John Gay

(30 June 1685 – 4 December 1732 / Barnstaple, England)

Rural Sports: A Georgic - Canto I.


You, who the sweets of rural life have known,
Despise the ungrateful hurry of the town;
In Windsor groves your easy hours employ,
And, undistub'd, yourself and muse enjoy.
Thames, listens to thy strains, and silent flows,
And no rude winds through rustling osiers blows,
While all his wondering nymphs around thee throng,
To hear the Syrens warble in thy song.

But I, who ne'er was bless'd by fortune's hand,
Nor brighten'd plough shares in paternal land,
Long in the noisy town have been immur'd,
Respir'd its smoke, and all its cares endur'd,
Where news and politics divide mankind,
And schemes of state involve the uneasy mind:
Faction embroils the world; and every tongue
Is mov'd by flattery, or with scandal hung:
Friendship, for sylvan shades, the palace flies,
Where all must yield to interest's dearer ties,
Each rival Machiavel with envy burns,
And honesty forsakes them all by turns;
While calumny upon each party's thrown,
Which both promote, and both alike disown.
Fatigu'd at last; a calm retreat I chose,
And sooth'd my harass'd mind with sweet repose,
Where fields, and shades, and the refreshing clime,
Inspire my silvan song, and prompt my rhyme.
My muse shall rove through flowery meads and plains,
And deck with rural sports her native strains,
And the same road ambitiously pursue,
Frequented by the Mantuan swain, and you.

'Tis not that rural sports alone invite,
But all the grateful country breathes delight;
Here blooming health exerts her gentle reign,
And strings the sinews of the industrious swain.
Soon as the morning lark salutes the day,
Through dewy fields I take my frequent way,
Where I behold the farmer's early care,
In the revolving labours of the year.

When the fresh spring in all her state is crown'd,
And high luxuriant grass o'erspreads the ground,
The labourer with the bending scythe is seen,
Shaving the surface of the waving green,
Of all her native pride disrobes the land,
And meads lays waste before the sweeping hand:
While the mounting sun the meadow glows,
The fading herbage round he loosely throws;
But if some sign portend a lasting shower,
The experienc'd swain foresees the coming hour,
His sun burnt hands the scattering fork forsake,
And ruddy damsels ply the saving rake;
In rising hills the fragrant harvest grows,
And spreads along the field in equal rows.

Now when the height of heaven bright Phoebus gains,
And level rays cleave wide the thirsty plains,
When heifers seek the shade and cooling lake,
And in the middle path-way basks the snake?
O lead me, guard me from the sultry hours,
Hide me, ye forests, in your closet bowers:
Where the tall oak his spreading arms entwine,,
And with the beech a mutual shade combines;
Where flows the murmuring brook, inviting dreams,
Where bordering hazle overhangs the streams,
Whose rolling current winding round and round,
With frequent falls makes all the woods resound,
Upon the mossy couch my limbs I cast,
And even at noon the sweets of evening taste.

Here I peruse the Mantuan's Georgic strains,
And learn the labours of Italian swains;
In every page I see new landscapes rise,
And all Hesperia opens to my eyes.
I wander o'er the various rural toil,
And know the nature of each different soil:
This waving field is gilded o'er with corn,
That spreading trees with blushing fruit adorn;
Here I survey the purple vintage grow,
Climb round the poles, and rise in graceful row;
Now I behold the steed curvet and bound,
And paw with restless hoof the smoking ground:
The dewlap'd bull now chaffs along the plain,
While burning love ferments in every vein;
His well-arm'd front against his rival aims,
And by the dint of war his mistress claims:
The careful insect 'midst his works I view,
Now from the flowers exhaust the fragrant dew;
With golden treasures load his little thighs,
And steer his distant journey through the skies;
Some against hostile drones the hive defend;
Others with sweets the waxen cells distend;
Each in the toil his destin'd office bears,
And in the little bulk a mighty soul appears.

Or when the ploughman leaves the task of day,
And trudging homeward whistles on the way;
When the big udder'd cows with patience stand,
Waiting the stroakings of the damsel's hand;
No warbling cheers the woods; the feather'd choir
To court kind slumbers to their sprays retire;
When no rude gale disturbs the sleeping trees,
Nor aspen leaves confess the gentlest breeze;
Engag'd in thought, to Neptune's bounds I stray,
To take my farewell of the parting day;
Far in the deep the sun his glory hides,
A streak of gold the sea and sky divides;
The purple clouds their amber lining show,
And edg'd with flame rolls every wave below:
Here pensive I behold the fading light,
And o'er the distant billow lose my sight.

Now night in the silent state begins to rise
And twinkling orbs bestrow the uncloudy skies;
Her borrow'd lustre growing Cynthia lends,
And on the main a glittering path extends;
Millions of worlds hang in the spacious air,
Which round their suns the annual circles steer.
Sweet contemplation elevates my sense,
While I survey the works of Providence.
O would the muse in loftier strains rehearse,
The glorious Author of the universe,
Who reins the winds, gives the vast ocean bounds,
And circumscribes the floating worlds their rounds.
My soul should overflow in songs of praise,
And my Creator's name inspire my lays!

As in successive course the seasons roll,
So circling pleasures recreate the soul.
When genial spring a living warmth bestows,
And o'er the year her verdant mantle throws,
No swelling inundation hides the grounds,
But crystal currents glide within their bounds;
The finny brood their wonted haunts forsake,
Float in the sun, and skim along the lake,
With frequent leap they range the shallow streams,
Their silver coats reflect the dazzling beams.
Now let the fisherman his tolls prepare,
And arm himself with every watery snare;
His hooks, his lines persue with careful eye,
Increase his tackle, and his rod re-tie.

When floating clouds their spongy fleeces drain,
Troubling the streams with swift-descending rain,
And waters, tumbling down the mountain's side,
Bear the loose soil into the swelling tide;
Then, soon as vernal gales begin to rise,
And drive the liquid burthen through the skies,
The fisher to the neighbouring current speeds,
Whose rapid surface purls, unknown to weeds;
Upon a rising border of the brook
He sits him down, and ties the treacherous hook;
Now expectation cheers his eager thought,
His bosom glows with treasures yet uncaught,
Before his eyes a banquet seems to stand,
Where every guest applauds his skilful hand.

Far up the stream the twisted hair he throws,
Which down the murmuring current gently flows;
When if or chance or hunger's powerful sway
Directs the roving trout this fatal way,
He greedily sucks in the twining bait,
And tugs and nibbles the fallacious meat:
Now, happy fisherman, now twitch the line!
How thy rod bends! behold, the prize is thine!
Cast on the bank, he dies with gasping pains,
And trickling blood his silver mail distains.

You must not every worm promiscuous use,
Judgement will tell thee proper bait to choose;
The worm that draws a long immoderate size
The trout abhors, and the rank morsel flies;
And if too small, the naked fraud's in sight,
And fear forbids, while hunger does invite.
Those baits will best reward the fisher's pains,
Whose polish'd tails a shining yellow stains.
Cleanse them from filth, to give a tempting gloss,
Cherish the sullied reptile race with moss;
Amid the verdant bed they twine, they toil,
And from their bodies wipe their native soil.

But when the sun displays his glorious beams,
And shallow rivers flow with silver streams,
Then the deceit the scaly breed survey,
Bask in the sun, and look into the day.
You now a more delusive art must try,
And tempt their hunger with the curious fly.

To frame the little animal, provide
All the gay hues that wait on female pride,
Let nature guide thee; sometimes golden wire
The shining bellies of the fly require;
The peacock plumes thy tackle must not fail,
Nor the drear purchase of the sable's tail.
Each gaudy bird some slender tribute brings,
And lends the growing insect proper wings:
Silks of all colours must their aid impart,
And every fur promote the fisher's art.
So the gay lady, with expensive care,
Borrows the pride of land, of sea, and air;
Furs, pearls, and plumes, the glittering thing displays,
Dazzles our eyes, and easy hearts betrays.

Mark well the various seasons of the year,
How the succeeding insect race appear;
In this revolving moon one colour reigns,
Which in the next the fickle trout disdains.
Oft have I seen a skilful angler try
The various colours of the treacherous fly;
When he with fruitless pain hath skimm'd the brook,
And the coy fish rejects the skipping hooks,
He shakes the boughs that on the margin grow,
Which o'er the stream a waving forest throw;
When if an insect fall, (his certain guide)
He gently takes him from the whirling tide;
Examines well his form with curious eyes,
His gaudy vest, his wings, his horns and size.
Then round his hook the chosen fur he winds,
And on the back a speckled feather binds,
So just the colours shine through every part,
That nature seems to live again in art.
Let not thy wary step advance too near,
While all thy hopes hang on a single hair;
The new-form'd insect on the water moves,
The speckled trout the curious snare approves
Upon the curling surface let it glide,
With natural motion from thy hand supplied,
Against the stream now let it gently play,
Now in the rapid eddy roll away.
The scaly shoals float by, and seiz'd with fear
Behold their fellows toss'd in thinner air;
But soon they leap, and catch the swimming bait,
Plunge on the hook, and share an equal fate.

When a brisk gale against the current blows,
And all the watery plain in wrinkles flows,
Then let the fisherman his art repeat,
Where bubbling eddies favour the deceit.
If an enormous salmon chance to spy
The wanton errors of the floating fly,
He lifts his silver gills above the flood,
And greedily sucks in the unfaithful food;
Then downward plunges with the fraudful prey,
And bears with joy the little spoil away.
Soon, in smart pain, he feels the dire mistake,
Lashes the wave, and beats the foamy lake,
With sudden rage he now aloft appears,
And in his eye convulsive anguish bears;
And now again, impatient of the wound,
He rolls and wreaths his shining body round;
Then headlong shoots beneath the dashing tide,
The trembling fins the boiling wave divide;
Now hope exalts the fisher's beating heart,
Now he turns pale, and fears his dubious art;
He views the tumbling fish with longing eyes,
While the line stretches with the unwieldy prize;
Each motion humours with his steady hands,
And one slight hair the mighty bulk commands;
Till tir'd at last, despoil'd of all his strength,
The game athwart the stream unfolds his length.
He now with pleasure views the gasping prize
Gnash his sharp teeth, and roll his blood-shot eyes
Then draws him to the shore, with artful care,
And lifts his nostrils in the sickening air:
Upon the burthen'd stream he floating lies,
Stretches his quivering fins, and gasping dies.

Would you preserve a numerous finny race?
Let your fierce dogs the ravenous otter chase;
The amphibious monster ranges all the shores,
Darts through the waves, and every haunt explores
Or let the gin his roving steps betray,
And save from hostile jaws the scaly prey.

I never wander where the bordering reeds
O'erlook the muddy stream, whose tangling weeds
Perplex the fisher; I, nor choose to bear
The thievish nightly net, nor barbed spear;
Nor drain I ponds the golden carp to take,
Nor troll for pikes, dispeoplers of the lake.
Around the steel no tortur'd worm shall twine,
No blood of living insect stain my line;
Let me less cruel cast the feather'd hook,
With pliant rod athwart the pebbled brook,
Silent along the mazy margin stray,
And with the fur-wrought fly delude the prey.

Submitted: Tuesday, April 20, 2010

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