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Poem by John Stagg


The Sapient Ass


A FABLE

IN what contempt that man appears,
Who still alarm'd by panic fears,
From each imagin'd mischief runs,
Oft times to meet that fate he shuns.
A thousand bugbears fright mankind,
A thousand chimeras damp the mind;
And man, tho' bold and fierce by nature,
Will oft times prove a tim'rous creature.
And when no real dangers nigh,
With ease can fancied ills supply;
Nay oft those very things alarm us,
Which better known perchance would charms us;
Judging too rashly at first sight,
If this be wrong or that be right,
We often obstinately err,
When self conceited to prefer
Our own opinions, 'gainst the voice
Of numbers, who from prudent choice
Of wise experience, have collected
That judgment, we like fools rejected;
Cautiously viewing either side,
Before the matter can be tried;
The statesman, 'midst the nation's jars,
When deeply sunk in debts and wars,
Rings loud his patriotic peal,
The people's rights, the nation's weal,
Th' occasion of the dudgeon shews,
The cause of all these war-bread woes;
Quakes at the simple intimation
Of fam'd armada or invasion:
He bids the nation shew their brav'ry,
Their hatred of all foreign slav'ry,
By arming in the public cause,
To guard the King, the church and laws;
That it becomes a free born land,
Like ours, to join with heart and hand,
Each base assailant to repel,
That fame in future times may tell,
What glorious heroes Britons were,
The sons of courage, freedom's care,
And that no warrior's far or wide,
Were ere like Englishmen beside;
Thus will he vaunt and thus allure 'em,
Firm in his interest to secure 'em:
When these poor souls, whom he will flatter,
May like know nothing of the matter,
Know not the causes which began,
Those mortal feuds 'twixt man and man;
Or if by accident he knew,
What tempting lures he had in view,
The hopes of honours, or the gains
Of plunder compensate his pains,
Promotion, grandeur, pow'r, dominion,
By turns engag'd his fool'd opinion;
Nay, pride a thousand charms will spread,
To govern his quixotive head;
When all the while the mad delusion,
Leads but to danger and confusion:
No conquer'd lands reward his toil,
Small is the portion of the spoil;
His honours fade before his eyes,
And hope to his opponent flies;
Fatigu'd and jaded in these wars,
Where all he won are honour's scars:
He home returns, and finds too late
A certain cause to curse his fate;
Perhaps with wounds and wants o'erspread,
Compell'd to beg his bitter bread,
His tale of hardships to relate,
Unpitied at the lordling's gate,
For whom he recent dangers brav'd,
Whose life perchance his courage sav'd:
Yet here no kind relief he knows,
Proud affluence but reviles his woes.
Poor simpleton! hadst thou been quiet,
And kept from all this strife and riot;
Nor listen'd to each flatt'ring sound,
That thou hast so deceitful found,
Thou might'st at home in health and ease,
Have ate thy humble bread and cheese;
The man, who, 'midst the storms of life,
Unmov'd can hear surrounding strife,
When loud commotions shake the state,
When distant foes, in hostile hate,
Shall threaten to invade his coast,
And with insulting menace boast:
This man I say, unmov'd may stand,
When revolutions shake the land,
When time, who proudest despots humbles,
Who topsy turvey all things tumbles;
Not that I wish, 'twould not become me,
Such ills should happen, far be't from me;
I ask no change in government,
With what it is I'm quite content;
They say 'tis good, so I receive it,
Who likes it not e'en let him leave it;
We'd better bear the ills we know,
Than fly to more uncertain woe;
Change does not always bring the best,
A truth experience has confest,
And better 'tis to have in hand,
One bird, than two on tree that stand;
To vindicate these quaint reflections,
Kind reader if you've no objections,
I'll try as well as I am able
To match my moral with a fable.
Once in a field of verdant grass,
A peasant loiter'd by his ass,
Who graz'd around beside his master,
Well pleas'd to find such luscious pasture;
But here they'd not been long in quiet,
When the harsh din of hostile riot,
Horrific, struck the master's ears,
When near at hand the foe appears;
Their shining lances, glitt'ring shields,
Refulgent sparkl'd o'er the fields:
The sight with terror struck the man,
When to the brute he thus began;
Come, dapple! we must quit this place,
For look where danger comes apace!
See! where with spear and pointed lance,
The threat'ning enemy advance!
Bestir and leave this fated spot,
Or else perchance we may be shot:
The ass unmov'd these orders heard
Without concern, nor one foot stirr'd,
Pleas'd with the meadow's savory charms,
He notic'd not the clash of arms,
But graz'd along the flow'ry borders,
Unmindful of his master's orders;
But now the band advancing near,
Impress the boor with double fear:
Again the restive beast he calls,
And by his ears and halter hauls,
Uses each method to intreat him,
Nay threatens with his staff to beat him,
If he'll not fly to save his bacon,
They'll surely both be pris'ners taken.
When thus the ass replied, my friend!
What think you now these foes intend?
That you're in this confounded hurry,
And threaten thus my sides to curry;
If they perchance should sieze me here,
What are the ills I have to fear?
Will these same foes inhuman pack
Two pair of panniers on my back;
Or, when they drive me on the road,
Oppress me with a double load.
No, quoth the man, I think not so,
You are an ass they needs must know,
And consequently will infer
You but an ass's load can bear:
Nay then the sapient ass replied,
If that's the case I'm satisfied;
I care not who's my master, marry!
Since I one burden only carry;
My back to labour you condemn,
I've nothing more to fear from them,
So master fly whene'er you please,
I am resolv'd to stay in ease.



John Stagg


John Stagg's other poems:
  1. Occasional Reflections
  2. Sonnet on Winter
  3. Tom Pendant
  4. Sonnet on Autumn
  5. A Choice


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