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Poem by John Gay

Part I. Fable 31. The Universal Apparition

  A rake, by every passion ruled,
  With every vice his youth had cooled;
  Disease his tainted blood assails;
  His spirits droop, his vigour fails;
  With secret ills at home he pines,
  And, like infirm old age, declines.
     As, twinged with pain, he pensive sits,
  And raves, and prays, and swears by fits,
  A ghastly phantom, lean and wan,
  Before him rose, and thus began:

    'My name, perhaps, hath reached your ear;
  Attend, and be advised by Care.
  Nor love, nor honour, wealth, nor power,
  Can give the heart a cheerful hour,
  When health is lost. Be timely wise:
  With health all taste of pleasure flies.'
     Thus said, the phantom disappears.
  The wary counsel waked his fears:
  He now from all excess abstains,
  With physic purifies his veins;

  And, to procure a sober life,
  Resolves to venture on a wife.
     But now again the sprite ascends,
  Where'er he walks his ear attends;
  Insinuates that beauty's frail,
  That perseverance must prevail;
  With jealousies his brain inflames,
  And whispers all her lovers' names.
  In other hours she represents
  His household charge, his annual rents,

  Increasing debts, perplexing duns,
  And nothing for his younger sons.
     Straight all his thought to gain he turns,
  And with the thirst of lucre burns.
  But when possessed of fortune's store,
  The spectre haunts him more and more;
  Sets want and misery in view,
  Bold thieves, and all the murd'ring crew,
  Alarms him with eternal frights,
  Infests his dream, or wakes his nights.

  How shall he chase this hideous guest?
  Power may perhaps protect his rest.
  To power he rose. Again the sprite
  Besets him, morning, noon, and night!
  Talks of ambition's tottering seat,
  How envy persecutes the great,
  Of rival hate, of treacherous friends,
  And what disgrace his fall attends.
     The Court he quits to fly from Care,
  And seeks the peace of rural air:

  His groves, his fields, amused his hours;
  He pruned his trees, he raised his flowers.
  But Care again his steps pursues;
  Warns him of blasts, of blighting dews,
  Of plund'ring insects, snails, and rains,
  And droughts that starved the laboured plains.
  Abroad, at home, the spectre's there:
  In vain we seek to fly from Care.
  At length he thus the ghost address'd:
  'Since thou must be my constant guest,

  Be kind, and follow me no more;
  For Care by right should go before.'

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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