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Poem by John Gay


Part II. Fable 8. The Man, the Cat, the Dog, and the Fly


To my native Country

  Hail, happy land, whose fertile grounds
  The liquid fence of Neptune bounds;
  By bounteous Nature set apart,
  The seat of industry and art!
  O Britain! chosen port of trade,
  May luxury ne'er thy sons invade;
  May never minister (intent
  His private treasures to augment)
  Corrupt thy state. If jealous foes
  Thy rights of commerce dare oppose,

  Shall not thy fleets their rapine awe?
  Who is't prescribes the ocean law?
     Whenever neighbouring states contend,
  'Tis thine to be the general friend.
  What is't, who rules in other lands?
  On trade alone thy glory stands.
  That benefit is unconfined,
  Diffusing good among mankind:
  That first gave lustre to thy reigns,
  And scattered plenty o'er thy plains:

  'Tis that alone thy wealth supplies,
  And draws all Europe's envious eyes.
  Be commerce then thy sole design;
  Keep that, and all the world is thine.
     When naval traffic ploughs the main,
  Who shares not in the merchant's gain?
  'Tis that supports the regal state,
  And makes the farmer's heart elate:
  The numerous flocks, that clothe the land,
  Can scarce supply the loom's demand;

  Prolific culture glads the fields,
  And the bare heath a harvest yields.
     Nature expects mankind should share
  The duties of the public care.
  Who's born for sloth?[9] To some we find
  The ploughshare's annual toil assign'd.
  Some at the sounding anvil glow;
  Some the swift-sliding shuttle throw;
  Some, studious of the wind and tide,
  From pole to pole our commerce guide:

  Some (taught by industry) impart
  With hands and feet the works of art;
  While some, of genius more refined,
  With head and tongue assist mankind:
  Each, aiming at one common end,
  Proves to the whole a needful friend.
  Thus, born each other's useful aid,
  By turns are obligations paid.
     The monarch, when his table's spread,
  Is to the clown obliged for bread;

  And when in all his glory dress'd,
  Owes to the loom his royal vest.
  Do not the mason's toil and care
  Protect him from the inclement air?
  Does not the cutler's art supply
  The ornament that guards his thigh?
  All these, in duty to the throne,
  Their common obligations own.
  'Tis he (his own and people's cause)
  Protects their properties and laws.

  Thus they their honest toil employ,
  And with content their fruits enjoy.
  In every rank, or great or small,
  'Tis industry supports us all.
     The animals by want oppressed,
  To man their services addressed;
  While each pursued their selfish good,
  They hungered for precarious food.
  Their hours with anxious cares were vex'd;
  One day they fed, and starved the next.

  They saw that plenty, sure and rife,
  Was found alone in social life;
  That mutual industry professed,
  The various wants of man redressed.
     The cat, half-famished, lean and weak,
  Demands the privilege to speak.
     'Well, puss,' says man, 'and what can you
  To benefit the public do?'
     The cat replies: 'These teeth, these claws,
  With vigilance shall serve the cause.

  The mouse destroyed by my pursuit,
  No longer shall your feasts pollute;
  Nor rats, from nightly ambuscade,
  With wasteful teeth your stores invade.'
     'I grant,' says man, 'to general use
  Your parts and talents may conduce;
  For rats and mice purloin our grain,
  And threshers whirl the flail in vain:
  Thus shall the cat, a foe to spoil,
  Protect the farmer's honest toil,'

  Then, turning to the dog, he cried,
  'Well, sir; be next your merits tried.'
     'Sir,' says the dog, 'by self-applause
  We seem to own a friendless cause.
  Ask those who know me, if distrust
  E'er found me treacherous or unjust?
  Did I e'er faith or friendship break?
  Ask all those creatures; let them speak.
  My vigilance and trusty zeal
  Perhaps might serve the public weal.

  Might not your flocks in safety feed,
  Were I to guard the fleecy breed?
  Did I the nightly watches keep,
  Could thieves invade you while you sleep?'
     The man replies: УTis just and right;
  Rewards such service should requite.
  So rare, in property, we find
  Trust uncorrupt among mankind,
  That, taken, in a public view,
  The first distinction is your due.

  Such merits all reward transcend:
  Be then my comrade and my friend.'
     Addressing now the fly: 'From you
  What public service can accrue?'
  'From me!' the flutt'ring insect said;
  'I thought you knew me better bred.
  Sir, I'm a gentleman. Is't fit
  That I to industry submit?
  Let mean mechanics, to be fed
  By business earn ignoble bread.

  Lost in excess of daily joys,
  No thought, no care my life annoys,
  At noon (the lady's matin hour)
  I sip the tea's delicious flower.
  On cakes luxuriously I dine,
  And drink the fragrance of the vine.
  Studious of elegance and ease,
  Myself alone I seek to please.'
  The man his pert conceit derides,
  And thus the useless coxcomb chides:

     'Hence, from that peach, that downy seat,
  No idle fool deserves to eat.
  Could you have sapped the blushing rind,
  And on that pulp ambrosial dined,
  Had not some hand with skill and toil,
  To raise the tree, prepared the soil?
  Consider, sot, what would ensue,
  Were all such worthless things as you.
  You'd soon be forced (by hunger stung)
  To make your dirty meals on dung;

  On which such despicable need,
  Unpitied, is reduced to feed;
  Besides, vain selfish insect, learn
  (If you can right and wrong discern)
  That he who, with industrious zeal,
  Contributes to the public weal,
  By adding to the common good,
  His own hath rightly understood.'
     So saying, with a sudden blow,
  He laid the noxious vagrant low.

  Crushed in his luxury and pride,
  The spunger on the public died.



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. An Elegy on a Lap-dog
  5. To A Young Lady, With Some Lampreys


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