Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VI. Fancy: Sentiment
Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VI. Fancy.  1904.
Poems of Sentiment: II. Life
The Jester’s Sermon
George Walter Thornbury (1828–1876)
THE JESTER shook his hood and bells, and leaped upon a chair;
The pages laughed, the women screamed, and tossed their scented hair;
The falcon whistled, staghounds bayed, the lapdog barked without,
The scullion dropped the pitcher brown, the cook railed at the lout;
The steward, counting out his gold, let pouch and money fall,—        5
And why? because the Jester rose to say grace in the hall!
The page played with the heron’s plume, the steward with his chain;
The butler drummed upon the board, and laughed with might and main;
The grooms beat on their metal cans, and roared till they were red,—
But still the Jester shut his eyes and rolled his witty head,        10
And when they grew a little still, read half a yard of text,
And, waving hand, struck on the desk, then frowned like one perplexed.
“Dear sinners all,” the fool began, “man’s life is but a jest,
A dream, a shadow, bubble, air, a vapor at the best.
In a thousand pounds of law I find not a single ounce of love;        15
A blind man killed the parson’s cow in shooting at the dove;
The fool that eats till he is sick must fast till he is well;
The wooer who can flatter most will bear away the belle.
“Let no man halloo he is safe till he is through the wood;
He who will not when he may, must tarry when he should;        20
He who laughs at crooked men should need walk very straight;
O, he who once has won a name may lie abed till eight;
Make haste to purchase house and land, be very slow to wed;
True coral needs no painter’s brush, nor need be daubed with red.
“The friar, preaching, cursed the thief (the pudding in his sleeve);        25
To fish for sprats with golden hooks is foolish, by your leave;
To travel well,—an ass’s ears, hog’s mouth, and ostrich legs;
He does not care a pin for thieves who limps about and begs;
Be always first man at a feast and last man at a fray;
The short way round, in spite of all, is still the longest way;        30
When the hungry curate licks the knife, there ’s not much for the clerk;
When the pilot, turning pale and sick, looks up—the storm grows dark.”
Then loud they laughed; the fat cook’s tears ran down into the pan;
The steward shook, that he was forced to drop the brimming can;
And then again the women screamed, and every staghound bayed,—        35
And why? because the motley fool so wise a sermon made.

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