Ambition And Content: A Fable


Optat quietem.” —Hor
.

While yet the world was young, and men were few,
Nor lurking fraud, nor tyrant rapine knew,
In virtue rude, the gaudy arts they scorn'd,
Which, virtue lost, degenerate times adorn'd:
No sumptuous fabrics yet were seen to rise,
Nor gushing fountains taught to invade the skies;
With nature, art had not begun the strife,
Nor swelling marble rose to mimic life;
No pencil yet had learn'd to express the fair;
The bounteous earth was all their homely care.

Then did Content exert her genial sway,
And taught the peaceful world her power to obey;
Content, a female of celestial race,
Bright and complete in each celestial grace.
Serenely fair she was, as rising day,
And brighter than the sun's meridian ray;
Joy of all hearts, delight of every eye,
Nor grief, nor pain appear'd when she was by;
Her presence from the wretched banish'd care,
Dispers'd the swelling sigh, and stopt the falling tear.

Long did the nymph her regal state maintain,
As long mankind were blest beneath her reign;
Till dire Ambition, hellish fiend, arose,
To plague the world, and banish man's repose:
A monster sprung from that rebellious crew,
Which mighty Jove's Phlegræan thunder slew.
Resolv'd to dispossess the royal fair,
On all her friends he threaten'd open war:
Fond of the novelty, vain, fickle man,
In crowds to his infernal standard ran;
And the weak maid, defenceless left alone,
To avoid his rage, was forc'd to quit the throne.

It chanc'd as wandering through the fields she stray'd,
Forsook of all, and destitute of aid,
Upon a rising mountain's flowery side
A pleasant cottage, roof'd with turf, she spied:
Fast by a gloomy, venerable wood
Of shady planes, and ancient oaks, it stood.
Around a various prospect charm'd the sight;
Here waving harvests clad the fields with white;
Here a rough shaggy rock the clouds did pierce,
From which a torrent rush'd with rapid force;
Here mountain-woods diffus'd a dusky shade;
Here flocks and herds in flowery valleys play'd,
While o'er the matted grass the liquid crystal stray'd.
In this sweet place there dwelt a cheerful pair,
Though bent beneath the weight of many a year;
Who wisely flying public noise and strife,
In this obscure retreat had pass'd their life;
The husband Industry was call'd, Frugality the wife.
With tenderest Friendship mutually blest,
No household jars had e'er disturb'd their rest.
A numerous offspring grac'd their homely board,
That still with Nature's simple gifts was stor'd.
The father rural business only knew;
The sons the same delightful art pursue:
An only daughter, as a goddess fair,
Above the rest was the fond mother's care;
Plenty; the brightest nymph of all the plain,
Each heart's delight, ador'd by every swain.
Soon as Content this charming scene espied,
Joyful within herself the goddess cried;
“This happy sight my drooping heart doth raise;
The gods, I hope, will grant me gentler days:
When with prosperity my life was blest,
In yonder house I've been a welcome guest:
There now, perhaps, I may protection find;
For royalty is banish'd from my mind;
I'll thither haste: how happy should I be,
If such a refuge were reserv'd for me!”

Thus spoke the fair; and straight she bent her way
To the tall mountain, where the cottage lay:
Arriv'd she makes her chang'd condition known;
Tells how the rebels drove her from the throne;
What painful, dreary wilds she'd wander'd o'er;
And shelter from the tyrant doth implore.

The faithful, aged pair at once were seiz'd
With joy and grief, at once were pain'd and pleas'd;
Grief for their banish'd queen their hearts possest,
And joy succeeded for their future guest;
“And if you'll deign, bright goddess, here to dwell,
And with your presence grace our humble cell,
Whate'er the gods have given with bounteous hand,
Our harvests, fields and flocks, our all command.”

Meantime, Ambition, on his rival's flight,
Sole lord of man, attain'd his wish's height;
Of all dependence on his subjects eas'd,
He rag'd without a curb, and did whate'er he pleas'd:
As some wild flame, driven on by furious winds,
Wide spreads destruction, nor resistance finds;
So rush'd the fiend destructive o'er the plain,
Defac'd the labours of the industrious swain;
Polluted every stream with human gore,
And scatter'd plagues and death from shore to shore.

Great Jove beheld it from the Olympian towers,
Where sate assembled all the heavenly powers;
Then with a nod that shook the empyrean throne,
Thus the Saturnian thunderer begun:
“You see, immortal inmates of the skies,
How this vile wretch almighty power defies;
His daring crimes, the blood which he has spilt,
Demand a torment equal to his guilt.
Then, Cyprian goddess, let thy mighty boy
Swift to the tyrant's guilty palace fly;
There let him choose his sharpest, hottest dart,
And with his former rival wound his heart.
And thou, my son, (the god to Hermes said)
Snatch up thy wand, and plume thy heels and head;
Dart through the yielding air with all thy force,
And down to Pluto's realms direct thy course;
There rouse Oblivion from her sable cave,
Where dull she sits by Lethe's sluggish wave;
Command her to secure the sacred bound,
Where lives Content retir'd, and all around
Diffuse the deepest glooms of Stygian night,
And screen the virgin from the tyrant's sight;
That the vain purpose of his life may try
Still to explore, what still eludes his eye.”
He spoke; loud praises shake the bright abode,
And all applaud the justice of the god.

Ode Vi: Hymn To Cheerfulness

How thick the shades of evening close!
How pale the sky with weight of snows!
Haste, light the tapers, urge the fire,
And bid the joyless day retire.
—Alas, in vain i try within
To brighten the dejected scene,
While rouz'd by grief these fiery pains
Tear the frail texture of my veins;
While winter's voice, that storms around,
And yon deep death-bell's groaning sound
Renew my mind's oppressive gloom,
Till starting horror shakes the room.

Is there in nature no kind power
To sooth affliction's lonely hour?
To blunt the edge of dire disease,
And teach these wintry shades to please?
Come, Cheerfulness, triumphant fair,
Shine through the hovering cloud of care:
O sweet of language, mild of mien,
O virtue's friend and pleasure's queen,
Asswage the flames that burn my breast,
Compose my jarring thoughts to rest;
And while thy gracious gifts i feel,
My song shall all thy praise reveal.

As once ('twas in Astræa's reign)
The vernal powers renew'd their train,
It happen'd that immortal Love
Was ranging through the spheres above,
And downward hither cast his eye
The year's returning pomp to spy.
He saw the radiant god of day,
Waft in his car the rosy May;
The fragrant Airs and genial Hours
Were shedding round him dews and flowers;
Before his wheels Aurora pass'd,
And Hesper's golden lamp was last.
But, fairest of the blooming throng,
When Health majestic mov'd along,
Delighted to survey below
The joys which from her presence flow,
While earth enliven'd hears her voice,
And swains, and flocks, and fields rejoice;
Then mighty Love her charms confess'd,
And soon his vows inclin'd her breast,
And, known from that auspicious morn,
The pleasing Cheerfulness was born.

Thou, Cheerfulness, by heaven design'd
To sway the movements of the mind,
Whatever fretful passion springs,
Whatever wayward fortune brings
To disarrange the power within,
And strain the musical machine;
Thou, Goddess, thy attempering hand
Doth each discordant string command,
Refines the soft, and swells the strong;
And, joining nature's general song,
Through many a varying tone unfolds
The harmony of human souls.

Fair guardian of domestic life,
Kind banisher of homebred strife,
Nor sullen lip, nor taunting eye
Deforms the scene where thou art by:
No sickening husband damns the hour
Which bound his joys to female power;
No pining mother weeps the cares
Which parents waste on thankless heirs:
The officious daughters pleas'd attend;
The brother adds the name of friend:
By thee with flowers their board is crown'd,
With songs from thee their walks resound;
And morn with welcome lustre shines,
And evening unperceiv'd declines.

Is there a youth, whose anxious heart
Labors with love's unpitied smart?
Though now he stray by rills and bowers,
And weeping waste the lonely hours,
Or if the nymph her audience deign,
Debase the story of his pain
With slavish looks, discolor'd eyes,
And accents faltering into sighs;
Yet thou, auspicious power, with ease
Can'st yield him happier arts to please,
Inform his mien with manlier charms,
Instruct his tongue with nobler arms,
With more commanding passion move,
And teach the dignity of love.

Friend to the Muse and all her train,
For thee i court the Muse again:
The Muse for thee may well exert
Her pomp, her charms, her fondest art,
Who owes to thee that pleasing sway
Which earth and peopled heaven obey.

Let melancholy's plaintive tongue
Repeat what later bards have sung;
But thine was Homer's ancient might,
And thine victorious Pindar's flight:
Thy hand each Lesbian wreathe attir'd:
Thy lip Sicilian reeds inspir'd:
Thy spirit lent the glad perfume
Whence yet the flowers of Teos bloom;
Whence yet from Tibur's Sabine vale
Delicious blows the inlivening gale,
While Horace calls thy sportive choir,
Heroes and nymphs, around his lyre.

But see where yonder pensive sage
(A prey perhaps to fortune's rage,
Perhaps by tender griefs oppress'd,
Or glooms congenial to his breast)
Retires in desart scenes to dwell,
And bids the joyless world farewell.
Alone he treads the autumnal shade,
Alone beneath the mountain laid
He sees the nightly damps ascend,
And gathering storms aloft impend;
He hears the neighbouring surges roll,
And raging thunders shake the pole:
Then, struck by every object round,
And stunn'd by every horrid sound,
He asks a clue for nature's ways;
But evil haunts him through the maze:
He sees ten thousand demons rise
To wield the empire of the skies,
And chance and fate assume the rod,
And malice blot the throne of God.
—O thou, whose pleasing power i sing,
Thy lenient influence hither bring;
Compose the storm, dispell the gloom,
Till nature wear her wonted bloom,
Till fields and shades their sweets exhale,
And music swell each opening gale:
Then o'er his breast thy softness pour,
And let him learn the timely hour
To trace the world's benignant laws,
And judge of that presiding cause
Who founds on discord beauty's reign,
Converts to pleasure every pain,
Subdues each hostile form to rest,
And bids the universe be bless'd.

O thou, whose pleasing power i sing,
If right i touch the votive string,
If equal praise i yield thy name,
Still govern thou thy poet's flame;
Still with the Muse my bosom share,
And sooth to peace intruding care.

But most exert thy pleasing power
On friendship's consecrated hour;
And while my Sophron points the road
To godlike wisdom's calm abode,
Or warm in freedom's ancient cause
Traceth the source of Albion's laws,
Add thou o'er all the generous toil
The light of thy unclouded smile.
But, if by fortune's stubborn sway
From him and friendship torn away,
I court the Muse's healing spell
For griefs that still with absence dwell,
Do thou conduct my fancy's dreams
To such indulgent placid themes,
As just the struggling breast may cheer
And just suspend the starting tear,
Yet leave that sacred sense of woe
Which none but friends and lovers know.

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