Here is a tale for children and their grannies:
There was a fool, a man who'd had his chances
But missed them, somehow; lost them, just for fancies,
Tag-ends of things with which he'd crammed crannies
Of his cracked head, as panes are crammed with paper:
Fragments of song and bits of worthless writing,
Which he was never weary of reciting,
Fluttered his mind as night a windy taper.
A witless fool! who lived in some fair Venice
Of his own building where he dreamed of Beauty:
Who swore each weed a flower the sorry pauper!
This would not do. Men said he was a menace
To all mankind; and, as it was their duty,
Clapped him in prison where he died as proper.
Here is a tale for prelates and for parsons:
There was a scarecrow once, a thing of tatters
And sticks and straw, to whom men trusted matters
Of weighty moment murders, thefts and arsons.
None saw he was a scarecrow. Every worship
And honour his. Men set him in high places,
And ladies primped their bodies, tinged their faces,
And kneeled to him as slaves to some great Sirship.
One night a storm, none knew it, blew to pieces
Our jackstraw friend, and the sweet air of heaven
Knew him no more, and was no longer tainted.
Then learned doctors put him in their theses:
The State set up his statue: and thought, even
As thought the Church, perhaps he should be sainted.
Here is a tale for proper men and virgins:
There was a woman once who had a daughter,
A fair-faced wench, as stable as is water,
And frailer than the first spring flower that burgeons.
She did not need to work, but then her mother
Thought it more suitable, and circumspectly
Put her with gentlefolks, where, indirectly,
She rose in service as has many another.
The house she served in soon became divided:
The wife and husband parted, with some scandal:
But she remained and, in the end, was married.
What happened then? You'll say, "The girl decided
She loved another. "Nay; not so. The vandal
Wrecked no more homes but lived a life unvaried.
Here is a tale for maidens and for mothers:
There was an ape, a very prince of monkeys,
Who capered in the world of fools and flunkies,
The envy of his set and of all others.
He was the handbook of all social manners:
The beau of beaux, and simian glass of fashion,
To whom all folly functioned, played at passion,
And matrimony waved beleaguering banners.
A girl of girls, one God had given graces
And beauty, more than oft He grants to human,
Captured the creature, and they were united.
And strange to say, she loved him. Saw no traces
Of ape in him. And, like a very woman,
Reformed her countenance, and was delighted.
Here is a tale for uncles and old aunties:
There was a man once who denied the Devil,
Yet in the world saw nothing else but evil;
A pessimist, with face as sour as Dante's.
Still people praised him; men he loathed and hated,
And cursed beneath his breath for wretched sinners,
While still he drank with them and ate their dinners,
And listened to their talk and tolerated.
At last he wrote a book, full of invective
And vile abuse of earth and all its nations,
Denying God and Devil, Heaven and Hades.
Fame followed this. "His was the right perspective!"
"A great philosopher!" He lost all patience.
But still went out to dine with Lords and Ladies.
Here is a tale for men and women teachers:
There was a girl who'd ceased to be a maiden;
Who walked by night with heart like Lilith's laden;
A child of sin anathemaed of preachers.
She had been lovely once; but dye and scarlet,
On hair and face, had ravaged all her beauty;
Only her eyes still did her girl-soul duty,
Showing the hell that hounded her poor harlot!
One day a fisherman from out the river
Fished her pale body, (like a branch of willlow,
Or golden weed) self-murdered, drowned and broken:
The sight of it had made a strong man shiver;
And on her poor breast, as upon a pillow,
A picture smiled, a baby's, like some token
Here is a tale for gossips and chaste people:
There lived a woman once, a straight-laced lady,
Whose only love was slander. Nothing shady
Escaped her vulture eye. Like some prim steeple
Her course of life pointed to Heaven ever;
And woe unto the sinner, girl or woman,
Whom love undid. She was their fiercest foeman.
No circumstance excused. Misfortune, never....
As she had lived she died. The mourners gathered:
Parson and preacher, this one and another,
And many gossips of most proper carriage.
Her will was read. And then... a child was fathered.
Fat Lechery had his day.... She'd been a mother.
A man was heir.... There'd never been a marriage.
Here is a tale for infants and old nurses:
There was a man who gathered rags; and peddled:
Who lived alone: with no one ever meddled:
And this old man was very fond of verses.
His house, a ruin, so the tale rehearses;
A hovel over-run of rats and vermin;
Not fit for beast to live in. (Like a sermon
Embodying misery and hell and curses.)
There, one grey dawn of rain and windy weather,
They found him dead; starved; o'er a written paper;
Beside a dim and half-expiring taper:
It was a play, the poor fool'd put together,
Of gnomes and fairies, for his own sad pleasure:
And folks destroyed it, saying, "We seek for treasure."
Here is a tale for artists and for writers:
There was an ass, in other words, a critic,
Who brayed and balked and kicked most analytic,
And waved long ears above his brother smiters.
He could not tell a rose-tree from a thistle,
But oft mistook the one thing for the other;
Then wagged his ears most wisely at some brother,
Sent him his he-haw for the Penny Whistle.
A poet sent his volume to him' kindly
Asking for criticism. You might know it:
He made one mouthful of it, weed and flower.
There rose a cry that he had done it blindly.
'Twas poetry! What! would he kill a poet!
Not he! The ass had brayed him into power.
Here is a tale for any one who wishes:
There grew a cabbage once among the flowers,
A plain, broad cabbage a good wench, whose hours
Were kitchen-busy with plebeian dishes.
The rose and lily, toilless, without mottle,
Patricians born, despised her: "How unpleasant!"
They cried;"What odour! Worse than any peasant
Who soils God's air! Give us our smelling- bottle."
There came a gentleman who owned the garden,
Looking about him at both flower and edible,
Admiring here and there; a simple sinner,
Who sought some bud to be his heart's sweet warden:
But passed the flowers and took it seems incredible!
That cabbage! But a man must have his dinner.
Here is a tale for all who wish to listen:
There was a thief who, in his cut-throat quarter,
Was hailed as chief; he had a way of barter,
Persuasion, masked, behind a weapon's glisten,
That made it cockrow with each good man's riches.
At last he joined the Brotherhood of Murder,
And rose in his profession; lived a herder
Of crime in some dark tavern of the ditches.
There was a war. He went. Became a gunner.
And slew, as soldiers should, his many a hundred,
In authorized and most professional manner.
Here he advanced again. Was starred a oner.
Was captained, pensioned, and nobody wondered;
And lived and died respectable as a tanner.
Death And The Fool
Here is a tale for any man or woman:
A fool sought Death; and braved him with his bauble
Among the graves. At last he heard a hobble,
And something passed him, monstrous, super-human.
And by a tomb, that reared a broken column,
He heard it stop. And then Gargantuan laughter
Shattered the hush. Deep silence followed after,
Filled with the stir of bones, cadaverous, solemn.
Then said the fool:"Come! show thyself, old prancer!
I'll have a bout with thee. I, too, can clatter
My wand and motley. Come now! Death and Folly,
See who's the better man." There was no answer;
Only his bauble broke; a serious matter
To the poor fool who died of melancholy.
Here is a tale for poets and for players:
There was a bagpipe once, that wheezed and whistled,
And droned vile discords, notes that fairly bristled,
Nasal and harsh, outbraying all the brayers.
And then the thing assumed another bearing:
Boasted itself an organ of God's making,
A world-enduring instrument, Earth-shaking,
Greater than any organ, more sky-daring.
To prove which, lo, upon an elevation
It pranced and blew to its own satisfaction,
Until 'twas heard from Key West far as Fundy.
But while it piped, some schoolboy took occasion
There was a blow; a sudden sharp impaction;
The wind-bag burst... Sic transit gloria mundi.
Here is a tale for farmer and for peasant:
There was an ox, who might have ploughed for Jason,
So strong was he, his huge head like a bason,
A Gothic helmet with enormous crescent.
Stolid of look and slow of hoof and steady,
Meek was the beast and born but to be driven,
Unmindful of the yoke which toil had given,
Toil with his goad and lash for ever ready.
One day a bull, who was the bullock's neighbor,
Proud as a sultan haremed with his women,
Lowed to the ox who had received a beating:
"You are a fool! What have you for your labour?
Blows and bad food! Go to. Why don't you show men?"
The ox was but an ox and went on eating.
Here is a tale for spinsters at their sewing:
There was a goose, a little gosling surely,
Who went her goose-girl way and looked demurely
As every goose should when 'tis wise and knowing.
Proper was she as every gosling should be,
And innocent as Margarete or Gretchen,
And did her duty in the house and kitchen,
And like a goose was happy as she could be.
Smug was she with a sleek and dove-like dimple,
Great gooseberry eyes and cheeks out of the dairy:
A goose, aye, just a goose, a little dumb thing.
One day the goose was gone. The tale is simple.
She had eloped. 'Twas nothing ordinary.
A married man with children. That was something.
Here is a tale for sportsmen when at table:
There was a boar, like that Atalanta hunted,
Who gorged and snored and, unmolested, grunted,
His fat way through the world as such able.
Huge-jowled and paunched and porcine-limbed and marrowed,
King of his kind, deep in his lair he squatted,
And round him fames of many maidens rotted
Where Licence whelped and Lust her monsters farrowed.
There came a damsel, like the one in Spenser,
A Britomart, as sorcerous as Circe,
Who pierced him with a tract, her spear, and ended
The beast's career. Made him a man; a censor
Of public morals; arbiter of mercy;
And led him by the nose and called him splendid.
Here is a tale for ladies with romances:
There was an owl; composer and musician,
Who looked as wise as if he had a mission,
And at all art cast supercilious glances.
People proclaimed him great because he said it;
And, like the great, he never played, nor printed
His compositions, 'though 'twas whispered, hinted
He'd written something but no one had read it.
Owl-eyed he posed at functions of position,
Hirsute, and eye-glassed, looking analytic,
Opening his mouth to worshipping female knowledge:
And then he married. A woman of ambition.
A singer, teacher, and a musical critic.
Just what he wanted. He became a college.
Here is a tale to tell to rich relations:
There was a toad, a Calibanic monster,
In whose squat head ambition had ensconced her
Most bloated jewel, dear to highest stations.
He was received, though mottled as a lichen
In coat and character, because the creature
Croaked as the devil prompted him, or nature,
And said the right thing both in hall and kitchen.
To each he sang according to their liking,
And purred his flattery in the ear of Leisure,
Cringing attendance on the proud and wealthy.
One day a crane, with features of a Viking,
Swallowed him whole and did it with great pleasure:
His system needed such; toads kept him healthy.
Here is a tale for those who sing with reason:
There was a cricket, troubadouring fellow,
Who chirped his lay, or zoomed it like a 'cello,
Day in, day out, no matter what the season.
Great was his love for his own violining;
He never wearied saying, "What performing!"
And oft, when through, would ask, "Was not that charming?"
Then play it over, right from the beginning.
A talent, such as his, should be rewarded,
So thought he, all unconscious of intention
Of any one among the violin sects,
Until by some one, lo, he was regarded;
Lifted, examined; given special mention;
And placed within a case with other insects.
Here is a tale for workmen and their masters:
There was a torrent once that down a mountain
Flashed its resistless way; a foaming fountain,
Basaltic-built, 'twixt cataract-hewn pilasters.
Down from its eagle eyrie nearer, nearer,
Its savage beauty born mid rocks and cedars,
Swept free as tempest, wild as mountain leaders,
Of stars and storms the swiftly moving mirror.
Men found it out; and set to work to tame it;
Put it to pounding rock and rafting lumber;
Made it a carrier of the filth of cities:
Harnessed its joy to engines; tried to shame it;
Saying, "Be civilized!" and piled their cumber
Upon it; bound it. God of all the Pities!