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Poem by John Gay

Part I. Fable 33. The Courtier and Proteus

  Whene'er a courtier's out of place
  The country shelters his disgrace;
     Where, doomed to exercise and health,
  His house and gardens own his wealth,
  He builds new schemes in hopes to gain
  The plunder of another reign;
  Like Philip's son, would fain be doing,
  And sighs for other realms to ruin.
     As one of these (without his wand)
  Pensive, along the winding strand

  Employed the solitary hour,
  In projects to regain his power;
  The waves in spreading circles ran,
  Proteus arose, and thus began:
     'Came you from Court? For in your mien
  A self-important air is seen.
     He frankly owned his friends had tricked him
  And how he fell his party's victim.
     'Know,' says the god, 'by matchless skill
  I change to every shape at will;

  But yet I'm told, at Court you see
  Those who presume to rival me.'
     Thus said. A snake with hideous trail,
  Proteus extends his scaly mail.
     'Know,' says the man, 'though proud in place,
  All courtiers are of reptile race.
  Like you, they take that dreadful form,
  Bask in the sun, and fly the storm;
  With malice hiss, with envy gloat,
  And for convenience change their coat;

  With new-got lustre rear their head,
  Though on a dunghill born and bred.'
     Sudden the god a lion stands;
  He shakes his mane, he spurns the sands;
  Now a fierce lynx, with fiery glare,
  A wolf, an ass, a fox, a bear.
     'Had I ne'er lived at Court,' he cries,
  'Such transformation might surprise;
  But there, in quest of daily game,
  Each able courtier acts the same.

  Wolves, lions, lynxes, while in place,
  Their friends and fellows are their chase.
  They play the bear's and fox's part;
  Now rob by force, now steal with art.
  They sometimes in the senate bray;
  Or, changed again to beasts of prey,
  Down from the lion to the ape,
  Practise the frauds of every shape.'
     So said, upon the god he flies,
  In cords the struggling captive ties.

     'Now, Proteus, now, (to truth compelled)
  Speak, and confess thy art excelled.
  Use strength, surprise, or what you will,
  The courtier finds evasions still:
  Not to be bound by any ties,
  And never forced to leave his lies.'

John Gay

John Gay's other poems:
  1. Prediction
  2. An Elegy on a Lap-dog
  3. The Quidnunckis
  4. To a Young Lady, with Some Lampreys
  5. A Ballad

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