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Poem by John Gay

Part II. Fable 13. Plutus, Cupid, and Time

  Of all the burdens man must bear,
  Time seems most galling and severe:
  Beneath this grievous load oppressed,
  We daily meet some friend distressed.
     'What can one do? I rose at nine.
  'Tis full six hours before we dine:
  Six hours! no earthly thing to do!
  Would I had dozed in bed till two.'
     A pamphlet is before him spread,
  And almost half a page is read;

  Tired with the study of the day,
  The fluttering sheets are tossed away.
  He opes his snuff-box, hums an air,
  Then yawns, and stretches in his chair.
     'Not twenty, by the minute hand!
  Good gods:' says he, 'my watch must stand!
  How muddling 'tis on books to pore!
  I thought I'd read an hour or more,
  The morning, of all hours, I hate.
  One can't contrive to rise too late.'

     To make the minutes faster run,
  Then too his tiresome self to shun,
  To the next coffee-house he speeds,
  Takes up the news, some scraps he reads.
  Sauntering, from chair to chair he trails;
  Now drinks his tea, now bites his nails.
  He spies a partner of his woe;
  By chat afflictions lighter grow;
  Each other's grievances they share,
  And thus their dreadful hours compare.

     Says Tom, 'Since all men must confess,
  That time lies heavy more or less;
  Why should it be so hard to get
  Till two, a party at piquet?
  Play might relieve the lagging morn:
  By cards long wintry nights are borne:
  Does not quadrille amuse the fair,
  Night after night, throughout the year?
  Vapours and spleen forgot, at play
  They cheat uncounted hours away.'

     'My case,' says Will, 'then must be hard
  By want of skill from play debarred.
  Courtiers kill time by various ways;
  Dependence wears out half their days.
  How happy these, whose time ne'er stands!
  Attendance takes it off their hands.
  Were it not for this cursed shower
  The park had whiled away an hour.
  At Court, without or place or view,
  I daily lose an hour or two;

  It fully answers my design,
  When I have picked up friends to dine,
  The tavern makes our burden light;
  Wine puts our time and care to flight.
  At six (hard case!) they call to pay.
  Where can one go? I hate the play.
  From six till ten! Unless in sleep,
  One cannot spend the hours so cheap.
  The comedy's no sooner done,
  But some assembly is begun;

  Loit'ring from room to room I stray;
  Converse, but nothing hear or say:
  Quite tired, from fair to fair I roam.
  So soon: I dread the thoughts of home.
  From thence, to quicken slow-paced night,
  Again my tavern-friends invite:
  Here too our early mornings pass,
  Till drowsy sleep retards the glass.'
     Thus they their wretched life bemoan,
  And make each other's case their own.

     Consider, friends, no hour rolls on,
  But something of your grief is gone.
  Were you to schemes of business bred,
  Did you the paths of learning tread.
  Your hours, your days, would fly too fast;
  You'd then regret the minute past,
  Time's fugitive and light as wind!
  'Tis indolence that clogs your mind!
  That load from off your spirits shake;
  You'll own and grieve for your mistake;

  A while your thoughtless spleen suspend,
  Then read, and (if you can) attend.
     As Plutus, to divert his care,
  Walked forth one morn to take the air,
  Cupid o'ertook his strutting pace,
  Each stared upon the stranger's face,
  Till recollection set them right;
  For each knew t'other but by sight.
  After some complimental talk,
  Time met them, bowed, and joined their walk.

  Their chat on various subjects ran,
  But most, what each had done for man.
  Plutus assumes a haughty air,
  Just like our purse-proud fellows here.
     'Let kings,' says he, 'let cobblers tell,
  Whose gifts among mankind excel.
  Consider Courts: what draws their train?
  Think you 'tis loyalty or gain?
  That statesman hath the strongest hold,
  Whose tool of politics is gold.

  By that, in former reigns, 'tis said,
  The knave in power hath senates led.
  By that alone he swayed debates,
  Enriched himself and beggared states.
  Forego your boast. You must conclude,
  That's most esteemed that's most pursued.
  Think too, in what a woful plight
  That wretch must live whose pocket's light.
  Are not his hours by want depress'd?
  Penurious care corrodes his breast.

  Without respect, or love, or friends,
  His solitary day descends.'
     'You might,' says Cupid, 'doubt my parts,
  My knowledge too in human hearts,
  Should I the power of gold dispute,
  Which great examples might confute.
  I know, when nothing else prevails,
  Persuasive money seldom fails;
  That beauty too (like other wares)
  Its price, as well as conscience, bears.

  Then marriage (as of late profess'd)
  Is but a money-job at best.
  Consent, compliance may be sold:
  But love's beyond the price of gold.
  Smugglers there are, who by retail,
  Expose what they call love, to sale,
  Such bargains are an arrant cheat:
  You purchase flattery and deceit.
  Those who true love have ever tried,
  (The common cares of life supplied,)

  No wants endure, no wishes make,
  But every real joy partake,
  All comfort on themselves depends;
  They want nor power, nor wealth, nor friends.
  Love then hath every bliss in store:
  'Tis friendship, and 'tis something more.
  Each other every wish they give,
  Not to know love, is not to live.'
     'Or love, or money,' Time replied,
  'Were men the question to decide,

  Would bear the prize: on both intent,
  My boon's neglected or misspent.
  'Tis I who measure vital space,
  And deal out years to human race.
  Though little prized, and seldom sought,
  Without me love and gold are nought.
  How does the miser time employ?
  Did I e'er see him life enjoy?
  By me forsook, the hoards he won,
  Are scattered by his lavish son.

  By me all useful arts are gained;
  Wealth, learning, wisdom is attained.
  Who then would think (since such, my power)
  That e'er I knew an idle hour?
  So subtle and so swift I fly,
  Love's not more fugitive than I.
  Who hath not heard coquettes complain
  Of days, months, years, misspent in vain?
  For time misused they pine and waste,
  And love's sweet pleasures never taste.

  Those who direct their time aright,
  If love or wealth their hopes excite,
  In each pursuit fit hours employed,
  And both by Time have been enjoyed.
  How heedless then are mortals grown!
  How little is their interest known?
  In every view they ought to mind me;
  For when once lost they never find me.'
     He spoke. The gods no more contest,
  And his superior gift confess'd;

  That time when (truly understood)
  Is the most precious earthly good.

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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