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Poem by John Gay

Part I. Fable 20. The Old Hen and the Cock

  Restrain your child; you'll soon believe
  The text which says, we sprung from Eve.
     As an old hen led forth her train,
  And seemed to peck to shew the grain;
  She raked the chaff, she scratched the ground,
  And gleaned the spacious yard around.
  A giddy chick, to try her wings,
  On the well's narrow margin springs,
  And prone she drops. The mother's breast
  All day with sorrow was possess'd.

     A cock she met; her son she knew;
  And in her heart affection grew.
     'My son,' says she, 'I grant your years
  Have reached beyond a mother's cares;
  I see you vig'rous, strong, and bold;
  I hear with joy your triumphs told.
  Tis not from cocks thy fate I dread;
  But let thy ever-wary tread
  Avoid yon well; that fatal place
  Is sure perdition to our race.

  Print this my counsel on thy breast;
  To the just gods I leave the rest.'
     He thanked her care; yet day by day
  His bosom burned to disobey;
  And every time the well he saw,
  Scorned in his heart the foolish law:
  Near and more near each day he drew,
  And longed to try the dangerous view.
     'Why was this idle charge?' he cries;
  'Let courage female fears despise.

  Or did she doubt my heart was brave,
  And therefore this injunction gave?
  Or does her harvest store the place,
  A treasure for her younger race?
  And would she thus my search prevent?
  I stand resolved, and dare the event.'
     Thus said. He mounts the margin's round,
  And pries into the depth profound.
  He stretched his neck; and from below
  With stretching neck advanced a foe:

  With wrath his ruffled plumes he rears,
  The foe with ruffled plumes appears:
  Threat answered threat, his fury grew,
  Headlong to meet the war he flew,
  But when the watery death he found,
  He thus lamented as he drowned:
     'I ne'er had been in this condition,
  But for my mother's prohibition.'

John Gay

John Gay's other poems:
  1. Sweet William's Farewell to Black-Ey'd Susan
  2. To a Young Lady, with Some Lampreys
  3. An Elegy on a Lap-dog
  4. If the Heart of a Man
  5. The Quidnunckis

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