George Crabbe

(24 December 1754 - 3 February 1832 / Aldeburgh, Suffulk)

Inebriety - Poem by George Crabbe

The mighty spirit, and its power, which stains
The bloodless cheek, and vivifies the brains,
I sing. Say, ye, its fiery vot'ries true,
The jovial curate, and the shrill-tongued shrew;
Ye, in the floods of limpid poison nurst,
Where bowl the second charms like bowl the first;
Say how, and why, the sparkling ill is shed,
The heart which hardens, and which rules the head.
When winter stern his gloomy front uprears,
A sable void the barren earth appears;
The meads no more their former verdure boast,
Fast bound their streams, and all their beauty

The herds, the flocks, in icy garments mourn,
And wildly murmur for the spring's return;
From snow-topp'd hills the whirlwinds keenly blow,
Howl through the woods, and pierce the vales below;
Through the sharp air a flaky torrent flies,
Mocks the slow sight, and hides the gloomy skies;
The fleecy clouds their chilly bosoms bare,
And shed their substance on the floating air;
The floating air their downy substance glides
Through springing waters, and prevents their tides;
Seizes the rolling waves, and, as a god,
Charms their swift race, and stops the refluent

The opening valves, which fill the venal road,
Then scarcely urge along the sanguine flood;
The labouring pulse a slower motion rules,
The tendons stiffen, and the spirit cools;
Each asks the aid of Nature's sister, Art,
To cheer the senses, and to warm the heart.
The gentle fair on nervous tea relies,
Whilst gay good-nature sparkles in her eyes;
An inoffensive scandal fluttering round,
Too rough to tickle, and too light to wound;
Champagne the courtier drinks, the spleen to chase,
The colonel burgundy, and port his grace;
Turtle and 'rrac the city rulers charm,
Ale and content the labouring peasants warm:
O'er the dull embers, happy Colin sits,
Colin, the prince of joke, and rural wits;
Whilst the wind whistles through the hollow panes,
He drinks, nor of the rude assault complains;
And tells the tale, from sire to son retold,
Of spirits vanishing near hidden gold;
Of moon-clad imps that tremble by the dew,
Who skim the air, or glide o'er waters blue:
The throng invisible that, doubtless, float
By mouldering tombs, and o'er the stagnant meat:
Fays dimly glancing on the russet plain,
And all the dreadful nothing of the green.
Peace be to such, the happiest and the best,
Who with the forms of fancy urge their jest;
Who wage no war with an avenger's rod,
Nor in the pride of reason curse their God.
When in the vaulted arch Lucina gleams,
And gaily dances o'er the azure streams;
On silent ether when a trembling sound
Reverberates, and wildly floats around,
Breaking through trackless space upon the ear,
Conclude the Bacchanalian rustic near:
O'er hills and vales the jovial savage reels,
Fire in his head and frenzy at his heels;
From paths direct the bending hero swerves,
And shapes his way in ill-proportioned curves.
Now safe arrived, his sleeping rib he calls,
And madly thunders on the muddy walls;
The well-known sounds an equal fury move,
For rage meets rage, as love enkindles love:
In vain the waken'd infant's accents shrill,
The humble regions of the cottage fill;
In vain the cricket chirps the mansion through,
'Tis war, and blood, and battle must ensue.
As when, on humble stage, him Satan hight
Defies the brazen hero to the fight:
From twanging strokes what dire misfortunes rise,
What fate to maple arms and glassen eyes!
Here lies a leg of elm, and there a stroke
From ashen neck has whirl'd a head of oak.
So drops from either power, with vengeance big,
A remnant night-cap and an old cut wig;
Titles unmusical retorted round,
On either ear with leaden vengeance sound;
Till equal valour, equal wounds create,
And drowsy peace concludes the fell debate;
Sleep in her woollen mantle wraps the pair,
And sheds her poppies on the ambient air;
Intoxication flies, as fury fled,
On rooky pinions quits the aching head;
Returning reason cools the fiery blood,
And drives from memory's seat the rosy god.
Yet still he holds o'er some his maddening rule.
Still sways his sceptre, and still knows his fool;
Witness the livid lip, and fiery front,
With many a smarting trophy placed upon't;
The hollow eye, which plays in misty springs,
And the hoarse voice, which rough and broken rings;
These are his triumphs, and o'er these he reigns,
The blinking deity of reeling brains.
See Inebriety! her wand she waves,
And lo! her pale, and lo! her purple slaves!
Sots in embroidery, and sots in crape,
Of every order, station, rank, and shape:
The king, who nods upon his rattle throne;
The staggering peer, to midnight revel prone;
The slow-tongued bishop, and the deacon sly,
The humble pensioner, and gownsman dry;
The proud, the mean, the selfish, and the great,
Swell the dull throng, and stagger into state.
Lo! proud Flaminius at the splendid board,
The easy chaplain of an atheist lord,
Quaffs the bright juice, with all the gust of

And clouds his brain in torpid elegance;
In china vases, see! the sparkling ill,
From gay decanters view the rosy rill;
The neat-carved pipes in silver settle laid,
The screw by mathematic cunning made:
Oh, happy priest! whose God, like Egypt's, lies
At once the deity and sacrifice.
But is Flaminius then the man alone
To whom the joys of swimming brains are known?
Lo! the poor toper whose untutor'd sense,
Sees bliss in ale, and can with wine dispense;
Whose head proud fancy never taught to steer
Beyond the muddy ecstasies of beer;
But simple nature can her longing quench,
Behind the settle's curve, or humbler bench:
Some kitchen fire diffusing warmth around,
The semi-globe by hieroglyphics crown'd;
Where canvas purse displays the brass enroll'd,
Nor waiters rave, nor landlords thirst for gold;
Ale and content his fancy's bounds confine.
He asks no limpid punch, no rosy wine;
But sees, admitted to an equal share,
Each faithful swain the heady potion bear:
Go, wiser thou! and in thy scale of taste,
Weigh gout and gravel against ale and rest;
Call vulgar palates what thou judgest so;
Say beer is heavy, windy, cold, and slow;
Laugh at poor sots with insolent pretence,
Yet cry, when tortured, where is Providence?
In various forms the madd'ning spirit moves,
This drinks and fights, another drinks and loves.
A bastard zeal, of different kinds it shows,
And now with rage, and now religion glows:
The frantic soul bright reason's path defies,
Now creeps on earth, now triumphs in the skies;
Swims in the seas of error, and explores,
Through midnight mists, the fluctuating shores;
From wave to wave in rocky channel glides,
And sinks in woe, or on presumption slides;
In pride exalted, or by shame deprest,
An angel-devil, or a human-beast.
Some rage in all the strength of folly mad;
Some love stupidity, in silence clad,
Are never quarrelsome, are never gay,
But sleep, and groan, and drink the night away;
Old Torpio nods, and as the laugh goes round,
Grunts through the nasal duct, and joins the sound.
Then sleeps again, and, as the liquors pass,
Wakes at the friendly jog, and takes his glass:
Alike to him who stands, or reels, or moves,
The elbow chair, good wine, and sleep he loves,
Nor cares of state disturb his easy head,
By grosser fumes and calmer follies fed;
Nor thoughts of when, or where, or how to come,
The canvass general, or the general doom;
Extremes ne'er reach'd one passion of his soul,
A villain tame, and an unmettled fool;
To half his vices he has but pretence,
For they usurp the place of common sense;
To half his little merits has no claim,
For very indolence has raised his name;
Happy in this, that, under Satan's sway,
His passions tremble, but will not obey.
The vicar at the table's front presides,
Whose presence a monastic life derides;
The reverend wig, in sideway order placed,
The reverend band, by rubric stains disgraced,
The leering eye, in wayward circles roll'd,
Mark him the pastor of a joyial fold,
Whose various texts excite a loud applause,
Favouring the bottle, and the good old cause.
See! the dull smile which fearfully appears,
When gross indecency her front uprears,
The joy conceal'd, the fiercer burns within,
As masks afford the keenest gust to sin;
Imagination helps the reverend sire,
And spreads the sails of sub-divine desire;
But when the gay immoral joke goes round,
When shame and all her blushing train are drown'd,
Rather than hear his God blasphemed, he takes
The last loved glass, and then the board forsakes.
Not that religion prompts the sober thought,
But slavish custom has the practice taught;
Besides, this zealous son of warm devotion
Has a true Levite bias for promotion.
Vicars must with discretion go astray,
Whilst bishops may be damn'd the nearest way;
So puny robbers individuals kill,
When hector-heroes murder as they will.
Good honest Curio elbows the divine,
And strives a social sinner how to shine;
The dull quaint tale is his, the lengthen'd tale,
That Wilton farmers give you with their ale,
How midnight ghosts o'er vaults terrific pass,
Dance o'er the grave, and slide along the grass;
Or how pale Cicely within the wood
Call'd Satan forth, and bargain'd with her blood.
These, honest Curio, are thine, and these
Are the dull treasures of a brain at peace;
No wit intoxicates thy gentle skull,
Of heavy, native, unwrought folly full:
Bowl upon bowl in vain exert their force,
The breathing spirit takes a downward course,
Or mainly soaring upwards to the head,
Meets an impenetrable fence of lead.
Hast thou, oh reader! searched o'er gentle Gay,
Where various animals their powers display?
In one strange group a chattering race are hurl'd,
Led by the monkey who had seen the world.
Like him Fabricio steals from guardian's side,
Swims not in pleasure's stream, but sips the tide:
He hates the bottle, yet but thinks it right
To boast next day the honours of the night;
None like your coward can describe a fight.
See him as down the sparkling potion goes,
Labour to grin away the horrid dose;
In joy-feigned gaze his misty eyeballs float,
Th' uncivil spirit gurgling at his throat;
So looks dim Titan through a wintry scene,
And faintly cheers the woe-foreboding swain.
Timon, long practised in the school of art,
Has lost each finer feeling of the heart;
Triumphs o'er shame, and, with delusive wiles,
Laughs at the idiot he himself beguiles:
So matrons, past the awe of censure's tongue,
Deride the blushes of the fair and young.
Few with more fire on every subject spoke,
But chief he loved the gay immoral joke;
The words most sacred, stole from holy writ,
He gave a newer form, and called them wit.
Vice never had a more sincere ally,
So bold no sinner, yet no saint so sly;
Learn'd, but not wise, and without virtue brave,
A gay, deluding, philosophic knave.
When Bacchus' joys his airy fancy fire,
They stir a new, but still a false desire;
And to the comfort of each untaught fool,
Horace in English vindicates the bowl.
'The man,' says Timon, 'who is drunk is blest,
No fears disturb, no cares destroy his rest;
In thoughtless joy he reels away his life,
Nor dreads that worst of ills, a noisy wife.'
'Oh! place me, Jove, where none but women come,
And thunders worse than thine afflict the room,
Where one eternal nothing flutters round,
And senseless titt'ring sense of mirth confound;
Or lead me bound to garret, Babel-high,
Where frantic poet rolls his crazy eye,
Tiring the ear with oft-repeated chimes,
And smiling at the never-ending rhymes:
E'en here, or there, I'll be as blest as Jove,
Give me tobacco, and the wine I love.'
Applause from hands the dying accents break,
Of stagg'ring sots who vainly try to speak;
From Milo, him who hangs upon each word,
And in loud praises splits the tortured board,
Collects each sentence, ere it's better known,
And makes the mutilated joke his own.
At weekly club to flourish, where he rules,
The glorious president of grosser fools.
But cease, my Muse! of those or these enough,
The fools who listen, and the knaves who scoff;
The jest profane, that mocks th' offended God,
Defies his power, and sets at nought his rod;
The empty laugh, discretion's vainest foe,
From fool to fool re-echoed to and fro;
The sly indecency, that slowly springs
From barren wit, and halts on trembling wings:
Enough of these, and all the charms of wine,
Be sober joys and social evenings mine;
Where peace and reason, unsoil'd mirth, improve
The powers of friendship and the joys of love;
Where thought meets thought ere words its form

And all is sacred, elegant, and gay:
Such pleasure leaves no sorrow on the mind,
Too great to fall, to sicken too refined;
Too soft for noise, and too sublime for art,
The social solace of the feeling heart,
For sloth too rapid, and for wit too high,
'Tis virtue's pleasure, and can never die!

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Poem Submitted: Friday, April 16, 2010

Poem Edited: Friday, December 23, 2011

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