Verse > John Dryden > Poems
John Dryden (1631–1700).  The Poems of John Dryden.  1913.
From Aulus Persius Flaccus: The First Satyr.
In Dialogue betwixt the Poet and his friend or Monitor
Argument of the First Satyr
  I need not repeat, that the chief aim of the Authour is against bad Poets, in this Satyr. But I must add, that he includes also bad Orators, who began at that Time (as Petronius in the beginning of his Book tells us) to enervate Manly Eloquence, by Tropes and Figures, ill plac’d, and worse apply’d. Amongst the Poets, Persius covertly strikes at Nero; some of whose Verses he recites with Scorn and Indignation. He also takes notice of the Noblemen and their abominable Poetry, who, in the Luxury of their Fortune, set up for Wits, and Judges. The Satyr is in Dialogue, betwixt the Authour and his Friend or Monitor; who dissuades him from this dangerous attempt of exposing Great Men. But Persius, who is of a free Spirit, and has not forgotten that Rome was once a Commonwealth, breaks through all those difficulties, and boldly Arraigns the false Judgment of the Age in which he Lives. The Reader may observe that our Poet was a Stoick Philosopher; and that all his Moral Sentences, both here and in all the rest of his Satyrs, are drawn from the Dogma’s of that Sect.

The First Satyr
In Dialogue betwixt the Poet and his friend or Monitor.

  HOW anxious are our Cares, and yet how vain
The bent of our desires!

                Thy Spleen contain:
For none will read thy Satyrs.
  This to me?
  None; or what’s next to none, but two or three.
’Tis hard, I grant.
  ’Tis nothing; I can bear
That paltry Scriblers have the Publick Ear:
That this vast universal Fool, the Town,
Shou’d cry up Labeo’s Stuff, 1 and cry me down.        10
They damn themselves; nor will my Muse descend
To clap with such, who Fools and Knaves commend:
Their Smiles and Censures are to me the same:
I care not what they praise, or what they blame.
In full Assemblies let the Crowd prevail:        15
I weigh no Merit by the common Scale.
The Conscience is the Test of ev’ry Mind;
Seek not thy self, without thy self, to find.
But where’s that Roman?—Somewhat I wou’d say,
But Fear;—let Fear, for once, to Truth give way.        20
Truth lends the Stoick Courage: when I look
On Humane Acts, and read in Nature’s Book,
From the first Pastimes of our Infant Age,
To elder Cares, and Man’s severer Page;
When stern as Tutors, and as Uncles hard,        25
We lash the Pupil, and defraud the Ward:
Then, then I say,—or wou’d say, if I durst—
But thus provok’d, I must speak out, or burst.
  Once more forbear.
  I cannot rule my Spleen:
My scorn Rebels, and tickles me within.
  First, to begin at Home, our Authors write
In lonely Rooms, secur’d from publick sight;
Whether in Prose, or Verse, ’tis all the same:
The Prose is Fustian, and the Numbers lame.        35
All Noise, and empty Pomp, a storm of words,
Lab’ring with sound, that little Sence affords.
They Comb, 2 and then they order ev’ry Hair:
A Gown, or White, or Scour’d to whiteness, wear:
A Birth-day Jewel bobbing at their Ear.        40
Next, gargle well their Throats; and thus prepar’d,
They mount, a God’s Name, to be seen and heard,
From their high Scaffold, with a Trumpet Cheek,
And Ogling all their Audience e’re they speak.
The nauseous Nobles, ev’n the Chief of Rome,        45
With gaping Mouths to these Rehearsals come,
And pant with Pleasure, when some lusty line
The Marrow pierces, and invades the Chine.
At open fulsom Bawdry they rejoice,
And slimy Jests applaud with broken Voice.        50
Base Prostitute, thus dost thou gain thy Bread?
Thus dost thou feed their Ears, and thus art fed?
At his own filthy stuff he grins and brays:
And gives the sign where he expects their praise.
  Why have I Learn’d, say’st thou, if thus confin’d,        55
I choak the Noble Vigour of my Mind?
Know, my wild Fig-Tree, 3 which in Rocks is bred,
Will split the Quarry, and shoot out the Head.
Fine Fruits of Learning! Old Ambitious Fool,
Dar’st thou apply that Adage of the School;        60
As if ’tis nothing worth that lies conceal’d,
And Science is not Science till Reveal’d?
Oh, but ’tis Brave to be Admir’d, to see
The Crowd, with pointing Fingers, cry, That’s he:
That’s he, whose wondrous Poem is become        65
A Lecture for the Noble Youth of Rome!
Who, by their Fathers, is at Feasts Renown’d;
And often quoted, when the Bowls go round.
Full gorg’d and flush’d, they wantonly Rehearse;
And add to Wine the Luxury of Verse.        70
One, clad in Purple, not to lose his time,
Eats, and recites some lamentable Rhime:
Some Senceless Phyllis, in a broken Note,
Snuffling at Nose, or 4 croaking in his Throat:
Then Graciously the mellow Audience Nod:        75
Is not th’ Immortal Authour made a God?
Are not his Manes blest, such Praise to have?
Lies not the Turf more lightly on his Grave?
And Roses (while his lowd Applause they Sing)
Stand ready from his Sepulcher to spring?        80
  All these, you cry, but light Objections are;
Meer Malice, and you drive the Jest too far.
For does there Breathe a Man, who can reject
A general Fame, and his own Lines neglect?
In Cedar Tablets 5 worthy to appear,        85
That need not Fish, or Franckincense to fear?
  Thou, whom I make the adverse part to bear,
Be answer’d thus: If I, by chance, succeed
In what I Write, (and that’s a chance indeed;)
Know, I am not so stupid, or so hard,        90
Not to feel Praise, or Fame’s deserv’d Reward:
But this I cannot grant, that thy Applause
Is my Works ultimate, or only Cause.
Prudence can ne’re propose so mean a prize;
For mark what Vanity within it lies.        95
Like Labeo’s Iliads, in whose Verse is found
Nothing but trifling care, and empty sound:
Such little Elegies as Nobles Write,
Who wou’d be poets, in Apollo’s spight.
Them and their woful Works the Muse defies:        100
Products of Citron Beds 6 and Golden Canopies.
To give thee all thy due, thou hast the Heart
To make a Supper, with a fine dessert;
And to thy threed-bare Friend, a cast old Sute impart.
  Thus Brib’d, thou thus bespeak’st him, Tell 7 me Friend        105
(For I love Truth, nor can plain Speech offend,)
What says the World of me and of my Muse?
  The Poor dare nothing tell but flatt’ring News:
But shall I speak? thy Verse is wretched Rhyme;
And all thy Labours are but loss of time.        110
Thy strutting Belly swells, thy Paunch is high;
Thou Writ’st not, but thou Pissest Poetry.
  All Authours to their own defects are blind;
Hadst thou but, Janus like, 8 a Face behind,
To see the people, what splay-Mouths they make;        115
To mark their Fingers, pointed at thy back:
Their Tongues loll’d out, a foot beyond the pitch,
When most athirst, of an Apulian Bitch:
But Noble Scriblers are with Flatt’ry fed;
For none dare find their faults, who Eat their Bread.        120
  To pass the Poets of Patrician Blood,
What is’t the common Reader takes for good?
The Verse in fashion is, when Numbers flow,
Soft without Sence, and without Spirit slow:
So smooth and equal, that no sight can find        125
The Rivet, where the polish’d piece was join’d.
So even all, with such a steady view,
As if he shut one Eye to level true.
Whether the Vulgar Vice his Satyr stings,
The Peoples Riots, or the Rage of Kings,        130
The gentle Poet is alike in all;
His Reader hopes no rise, and fears no fall.
  Hourly we see some Raw Pin-feather’d thing
Attempt to mount, and Fights, and Heroes sing;
Who, for false quantities, was whipt at School        135
But t’ other day, and breaking Grammar Rule,
Whose trivial Art was never try’d, above
The bare description of a Native Grove:
Who knows not how to praise the Country store,
The Feasts, the Baskets, nor the fatted Bore;        140
Nor paint the flowry Fields, that paint themselves before.
Where Romulus was Bred, and Quintius Born, 9
Whose shining Plough-share was in Furrows worn,
Met by his trembling Wife, returning Home,
And Rustically Joy’d, as Chief of Rome:        145
She wip’d the Sweat from the Dictator’s Brow;
And o’re his Back, his Robe did rudely throw;
The Lictors bore, in State, their Lord’s Triumphant Plough.
  Some love to hear the Fustian Poet roar;
And some on Antiquated Authours pore:        150
Rummage for Sense; and think those only good
Who labour most, and least are understood.
When thou shalt see the Blear-Ey’d Fathers teach
Their Sons, this harsh and mouldy sort of Speech;
Or others new affected ways to try,        155
Of wanton smoothness, Female Poetry;
One would enquire, from whence this motley Stile
Did first our Roman Purity defile:
For our Old Dotards cannot keep their Seat;
But leap and catch at all that’s obsolete.        160
  Others, by Foolish Ostentation led,
When call’d before the Bar, to save their Head,
Bring trifling Tropes, instead of solid Sence:
And mind their Figures more than their Defence,
Are pleas’d to hear their thick-scull’d Judges cry,        165
Well mov’d, oh finely said, and decently!
Theft (says th’ Accuser) to thy Charge I lay,
O Pedius! What does gentle Pedius say?
Studious to please the Genius of the Times,
With Periods, 10 Points, and Tropes, he slurs his Crimes:        170
“He Robb’d not, but he Borrow’d from the Poor;
“And took but with intention to restore.
He lards with flourishes his long Harangue;
’Tis fine, say’st thou; What, to 11 be Prais’d and Hang?
Effeminate Roman, shall such Stuff prevail        175
To tickle thee, and make thee wag thy Tail?
Say, shou’d a Shipwrack’d Saylor sing his woe,
Wou’dst thou be mov’d to pity, or bestow
An Alms? What’s more prepost’rous than to see
A Merry Beggar? Mirth in misery?        180
  He seems a Trap, for Charity, to lay:
And cons, by Night, his Lesson for the day.
  But to raw Numbers, and unfinished Verse,
Sweet sound is added now, to make it Terse:
“’Tis tagg’d with Rhyme, like Berecynthian Atys, 12        185
“The mid part chimes with Art, which never flat is.
“The Dolphin brave, that cut 13 the liquid Wave,
“Or He who in his line, can chine the long-rib’d Apennine.
  All this is Dogrel Stuff:
  What if I bring
A Nobler Verse? Arms and the Man 14 I sing.
  Why name you Virgil with such Fops as these?
He’s truly great, and must for ever please.
Not fierce, but awful is his Manly Page;
Bold is his Strength, but sober is his Rage.        195
  What Poems think you soft? and to be read
With languishing regards, and bending Head?
  “Their crooked Horns 15 the Mimallontan Crew
“With Blasts inspir’d; and Bassaris who slew
“The scornful Calf, with Sword advanc’d on high,        200
“Made from his Neck his haughty Head to fly.
“And Mænas, when with Ivy-bridles bound,
“She led the spotted Lynx, then Evion rung around;
“Evion from Woods and Floods repairing Ecchos sound.
  Cou’d such rude Lines a Roman Mouth become,        205
Were any Manly Greatness left in Rome?
Mænas and Atys 16 in the Mouth were bred;
And never hatch’d within the lab’ring Head:
No Blood, from bitten Nails, those Poems drew:
But churn’d, like Spettle, from the Lips they flew.        210
  ’Tis Fustian all; ’tis execrably bad:
But if they will be Fools, must you be mad?
Your Satyrs, let me tell you, are too fierce;
The Great will never bear so blunt a Verse.
Their Doors are barr’d against a bitter flout:        215
Snarl, if you please, but you shall snarl without.
Expect such Pay as railing Rhymes deserve,
Y’are in a very hopeful way to sterve.
  Rather than so, uncensur’d let ’em be
All, all is admirably well, for me.        220
My harmless Rhyme shall scape the dire disgrace
Of Common-shores, and ev’ry pissing-place.
Two painted Serpents 17 shall, on high, appear;
’Tis Holy Ground; you must not Urine here.
This shall be writ to fright the Fry away,        225
Who draw their little Bawbles, when they play.
  Yet old Lucilius 18 never fear’d the times,
But lash’d the City, and dissected Crimes.
Mutius and Lupus both by Name he brought;
He mouth’d em, and betwixt his Grinders caught.        230
Unlike in method, with conceal’d design,
Did crafty Horace his low Numbers joyn:
And, with a sly insinuating Grace,
Laugh’d at his Friend, and look’d him in the Face:
Would raise a Blush, where secret Vice he found;        235
And tickle, while he gently prob’d the Wound.
With seeming Innocence the Crowd beguil’d;
But made the desperate Passes, when he smil’d.
  Could he do this, and is my Muse controll’d
By Servile Awe? Born free, and not be bold?        240
At least, I’ll dig a hole within the Ground;
And to the trusty Earth commit the sound
The Reeds shall tell you what the poet Fears
King Midas 19 has a Snout, and Asses Ears
This mean conceit, this darling Mystery,        245
Which thou think’st nothing, Friend, thou shalt not buy,
Nor will I change, for all the flashy Wit,
That flatt’ring Labeo in his Iliads writ.
  Thou, if there be a thou, in this base Town
Who dares, with angry Eupolis, to frown        250
He, who, with bold Cratinus, 20 is inspir’d
With Zeal, and equal Indignation fir’d;
Who, at enormous Villany, turns pale,
And steers against it with a full-blown Sail
Like Aristophanes; let him but smile        255
On this my honest Work, tho writ i homely Stile:
And if two Lines or three in all the Vein
Appear less drossy, read those Lines again
May they perform their Author’s just Intent,
Glow in thy Ears, and in thy Breast ferment.        260
But from the reading of my Book and me,
Be far ye Foes of Virtuous Poverty:
Who Fortune’s fault 21 upon the Poor can throw;
Point at the tatter’d Coat, and ragged Shooe:
Lay Nature’s failings to their Charge, and jeer        265
The dim week Eye-sight, when the Mind is clear.
When thou thy self, thus insolent in State
Art but, perhaps, some Country Magistrate;
Whose Pow’r extends no farther than to speak
Big on the Bench, and scanty Weights to break.        270
  Him, also, for my Censor I disdain,
Who thinks all Science, as all Virtue vain;
Who counts Geometry, and Numbers, Toys;
And with his Foot 22 the Sacred Dust destroys:
Whose Pleasure is to see a Strumpet tear        275
A Cynicks Beard, and lug him by the [Greek];
Such, all the Morning, to the Pleadings run;
But when the Bus’ness of the Day is done,
On Dice, and Drink, and Drabs, they spend their Afternoon.
Note 1. Labeo’s Stuff. Nothing is remaining of Atticus Labeo (so he is call’d by the Learned Casaubon). Nor is he mention’d by any other Poet besides Persius: Casaubon from an old Commentator on Persius says that he made a very Foolish Translation of Homer’s Iliads. [back]
Note 2. They Comb, &c. He describes a Poet preparing himself to Rehearse his Works in Publick: which was commonly perform’d in August. A Room was hir’d or lent by some Friend: a Scaffold was rais’d and a Pulpit plac’d for him, who was to hold forth: who borrow’d a new Gown or scour’d his old one; and Adorn’d his Ears with Jewels, &c. [back]
Note 3. My wild Fig-Tree: Trees of that kind grow wild in many parts of Italy, and make their way through Rocks: Sometimes splitting the Tomb-stones. [back]
Note 4. or] The editors give and. [back]
Note 5. The Romans wrote on Cedar, and Cypress Tables, in regard of the duration of the Wood: Ill Verses might justly be afraid of Franckincense; for the Papers in which they were Written were fit for nothing but to wrap it up. [back]
Note 6. Products of Citron Beds, &c. Writings of Noblemen, whose Bedsteds were of the Wood of Citron. [back]
Note 7. Tell] tell 1693. [back]
Note 8. Janus like, &c. Janus was the first King of Italy; who refug’d Saturn, when he was expell’d by his Son Jupiter from Creet; (or as we now call it Candia.) From his Name the first Month of the Year is call’d January. He was Pictur’d with two Faces, one before, and one behind; as regarding the past time and the future. Some of the Mythologists think he was Noah, for the Reason given above. [back]
Note 9. Where Romulus, &c. He speaks of the Country in the foregoing Verses, the Praises of which are the most easie Theme for Poets, but which a bad Poet cannot Naturally described. Then he makes a digression to Romulus, the first King of Rome, who had a Rustical Education, and enlarges upon Quintius Cincinnatus, a Roman Senator, who was call’d from the Plough to be Dictator of Rome. [back]
Note 10. In Periods, &c. Persius here names Antitheses, or seeming Contradictions: which in this place are meant for Rhetorical flourishes, as I think, with Casaubon. [back]
Note 11. What, to] what to 1693. [back]
Note 12. Berecynthian Atys; or Attin, &c. Foolish Verses of Nero, which the Poet repeats; and which cannot be Translated properly into English. [back]
Note 13. cut] Editors give cuts. [back]
Note 14. Arms and the Man, &c. The first line of Virgil’s Æneids. [back]
Note 15. Their Crooked Horns, &c. Other Verses of Nero that were meer bombast: I only Note that the Repetition of these and the former Verses of Nero might justly give the Poet a caution to conceal his Name. [back]
Note 16. Mænas and Atys. Poems on the Mænades, who were Priestesses of Bacchus; and of Atys, who made himself an Eunuch, to attend on the Sacrifices of Cybele, call’d Berecynthia by the Poets: she was Mother of the Gods. [back]
Note 17. Two Painted Serpents, &c. Two Snakes twin’d with each other were painted on the Walls by the Ancients, to shew the place was Holy. [back]
Note 18. Yet old Lucilius, &c. Lucilius wrote long before Horace, who imitates his manner of Satyr, but far excels him, in the design. [back]
Note 19. King Midas, &c. The Story is vulgar, that Midas, King of Phrygia, was made judge betwixt Apollo and Pan, who was the best Musician; he gave the Prize to Pan; and Apollo in revenge gave him Asses Ears. He wore his Hair long to hide them; but his Barber discovering them, and not daring to divulge the secret, dug a hole in the ground, and whisper’d into it: the place was marshy, and when the Reeds grew up, they repeated the words which were spoken by the Barber. By Midas the Poet meant Nero. [back]
Note 20. Eupolis and Cratinus, as also Aristophanes, mention’d afterwards, were all Athenian Poets, who wrote that sort of Comedy, which was call’d the old Comedy, where the People were Nam’d, who were Satyriz’d by those Authors. [back]
Note 21. Who Fortunes fault, &c. The People of Rome in the time of Persius were apt to scorn the Grecian Philosophers, particularly the Cinicks and Stoicks, who were the poorest of them. [back]
Note 22. And with his foot, &c. Arithmetick and Geometry were Taught on floors which were strew’d with dust or sand, in which the Numbers and Diagrams were made and drawn, which they might strike out again at Pleasure. [back]

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