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Poem by John Gay

Trivia, or The Art of Walking the Streets of London. Book 1

Quo te Moeri pedes? An, quo via ducit, in Urbem? – Virg.

Of the Implements for Walking the Streets,
and Signs of the Weather.
Through winter streets to steer your course aright, 
How to walk clean by day, and safe by night, 
How jostling crowds, with prudence to decline, 
When to assert the wall, and when resign, 
I sing: Thou, Trivia, Goddess, aid my song, 
Thro’ spacious streets conduct thy bard along; 
By thee transported, I securely stray 
Where winding alleys lead the doubtful way, 
The silent court, and op’ning square explore, 
And long perplexing lanes untrod before. 
To pave thy realm, and smooth the broken ways, 
Earth from her womb a flinty tribute pays; 
For thee, the sturdy paver thumps the ground, 
Whilst ev’ry stroke his lab’ring lungs resound; 
For thee the scavinger bids kennels glide 
Within their bounds, and heaps of dirt subside. 
My youthful bosom burns with thirst of fame, 
From the great theme to build a glorious name, 
To tread in paths to ancient bards unknown, 
And bind my temples with a Civic crown; 
But more, my country’s love demands the lays, 
My country’s be the profit, mine the praise.

When the black youth at chosen stands rejoice, 
And clean your shoes resounds from ev’ry voice; 
When late their miry sides stage – coaches show, 
And their stiff horses through the town move slow; 
When all the Mall in leafy ruin lies, 
And damsels first renew their oyster cries: 
[Of Shoes.]

Then let the prudent walker shoes provide, 
Not of the Spanish or Morocco hide; 
The wooden heel may raise the dancer’s bound, 
And with the scallop’d top his step be crown’d: 
Let firm, well hammer’d soles protect thy feet 
Thro’ freezing snows, and rains, and soaking sleet. 
Should the big laste extend the shoe too wide, 
Each stone will wrench th’ unwary step aside: 
The sudden turn may stretch the swelling vein, 
Thy cracking joint unhinge, or ankle sprain; 
And when too short the modish shoes are worn, 
You’ll judge the seasons by your shooting corn.

 [Of Coats.]

Nor should it prove thy less important care, 
To chuse a proper coat for winter’s wear. 
Now in thy trunk thy D’oily habit fold, 
The silken drugget ill can fence the cold; 
The frieze’s spongy nap is soak’d with rain, 
And show’rs soon drench the camlet’s cockled grain. 
True Witney broad-cloth with its shag unshorn, 
Unpierc’d is in the lasting tempest worn: 
Be this the horse-man’s fence; for who would wear 
Amid the town the spoils of Russia’s bear? 
Within the Roquelaure’s clasp thy hands are pent, 
Hands, that stretch’d forth invading harms prevent. 
Let the loop’d Bavaroy the fop embrace, 
Or his deep cloak be spatter’d o’er with lace. 
That garment best the winter’s rage defends, 
Which from the shoulders full and low depends; 
By various names in various counties known, 
Yet held in all the true Surtout alone: 
Be thine of Kersey firm, tho’ small the cost, 
Then brave unwet the rain, unchill’d the frost.

[Of Canes.]

If the strong cane support thy walking hand, 
Chairmen no longer shall the wall command; 
Ev’n sturdy carr-men shall thy nod obey, 
And rattling coaches stop to make thee way: 
This shall direct thy cautious tread aright, 
Though not one glaring lamp enliven night. 
Let beaus their canes with amber tipt produce, 
Be theirs for empty show, but thine for use. 
In gilded chariots while they loll at ease, 
And lazily insure a life’s disease; 
While softer chairs the tawdry load convey 
To Court, to White’s, Assemblies, or the Play; 
Rosie-complexion’d health thy steps attends, 
And exercise thy lasting youth defends. 
Imprudent men heav’n’s choicest gifts prophane. 
Thus some beneath their arm support the cane; 
The dirty point oft checks the careless pace, 
And miry spots thy clean cravat disgrace: 
O! may I never such misfortune meet, 
May no such vicious walkers croud the street, 
May Providence o’er-shade me with her wings, 
While the bold Muse experienc’d dangers sings.

Not that I wander from my native home, 
And (tempting perils) foreign cities roam. 
Let Paris be the theme of Gallia’s muse, 
Where slav’ry treads the street in wooden shoes; 
Nor do I rove in Belgia’s frozen clime, 
And teach the clumsy boor to skate in rhyme, 
Where, if the warmer clouds in rain descend, 
No miry ways industrious steps offend, 
The rushing flood from sloping pavements pours, 
And blackens the canals with dirty show’rs. 
Let others Naples’ smoother streets rehearse, 
And with proud Roman structures grace their verse, 
Where frequent murders wake the night with groans, 
And blood in purple torrents dies the stones; 
Nor shall the Muse thro’ narrow Venice stray, 
Where Gondolas their painted oars display. 
O happy streets, to rumbling wheels unknown, 
No carts, no coaches shake the floating town! 
Thus was of old Britannia’s city bless’d, 
E’er pride and luxury her sons possess’d: 
Coaches and chariots yet unfashion’d lay, 
Nor late-invented chairs perplex’d the way: 
Then the proud lady trip’d along the town, 
And tuck’d up petticoats secur’d her gown, 
Her rosie cheek with distant visits glow’d, 
And exercise unartful charms bestow’d; 
But since in braided gold her foot is bound, 
And a long trailing manteau sweeps the ground, 
Her shoe disdains the street; the lazy fair 
With narrow step affects a limping air. 
Now gaudy pride corrupts the lavish age, 
And the streets flame with glaring equipage; 
The tricking gamester insolently rides, 
With Loves and Graces on his chariot’s sides; 
In sawcy state the griping broker sits, 
And laughs at honesty, and trudging wits: 
For you, O honest men, these useful lays 
The Muse prepares; I seek no other praise.

[Of the Weather.]

When sleep is first disturb’d by morning cries; 
From sure prognosticks learn to know the skies, 
Lest you of rheums and coughs at night complain; 
Surpriz’d in dreary fogs or driving rain. 
When suffocating mists obscure the morn, 
Let thy worst wig, long us’d to storms, be worn; 
Or like the powder’d footman, with due care 
Beneath the flapping hat secure thy hair. 
Be thou, for ev’ry season, justly drest, 
Nor brave the piercing frost with open breast; 
And when the bursting clouds a deluge pour, 
Let thy Surtout defend the drenching show’r.
[Signs of cold Weather.]

The changing weather certain signs reveal. 
E’er winter sheds her snow, or frosts congeal, 
You’ll see the coals in brighter flame aspire, 
And sulphur tinge with blue the rising fire: 
Your tender shins the scorching heat decline, 
And at the dearth of coals the poor repine; 
Before her kitchen hearth, the nodding dame 
In flannel mantle wrapt, enjoys the flame; 
Hov’ring, upon her feeble knees she bends, 
And all around the grateful warmth ascends.

[Signs of fair Weather.]

Nor do less certain signs the town advise, 
Of milder weather, and serener skies. 
The ladies gayly dress’d, the Mall adorn 
With various dyes, and paint the sunny morn; 
The wanton fawns with frisking pleasure range, 
And chirping sparrows greet the welcome change: 
Not that their minds with greater skill are fraught, 
Endu’d by instinct, or by reason taught, 
The seasons operate on ev’ry breast; 
’Tis hence that fawns are brisk, and ladies drest. 
When on his box the nodding coachman snores, 
And dreams of fancy’d fares; when tavern doors 
The chairmen idly croud; then ne’er refuse 
To trust thy busie steps in thinner shoes.

[Signs of rainy Weather.]

But when the swinging signs your ears offend 
With creaking noise, then rainy floods impend; 
Soon shall the kennels swell with rapid streams, 
And rush in muddy torrents to the Thames. 
The bookseller, whose shop’s an open square, 
Foresees the tempest, and with early care 
Of learning strips the rails; the rowing crew 
To tempt a fare, cloath all their tilts in blue: 
On hosiers poles depending stockings ty’d, 
Flag with the slacken’d gale, from side to side; 
Church-monuments foretell the changing air; 
Then Niobe dissolves into a tear 
And sweats with secret grief: you’ll hear the sounds 
Of whistling winds, e’er kennels break their bounds; 
Ungrateful odours common-shores diffuse, 
And dropping vaults distill unwholesome dews, 
E’er the tiles rattle with the smoaking show’r, 
And spouts on heedless men their torrents pour.

[Superstition to be avoided.]

All superstition from thy breast repel. 
Let cred’lous boys, and prattling nurses tell, 
How, if the festival of Paul be clear, 
Plenty from lib’ral horn shall strow the year; 
When the dark skies dissolve in snow or rain, 
The lab’ring hind shall yoke the steer in vain; 
But if the threat’ning winds in tempests roar, 
Then war shall bathe her wasteful sword in gore. 
How, if on Swithin’s feast the welkin lours, 
And ev’ry penthouse streams with hasty show’rs, 
Twice twenty days shall clouds their fleeces drain 
And wash the pavement with incessant rain. 
Let not such vulgar tales debase thy mind; 
Nor Paul nor Swithin rule the clouds and wind.

If you the precepts of the Muse despise, 
And slight the faithful warning of the skies, 
Others you’ll see, when all the town’s afloat, 
Wrapt in th’ embraces of a kersey coat, 
Or double-button’d frieze; their guarded feet 
Defie the muddy dangers of the street, 
While you, with hat unloop’d, the fury dread 
Of spouts high-streaming, and with cautious tread 
Shun ev’ry dashing pool; or idly stop, 
To seek the kind protection of a shop. 
But bus’ness summons; now with hasty scud 
You jostle for the wall; the spatter’d mud 
Hides all thy hose behind; in vain you scow’r, 
Thy wig alas! uncurl’d, admits the show’r. 
So fierce Alecto’s snaky tresses fell, 
When Orpheus charm’d the rig’rous pow’rs of hell, 
Or thus hung Glaucus’ beard, with briny dew 
Clotted and strait, when first his am’rous view 
Surpriz’d the bathing fair; the frighted maid 
Now stands a rock, transform’d by Circe’s aid.

[Implements proper for female Walkers.]

Good houswives all the winter’s rage despise, 
Defended by the riding-hood’s disguise: 
Or underneath th’ umbrella’s oily shed, 
Safe thro’ the wet, on clinking pattens tread. 
Let Persian dames th’ umbrella’s ribs display, 
To guard their beauties from the sunny ray; 
Or sweating slaves support the shady load, 
When eastern Monarchs show their state abroad; 
Britain in winter only knows its aid, 
To guard from chilly show’rs the walking maid. 
But, O! forget not, Muse, the patten’s praise, 
That female implement shall grace thy lays; 
Say from what art divine th’ invention came, 
And from its origine deduce the name.

[An Episode of the Invention of Pattens.]

Where Lincoln wide extends her fenny soil, 
A goodly yeoman liv’d grown white with toil; 
One only daughter bless’d his nuptial bed, 
Who from her infant hand the poultry fed: 
Martha (her careful mother’s name) she bore, 
But now her careful mother was no more. 
Whilst on her father’s knee the damsel play’d, 
Patty he fondly call’d the smiling maid; 
As years encreased, her ruddy beauty grew, 
And Patty’s fame o’er all the village flew.

Soon as the gray-ey’d morning streaks the skies, 
And in the doubtful day the woodcock flies, 
Her cleanly pail the pretty houswife bears, 
And singing, to the distant field repairs: 
And when the plains with ev’ning dews are spread, 
The milky burthen smoaks upon her head, 
Deep, thro’ a miry lane she pick’d her way, 
Above her ankle rose the chalky clay.

Vulcan by chance the bloomy maiden spies, 
With innocence and beauty in her eyes, 
He saw, he lov’d; for yet he ne’er had known 
Sweet innocence and beauty meet in one. 
Ah Mulciber! recal thy nuptial vows, 
Think on the graces of thy Paphian spouse, 
Think how her eyes dart inexhausted charms, 
And canst thou leave her bed for Patty’s arms?

The Lemnian Pow’r forsakes the realms above, 
His bosom glowing with terrestrial love: 
Far in the lane a lonely hut he found, 
No tenant ventur’d on th’ unwholesome ground. 
Here smoaks his forge, he bares his sinewy arm, 
And early strokes the sounding anvil warm; 
Around his shop the steely sparkles flew, 
As for the steed he shap’d the bending shoe.

When blue-ey’d Patty near his window came, 
His anvil rests, his forge forgets to flame. 
To hear his soothing tales she feigns delays; 
What woman can resist the force of praise?

At first she coyly ev’ry kiss withstood, 
And all her cheek was flush’d with modest blood 
With headless nails he now surrounds her shoes, 
To save her steps from rains and piercing dews; 
She lik’d his soothing tales, his presents wore, 
And granted kisses, but would grant no more. 
Yet winter chill’d her feet, with cold she pines, 
And on her cheek the fading rose declines; 
No more her humid eyes their lustre boast, 
And in hoarse sounds her melting voice is lost.

This Vulcan saw, and in his heav’nly thought, 
A new machine mechanick fancy wrought, 
Above the mire her shelter’d steps to raise, 
And bear her safely through the wintry ways. 
Strait the new engine on his anvil glows, 
And the pale virgin on the patten rose. 
No more her lungs are shook with drooping rheums, 
And on her cheek reviving beauty blooms. 
The God obtain’d his suit; tho’ flatt’ry fail, 
Presents with female virtue must prevail. 
The patten now supports each frugal dame, 
Which from the blue-ey’d Patty takes the name.

John Gay

Poem Theme: London

John Gay's other poems:
  1. To a Young Lady, with Some Lampreys
  2. Sweet William's Farewell to Black-Ey'd Susan
  3. An Elegy on a Lap-dog
  4. To a Lady
  5. Acis and Galatea

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