Erect and free I walk the virgin sod,
Too proud to tread the paths by others trod.
The man who trusts himself, and dares step out,
Soon sets the fashion to the inferior rout.
’Tis I who first to Italy have shown
Iambics, quarried from the Parian stone;
Following Archilochus in rhythm and stave,
But not the words that dug Lycambes’ grave.
Yet think not that I merit scantier bays,
Because in form I reproduce his lays:
Strong Sappho now and then adopts a tone
From that same lyre, to qualify her own;
So does Alcaeus, though in all beside,
Style, order, thought, the difference is wide;
’Gainst no false fair he turns his angry Muse,
Nor for her guilty father twists the noose.
Aye, and Alcaeus’ name, before unheard,
My Latian harp has made a household word.
Well may the bard feel proud, whose pen supplies
Unhackneyed strains to gentle hands and eyes.
Ask you what makes the uncourteous reader laud
My works at home, but run them down abroad?
I stoop not, I, to catch the rabble’s votes
By cheap refreshments or by cast-off coats,
Nor haunt the benches where your pedants swarm,
Prepared by turns to listen and perform.
That’s what this whimpering means. Suppose I say
“Your theatres have ne’er been in my way,
Nor I in theirs: large audiences require
Some heavier metal than my thin-drawn wire:”
“You put me off,” he answers, “with a sneer:
Your works are kept for Jove’s imperial ear:
Yes, you’re a paragon of bards, you think,
And no one else brews nectar fit to drink.”
What can I do? ’tis an unequal match;
For if my nose can sniff, his nails can scratch:
I say the place won’t snit me, and cry shame;
“E’en fencers get a break ’twixt game and game.”
Games oft have ugly issue: they beget
Unhealthy competition, fume and fret:
And fume and fret engender in their turn
Battles that bleed, and enmities that burn.
To street and market-place I see you look
With wistful longing, my adventurous book,
That on the stalls for sale you may be seen,
Rubbed by the binder’s pumice smooth and clean.
You chafe at look and key, and court the view
Of all the world, disdainful of the few.
Was this your breeding? go where you would go;
When once sent out, you won’t come back, you know.
“What mischief have I done?” I hear you whine,
When some one hurts those feelings, now so fine;
For hurt you’re sure to be; when people pall
Of reading you, they’ll crush and fold you small.
If my prophetic soul be not at fault
From indignation at your rude revolt,
Your doom, methinks, is easy to foretell:
While you’ve your gloss on, Rome will like you well:
Then, when you’re thumbed and soiled by vulgar hands,
You’ll feed the moths, or go to distant lands.