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Poem by Mark Akenside

The Poet

A Rhapsody

Of all the various lots around the ball,
Which fate to man distributes, absolute;
Avert, ye gods! that of the Muse's son,
Curs'd with dire poverty! poor hungry wretch!
What shall he do for life? he cannot work
With manual labour: shall those sacred hands,
That brought the counsels of the gods to light;
Shall that inspired tongue, which every Muse
Has touch'd divine, to charm the sons of men:
These hallow'd organs! these! be prostitute
To the vile service of some fool in power,
All his behests submissive to perform,
Howe'er to him ingrateful? Oh! he scorns
The ignoble thought; with generous disdain,
More eligible deeming it to starve,
Like his fam'd ancestors renown'd in verse,
Than poorly bend to be another's slave,
Than feed and fatten in obscurity.
These are his firm resolves, which fate, nor time,
Nor poverty can shake. Exalted high
In garret vile he lives; with remnants hung
Of tapestry. But oh! precarious state
Of this vain transient world! all powerful time,
What dost thou not subdue? See what a chasm
Gapes wide, tremendous! see where Saul, enrag'd,
High on his throne, encompass'd by his guards,
With levell'd spear, and arm extended, sits,
Ready to pierce old Jesse's valiant son,
Spoil'd of his nose!around in tottering ranks,
On shelves pulverulent, majestic stands
His library; in ragged plight, and old;
Replete with many a load of criticism,
Elaborate products of the midnight toil
Of Belgian brains; snatch'd from the deadly hands
Of murderous grocer, or the careful wight,
Who vends the plant, that clads the happy shore
Of Indian Patomack; which citizens
In balmy fumes exhale, when, o'er a pot
Of sage-inspiring coffee, they dispose
Of kings and crowns, and settle Europe's fate.

Elsewhere the dome is fill'd with various heaps
Of old domestic lumber: that huge chair
Has seen six monarchs fill the British throne:
Here a broad massy table stands, o'erspread
With ink and pens, and scrolls replete with rhyme:
Chests, stools, old razors, fractur'd jars, half full
Of muddy Zythum, sour and spiritless:
Fragments of verse, hose, sandals, utensils
Of various fashion, and of various use,
With friendly influence hide the sable floor.

This is the bard's museum, this the fane
To Phœbus sacred, and the Aonian maids:
But oh! it stabs his heart, that niggard fate
To him in such small measure should dispense
Her better gifts: to him! whose generous soul
Could relish, with as fine an elegance,
The golden joys of grandeur, and of wealth;
He who could tyrannize o'er menial slaves,
Or swell beneath a coronet of state,
Or grace a gilded chariot with a mien,
Grand as the haughtiest Timon of them all.

But 'tis in vain to rave at destiny,
Here he must rest, and brook the best he can,
To live remote from grandeur, learning, wit:
Immur'd amongst th' 'ignoble, vulgar herd,
Of lowest intellect; whose stupid souls
But half inform their bodies; brains of lead
And tongues of thunder; whose insensate breasts
Ne'er felt the rapturous, soul-entrancing fire
Of the celestial Muse; whose savage ears
Ne'er heard the sacred rules, nor even the names
Of the Venusian bard, or critic sage
Full-fam'd of Stagyra: whose clamorous tongues
Stun the tormented ear with colloquy,
Vociferate, trivial, or impertinent;
Replete with boorish scandal; yet, alas!
This, this! he must endure, or muse alone,
Pensive and moping o'er the stubborn rhyme,
Or line imperfectNo! the door is free,
And calls him to evade their deafening clang,
By private ambulation;'tis resolved:
Off from his waist he throws the tatter'd gown,
Beheld with indignation; and unloads
His pericranium of the weighty cap,
With sweat and grease discolour'd: then explores
The spacious chest, and from its hollow womb
Draws his best robe, yet not from tincture free
Of age's reverend russet, scant and bare;
Then down his meagre visage waving flows
The shadowy peruke; crown'd with gummy hat,
Clean brush'd; a cane supports him. Thus equipp'd
He sallies forth; swift traverses the streets,
And seeks the lonely walk. Hail sylvan scenes!
Ye groves, ye valleys, ye meand'ring brooks,
Admit me to your joys, in rapturous phrase,
Loud he exclaims; while with the inspiring Muse
His bosom labours; and all other thoughts,
Pleasure and wealth, and poverty itself,
Before her influence vanish. Rapt in thought,
Fancy presents before his ravished eyes
Distant posterity, upon his page
With transport dwelling; while bright Learning's sons,
That ages hence must tread this earthly ball,
Indignant, seem to curse the thankless age,
That starv'd such merit. Meantime, swallow'd up
In meditation deep, he wanders on,
Unweeting of his way.But ah! he starts!
With sudden fright! his glaring eye-balls roll,
Pale turn his cheeks, and shake his loosen'd joints;
His cogitations vanish into air,
Like painted bubbles, or a morning dream.
Behold the cause! see! through the opening glade,
With rosy visage, and abdomen grand,
A cit, a dun!As in Apulia's wilds,
Or where the Thracian Hebrus rolls his wave,
A heedless kid, disportive, roves around,
Unheeding, till upon the hideous cave
Of the dire wolf she treads; half-dead she views
His bloodshot eye-balls, and his dreadful fangs,
And swift as Eurus from the monster flies:
So fares the trembling bard; amaz'd he turns,
Scarce by his legs upborne; yet fear supplies
The place of strength; straight home he bends his course,
Nor looks behind him till he safe regain
His faithful citadel; there spent, fatigu'd,
He lays him down to ease his heaving lungs,
Quaking, and of his safety scarce convinc'd.
Soon as the panic leaves his panting breast,
Down to the Muse's sacred rites he sits,
Volumes pil'd round him; see! upon his brow
Perplex'd anxiety; and struggling thought,
Painful as female throes: whether the bard
Display the deeds of heroes; or the fall
Of vice, in lay dramatic; or expand
The lyric wing; or in elegiac strains
Lament the fair; or lash the stubborn age
With laughing satire; or in rural scenes
With shepherds sport; or rack his hard-bound brains
For the unexpected turn. Arachne so,
In dusty kitchen corner, from her bowels
Spins the fine web; but spins with better fate,
Than the poor bard: she! caitiff! spreads her snares,
And with their aid enjoys luxurious life,
Bloated with fat of insects, flesh'd in blood:
He! hard, hard lot! for all his toil and care,
And painful watchings, scarce protracts awhile
His meagre, hungry days! ungrateful world!
If with his drama he adorn the stage,
No worth-discerning concourse pays the charge,
Or of the orchestra, or the enlightening torch.
He who supports the luxury and pride
Of craving Lais; he! whose carnage fills
Dogs, eagles, lions; has not yet enough,
Wherewith to satisfy the greedier maw
Of that most ravenous, that devouring beast,
Yclep'd a Poet. What new Halifax,
What Somers, or what Dorset canst thou find,
Thou hungry mortal? break, wretch, break thy quill,
Blot out the studied image: to the flames
Commit the Stagyrite: leave this thankless trade;
Erect some pedling stall, with trinkets stock'd,
There earn thy daily halfpence, nor again
Trust the false Muse: so shall the cleanly meal
Repel intruding hunger.Oh! 'tis vain,
The friendly admonition's all in vain:
The scribbling itch has seiz'd him; he is lost
To all advice, and starves for starving's sake.

Thus sung the sportful Muse, in mirthful mood,
Indulging gay the frolic vein of youth;
But, oh! ye gods, avert th' impending stroke
This luckless omen threatens! Hark! methinks
I hear my better angel cry, Retreat,
Rash youth! in time retreat! let those poor bards,
Who slighted all, all! for the flattering Muse,
Yet curs'd with pining want, as landmarks stand,
To warn thee from the service of the ingrate. 

Mark Akenside

Mark Akenside's other poems:
  1. For a Statue of Chaucer at Woodstock
  2. Ode 1. Allusion to Horace
  3. The Virtuoso; in imitation of Spencer's Style and Stanza
  4. A British Philippic
  5. To The Honourable Charles Townshend: From The Country

Poems of the other poets with the same name:

  • John Keats The Poet ("Wheres the Poet? show him! show him")
  • Amy Lowell The Poet ("What instinct forces man to journey on")
  • James Lowell The Poet ("He who hath felt Life's mystery")
  • Lucy Montgomery The Poet ("There was strength in him and the weak won freely from it")

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