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Poem by John Gay

Part II. Fable 15. The Cook-maid, the Turnspit, and the Ox

      To a poor Man

  Consider man in every sphere,
  Then tell me is your lot severe?
  'Tis murmur, discontent, distrust,
  That makes you wretched. God is just.
     I grant, that hunger must be fed,
  That toil too earns thy daily bread.
  What then? Thy wants are seen and known,
  But every mortal feels his own.
  We're born a restless, needy crew:
  Show me the happier man than you.

  Adam, though blest above his kind,
  For want of social woman pined,
  Eve's wants the subtle serpent saw,
  Her fickle taste transgressed the law:
  Thus fell our sires; and their disgrace
  The curse entailed on human race.
     When Philip's son, by glory led,
  Had o'er the globe his empire spread;
  When altars to his name were dressed,
  That he was man, his tears confessed.

     The hopes of avarice are check'd:
  The proud man always wants respect.
  What various wants on power attend!
  Ambition never gains its end.
  Who hath not heard the rich complain
  Of surfeits and corporeal pain?
  He, barred from every use of wealth,
  Envies the ploughman's strength and health.
  Another in a beauteous wife
  Finds all the miseries of life:

  Domestic jars and jealous fear
  Embitter all his days with care.
  This wants an heir, the line is lost:
  Why was that vain entail engross'd?
  Canst thou discern another's mind?
  Why is't you envy? Envy's blind.
  Tell Envy, when she would annoy,
  That thousands want what you enjoy.
     'The dinner must be dished at one.
  Where's this vexatious turnspit gone?

  Unless the skulking cur is caught,
  The sirloin's spoiled, and I'm in fault.'
  Thus said: (for sure you'll think it fit
  That I the cook-maid's oaths omit)
  With all the fury of a cook,
  Her cooler kitchen Nan forsook.
  The broomstick o'er her head she waves;
  She sweats, she stamps, she puffs, she raves.
  The sneaking cur before her flies:
  She whistles, calls; fair speech she tries.

  These nought avail. Her choler burns;
  The fist and cudgel threat by turns;
  With hasty stride she presses near;
  He slinks aloof, and howls with fear.
     'Was ever cur so cursed!' he cried,
  'What star did at my birth preside?
  Am I for life by compact bound
  To tread the wheel's eternal round?
  Inglorious task! Of all our race
  No slave is half so mean and base.

  Had fate a kinder lot assigned,
  And formed me of the lap-dog kind,
  I then, in higher life employed,
  Had indolence and ease enjoyed;
  And, like a gentleman, caress'd,
  Had been the lady's favourite guest.
  Or were I sprung from spaniel line,
  Was his sagacious nostril mine,
  By me, their never-erring guide,
  From wood and plain their feasts supplied

  Knights, squires, attendant on my pace,
  Had shared the pleasures of the chase.
  Endued with native strength and fire,
  Why called I not the lion sire?
  A lion! such mean views I scorn.
  Why was I not of woman born?
  Who dares with reason's power contend?
  On man we brutal slaves depend:
  To him all creatures tribute pays,
  And luxury employs his days.'

     An ox by chance o'erheard his moan,
  And thus rebuked the lazy drone:
  'Dare you at partial fate repine?
  How kind's your lot compared with mine!
  Decreed to toil, the barbarous knife
  Hath severed me from social life;
  Urged by the stimulating goad,
  I drag the cumbrous waggon's load:
  'Tis mine to tame the stubborn plain,
  Break the stiff soil, and house the grain;

  Yet I without a murmur bear
  The various labours of the year.
  But then consider, that one day,
  (Perhaps the hour's not far away,)
  You, by the duties of your post,
  Shall turn the spit when I'm the roast:
  And for reward shall share the feast;
  I mean, shall pick my bones at least.'
     УTill now,' the astonished cur replies,
  'I looked on all with envious eyes.

  How false we judge by what appears!
  All creatures feel their several cares.
  If thus yon mighty beast complains,
  Perhaps man knows superior pains.
  Let envy then no more torment:
  Think on the ox, and learn content.'
     Thus said: close following at her heel,
  With cheerful heart he mounts the wheel.

John Gay

John Gay's other poems:
  1. Prediction
  2. The Quidnunckis
  3. A Ballad
  4. To My Chair
  5. An Epistle to Her Grace, Henrietta, Duchess of Marlborough

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