“You’re not a miser: has all other
Departed in the train of avarice,
Or do ambitious longings, angry fret,
The terror of the grave, torment you yet?
Can you make sport of portents, gipsy crones,
Hobgoblins, dreams, raw head and bloody bones?
Do you count up your birthdays year by year,
And thank the gods with gladness and blithe cheer,
O’erlook the failings of your friends, and grow
Gentler and better as your sand runs low?
Where is the gain in pulling from the mind
One thorn, if all the rest remain behind?
If live you cannot as befits a man,
Make room, at least, you may for those that can.
You’ve frolicked, eaten, drunk to the content
Of human appetite; ’tis time you went,
Lest, when you’ve tippled freely, youth, that wears
Its motley better, hustle you down stairs.”
To the Pisos, father and sons.
Suppose some painter, as a tour de force,
Should couple head of man with neck of horse,
Invest them both with feathers, ’stead of hair,
And tack on limbs picked up from here and there,
So that the figure, when complete, should show
A maid above, a hideous fish below:
Should you be favoured with a private view,
You’d laugh, my friends, I know, and rightly too.
Yet trust me, Pisos, not less strange would look,
To a discerning eye, the foolish book
Where dream-like forms in sick delirium blend,
And nought is of a piece from end to end.
“Poets and painters (sure you know the plea)
Have always been allowed their fancy free.”
I own it; ’tis a fair excuse to plead;
By turns we claim it, and by turns concede;
But ’twill not screen the unnatural and absurd,
Unions of lamb with tiger, snake with bird.
When poets would be lofty, they commence
With some gay patch of cheap magnificence:
Of Dian’s altar and her grove we read,
Or rapid streams meandering through the mead;
Or grand descriptions of the river Rhine,
Or watery bow, will take up many a line.
All in their way good things, but not just now:
You’re happy at a cypress, we’ll allow;
But what of that? you’re painting by command
A shipwrecked sailor, striking out for land:
That crockery was a jar when you began;
It ends a pitcher: you an artist, man!
Make what you will, in short, so, when ’tis done,
’Tis but consistent, homogeneous, one.
Ye worthy trio! we poor sons of song
Oft find ’tis fancied right that leads us wrong.
I prove obscure in trying to be terse;
Attempts at ease emasculate my verse;
Who aims at grandeur into bombast falls;
Who fears to stretch his pinions creeps and crawls;
Who hopes by strange variety to please
Puts dolphins among forests, boars in seas.
Thus zeal to ’scape from error, if unchecked
By sense of art, creates a new defect.
Fix on some casual sculptor; he shall know
How to give nails their sharpness, hair its flow;
Yet he shall fail, because he lacks the soul
To comprehend and reproduce the whole.
I’d not be he; the blackest hair and eye
Lose all their beauty with the nose awry.