Doctor Purgem’s Proem to a Metrical Lecture on Morals
Good Doctor Conscience well applies a purge
That spurns a multitude of mental lepers;
(Then think not, reader, my poor rhyme would urge,
With spicy wit, to further warm his peppers —
’Twould be presumption to account men geese;
And Conscience, pricked, would felon with our peace.
Still list, I pray, to what I’d now impart,
Though ye be ones above my simple song —
The sleekest paunch doth coddle first the dart
That fell disease, blood-hungry, speeds along;
And men cocked up in wonderful conceits
But harbour that which half their joy defeats.
No keen-tongue now shall rant his crooked schemes;
No idle bombast of a baited bull,
Whose bellowings are pledged to base extremes,
Shall sound in tones less true than thunderful —
Wit often lags while tongues but faster move;
And words are loudest when they’ve least to prove.
What though my verse has dropped not from the skies?
In stagnant pools are oft found stepping-stones;
While good will masquerade in strange disguise;
And flesh would soon hang limp without the bones.
Then tell me not my verse is nonsense pure,
Barren of sense, in jingling rhyme secure.
None shall the burden of my song abuse,
Though it be decked in garments scarce that fit —
Better to serve one truly than amuse
A thousand drones of less than little wit.
And first I’d run the risk of such abortions
Than swell but heads of adipose proportions.
Hard heads but blunt fine tools of argument;
Yet tools too blunt will stick at piercing pap.
So grant, ye Powers, my rhyme be competent
To ’scape the brand of such a base mishap:
O, fill my meaning with a burning wit;
But all the stings of arrogance omit!
Let all my thoughts on Freedom’s pinion wing!
Preserve them from the bias of poor Youth,
Whose fond deductions force a foolish thing,
Abortive, crippled, not the seed of Truth:
If they be green, then grant thine elder aid,
And give them accidence of subtler shade!
Nor scorn my poor attempt if it be found
Not far above the commonplace to rise —
If vision ever hugs the lowly ground,
How can it see the glory of the skies?
To blame is free; to praise is difficult;
Success, too, lies in effort, not result.
Preserve from shame my rhyme through its probation,
And grant me power to tell in language fair
Those vital truths that form a life’s foundation,
And carry more than castles in the air —
My rhyme that holds, like to a broken cruse,
But half the measure of its primal dues.
Still, if I promise not my poor deductions
Shall drop like honey from a golden quill,
Yet, if accepted in their right constructions,
No rancorous words from Wisdom’s cup shall spill —
Fools blazon out their brains in windy wars;
The wise reserve their wit for nobler cause.
Some men pay court to every evil thing;
Some live in groaning after body’s good;
But if sweet Wisdom her ripe fruitage bring,
With scorn they spurn it for some baser food.
How prone is man to Folly’s base attractions —
And man is but the sum of all his actions!
What trifle tricks this corner of our day?
If bad, ’tis knowledge true alone prevents it —
Knowledge, whose countless wealth is common prey
For hungry minds, whose feeding but augments it —
While bogies born within a troubled brain
Will slay, and soon, if not the sooner slain.
God’s fairest work man’s body is, I ween,
Wherein a loyal heart beats sound and free;
But foulest far of all those things unclean
When stained with lust and rank lubricity:
Folly, who bears foul broods of blasting care,
Soon wrecks with rottenness, and loads despair.
What pleasure can the praise of others bring
If we commend ourselves not to ourselves?
To spurn the filth of any lustful thing
Is past the lout in every lust that delves;
Like sheep that late have banqueted on pear,
No finer food his tickled tongue can bear.
Think not I make pretence myself to prove
A casuist, subtly deep in sense of duty;
Nor can my rhyme without those hobbles move
That foully bind the flower of Wisdom’s booty.
When Ignorance here shall raise her wrinkled head,
Thy wit’s keen sword, I pray, will strike her dead!
Then lend thy kind and full consideration,
E’en though herein no gems of wit be found —
A pair, in time, might prove a powerful nation;
And mighty torrents spring from lowly ground.
So in my rhyme may lie a simple seed
That, grown, shall oust full many a noxious weed.
William Blocksidge, Songs o’ the South, London: Watts, 1908, pp. 69-71
adipose = animal fat, or containing, resembling, or relating to animal fat; may also refer to fat in general
base = ignoble, lacking decent moral values, lacking good personal qualities, lacking honour; contemptible; cowardly; dishonest; infamous; selfish; corrupt, evil, terrible; regarding someone from a low socio-economic class, of or relating to a peasant; born outside of marriage; born as a slave; coinage not made from valuable metal or having a low proportion of valuable metal; counterfeit; lacking value, of inferior quality or worth, worthless
bogie = an imagined cause for fear or alarm (may also refer to: someone or something which causes fear or alarm; a frightening or haunting specter, especially a “bogeyman”); an evil or mischievous spirit; a demon, ghost, goblin, or another hostile supernatural creature; the Devil (also spelt: bogey)
casuist = someone who studies and resolves cases of conscience and moral dilemmas by the interpretation of ethical principles and the application of existing principles to new circumstances, or, in the case of theological questions, by applying or interpreting religious doctrine (a practice known as “casuistry”); can also refer to someone who uses clever, quibbling, technical, tricky, or twisted arguments to justify a viewpoint or rationalisation which is unsound or morally dubious
cocked up = to act or appear conceited or proud (especially overly so); to puff up oneself (to act proud, to strut) like a rooster (the animal also known as a cock); distinct from the term “cock up”, referring to an occurrence where something has been botched, mishandled, ruined, spoiled, or gone wrong; a mistake, a mix-up
cruse = a small earthenware jar or pot used to hold liquid, such as oil, water, or wine (especially for use in religious ceremonies)
doth = (archaic) does
e’en = (archaic) a contraction of “even”
felon = (archaic) cruel, evil, malicious, treacherous, wicked; (archaic) wild; (archaic) an evildoer, a villain, a wicked person; can also refer to someone who has been found guilty of a major crime, someone who has committed a felony
list = (archaic) listen
metrical = of or regarding poetic metre (the rhythmic arrangement or pattern of a poem; can also be spelt “meter”); something composed in poetic metre; something which has a regular rhythm
oft = (archaic) often
pap = something (especially ideas, information, or writing) considered to be of little or no value or worth; drivel, something of little or no substance; can also refer to: a soft or semi-liquid food (a mash, paste, or pulp), usually bland in taste, such as is used for feeding babies or invalids; nipple, teat; something resembling a nipple or teat
pinion = a bird’s wing; in more specific usage, the outer section of a bird’s wing; in broader usage, “pinions” refers to the wings of a bird (“pinion” may also refer specifically to a feather, especially a flight feather, or a quill)
proem = an introduction, preamble, preface, or preliminary remarks, especially for a literary work or a speech
purge = a medicine used to enable the evacuation of the bowels, a laxative; can also refer to: the process of getting rid of unwanted conditions, feelings, or people; to remove unwanted people in a violent manner; to clean thoroughly, to get rid of impurities
’scape = (archaic) escape
thine = (archaic) your; yours
thy = (archaic) your
’tis = (archaic) a contraction of “it is”
’twould = (vernacular) a contraction of “it would”
ween = believe, suppose, think
wing = fly; the act of flying; to travel in an aeroplane
ye = (archaic) you (however, still in use in some places, e.g. in Cornwall, Ireland, Newfoundland, and Northern England; it can used as either the singular or plural form of “you”, although the plural form is apparently the more common usage)