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Poem by John Gay

Part I. Fable 23. The Old Woman and her Cats

  Who friendship with a knave hath made,
  Is judged a partner in the trade.
  The matron who conducts abroad
  A willing nymph, is thought a bawd;
  And if a modest girl is seen
  With one who cures a lover's spleen,
  We guess her not extremely nice,
  And only wish to know her price.
  'Tis thus that on the choice of friends
  Our good or evil name depends.

     A wrinkled hag, of wicked fame,
  Beside a little smoky flame
  Sate hovering, pinched with age and frost;
  Her shrivelled hands, with veins embossed,
  Upon her knees her weight sustains,
  While palsy shook her crazy brains:
  She mumbles forth her backward prayers,
  An untamed scold of fourscore years.
  About her swarmed a numerous brood
  Of cats, who, lank with hunger, mewed.

     Teased with their cries, her choler grew,
  And thus she sputtered: 'Hence, ye crew.
  Fool that I was, to entertain
  Such imps, such fiends, a hellish train!
  Had ye been never housed and nursed,
  I, for a witch had ne'er been cursed.
  To you I owe, that crowds of boys
  Worry me with eternal noise;
  Straws laid across, my pace retard,
  The horse-shoe's nailed (each threshold's guard),

  The stunted broom the wenches hide,
  For fear that I should up and ride;
  They stick with pins my bleeding seat,
  And bid me show my secret teat.'
     'To hear you prate would vex a saint;
  Who hath most reason of complaint?'
  Replies a cat. 'Let's come to proof.
  Had we ne'er starved beneath your roof,
  We had, like others of our race,
  In credit lived as beasts of chase.

  'Tis infamy to serve a hag;
  Cats are thought imps, her broom a nag;
  And boys against our lives combine,
  Because, 'tis said, you cats have nine.'

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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