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Joanna Baillie

(1762-1851 / Scotland)

Lines To A Teapot


ON thy carved sides, where many a vivid dye
In easy progress leads the wandering eye,
A distant nation's manners we behold,
To the quick fancy whimsically told.
The small-eyed beauty with her Mandarin,
Who o'er the rail of garden arbour lean,
In listless ease; and rocks of arid brown,
On whose sharp crags, in gay profusion blown,
The ample loose-leaved rose appears to grace
The skilful culture of the wonderous place;
The little verdant plat, where with his mate
The golden pheasant holds his gorgeous state,
With gaily crested pate and twisted neck,
Turned jantily his glossy wings to peck;
The smooth-streaked water of a paly gray,
O'er which the checkered bridge lends ready way,
While, by its margin moored, the little boat
Doth with its oars and netted awning float:
A scene in short all soft delights to take in,
A paradise for grave Grandee of Pekin.
With straight small spout, that from thy body fair,
Diverges with a smart vivacious air,
And round, arched handle with gold tracery bound,
And dome-shaped lid with bud or button crowned,
Thou standest complete, fair subject of my rhymes,
A goodly vessel of the olden times.
But far less pleasure yields this fair display
Than that enjoyed upon thy natal day,
When round the potter's wheel, their chins raising,
An urchin group in silent wonder gazing,
Stood and beheld, as, touched with magic skill,
The whirling clay swift fashioned to his will,--
Saw mazy motion stopped, and then the toy
Complete before their eyes, and grinned for joy;
Clapping their naked sides with blythe halloo,
And curtailed words of praise, like ting, tung, too!
The brown-skinned artist, with his unclothed waist
And girded loins, who, slow and patient, traced,
Beneath his humble shed, this fair array
Of pictured forms upon thy surface gay,
I will not stop in fancy's sight to place,
But speed me on my way with quickened pace.
Packed in a chest with others of thy kind,
The sport of waves and every shifting wind,
The Ocean thou hast crossed, and thou mayest claim
The passing of the Line to swell thy fame,
With as good observation of the thing
As some of those who in a hammock swing.
And now thou 'rt seen in Britain's polished land,
Held up to public view in waving hand
Of boastful auctioneer, whilst dames of pride
In morning farthingals, scarce two yards wide,
With collared lap-dogs snarling in their arms,
Contend in rival keenness for thy charms.
And certes well they might, for there they found thee
With all thy train of vassal cups around thee,
A prize which thoughts by day, and dreams by night,
Could dwell on for a week with fresh delight.
Our pleased imagination now pourtrays
The glory of thy high official days,
When thou on board of rich japan wert set,
Round whose supporting table gaily met
At close of eve, the young, the learned, the fair,
And even philosophy and wit were there.
Midst basons, cream-pots, cups and saucers small,
Thou stood'st the ruling chieftain of them all;
And even the kettle of Potosi's ore,
Whose ample cell supplied thy liquid store,
Beneath whose base the sapphire flame was burning,
Above whose lid the wreathy smoke was turning,
Though richly chased and burnished it might be,
Was yet, confessed, subordinate to thee.
But O! when beauty's hand thy weight sustained,
The climax of thy glory was attained!
Back from her elevated elbow fell
Its three-tired ruffle, and displayed the swell
And gentle rounding of her lily arm,
The eyes of wistful sage or beau to charm--
A sight at other times but dimly seen
Through veiling folds of point or colberteen.
With pleasing toil, red glowed her dimpled cheek,
Bright glanced her eyes beneath her forehead sleek,
And as she poured the beverage, through the room
Was spread its fleeting, delicate perfume.
Then did bright wit and cheerful fancy play
With all the passing topics of the day.
So delicate, so varied and so free
Was the heart's pastime, then inspired by thee,
That goblet, bowl or flask could boast no power
Of high excitement, in their reigning hour,
Compared to thine;--red wildfire of the fen,
To summer moonshine of some fairy glen.
But now the honours of thy course are past,
For what of earthly happiness may last!
Although in modern drawing-room, a board
May fragrant tea from menial hands afford,
Which, poured in dull obscurity hath been,
From pot of vulgar ware, in nook unseen,
And pass in hasty rounds our eyes before,
Thou in thy graceful state art seen no more.
And what the changeful fleeting crowd, who sip
The unhonoured beverage with contemptuous lip,
Enjoy amidst the tangled, giddy maze,
Their languid eye--their listless air betrays.
What though at times we see a youthful fair
By white clothed board her watery drug prepare,
At further corner of a noisy room,
Where only casual stragglers deign to come,
Like tavern's busy bar-maid; still I say,
The honours of thy course are passed away.
Again hath auctioneer thy value praised,
Again have rival bidders on thee gazed,
But not the gay, the young, the fair, I trow!
No; sober connoisseurs, with wrinkled brow
And spectacles on nose, thy parts inspect,
And by grave rules approve thee or reject.
For all the bliss which china charms afford,
My lady now has ceded to her lord.
And wisely too does she forego the prize,
Since modern pin-money will scarce suffice
For all the trimmings, flounces, beads and lace,
The thousand needful things that needs must grace
Her daily changed attire.--And now on shelf
Of china closet placed, a cheerless elf,
Like moody statesman in his rural den,
From power dismissed--like prosperous citizen,
From shop or change set free--untoward bliss!
Thou rest'st in most ignoble uselessness.

Submitted: Thursday, April 15, 2010

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