What Sophocles could undertake alone,
Our poets found a work for more than one;
And therefore two lay tugging at the piece,
With all their force, to draw the ponderous mass from Greece;
A weight that bent e'en Seneca's strong Muse,
And which Corneille's shoulders did refuse:
So hard it is the Athenian harp to string!
So much two consuls yield to one just king!
Terror and pity this whole poem sway;
The mightiest machines that can mount a play.
How heavy will those vulgar souls be found,
Whom two such engines cannot move from ground!
When Greece and Rome have smiled upon this birth,
You can but damn for one poor spot of earth:
And when your children find your judgment such,
They'll scorn their sires, and wish themselves born Dutch;
Each haughty poet will infer, with ease,
How much his wit must underwrite to please.
As some strong churl would, brandishing, advance
The monumental sword that conquer'd France;
So you, by judging this, your judgment teach,
Thus far you like, that is, thus far you reach.
Since, then, the vote of full two thousand years
Has crown'd this plot, and all the dead are theirs,
Think it a debt you pay, not alms you give,
And, in your own defence, let this play live.
Think them not vain, when Sophocles is shown,
To praise his worth they humbly doubt their own.
Yet as weak states each other's power assure,
Weak poets by conjunction are secure.
Their treat is what your palates relish most,
Charm! song! and show! a murder and a ghost!
We know not what you can desire or hope
To please you more, but burning of a Pope.