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Poem by John Gay

Part I. Fable 50. The Hare and Many Friends

Friendship, like love, is but a name,
Unless to one you stint the flame.
The child, whom many fathers share,
Hath seldom known a father's care.
Tis thus in friendships; who depend
On many, rarely find a friend.
   A hare, who in a civil way,
Complied with everything, like Gay,
Was known by all the bestial train
Who haunt the wood, or graze the plain.

Her care was never to offend,
And every creature was her friend.
   As forth she went at early dawn,
To taste the dew-besprinkled lawn,
Behind she hears the hunter's cries,
And from the deep-mouthed thunder flies.
She starts, she stops, she pants for breath;
She hears the near advance of death;
She doubles to mislead the hound,
And measures back her mazy round;

Till fainting in the public way,
Half-dead with fear, she gasping lay.
What transport in her bosom grew,
When first the horse appeared in view!
   Let me, says she, your back ascend,
And owe my safety to a friend.
You know my feet betray my flight;
To friendship every burden's light.
   The horse replied  Poor honest puss,
It grieves my heart to see thee thus;

Be comforted, relief is near;
For all your friends are in the rear.
   She next the stately bull implored;
And thus replied the mighty lord--
Since every beast alive can tell
That I sincerely wish you well,
I may, without offence, pretend
To take the freedom of a friend.
Love calls me hence; a favourite cow
Expects me near yon barley mow:

And when a lady's in the case,
You know all other things give place.
To leave you thus might seem unkind;
But see, the goat is just behind.
   The goat remarked her pulse was high,
Her languid head, her heavy eye;
My back, says she, may do you harm;
The sheep's at hand, and wool is warm.
   The sheep was feeble, and complained
His sides a load of wool sustained:

Said he was slow, confessed his fears;
For hounds cat sheep, as well as hares.
   She now the trotting calf addressed,
To save from death a friend distressed.
   Shall I, says he, of tender age,
In this important care engage?
Older and abler passed you by;
How strong are those! how weak am I!
Should I presume to bear you hence,
Those friends of mine may take offence.

Excuse me then. You know my heart,
But dearest friends, alas! must part.
How shall we all lament! Adieu!
For see the hounds are just in view.

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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