Perhaps, profuse beyond all rule,
  You might start out a glaring fool;
  Your luxury might break all bounds;
  Plate, table, horses, stewards, hounds,

  Might swell your debts: then, lust of play
  No regal income can defray.
  Sunk is all credit, writs assail,
  And doom your future life to jail.
     Or were you dignified with power,
  Would that avert one pensive hour?
  You might give avarice its swing,
  Defraud a nation, blind a king:
  Then, from the hirelings in your cause,
  Though daily fed with false applause,

  Could it a real joy impart?
  Great guilt knew never joy at heart.
     Is happiness your point in view?
  (I mean the intrinsic and the true)
  She nor in camps or courts resides,
  Nor in the humble cottage hides;
  Yet found alike in every sphere;
  Who finds content, will find her there.
     O'erspent with toil, beneath the shade,
  A peasant rested on his spade.

     'Good gods!' he cries, Уtis hard to bear
  This load of life from year to year.
  Soon as the morning streaks the skies,
  Industrious labour bids me rise;
  With sweat I earn my homely fare,
  And every day renews my care.'
     Jove heard the discontented strain,
  And thus rebuked the murmuring swain:
     'Speak out your wants then, honest friend:
  Unjust complaints the gods offend.

  If you repine at partial fate,
  Instruct me what could mend your state.
  Mankind in every station see.
  What wish you? Tell me what you'd be.'
  So said, upborne upon a cloud,
  The clown surveyed the anxious crowd.
     'Yon face of care,' says Jove, 'behold,
  His bulky bags are filled with gold.
  See with what joy he counts it o'er!
  That sum to-day hath swelled his store.'

  'Were I that man,' the peasant cried,
  'What blessing could I ask beside?'
     'Hold,' says the god; 'first learn to know
  True happiness from outward show.
  This optic glass of intuition----
  Here, take it, view his true condition.'
     He looked, and saw the miser's breast,
  A troubled ocean, ne'er at rest;
  Want ever stares him in the face,
  And fear anticipates disgrace:

  With conscious guilt he saw him start;
  Extortion gnaws his throbbing heart;
  And never, or in thought or dream,
  His breast admits one happy gleam.
     'May Jove,' he cries, 'reject my prayer,
  And guard my life from guilt and care.
  My soul abhors that wretch's fate.
  O keep me in my humble state!
  But see, amidst a gaudy crowd,
  Yon minister, so gay and proud,

  On him what happiness attends,
  Who thus rewards his grateful friends!'
     'First take the glass,' the god replies:
  'Man views the world with partial eyes.'
     'Good gods!' exclaims the startled wight,
  'Defend me from this hideous sight!
  Corruption, with corrosive smart,
  Lies cankering on his guilty heart:
  I see him, with polluted hand,
  Spread the contagion o'er the land,

  Now avarice with insatiate jaws,
  Now rapine with her harpy claws
  His bosom tears. His conscious breast
  Groans, with a load of crimes oppress'd.
  See him, mad and drunk with power,
  Stand tottering on ambition's tower.
  Sometimes, in speeches vain and proud,
  His boasts insult the nether crowd;
  Now, seized with giddiness and fear,
  He trembles lest his fall is near.

     'Was ever wretch like this?' he cries;
  'Such misery in such disguise!
  The change, O Jove, I disavow;
  Still be my lot the spade and plough.'
  He next, confirmed by speculation,
  Rejects the lawyer's occupation;
  For he the statesman seemed in part,
  And bore similitude of heart.
  Nor did the soldier's trade inflame
  His hopes with thirst of spoil and fame,

  The miseries of war he mourned;
  Whole nations into deserts turned.
     By these have laws and rights been braved;
  By these were free-born men enslaved:
  When battles and invasion cease,
  Why swarm they in a land of peace?
  'Such change,' says he, 'may I decline;
  The scythe and civil arms be mine!'
  Thus, weighing life in each condition,
  The clown withdrew his rash petition.

     When thus the god: 'How mortals err!
  If you true happiness prefer,
  'Tis to no rank of life confined,
  But dwells in every honest mind.
  Be justice then your sole pursuit:
  Plant virtue, and content's the fruit.'
     So Jove, to gratify the clown,
  Where first he found him set him down.



                      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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