Tag Archives: verse fable

John Gay, “Fable IV: The Eagle, and the Assembly of Animals”


 “Fable IV: The Eagle, and the Assembly of Animals”


As Jupiter’s all-seeing eye
Survey’d the worlds beneath the sky,
From this small speck of earth were sent
Murmurs and sounds of discontent;
For ev’ry thing alive complain’d                                                                               5
That he the hardest life sustain’d.
Jove calls his Eagle. At the word
Before him stands the royal bird.
The bird, obedient, from heav’n’s height
Downward directs his rapid flight;                                                                           10
Then cited ev’ry living thing,
To hear the mandates of his king.
Ungrateful creatures, whence arise
These murmurs which offend the skies;
Why this disorder? say the cause:                                                                             15
For just are Jove’s eternal laws.
Let each his discontent reveal.
To yon sour dog I first appeal.
Hard is my lot, the Hound replies.
On what fleet nerves the greyhound flies!                                                                 20
While I, with weary step and slow,
O’er plains, and vales, and mountains, go;
The morning sees my chase begun,
Nor ends it till the setting sun.
When, says the Greyhound, I pursue,                                                                   25
My game is lost, or caught in view,
Beyond my sight the prey’s secure:
The hound is slow, but always sure.
And, had I his sagacious scent,
Jove ne’er had heard my discontent.                                                                              30
The Lion crav’d the fox’s art;
The Fox, the lion’s force and heart;
The Cock implor’d the pigeon’s flight,
Whose wings were rapid, strong, and light;
The Pigeon strength of wing despis’d,                                                                             35
And the cock’s matchless valour priz’d:
The Fishes wish’d to graze the plain,
The Beasts to skim beneath the main.
Thus, envious of another’s fate,
Each blam’d the partial hand of Fate.                                                                               40
The bird of heav’n then cry’d aloud—
Jove bids disperse the murm’ring crowd:
The God rejects your idle pray’rs.
Would ye, rebellious mutineers,
Entirely change your name and nature,                                                                           45
And be the very envy’d creature?
What, silent all, and none consent!
Be happy then, and learn content.
Nor imitate the restless mind,
And proud ambition, of mankind.                                                                                       50


1 Jupiter “The supreme deity of the ancient Romans, corresponding to the Greek Zeus; the ruler of gods and men, and the god of the heavens, whose weapon was the thunderbolt” (OED).

 7 Jove “A poetical equivalent of Jupiter, name of the highest deity of the ancient Romans” (OED); Eagle “It is said that the Eagle only is never smitten with Lightning; and therefore it is judged that she serveth Jupiter as his Armour-bearer” (Pliny’s Natural History, Book X, Chapter III).

8 the royal bird A reference to the eagle which “served as Jupiter’s personal messenger” (Asuni, Michele. “Jupiter and Eagle.” Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum).

29 sagacious “Acute in perception, esp. by the sense of smell” (OED).

38 skim To move “lightly along or close to a surface” (OED); main “The open sea” (OED).

41 bird of heav’n Another reference to Jupiter’s eagle.

44 mutineers People “who [revolt] against or openly [resist] the authority of a superior or a governing body” (OED).

SOURCE: Fables (London, 1793), pp. 21-24. [J. Paul Leonard Library]

Edited by Sara Contreras

John Gay, “Fable XXXI: The Universal Apparition”


 “Fable XXXI: The Universal Apparition”


A RAKE, by ev’ry passion rul’d,
With ev’ry vice his youth had cool’d;
Disease his tainted blood assails,
His spirits droop, his vigour fails;
With secret ills at home he pines,                                                                               5
And, like infirm old age, declines.
As twing’d with pain, he pensive sits,
And raves, and prays, and swears, by fits,
A ghastly phantom, lean and wan,
Before him rose, and thus began—                                                                             10
My name perhaps hath reach’d your ear;
Attend, and be advis’d by care.
Nor love, nor honour, wealth, nor pow’r,
Can give the heart a cheerful hour,
When health is lost.— Be timely wise:                                                                         15
With health all taste of pleasure flies.
Thus said, the phantom disappears.
The wary counsel wak’d his fears.
He now from all excess abstains,
With physic purifies his veins;                                                                                       20
And, to procure a sober life,
Resolves to venture on a wife.
But now again the sprite ascends,
Where’er he walks his ear attends;
Insinuates that beauty’s frail,                                                                                        25
That perseverance must prevail;
With jealousies his brain inflames,
And whispers all her lovers’ names.
In other hours she represents
His household charge, his annual rents,                                                                      30
Increasing debts, perplexing duns,
And nothing for his younger sons.
Straight all his thought to gain he turns,
And with the thirst of lucre burns.
But, when possest of fortune’s store,                                                                            35
The spectre haunts him more and more;
Sets want and misery in view,
Bold thieves, and all the murd’ring crew,
Alarms him with eternal frights,
Infests his dream, or wakes his nights.                                                                         40
How shall he chase this hideous guest?
Pow’r may perhaps protect his rest;
To pow’r he rose. Again the sprite
Besets him morning, noon, and night;
Talks of ambition’s tott’ring seat,                                                                                    45
How envy persecutes the great,
Of rival hate, of treach’rous friends,
And what disgrace his fall attends.
The court he quits to fly from Care,
And seeks the peace of rural air.                                                                                     50
His groves, his fields, amus’d his hours;
He prun’d his trees, he rais’d his flow’rs:
But Care again his steps pursues;
Warns him of blasts, of blighting dews,
Of plund’ring insects, snails, and rains,                                                                           55
And droughts, that starve the labour’d plains.
Abroad, at home, the spectre’s there;
In vain we seek to fly from Care.
At length he thus the ghost addrest—
Since thou must be my constant guest,                                                                           60
Be kind, and follow me no more,
For Care by right should go before.


1 Rake “Fashionable or stylish man of promiscuous habits” (OED).

4 spirits “The animating or vital principle in man which gives life” (OED).

9 wan “gloomy” (OED).

20 physic “A medical substance or purgative” (OED).

22 venture “An occasion of trying ones chance” (OED).

23 sprite “Incorporeal being” (OED); ascend “To rise” (OED).

24 attends “To turn one’s ear to listen to” (OED).

27 inflames “The Showing of anger, passion, or zeal” (OED).

31 duns “Persistent demands for money” (OED).

34 lucre “Acquisition of something profitable” (OED).

44 besets “To assail on all sides” (OED).

54 blasts “Strong gusts of wind” (OED).

SOURCE: Fables, volume 1 (London, 1793), pp. 138 – 141. [J. Paul Leonard Library]

Edited by Jihane Abdelhadi

John Gay, “Fable XXXIII: The Courtier and Proteus”


“Fable XXXIII: The Courtier and Proteus”


Whene’re a Courtier’s out of place,
The country shelters his disgrace;
Where, doom’d to exercise and health,
His house and gardens own his wealth.
He builds new schemes, in hopes to gain                                   5
The plunder of another reign;
Like Philip’s son, would fain be doing,
And sighs for other realms to ruin.
As one of these, (without his wand)
Pensive, along the winding strand                                               10
Employ’d the solitary hour
In projects to regain his pow’r,
The waves in spreading circles ran,
Proteus arose, and thus began—
Came you from court? For in your mien                                      15
A self-important air is seen.
He frankly own’d his friends had trick’d him,
And how he fell his party’s victim.
Know, says the god, by matchless skill
I change to ev’ry shape at will;                                                        20
But yet, I’m told, at court you see
Those who presume to rival me.
Thus said— a snake, with hideous trail,
Proteus extends his scaly mail.
Know, says the Man, though proud in place,                               25
All courtiers are of reptile race.
Like you, they take that dreadful form,
Bask in the sun, and fly the storm;
With malice hiss, with envy gloat,
And for convenience change their coat;                                       30
With new-got lustre rear their head,
Though on a dunghill born and bred.
Sudden the god a lion stands,
He shakes his mane, he spurns the sands;
Now a fierce lynx, with fiery glare,                                                 35
A wolf, an ass, a fox, a bear!
Had I ne’er liv’d at court, he cries,
Such transformation might surprise;
But there, in quest of daily game,
Each able courtier acts the same.                                                   40
Wolves, lions, lynxes, while in place,
Their friends and fellows are their chase;
They play the bear’s and fox’s part;
Now rob by force, now steal with art;
They sometimes in the senate bray;                                               45
Or, chang’d again to beasts of prey,
Down from the lion to the ape,
Practise the frauds of ev’ry shape.
So said, upon the god he flies;
In cords the struggling captive ties.                                                  50
Now, Proteus, now (to truth compell’d)
Speak, and confess, or what you will,
Use strength, surprise, or what you will,
The courtier finds evasion still;
Not to be bound by any ties,                                                              55
And never forc’d to leave his lies.


1 Courtier “An attendant at court” (OED).

7 Philip’s son  Alexander the Great (356BC-323BC), son of Philip II of Macedon, known for his military exploits; fain “Gladly, willingly, with pleasure” (OED).

9 wand “Straight slender stick made from young tree bark” (OED).

14 Proteus “Sea god, son of Oceanus and Tethys;” capable of changing shape (OED).

15 mein “The look, bearing, manner, or conduct of a person” (OED).

24 mail The snake’s skin, figured as armor.

32 Dunghill “Heap or pile of dung” (OED).

 SOURCE:  Fables (London 1727), pp. 147-150. [ J. Paul Leonard Library]

Edited by Sarah Aubin