John Quincy Adams

(1767-1848 / the United States)

The Thirteenth Satire Of Juvenal - Poem by John Quincy Adams

From Virtue's paths, when hapless men depart,
The first avenger is the culprit's heart;
There sits a judge, from whose severe decree
No strength can rescue, and no speed can flee;
A judge, unbiass'd by the quibbling tribe!
A judge, whom India's treasures cannot bribe.
Calvin, what thinkest thou the world will say,
To see thy faithless friend his trust betray
Yet, to thy fortune, is the breach but small;
Thy purse will scarcely feel the loss at all;
Nor are examples of such baseness rare!
'Tis what in common with thee thousands bear;
A single drop of water from the deep!
A single grain from fortune's boundless heap.
Excessive sorrow let us then restrain:
A man should measure by the wound his pain!
Though keen thy sense, the smallest ill to meet,
Must thy blood boil to find thy friend a cheat?
The sacred trust committed he denies
But, at thy age, can treachery surprise?
When threescore winters thou hast left behind,
To long experience art thou still so blind?
Great, and prevailing is the sacred lore,
Which Wisdom, Fortune's victress, has in store;
But we consider likewise those as blest,
Who meet the woes of life with placid breast;
Bred in life's school, who bend beneath her sway,
Nor from her yoke would draw their necks away.
Is there a day so festive through the year,
But frequent frauds and perfidies appear?
A single day, but sees triumphant vice
With lurking dagger, or with loaded dice?
Small is the train who honor's path pursue;
The friends of virtue are a chosen few
So few, that gathering o'er the spacious earth
A full collection of untainted worth,
Scarce could you find a number, free from guile,
To match the gates of Thebes, or mouths of Nile.
Such are the horrors of our modern times,
They bleach the blackness of all former crimes.
The age of iron has long since been past,
And four besides, each blacker than the last;
A ninth succeeds, compared with which, of old,
The age of iron was an age of gold;
An age, which nature dares not even name,
Nor yields a metal to express its shame.
The faith of gods and men our lips attest,
Loud as a great man's pimps applaud his jest.
But hoary infant; art thou still to know
With what bright charms another's treasures glow?
Go! fetch the rattle of thy childhood, go!
What peals of laughter rise on every side!
How all the town thy simpleness deride!
To see thee ask, and with a serious brow,
That any mortal be not perjured now;
To see thee now, of any man require
Faith in a god, and terror of hell-fire.
These tenets truly our forefathers held,
Ere from this throne old Saturn was expelled,
Before he laid his diadem aside,
And in the rustic sickle took a pride,
While Ida's caves were yet the haunts of Jove,
Nor virgin Juno, conscious of his love.
No revels then were ever seen to rise
Among the heavenly tenants of the skies;
No Trojan boy, no Hebe's form divine,
To fill the goblets with inflaming wine
With unwashed hands, no smutty Vulcani came
To quaff the nectar, from his anvil's flame.
Each god was then content to die alone,
Nor was our motley mob of god-heads known;
Small were the numbers of the blest abode;
Nor weighed down wretched Atlas with the load;
No gloomy Pluto ruled the realms of shade,
Nor yet had ravished the Sicilian maid.
Hell then no wheel, no rock, no furies bore,
No vulture's pounces dripped with ghostly gore;
But cheerful spirits ranged the valleys gay.
Nor of infernal monarchs owned the sway.
A fraud was held a wonder in that age;
And in the presence of a hoary sage,
Had any younger man to rise forborne,
However blest with ampler stores of corn,
To them a crime of dye so black it seemed,
As by naught else but death could be redeemed.
The like respect by beardless boys was shown
To those whose faces were but just o'ergrown;
Such awe four years precedence could engage,
Anid youth's first blossom bore the fruits of age!
Now, if your friend should not betray his trust,
But give you back your coins with all their rust,
It seems a miracle of higher strain,
Than all the Tuscan sybil books contain,
And, in memorial of so strange a deed,
A votive lamb should on the altar bleed.
If now mine eyes a man of virtue greet,
I think a double-headed child to meet
Not more surprising were it to behold
A plough-share dig up fish, or mules with foal;
Rain fall in pebbles, or in wildest shapes
Bees, clustering on a temple's roof like grapes,
Or rivers, rushing with tremendous sweep,
To pour a milky torrent in the deep.
The loss of fifty ducats you deplore,
See your next neighbor filched of the times more;
By a like fraud behold a third complain
His loss of all his strong-box could contain.
So prone, so ready are we to despise
The single testimonial of the skies,
Unless a mortal sanction too be given,
And man confirm the evidence of Heaven!
Look! with what seeming purity of breast
And steady face he dares his faith attest
Swears by the solar beams, the bolts of Jove,
And thy fuill quiver, huntress of the grove;
By Mars' lance, Apollo's arrows drear,
By Neptune's trident, and Minerva's spear,
Alcides' bow, and whatsoe'er beside
From all heaven's arsenal can be supplied;
And, if a father-sooner be my food
My infant's flesh, he cries, my drink his blood!
There are who deem that Fortune governs all;
That no Supreme Disposer rules the ball;
That Nature's energies alone suffice
To make successive days and seasons rise;
Hence, with intrepid brow, such men as these
To sanction falsehood, any altar seize,
Another trembles lest the vengeance due,
Of gods offended, should his crimes pursue;
Believes in gods, yet stains with guilt his soul,
And thus attempts his terrors to control
' Deal with my body as thou wilt,' ho cries,
'Great Isis! and with blindness strike my eyes,
If peacefully, though blind, I may but hold
The price of perjury, the pilfered gold.
What is a palsied side, a broken leg,
Compared with indigence, compelled to beg
The fleetest runner would, beyond a doubt,
Give all his swiftness for a wealthy gout;
Nay, should he hesitate in such a case,
Send for his doctor and his waistcoat lace;
For what can all his racing talent boot?
A hungry stomach and a nimble foot.
And what avails the olive round his head,
While puffed with glory, he must pine for bread?
The anger of the gods, though great, is slow;
Nor will their mercy doom to endless woe;
And if they punish every guilty soul,
Before my turn comes what long years may roll!
Perhaps their wrath is pacified with ease,
And oft they overlook such faults as these;
For the same deed, as good or ill luck reigns,
One wields a sceptre, and one hangs in chains.
Thus having lulled his conscience to repose,
Before you to the sacred fane he goes;
Nay, drags you thither, with indignant ear
The oath of fraud and perfidy to hear;
For, with the multitude, guilt's face of brass
For conscious innocence will often pass.
See! how he lays his hand upon his heart,
And like a finished actor plays his part!
You, plunder'd of your trust, with piercing cries,
In vain, with voice like Stentor, rend the skies,
Or rather, like old Homer's Mars exclaim,
'Hear'st thou all this, great Jove, in silence tame,
When all thy fury, at such vows accurst,
From lips of brass or marble ought to burst?
Else, wherefore burns our incense at thy shrine?
Why, on thy altars, bleed the calves or swine?
Since no distinction, I perceive, were just,
Between your statues and a dancer's bust.'
Yet hear what comfort an unlettered friend,
Though from no school derived, can recommend;
Who never made the cynic rule his own,
Nor that of stoics, differing but in gown;
Nor yet has learned the maxims to obey
Of Epicurus, ill his garden gay.
When dire diseases rack your feeble frame,
Call for some doctor of distinguished fame;
But in a case like yours, of trifling pail,
To Philip's pupil you may trust your vein.
Expressly show that since the world began
A deed so base was never done by man;
Then, I object no longer, tear your hair,
And beat your face and bosom in despair;
At such a dread misfortune close your gates,
With lamentation loud accuse the Fates,
Heave deeper groans, tears more abundant shed
For money pilfered than a father dead.
No man in this case feigns of grief a show;
Content to wear the forma] suits of woe,
And fret his eyes to strain a seeming tear,
No! for lost gold our sorrows are sincere!
But if the like complaint with yours you meet,
Where'er you turn your eyes in every street;
If every day shows men who boldly dare
Their own hand-writing to a bond forswear;
Proved by ten witnesses their deed deny,
And gravely give their solemn seal the lie,
Must thou from common miseries be free?
And art thou formed of better clay than we?
Thou, favored by the gods with special grace;
We, the vile refuse of a worthless race?
Thine eyes to crimes of deeper baseness turn,
And thy small loss to bear with patience learn;
See this man's slave with robber bands conspire,
Behold that mansion blaze with bidden file:
See, from your antique temple stolen away,
The massive goblet, venerably gray!
Gifts from which nations once derived renown,
Or some old monarch's consecrated crown.
Are these not there. behold the villain ply
To rasp the gilding from Alcides' thigh,
Strike off the nose from Neptune's aged form,
Or strip the bracelet from young Castor's arm;
Why should he dread of minor gods the frown,
Wont the whole thunderer bravely to melt down
The guilt of blood see other wretches share,
And while the poison sell, and one prepare!
See, to a harmless, hapless, monkey tied,
Plunged in the briny deep the parricide;
Yet in this list how small a part appear
Of all the crimes that meet the Printor's ear,
And he from Hesper's dawn till closing day must hear.
The manners of mankind wouldst thou be taught,
With full instruction that one house is fraught;
But a few days attend the trials there,
And then to call thyself unhappy, dare.
Who feels astonishment affect his mind
Amidst the Alps a tumid throat to find?
Or who behold in Meroe, with surprise,
A dug surpass the child it feeds in size?
On seeing Germans, who would think to stare
At azure eyes and golden-colored hair,
And crisped locks, with ointments which distill?
Such they were made by Nature's sovereign will
Clap but a cloud of Thracian cranes their wings,
Lo! to his arms the pigmy warrior springs!
But soon, unequal to resistance, flies,
Clenched in relentless clutches through the skies.
Among ourselves a sight like this would make
Your sides, no doubt, with ceaseless laughter shake;
But there, though common, 'tis no laughing sight,
Where the whole tribe is not a foot in height.
'But shall the wretch all penalties evade,
For friendship perjur'd, and for trust betrayed?'
Suppose him seized, in chains, and at your will,
(What would vindictive anger more?) to kill;
Yet would your damage still the same remain,
Nor could his death restore the trust again;
How poor a comfort, to relieve your woe,
The blood that from his headless trunk would flow!
'But vengeance, even more than life, is sweet;'
Yes! to those minds of heedless, headlong heat,
Which blaze at every spark, however small,
And often kindle without cause at all:
Not Thales thus, nor thus Chrippus speaks,
Not thus the best and wisest of the Greeks
The godlike Socrates-who, galled with chains,
To share the hemlock with his foe disdains.
True wisdom points to virtue's path, and frees
From every vice and error, by degrees;
The noble soul above revenge we find,
'Tis the poor pleasure of a puny mind:
If proof you need, contemplate female spite;
In vengeance none like women take delight.
But, canst thou deem from all chastisement freed
Men who beneath the scourge of conscience bleed?
By scorpions stung, their teeth in fury gnash,
And writhe with anguish at the secret lash?
Oh! trust me, friend, the judge in hell below
Cannot on crimes inflict so deep a woe
As that poor mortal feels, by guilt oppressed,
Doomed day and night to bear the witness in his breast.
A Spartan once to Delphi's fane repaired,
And to consult the god's opinion dared,
Whether he might retain entrusted gold,
And with a solemn oath the fraud uphold!
The priestess answered, with indignant air,
The doubt alone its punishment should bear;
Th' insulting doubt that in the question lies,
If great Apollo would a crime advise.
The frightened Spartan, by compulsion just,
From fear, not virtue, straight restored the trust;
Yet soon he found, that, from the sacred fane,
His doom deserved was not denounced in vain:
Himself, his offspring, all his hapless race,
Swept from the earth, left not behind a trace.
By such hard penalties must men atone
The fault of meditated wrong alone;
He guilt incurs who merely guilt intends
How much more he, then, who ill act offends?
Perpetual anguish preys upon his breast,
Nor, even at his meals, allows him rest.
His sickened palate. nauseating, heaves
At every morsel that his mouth receives;
Loathes the fine fragrance of long-hoarded vines,
The cordial drop, distilled from Alban wines;
While his knit brows, if choicer still you bring,
Of sour Falernian seem to mark the sting.
At night, if when his limbs have long been spread,
In restless tossings, over all his bed,
Short slumber comes at last to close his eyes,
In dreams he sees the hallowed temple rise
Before him violated altars stand,
And gods offended, with uplifted hand;
But, what his breast with torture chiefly rends
Larger than life thy sacred form ascends,
With deadly fears his dastard soul to press,
And force his lips their falsehood to confess.
Heaven's earliest murmurs cause his heart to fail,
And every flash of lightning turns him pale;
By storms or chance impelled, no bolts can fly,
He thinks, but vengeance hurls it from on high.
If, yet unhurt, he sees one storm pass o'er.
He only trembles at the next the more.
If in his side he feels the slightest pains,
Or sleepless fever riot in his veins,
The weapons of a god he fancies these,
Sent to afflict his body with disease.
For health he dares not ask the powers divine,
With votive offerings at the sacred shrine;
For oh! what mercy can the guilty mind,
In illness, hope from angry heaven to find?
What bleeding victims for his crimes atone,
Whose life were not more precious than his own?
With what a changeful, sickliness of soul,
The varying tempers of the wicked roll!
Crimes to commit how bold they are and strong!
But soon they learn to know the right from wrong.
Yet stubborn nature all amendment spurns,
And to her evil practices returns.
For what offender ever yet was found
Who to his vices could prescribe a bound?
The blush of shame, when once expelled the face,
Who ever saw it reassume its place?
In all thy life's experience, hast thou known
A man contented with one crime alone
The wretch who wronged you, in the toils soon caught,
Shall to some prison's gloomy cell be brought;
Or to some dreary rock of banishment,
For famous exiles noted, shall be sent;
Then shall the sufferings of your perjured foe
Sweet consolation on your soul bestow;
And then, at last, shall your rejoicing mind
Confess the gods are neither deaf nor blind.

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Poem Submitted: Monday, September 6, 2010

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