English Literature » Jonathan Swift » The Pheasant and the Lark

The Pheasant and the Lark by

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 ruled 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-fledged 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 chanced as on a day he stray'd
Beneath an academic shade,
He liked, amidst a thousand throats,
The wildness of a Woodlark's[4] notes,
And search'd, and spied, and seized 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 critic 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 studied in the wood,
Conversing with the wise and good:
His soul with harmony inspired,
With love of truth and virtue fired:
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 fired 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:
"Unmoved 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 supplied
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:
Sardonic smiles, by rancour raised!
Tormented most when seeming pleased!"
Their spite had more than half expired,
Had he not wrote what all admired;
What morsels had their malice wanted,
But that he built, and plann'd, and planted!
How had his sense and learning grieved them,
But that his charity relieved 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 hoped, 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, pronounced it loud:
Plain Truth was Pride; and, what was sillier,
Easy and Friendly was Familiar.

  Or, if he tuned his lofty lays,
With solemn air to Virtue's praise,
Alike abusive and erroneous,
They call'd it hoarse and inharmonious.
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 refined
Reproaches every baser mind:
As strains exalted and melodious
Make every meaner music odious."–
At length the Nightingale[8] was heard,
For voice and wisdom long revered,
Esteem'd of all the wise and good,
The Guardian Genius of the wood:
He long in discontent retired,
Yet not obscured, but more admired:
His brethren's servile souls disdaining,
He lived 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 waked whole nights to hear him.)
Enraged he canvasses the matter,
Exposes all their senseless chatter,
Shows him and them in such a light,
As more inflames, yet quells their spite.
They hear his voice, and frighted fly,
For rage had raised it very high:
Shamed by the wisdom of his notes,
They hide their heads, and hush their throats.

[Footnote 1: Lord Carteret, Lord-lieutenant of Ireland.–F.]

[Footnote 2: Ireland.–F]

[Footnote 3: A famous modern architect, who built the Parliament-house in Dublin.–F.]

[Footnote 4: Dr. Delany.–F.]

[Footnote 5: Dr. T—-r.–F.]

[Footnote 6: Right Hon. Rich. Tighe.–F.]

[Footnote 7: Dr. Sheridan.–F.]

[Footnote 8: Dean Swift.–F.]


Answer to Delany's Fable


In ancient times, the wise were able
In proper terms to write a fable:
Their tales would always justly suit
The characters of every brute.
The ass was dull, the lion brave,
The stag was swift, the fox a knave;
The daw a thief, the ape a droll,
The hound would scent, the wolf would prowl:
A pigeon would, if shown by AEsop,
Fly from the hawk, or pick his pease up.
Far otherwise a great divine
Has learnt his fables to refine;
He jumbles men and birds together,
As if they all were of a feather:
You see him first the Peacock bring,
Against all rules, to be a king;
That in his tail he wore his eyes,
By which he grew both rich and wise.
Now, pray, observe the doctor's choice,
A Peacock chose for flight and voice;
Did ever mortal see a peacock
Attempt a flight above a haycock?
And for his singing, doctor, you know
Himself complain'd of it to Juno.
He squalls in such a hellish noise,
He frightens all the village boys.
This Peacock kept a standing force,
In regiments of foot and horse:
Had statesmen too of every kind,
Who waited on his eyes behind;
And this was thought the highest post;
For, rule the rump, you rule the roast.

The doctor names but one at present,
And he of all birds was a Pheasant.
This Pheasant was a man of wit,
Could read all books were ever writ;
And, when among companions privy,
Could quote you Cicero and Livy.
Birds, as he says, and I allow,
Were scholars then, as we are now;
Could read all volumes up to folios,
And feed on fricassees and olios:
This Pheasant, by the Peacock's will,
Was viceroy of a neighbouring hill;
And, as he wander'd in his park,
He chanced to spy a clergy Lark;
Was taken with his person outward,
So prettily he pick'd a cow-t–d:
Then in a net the Pheasant caught him,
And in his palace fed and taught him.
The moral of the tale is pleasant,
Himself the Lark, my lord the Pheasant:
A lark he is, and such a lark
As never came from Noah's ark:
And though he had no other notion,
But building, planning, and devotion;
Though 'tis a maxim you must know,
"Who does no ill can have no foe;"
Yet how can I express in words
The strange stupidity of birds?
This Lark was hated in the wood,
Because he did his brethren good.
At last the Nightingale comes in,
To hold the doctor by the chin:
We all can find out what he means,
The worst of disaffected deans:
Whose wit at best was next to none,
And now that little next is gone;
Against the court is always blabbing,
And calls the senate-house a cabin;
So dull, that but for spleen and spite,
We ne'er should know that he could write
Who thinks the nation always err'd,
Because himself is not preferr'd;
His heart is through his libel seen,
Nor could his malice spare the queen;
Who, had she known his vile behaviour,
Would ne'er have shown him so much favour.

A noble lord[1] has told his pranks,
And well deserves the nation's thanks.
O! would the senate deign to show
Resentment on this public foe,
Our Nightingale might fit a cage;
There let him starve, and vent his rage:
Or would they but in fetters bind
This enemy of human kind!
Harmonious Coffee,[2] show thy zeal,
Thou champion for the commonweal:
Nor on a theme like this repine,
For once to wet thy pen divine:
Bestow that libeller a lash,
Who daily vends seditious trash:
Who dares revile the nation's wisdom,
But in the praise of virtue is dumb:
That scribbler lash, who neither knows
The turn of verse, nor style of prose;
Whose malice, for the worst of ends,
Would have us lose our English friends:[3]
Who never had one public thought,
Nor ever gave the poor a groat.
One clincher more, and I have done,
I end my labours with a pun.
Jove send this Nightingale may fall,
Who spends his day and night in gall!
So, Nightingale and Lark, adieu;
I see the greatest owls in you
That ever screech'd, or ever flew.

[Footnote 1: Lord Allen, the same who is meant by Traulus.–F.]

[Footnote 2: A Dublin Gazetteer.–F.]

[Footnote 3: See A New Song on a Seditious Pamphlet.–F.]

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