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Poem by John Gay


Part I. Fable 24. The Butterfly and the Snail


  All upstarts insolent in place,
  Remind us of their vulgar race.
  As, in the sunshine of the morn,
  A butterfly (but newly born)
  Sat proudly perking on a rose;
  With pert conceit his bosom glows;
  His wings (all-glorious to behold)
  Bedropp'd with azure, jet, and gold,
  Wide he displays; the spangled dew
  Reflects his eyes, and various hue.

     His now-forgotten friend, a snail,
  Beneath his house, with slimy trail
  Crawls o'er the grass; whom when he spies,
  In wrath he to the gard'ner cries:
     'What means yon peasant's daily toil,
  From choking weeds to rid the soil?
  Why wake you to the morning's care,
  Why with new arts correct the year,
  Why glows the peach with crimson hue,
  And why the plum's inviting blue;

  Were they to feast his taste design'd,
  That vermin of voracious kind?
  Crush then the slow, the pilfering race;
  So purge thy garden from disgrace.'
     'What arrogance!' the snail replied;
  'How insolent is upstart pride!
  Hadst thou not thus with insult vain,
  Provoked my patience to complain,
  I had concealed thy meaner birth,
  Nor traced thee to the scum of earth.

  For scarce nine suns have waked the hours,
  To swell the fruit, and paint the flowers,
  Since I thy humbler life surveyed,
  In base, in sordid guise arrayed;
  A hideous insect, vile, unclean,
  You dragged a slow and noisome train;
  And from your spider-bowels drew
  Foul film, and spun the dirty clew.
  I own my humble life, good friend;
  Snail was I born, and snail shall end.

  And what's a butterfly? At best,
  He's but a caterpillar, dress'd;
  And all thy race (a numerous seed)
  Shall prove of caterpillar breed.'



                      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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