John Gay

Part I. Fable 29. The Fox at the Point of Death

  A fox, in life's extreme decay,
  Weak, sick, and faint, expiring lay;
  All appetite had left his maw,
  And age disarmed his mumbling jaw.
  His numerous race around him stand
  To learn their dying sire's command:
  He raised his head with whining moan,
  And thus was heard the feeble tone:
     'Ah, sons! from evil ways depart:
  My crimes lie heavy on my heart.

     See, see, the murdered geese appear!
  Why are those bleeding turkeys here?
  Why all around this cackling train,
  Who haunt my ears for chicken slain?
     The hungry foxes round them stared,
  And for the promised feast prepared.
     'Where, sir, is all this dainty cheer?
  Nor turkey, goose, nor hen is here.
  These are the phantoms of your brain,
  And your sons lick their lips in vain.'

     'O gluttons!' says the drooping sire,
  'Restrain inordinate desire.
  Your liqu'rish taste you shall deplore,
  When peace of conscience is no more.
  Does not the hound betray our pace,
  And gins and guns destroy our race?
  Thieves dread the searching eye of power,
  And never feel the quiet hour.
  Old age (which few of us shall know)
  Now puts a period to my woe.

  Would you true happiness attain,
  Let honesty your passions rein;
  So live in credit and esteem,
  And the good name you lost, redeem.'
     'The counsel's good,' a fox replies,
  'Could we perform what you advise.
  Think what our ancestors have done;
  A line of thieves from son to son:
  To us descends the long disgrace,
  And infamy hath marked our race.

  Though we, like harmless sheep, should feed,
  Honest in thought, in word, and deed;
  Whatever henroost is decreased,
  We shall be thought to share the feast.
  The change shall never be believed,
  A lost good name is ne'er retrieved.'
     'Nay, then,' replies the feeble fox,
  '(But hark! I hear a hen that clocks)
  Go, but be moderate in your food;
  A chicken too might do me good.'

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