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Poem by John Gay

Part I. Fable 6. The Miser and Plutus

  The wind was high, the window shakes,
  With sudden start the miser wakes;
  Along the silent room he stalks;
  Looks back, and trembles as he walks!
  Each lock and every bolt he tries,
  In every creek and corner prys,
  Then opes the chest with treasure stored,
  And stands in rapture o'er his hoard;
  But, now with sudden qualms possess'd,
  He wrings his hands, he beats his breast.

  By conscience stung, he wildly stares;
  And thus his guilty soul declares:
     'Had the deep earth her stores confined,
  This heart had known sweet peace of mind.
  But virtue's sold. Good gods, what price
  Can recompense the pangs of vice!
  O bane of good! seducing cheat!
  Can man, weak man, thy power defeat?
  Gold banished honour from the mind,
  And only left the name behind;

  Gold sowed the world with every ill;
  Gold taught the murderer's sword to kill:
  'Twas gold instructed coward hearts,
  In treachery's more pernicious arts.
  Who can recount the mischiefs o'er?
  Virtue resides on earth no more!'
  He spoke, and sighed. In angry mood,
  Plutus, his god, before him stood.
  The miser, trembling, locked his chest;
  The vision frowned, and thus address'd:

     'Whence is this vile ungrateful rant?
  Each sordid rascal's daily cant.
  Did I, base wretch, corrupt mankind?
  The fault's in thy rapacious mind.
  Because my blessings are abused,
  Must I be censured, cursed, accused?
  Even virtue's self by knaves is made
  A cloak to carry on the trade;
  And power (when lodged in their possession)
  Grows tyranny, and rank oppression.

  Thus, when the villain crams his chest,
  Gold is the canker of the breast;
  'Tis avarice, insolence, and pride,
  And every shocking vice beside.
  But when to virtuous hands 'tis given,
  It blesses, like the dews of heaven:
  Like Heaven, it hears the orphan's cries,
  And wipes the tears from widows' eyes;
  Their crimes on gold shall misers lay,
  Who pawned their sordid souls for pay?

  Let bravoes then (when blood is spilt)
  Upbraid the passive sword with guilt.'

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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