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Full Online Book HomePoemsVulture, Sparrow, And Birds
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Vulture, Sparrow, And Birds Post by :Austin Category :Poems Author :John Gay Date :May 2011 Read :2763

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Vulture, Sparrow, And Birds

Ere I begin I must premise
Our ministers are good and wise:
Therefore if tongues malicious fly,
Or what care they, or what care I?

If I am free with courts, and skittish,
I ne'er presume to mean the British:
I meddle with no state affairs,
But spare my jest and save my ears;
And our court schemes are too profound
For Machiavel himself to sound.
A captious fool may feel offended;
They are by me uncomprehended.

Your younger brother wants a place--
(That's many a younger brother's case).
You likewise tell me he intends
To try the court and beat up friends.
I trust he may a patriot find,
True to his king and to mankind,
And true to merit--to your brother's--
And then he need not teaze us others.

You praise his probity and wit:
No doubt; I doubt them not a whit.
Ah! may our patriot have them too;
And if both clash, why things may do.
For I have heard (oh, Heaven defend us!
For I'll not hold it might not mend us)
That ministers, high as yon steeple,
Have trodden low law, king, and people,
When virtue from preferment barred
Gets nothing save its own regard.
Courtiers--a set of knaves--attend them,
And arrogance well recommends them;
Who flatter them defame their foes
To lull the ministerial woes:
And if projectors fire a brain,
South Sea or silver mines in Spain,
The broker's ready in a trice
To satisfy e'en avarice.
A courtier's conscience must be pliant;
He must go on, nor be defiant,
Through thick and thin, o'er stock and stone,
Or else, bye, bye, the post is gone.
Since plagues like these as storms may lower,
And favourites fall as falls the flower,
Good principles should not be steady,--
That is, at court, but ever ready
To veer--as veers the vane--each hour
Around the ministry in power:
For they, you know, they must have tools;
And if they can't get knaves, get fools.
Ah! let me shun the public hate,
And flee the guilt of guilty state.
Give me, kind Heaven, a private station,
A mind serene for contemplation;
And if bright honour may be mine,
Profit and title I resign.
Now read my fable, and--in short,
Go, if you will, then--go to court.

In days of yore (for cautious rhymes
Should aye eschew the present times)
A greedy vulture, skilled in preying,
Approached the throne, his wings displaying,
And at the royal eagle's ear
Burthens of state proposed to bear.
Behold him minister of state;
Behold his feathered throng await;
Behold them granting posts and places
Concordant with their worth and races.
The nightingales were all turned out,
And daws put in. "These birds, no doubt,"
The vulture said, "are the most fit
Both for capacity and wit,
And very docile: they will do
My business, as I wish them to.
And hawk--the hawk is a good fellow--
And chanticleer, with cockscomb yellow;
But all the ravens--they must go--
Pry in futurities, you know.
That will not do; to baffle all
With truth, for the apocryphal.
No; jays and pies will do far better,--
They talk by rote, nor know a letter."

A sparrow, on the housetop, heard--
The sparrow is a knowing bird:
"If rogues unto preferments rise,
I ask nor place nor seignories.
To the thatched cottage, I, to find,
From courts afar, my peace of mind."


(The end)
John Gay's poem: Vulture, Sparrow, And Birds

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