To Stella, Who Collected and Transcribed His Poems by Jonathan Swift
As, when a lofty pile is raised, We never hear the workmen praised, Who bring the lime, or place the stones; But all admire Inigo Jones: So, if this pile of scattered rhymes Should be approved in aftertimes; If it both pleases and endures, The merit and the praise are yours. Thou, Stella, wert no longer young, When first for thee my harp was strung, Without one word of Cupid's darts, Of killing eyes, or bleeding hearts; With friendship and esteem possest, I ne'er admitted Love a guest. In all the habitudes of life, The friend, the mistress, and the wife, Variety we still pursue, In pleasure seek for something new; Or else, comparing with the rest, Take comfort that our own is best; The best we value by the worst, As tradesmen show their trash at first; But his pursuits are at an end, Whom Stella chooses for a friend. A poet starving in a garret, Invokes his mistress and his Muse, And stays at home for want of shoes: Should but his Muse descending drop A slice of bread and mutton-chop; Or kindly, when his credit's out, Surprise him with a pint of stout; Or patch his broken stocking soles; Or send him in a peck of coals; Exalted in his mighty mind, He flies and leaves the stars behind; Counts all his labours amply paid, Adores her for the timely aid. Or, should a porter make inquiries For Chloe, Sylvia, Phillis, Iris; Be told the lodging, lane, and sign, The bowers that hold those nymphs divine; Fair Chloe would perhaps be found With footmen tippling under ground; The charming Sylvia beating flax, Her shoulders marked with bloody tracks; Bright Phyllis mending ragged smocks: And radiant Iris in the pox. These are the goddesses enrolled In Curll's collection, new and old, Whose scoundrel fathers would not know 'em, If they should meet them in a poem. True poets can depress and raise, Are lords of infamy and praise; They are not scurrilous in satire, Nor will in panegyric flatter. Unjustly poets we asperse; Truth shines the brighter clad in verse, And all the fictions they pursue Do but insinuate what is true. Now, should my praises owe their truth To beauty, dress, or paint, or youth, What stoics call without our power, They could not be ensured an hour; 'Twere grafting on an annual stock, That must our expectation mock, And, making one luxuriant shoot, Die the next year for want of root: Before I could my verses bring, Perhaps you're quite another thing. So Maevius, when he drained his skull To celebrate some suburb trull, His similes in order set, And every crambo he could get; Had gone through all the common-places Worn out by wits, who rhyme on faces; Before he could his poem close, The lovely nymph had lost her nose. Your virtues safely I commend; They on no accidents depend: Let malice look with all her eyes, She dare not say the poet lies. Stella, when you these lines transcribe, Lest you should take them for a bribe, Resolved to mortify your pride, I'll here expose your weaker side. Your spirits kindle to a flame, Moved by the lightest touch of blame; And when a friend in kindness tries To show you where your error lies, Conviction does but more incense; Perverseness is your whole defence; Truth, judgment, wit, give place to spite, Regardless both of wrong and right; Your virtues all suspended wait, Till time has opened reason's gate; And, what is worse, your passion bends Its force against your nearest friends, Which manners, decency, and pride,
Have taught from you the world to hide; In vain; for see, your friend has brought To public light your only fault; And yet a fault we often find Mixed in a noble, generous mind: And may compare to Etna's fire, Which, though with trembling, all admire; The heat that makes the summit glow, Enriching all the vales below. Those who, in warmer climes, complain From Phoebus' rays they suffer pain, Must own that pain is largely paid By generous wines beneath a shade. Yet, when I find your passions rise, And anger sparkling in your eyes, I grieve those spirits should be spent, For nobler ends by nature meant. One passion, with a different turn, Makes wit inflame, or anger burn: So the sun's heat, with different powers, Ripens the grape, the liquor sours: Thus Ajax, when with rage possest, By Pallas breathed into his breast, His valour would no more employ, Which might alone have conquered Troy; But, blinded be resentment, seeks For vengeance on his friends the Greeks. You think this turbulence of blood From stagnating preserves the flood, Which, thus fermenting by degrees, Exalts the spirits, sinks the lees. Stella, for once your reason wrong; For, should this ferment last too long, By time subsiding, you may find Nothing but acid left behind; From passion you may then be freed, When peevishness and spleen succeed. Say, Stella, when you copy next, Will you keep strictly to the text? Dare you let these reproaches stand, And to your failing set your hand? Or, if these lines your anger fire, Shall they in baser flames expire? Whene'er they burn, if burn they must, They'll prove my accusation just.