The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 8/The Pheasant and the Lark

The next poem, Answer to The Pheasant and the Lark, is a response to this poem.



"—Quis iniquæ
Tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se?"

IN ancient times, as bards indite,
(If clerks have conn'd the records right)
A Peacock reign'd, whose glorious sway
His subjects with delight obey:
His tail was beauteous to behold,
Replete with goodly eyes and gold;
Fair emblem of that monarch's guise,
Whose train at once is rich and wise;
And princely rul'd he many regions,
And statesmen wise, and valiant legions.
A Pheasant lord[1], above the rest,
With every grace and talent blest,
Was sent to sway, with all his skill,
The sceptre of a neighbouring hill[2].
No science was to him unknown,
For all the arts were all his own:
In all the living learned read,
Though more delighted with the dead:
For birds, if ancient tales say true,
Had then their Popes and Homers too
Could read and write in prose and verse,
And speak like ***, and build like Pearce[3].
He knew their voices, and their wings,
Who smoothest soars, who sweetest sings;
Who toils with ill-fledg'd pens to climb,
And who attain'd the true sublime:
Their merits he could well descry,
He had so exquisite an eye;
And when that fail'd, to show them clear,
He had as exquisite an ear.
It chanc'd, as on a day he stray'd,
Beneath an academick shade,
He lik'd, amidst a thousand throats,
The wildness of a Woodlark's[4] notes,
And search'd, and spy'd, and seiz'd his game,
And took him home, and made him tame;
Found him on trial true and able,
So cheer'd and fed him at his table.
Here some shrewd critick finds I'm caught,
And cries out, "Better fed than taught" —
Then jests on game and tame, and reads
And jests, and so my tale proceeds.
Long had he study'd in the wood,
Conversing with the wise and good;
His soul with harmony inspir'd,
With love of truth and virtue fir'd:
His brethren's good and Maker's praise
Were all the study of his lays;
Were all his study in retreat,
And now employ'd him with the great.
His friendship was the sure resort
Of all the wretched at the court;
But chiefly merit in distress
His greatest blessing was to bless. —
This fix'd him in his patron's breast,
But fir'd with envy all the rest:
I mean that noisy craving crew,
Who round the court incessant flew,
And prey'd like rooks, by pairs and dozens,
To fill the maws of sons and cousins:
"Unmov'd their heart, and chill'd their blood,
To every thought of common good,
Confining every hope and care
To their own low contracted sphere."
These ran him down with ceaseless cry,
But found it hard to tell you why,
Till his own worth and wit supply'd
Sufficient matter to deride:
"'Tis Envy's safest, surest rule,
To hide her rage in ridicule:
The vulgar eye she best beguiles,
When all her snakes are deck'd with smiles:
Sardonick smiles, by rancour rais'd!
Tormented most when seeming pleas'd!"
Their spite had more than half expir'd,
Had he not wrote what all admir'd;
What morsels had their malice wanted,
But that he built, and plann'd, and planted!
How had his sense and learning griev'd them,
But that his charity reliev'd them!
"At highest worth dull Malice reaches,
As slugs pollute the fairest peaches:
Envy defames, as harpies vile
Devour the food they first defile."
Now ask the fruit of all his favour —
"He was not hitherto a saver" —
What then could make their rage run mad?
"Why what he hop'd, not what he had.
"What tyrant e'er invented ropes,
Or racks, or rods, to punish hopes?
Th' inheritance of Hope and Fame
Is seldom Earthly Wisdom's aim;
Or, if it were, is not so small,
But there is room enough for all."
If he but chance to breathe a song,
(He seldom sang, and never long)
The noisy, rude, malignant crowd,
Where it was high, pronounc'd it loud:
Plain Truth was Pride; and what was sillier,
Easy and Friendly was Familiar.
Or, if he tun'd his lofty lays,
With solemn air to Virtue's praise,
Alike abusive and erroneous,
They call'd it hoarse and unharmonious:
Yet so it was to souls like theirs,
Tuneless as Abel to the bears!
A Rook[5] with harsh malignant caw
Began, was follow'd by a Daw[6];
(Though some, who would be thought to know,
Are positive it was a Crow)
Jack Daw was seconded by Tit,
Tom Tit[7] could write, and so he writ;
A tribe of tuneless praters follow,
The Jay, the Magpie, and the Swallow;
And twenty more their throats let loose,
Down to the witless waddling Goose.
Some peck'd at him, some flew, some flutter'd,
Some hiss'd, some scream'd, and others mutter'd:
The Crow, on carrion wont to feast,
The Carrion Crow condemn'd his taste:
The Rook in earnest too, not joking,
Swore all his singing was but croaking.
Some thought they meant to show their wit,
Might think so still — "but that they writ" —
Could it be spite or envy; — "No —
Who did no ill, could have no foe." —
So Wise Simplicity esteem'd,
Quite otherwise True Wisdom deem'd;
This question rightly understood,
"What more provokes than doing good?
A soul ennobled and refin'd
Reproaches every baser mind:
As strains exalted and melodious
Make every meaner musick odious." —
At length the Nightingale[8] was heard,
For voice and wisdom long rever'd,
Esteem'd of all the wise and good,
The Guardian Genius of the wood:
He long in discontent retir'd,
Yet not obscur'd, but more admir'd;
His brethren's servile souls disdaining,
He liv'd indignant and complaining:
They now afresh provoke his choler,
(It seems the Lark had been his scholar,
A favourite scholar always near him,
And oft had wak'd whole nights to hear him)
Enrag'd he canvasses the matter,
Exposes all their senseless chatter,
Shows him and them in such a light,
As more enflames, yet quells their spite.
They hear his voice, and frighted fly,
For rage had rais'd it very high:
Sham'd by the wisdom of his notes,
They hide their heads, and hush their throats.

  1. Lord Carteret, lord lieutenant of Ireland.
  2. Ireland.
  3. A famous modern architect, who built the parliament house in Dublin.
  4. Dr. Delany.
  5. Dr T——r.
  6. Right hon. Rich. Tighe.
  7. Dr. Sheridan.
  8. Dean Swift