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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Game of Cards
By Alexander Pope (1688–1744)
 

CLOSE by those meads, for ever crowned with flowers,
Where Thames with pride surveys his rising towers,
There stands a structure of majestic frame,
Which from the neighboring Hampton takes its name.
Here Britain’s statesmen oft the fall foredoom        5
Of foreign tyrants and of nymphs at home;
Here thou, great Anna! whom three realms obey,
Dost sometimes counsel take—and sometimes tea.
  Hither the heroes and the nymphs resort,
To taste awhile the pleasures of a court:        10
In various talk th’ instructive hours they past,
Who gave the ball or paid the visit last;
One speaks the glory of the British Queen,
And one describes a charming Indian screen;
A third interprets motions, looks, and eyes:        15
At every word a reputation dies.
Snuff, or the fan, supply each pause of chat,
With singing, laughing, ogling, and all that.
  Meanwhile, declining from the noon of day,
The sun obliquely shoots his burning ray;        20
The hungry judges soon the sentence sign,
And wretches hang that jurymen may dine;
The merchant from th’ Exchange returns in peace,
And the long labors of the toilet cease.
Belinda now, whom thirst of fame invites,        25
Burns to encounter two adventurous knights,
At Ombre singly to decide their doom;
And swells her breast with conquests yet to come.
Straight the three bands prepare in arms to join,
Each band the number of the sacred nine.        30
Soon as she spreads her hand, th’ aerial guard
Descend, and sit on each important card:
First Ariel perched upon a Matadore,
Then each according to the rank they bore;
For sylphs, yet mindful of their ancient race,        35
Are, as when women, wondrous fond of place.
  Behold, four Kings in majesty revered,
With hoary whiskers and a forky beard;
And four fair Queens whose hands sustain a flower,
Th’ expressive emblem of their softer power;        40
Four Knaves in garbs succinct, a trusty band,
Caps on their heads and halberts in their hand;
And particolored troops, a shining train,
Draw forth to combat on the velvet plain.
  The skillful nymph reviews her force with care:        45
Let Spades be trumps! she said, and trumps they were.
  Now move to war her sable Matadores,
In show like leaders of the swarthy Moors.
Spadillio first, unconquerable lord!
Led off two captive trumps, and swept the board.        50
As many more Manillio forced to yield,
And marched a victor from the verdant field.
Him Basto followed, but his fate more hard
Gained but one trump and one plebeian card.
With his broad sabre next, a chief in years,        55
The hoary majesty of Spades appears:
Puts forth one manly leg, to sight revealed;
The rest his many-colored robe concealed.
The rebel Knave, who dares his prince engage,
Proves the just victim of his royal rage.        60
Ev’n mighty Pam, that Kings and Queens o’erthrew
And mowed down armies in the fights of Lu,
Sad chance of war! now destitute of aid,
Falls undistinguished by the victor Spade!
  Thus far both armies to Belinda yield;        65
Now to the Baron fate inclines the field.
His warlike Amazon her host invades,
Th’ imperial consort of the crown of Spades.
The Club’s black tyrant first her victim died,
Spite of his haughty mien, and barbarous pride:        70
What boots the regal circle on his head,
His giant limbs, in state unwieldy spread;
That long behind he trails his pompous robe,
And, of all monarchs, only grasps the globe?
  The Baron now his Diamonds pours apace;        75
Th’ embroidered King who shows but half his face,
And his refulgent Queen, with powers combined
Of broken troops an easy conquest find.
Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, in wild disorder seen,
With throngs promiscuous strow the level green.        80
Thus when dispersed a routed army runs,
Of Asia’s troops and Afric’s sable sons,
With like confusion different nations fly,
Of various habit and of various dye:
The pierced battalions disunited fall,        85
In heaps on heaps; one fate o’erwhelms them all.
  The Knave of Diamonds tries his wily arts,
And wins (oh shameful chance!) the Queen of Hearts.
At this, the blood the virgin’s cheek forsook,
A livid paleness spreads o’er all her look;        90
She sees, and trembles at th’ approaching ill,
Just in the jaws of ruin and Codille.
And now (as oft in some distempered State)
On one nice trick depends the general fate.
An Ace of Hearts steps forth: the King unseen        95
Lurked in her hand, and mourned his captive Queen;
He springs to vengeance with an eager pace,
And falls like thunder on the prostrate Ace.
The nymph exulting fills with shouts the sky;
The walls, the woods, and long canals reply.        100
  O thoughtless mortals! ever blind to fate,
Too soon dejected and too soon elate.
Sudden these honors shall be snatched away,
And cursed forever this victorious day.
  For lo! the board with cups and spoons is crowned,        105
The berries crackle, and the mill turns round;
On shining altars of Japan they raise
The silver lamp; the fiery spirits blaze:
From silver spouts the grateful liquors glide,
While China’s earth receives the smoking tide;        110
At once they gratify their scent and taste,
And frequent cups prolong the rich repast.
Straight hover round the fair her airy band:
Some, as she sipped, the fuming liquor fanned;
Some o’er her lap their careful plumes displayed,        115
Trembling, and conscious of the rich brocade.
Coffee (which makes the politician wise,
And see through all things with his half-shut eyes)
Sent up in vapors to the Baron’s brain
New stratagems, the radiant lock to gain.        120
Ah cease, rash youth! desist ere ’tis too late,
Fear the just gods, and think of Scylla’s fate!
Changed to a bird, and sent to flit in air,
She dearly pays for Nisus’s injured hair!
  But when to mischief mortals bend their will,        125
How soon they find fit instruments of ill!
Just then, Clarissa drew with tempting grace
A two-edged weapon from her shining case:
So ladies in romance assist their knight,
Present the spear, and arm him for the fight.        130
He takes the gift with reverence, and extends
The little engine on his fingers’ ends;
This just behind Belinda’s neck he spread,
As o’er the fragrant steams she bends her head.
Swift to the lock a thousand sprites repair,        135
A thousand wings, by turns, blow back the hair;
And thrice they twitched the diamond in her ear:
Thrice she looked back, and thrice the foe drew near.
Just in that instant, anxious Ariel sought
The close recesses of the Virgin’s thought:        140
As, on the nosegay in her breast reclined,
He watched th’ ideas rising in her mind,
Sudden he viewed, in spite of all her art,
An earthly lover lurking at her heart.
Amazed, confused, he found his power expired,        145
Resigned to fate, and with a sigh retired.
  The peer now spreads the glitt’ring forfex wide,
T’ inclose the lock; now joins it, to divide.
Even then, before the fatal engine closed,
A wretched sylph too fondly interposed;        150
Fate urged the shears, and cut the sylph in twain
(But airy substance soon unites again).
The meeting points the sacred hair dissever
From the fair head, for ever and for ever!
  Then flashed the living lightning from her eyes,        155
And screams of horror rend th’ affrighted skies.
Not louder shrieks to pitying heaven are cast
When husbands, or when lap-dogs, breathe their last;
Or when rich China vessels, fallen from high,
In glittering dust and painted fragments lie!        160
  “Let wreaths of triumph now my temples twine”
(The victor cried): “the glorious prize is mine!
While fish in streams, or birds delight in air,
Or in a coach and six the British fair,
As long as Atalantis shall be read,        165
Or the small pillow grace a lady’s bed,
While visits shall be paid on solemn days,
When numerous wax-lights in bright order blaze,
While nymphs take treats, or assignations give,
So long my honor, name, and praise shall live!”        170
  What time would spare, from steel receives its date,
And monuments, like men, submit to fate!
Steel could the labor of the gods destroy,
And strike to dust th’ imperial towers of Troy;
Steel could the works of mortal pride confound,        175
And hew triumphal arches to the ground.
What wonder then, fair nymph! thy hairs should feel
The conquering force of unresisted steel?
 
 
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