John Gay

To a Lady on Her Passion for Old China

What ecstasies her bosom fire! 
How her eyes languish with desire! 
How blest, how happy should I be, 
Were that fond glance bestow’d on me! 
New doubts and fears within me war: 
What rival’s near? a China Jar.

China’s the passion of her soul; 
A cup, a plate, a dish, a bowl 
Can kindle wishes in her breast, 
Inflame with joy, or break her rest.

Some gems collect; some medals prize, 
And view the rust with lovers eyes;
Some court the stars at midnight hours; 
Some doat on Nature’s charms in flowers! 
But ev’ry beauty I can trace 
In Laura’s mind, in Laura’s face; 
My stars are in this brighter sphere, 
My lilly and my rose is here.

Philosophers more grave than wise 
Hunt science down in Butterflies; 
Or fondly poring on a Spider, 
Stretch human contemplation wider; 
Fossiles give joy to Galen’s soul, 
He digs for knowledge, like a Mole; 
In shells so learn’d, that all agree 
No fish that swims knows more than he! 
In such pursuits if wisdom lies, 
Who, Laura, shall thy taste despise?

When I some antique Jar behold, 
Or white, or blue, or speck’d with gold, 
Vessels so pure, and so refin’d 
Appear the types of woman-kind: 
Are they not valu’d for their beauty, 
Too fair, too fine for household duty? 
With flowers and gold and azure dy’d, 
Of ev’ry house the grace and pride? 
How white, how polish’d is their skin, 
And valu’d most when only seen! 
She who before was highest priz’d, 
Is for a crack or flaw despis’d; 
I grant they’re frail, yet they’re so rare, 
The treasure cannot cost too dear! 
But Man is made of courser stuff, 
And serves convenience well enough; 
He’s a strong earthen vessel, made 
For drudging, labour, toil and trade; 
And when wives lose their other self, 
With ease they bear the loss of Delf.

Husbands more covetous than sage 
Condemn this China – buying rage; 
They count that woman’s prudence little, 
Who sets her heart on things so brittle. 
But are those wise – men’s inclinations 
Fixt on more strong, more sure foundations? 
If all that’s frail we must despise, 
No human view or scheme is wise. 
Are not Ambition’s hopes as weak? 
They swell like bubbles, shine and break. 
A Courtier’s promise is so slight, 
’Tis made at noon, and broke at night. 
What pleasure’s sure? The Miss you keep 
Breaks both your fortune and your sleep. 
The man who loves a country life, 
Breaks all the comforts of his wife; 
And if he quit his farm and plough, 
His wife in town may break her vow. 
Love, Laura, love, while youth is warm, 
For each new winter breaks a charm; 
And woman’s not like China sold, 
But cheaper grows in growing old; 
Then quickly chuse the prudent part, 
Or else you break a faithful heart.


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