The Origin Of Didactic Poetry

A poem by James Russell Lowell

When wise Minerva still was young
And just the least romantic,
Soon after from Jove's head she flung
That preternatural antic,
'Tis said, to keep from idleness
Or flirting, those twin curses,
She spent her leisure, more or less,
In writing po----, no, verses.

How nice they were! to rhyme with far
A kind star did not tarry;
The metre, too, was regular
As schoolboy's dot and carry;
And full they were of pious plums,
So extra-super-moral,--
For sucking Virtue's tender gums
Most tooth-enticing coral.

A clean, fair copy she prepares,
Makes sure of moods and tenses,
With her own hand,--for prudence spares
A man-(or woman-)-uensis;
Complete, and tied with ribbons proud,
She hinted soon how cosy a
Treat it would be to read them loud
After next day's Ambrosia.

The Gods thought not it would amuse
So much as Homer's Odyssees,
But could not very well refuse
The properest of Goddesses;
So all sat round in attitudes
Of various dejection,
As with a hem! the queen of prudes
Began her grave prelection.

At the first pause Zeus said, 'Well sung!--
I mean--ask Phoebus,--he knows.'
Says Phoebus, 'Zounds! a wolf's among
Admetus's merinos!
Fine! very fine! but I must go;
They stand in need of me there;
Excuse me!' snatched his stick, and so
Plunged down the gladdened ether.

With the next gap, Mars said, 'For me
Don't wait,--naught could be finer,
But I'm engaged at half past three,--
A fight in Asia Minor!'
Then Venus lisped, 'I'm sorely tried,
These duty-calls are vip'rous;
But I must go; I have a bride
To see about in Cyprus.'

Then Bacchus,--'I must say good-by,
Although my peace it jeopards;
I meet a man at four, to try
A well-broke pair of leopards.'
His words woke Hermes. 'Ah!' he said,
'I so love moral theses!'
Then winked at Hebe, who turned red,
And smoothed her apron's creases.

Just then Zeus snored,--the Eagle drew
His head the wing from under;
Zeus snored,--o'er startled Greece there flew
The many-volumed thunder.
Some augurs counted nine, some, ten;
Some said 'twas war, some, famine;
And all, that other-minded men
Would get a precious----.

Proud Pallas sighed, 'It will not do;
Against the Muse I've sinned, oh!'
And her torn rhymes sent flying through
Olympus's back window.
Then, packing up a peplus clean,
She took the shortest path thence,
And opened, with a mind serene,
A Sunday-school in Athens.

The verses? Some in ocean swilled,
Killed every fish that bit to 'em;
Some Galen caught, and, when distilled,
Found morphine the residuum;
But some that rotted on the earth
Sprang up again in copies,
And gave two strong narcotics birth,
Didactic verse and poppies.

Years after, when a poet asked
The Goddess's opinion,
As one whose soul its wings had tasked
In Art's clear-aired dominion,
'Discriminate,' she said, 'betimes;
The Muse is unforgiving;
Put all your beauty in your rhymes,
Your morals in your living.'

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