The Ladle. A Tale

A poem by Matthew Prior

The Sceptics think 'twas long ago
Since gods came down incognito
To see who were their friends or foes,
And how our actions fell or rose;
That since they gave things their beginning,
And set this whirligig a-spinning,
Supine they in their heaven remain,
Exempt from passion and from pain,
And frankly leave us human elves
To cut and shuffle for ourselves;
To stand or walk, to rise or tumble,
As matter and as motion jumble.

The poets now, and painters, hold
This thesis both absurd and bold,
And your good-natured gods, they say,
Descend some twice or thrice a-day,
Else all these things we toil so hard in
Would not avail one single farthing;
For when the hero we rehearse
To grace his actions and our verse,
'Tis not by dint of human thought
That to his Latium he is brought;
Iris descends by Fate's commands
To guide his steps through foreign lands,
And Amphitrite clears his way
From rocks and quicksands in the sea.

And if you see him in a sketch
(Though drawn by Paulo or Carache)
He shows not half his force and strength
Strutting in armour and at length;
That he may make his proper figure
The piece must yet be four yards bigger;
The nymphs conduct him to the field,
One holds his sword, and one his shield,
Mars, standing by, asserts his quarrel,
And Fame flies after with a laurel.

These points, I say, of speculation,
(As 'twere to save or sink the nation)
Men idly learned will dispute,
Assert, object, confirm, refute;
Each mighty angry, mighty right,
With equal arms sustains the fight,
Till now no umpire can agree 'em,
So both draw off and sing Te Deum.

Is it in equilibrio
If deities descend or no?
Then let th' affirmative prevail,
As requisite to form my Tale;
For by all parties 'tis confess'd
That those opinions are the best
Which in their nature most conduce
To present ends and private use.

Two gods came, therefore, from above,
One Mercury, the other Jove;
The humour was, it seems, to know
If all the favours they bestow
Could from our own perverseness ease us,
And if our wish enjoy'd would please us,
Discoursing largely on this theme,
O'er hills and dales their godships came,
Till well nigh tired, at almost night,
They thought it proper to alight.

Not here, that it as true as odd is,
That in disguise a god or goddess
Exerts no supernatural powers,
But acts on maxims much like ours.
They spied at last a country farm,
Where all was snug, and clean, and warm;
For woods before and hills behind
Secured it both from rain and wind:
Large oxen in the field were lowing,
Good grain was sow'd, good fruit was growing:
Of last year's corn in barns great store;
Fat turkeys gobbling at the door;
And Wealth in short, with Peace consented
That people here should live contented;
But did they in effect do so?
Have patience friend, and thou shalt know.
The honest farmer and his wife,
To years declined from prime of life,
Had struggled with the marriage noose,
As almost every couple does:
Sometimes my plague! sometimes my darling!
Kissing to-day, to-morrow snarling!
Jointly submitting to endure
That evil which admits no cure.

Our gods the outward gates unbarr'd;
Our farmer met 'em in the yard;
Thought they were folks that lost their way,
And ask'd them civilly to stay;
Told 'em for supper or for bed
They might go on and be worse sped.,

So said, so done; the gods consent:
All three into the parlour went:
They compliment, they sit, they chat;
Fight o'er the wars, reform the state:
A thousand knotty points they clear,
Till supper and my wife appear.

Jove made his leg, and kiss'd the dame;
Obsequious Hermes did the same.
Jove kiss'd the farmer's wife, you say!
He did, but in an honest way:
Oh! not with half that warmth and life
With which he kiss'd Amphitryon's wife.,

Well, then, things handsomely were served;
My mistress for the strangers carved.
How strong the beer, how good the meat,
How loud they laughed, how much they eat,
In epic sumptuous would appear,
Yet shall be pass'd in silence here;
For I should grieve to have it said
That, by a fine description led,
I made my episode too long,
Or tired my friend to grace my song.

The grace-cup served, the cloth away,
Jove thought it time to show his play.
Landlord and landlady, he cried,
Folly and jesting laid aside,
That ye thus hospitably live,
And strangers with good cheer receive,
Is mighty grateful to your betters
And make e'en gods themselves your debtors.
To give this thesis plainer proof,
You have to-night beneath your roof
A pair of gods: (nay, never wonder,)
This youth can fly and I can thunder.
I'm Jupiter, and he Mercurius,
My page, my son indeed, but spurious.
Form, then, three wishes, you and Madam,
And, sure as you already had 'em,
The things desired in half an hour
Shall all be here and in your power.

Thank ye, great Gods, the woman says;
Oh! may your altars ever blaze!
A ladle for our silver dish
Is what I want, is what I wish.,
A ladle! cries the man, a ladle!
'Odzooks, Corsica, you have pray'd ill!
What should be great you turn to farce,
I wish the ladle in your a *.

With equal grief and shame my Muse
The sequel of the tale pursues.
The ladle fell into the room,
And struck in old Corsica's bum.
Our couple weep two wishes past,
And kindly join to form the last;
To ease the woman's awkward pain,
And get the ladle out again.

Moral.
This commoner has worth and parts,
Is praised for arms, or loved for arts;
His head aches for a coronet,
And who is bless'd that is not great?

Some sense and more estate kind Heaven
To this well-lotted peer has given:
What then? he must have rule and sway,
And all is wrong till he's in play.

The miser must make up his plum,
And dares not touch the hoarded sum;
The sickly dotard wants a wife
To draw off his last dregs of life.

Against our peace we arm our will;
Amidst our plenty something still
For horses, houses, pictures, planting,
To thee, to me, to him, is wanting;
That cruel something unpossess'd,
Corrodes, and leavens all the rest:
That something if we could obtain
Would soon create a future pain;
And to the coffin from the cradle
'Tis all a wish and all a Ladle.

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