Ambrose Bierce

(24 June 1842 - 26 December 1913 / Horse Cave Creek, Ohio)

Mr. Fink's Debating Donkey - Poem by Ambrose Bierce

Of a person known as Peters I will humbly crave your leave
An unusual adventure into narrative to weave
Mr. William Perry Peters, of the town of Muscatel,
A public educator and an orator as well.
Mr. Peters had a weakness which, 'tis painful to relate,
Was a strong predisposition to the pleasures of debate.
He would foster disputation wheresoever he might be;
In polygonal contention none so happy was as he.
'Twas observable, however, that the exercises ran
Into monologue by Peters, that rhetorical young man.
And the Muscatelian rustics who assisted at the show,
By involuntary silence testified their overthrow-
Mr. Peters, all unheedful of their silence and their grief,
Still effacing every vestige of erroneous belief.
O, he was a sore affliction to all heretics so bold
As to entertain opinions that he didn't care to hold.

One day-'t was in pursuance of a pedagogic plan
For the mental elevation of Uncultivated Man
Mr. Peters, to his pupils, in dismissing them, explained
That the Friday evening following (unless, indeed, it rained)
Would be signalized by holding in the schoolhouse a debate
Free to all who their opinions might desire to ventilate
On the question, 'Which is better, as a serviceable gift,
Speech or hearing, from barbarity the human mind to lift?'
The pupils told their fathers, who, forehanded always, met
At the barroom to discuss it every evening, dry or wet,
They argued it and argued it and spat upon the stove,
And the non-committal 'barkeep' on their differences throve.
And I state it as a maxim in a loosish kind of way:
You'll have the more to back your word the less you have to say.
Public interest was lively, but one Ebenezer Fink
Of the Rancho del Jackrabbit, only seemed to sit and think.

On the memorable evening all the men of Muscatel
Came to listen to the logic and the eloquence as well
All but William Perry Peters, whose attendance there, I fear.
Was to wreak his ready rhetoric upon the public ear,
And prove (whichever side he took) that hearing wouldn't lift
The human mind as ably as the other, greater gift.
The judges being chosen and the disputants enrolled,
The question he proceeded _in extenso_ to unfold:
'_Resolved_-The sense of hearing lifts the mind up out of reach
Of the fogs of error better than the faculty of speech.'
This simple proposition he expounded, word by word,
Until they best understood it who least perfectly had heard.
Even the judges comprehended as he ventured to explain
The impact of a spit-ball admonishing in vain.
Beginning at a period before Creation's morn,
He had reached the bounds of tolerance and Adam yet unborn.
As down the early centuries of pre-historic time
He tracked important principles and quoted striking rhyme,
And Whisky Bill, prosaic soul! proclaiming him a jay,
Had risen and like an earthquake, 'reeled unheededly away,'
And a late lamented cat, when opportunity should serve,
Was preparing to embark upon her parabolic curve,
A noise arose outside-the door was opened with a bang
And old Ebenezer Fink was heard ejaculating 'G'lang!'
Straight into that assembly gravely marched without a wink
An ancient ass-the property it was of Mr. Fink.
Its ears depressed and beating time to its infestive tread,
Silent through silence moved amain that stately quadruped!
It stopped before the orator, and in the lamplight thrown
Upon its tail they saw that member weighted with a stone.
Then spake old Ebenezer: 'Gents, I heern o' this debate
On w'ether v'ice or y'ears is best the mind to elevate.
Now 'yer's a bird ken throw some light uponto that tough theme:
He has 'em both, I'm free to say, oncommonly extreme.
He wa'n't invited for to speak, but he will not refuse
(If t'other gentleman ken wait) to exposay his views.'

Ere merriment or anger o'er amazement could prevail;
He cut the string that held the stone on that canary's tail.
Freed from the weight, that member made a gesture of delight,
Then rose until its rigid length was horizontal quite.
With lifted head and level ears along his withers laid,
Jack sighed, refilled his lungs and then-to put it mildly-brayed!
He brayed until the stones were stirred in circumjacent hills,
And sleeping women rose and fled, in divers kinds of frills.
'T is said that awful bugle-blast-to make the story brief-
Wafted William Perry Peters through the window, like a leaf!

Such is the tale. If anything additional occurred
'Tis not set down, though, truly, I remember to have heard
That a gentleman named Peters, now residing at Soquel,
A considerable distance from the town of Muscatel,
Is opposed to education, and to rhetoric, as well.


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Poem Submitted: Friday, September 28, 2012



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