The Second Satire of Persius

by John Dryden

John Dryden


Let this auspicious morning be express'd
With a white stone, distinguish'd from the rest,
White as thy fame, and as thy honor clear;
And let new joys attend on thy new-added year.
Indulge thy genius, and o'erflow thy soul,
Till thy wit sparkle, like the cheerful bowl.
Pray; for thy pray'rs the test of Heav'n will bear;
Nor need'st thou take the gods aside, to hear;
While others, ev'n the mighty men of Rome,
Big swell'd with mischief, to the temples come;
And in low murmurs, and with costly smoke,
Heaven's help, to prosper their black vows, invoke.
So boldly to the gods mankind reveal
What from each other they, for shame, conceal.
" Give me good fame, ye pow'rs, and make me just; "
Thus much the rogue to public ears will trust:
In private then: — " When wilt thou, mighty Jove,
My wealthy uncle from this world remove? "
Or — " O thou Thund'rer's son, great Hercules,
That once thy bounteous deity would please
To guide my rake upon the chinking sound
Of some vast treasure, hidden under ground!
" O were my pupil fairly knock'd o' th' head;
I should possess th' estate, if he were dead!
He's so far gone with rickets, and with th' evil,
That one small dose would send him to the devil.
" This is my neighbor Nerius his third spouse,
Of whom in happy time he rids his house;
But my eternal wife! — Grant Heav'n I may
Survive to see the fellow of his day! "
Thus, that thou mayst the better bring about
Thy wishes, thou art wickedly devout;
In Tiber ducking thrice, by break of day,
To wash th' obscenities of night away.
But pr'ythee tell me, ('t is a small request,)
With what ill thoughts of Jove art thou possess'd?
Wouldst thou prefer him to some man? Suppose
I dipp'd among the worst, and Staius chose?
Which of the two would thy wise head declare
The trustier tutor to an orphan heir?
Or, put it thus: — Unfold to Staius, straight,
What to Jove's ear thou didst impart of late:
He'll stare, and, " O good Jupiter! " will cry;
" Canst thou indulge him in this villainy? "
And think'st thou, Jove himself, with patience, then,
Can hear a pray'r condemn'd by wicked men?
That, void of care, he lolls supine in state,
And leaves his bus'ness to be done by fate?
Because his thunder splits some burly tree,
And is not darted at thy house and thee?
Or that his vengeance falls not at the time,
Just at the perpetration of thy crime:
And makes thee a sad object of our eyes,
Fit for Ergenna's pray'r and sacrifice?
What well-fed off'ring to appease the god,
What pow'rful present to procure a nod,
Hast thou in store? What bribe hast thou prepar'd,
To pull him, thus unpunish'd, by the beard?
Our superstitions with our life begin:
Th' obscene old grandam, or the next of kin,
The newborn infant from the cradle takes,
And first of spettle a lustration makes;
Then in the spawl her middle finger dips,
Anoints the temples, forehead, and the lips,
Pretending force of witchcraft to prevent,
By virtue of her nasty excrement;
Then dandles him with many a mutter'd pray'r
That Heav'n would make him some rich miser's heir,
Lucky to ladies, and in time a king;
Which to insure, she adds a length of navel-string.
But no fond nurse is fit to make a pray'r:
And Jove, if Jove be wise, will never hear;
Not tho' she prays in white, with lifted hands.
A body made of brass the crone demands
For her lov'd nursling, strung with nerves of wire,
Tough to the last, and with no toil to tire:
Unconscionable vows! which when we use,
We teach the gods, in reason, to refuse,
Suppose they were indulgent to thy wish:
Yet the fat entrails, in the spacious dish,
Would stop the grant; the very over-care,
And nauseous pomp, would hinder half the pray'r.
Thou hop'st with sacrifice of oxen slain
To compass wealth, and bribe the God of Gain,
To give thee flocks and herds, with large increase;
Fool! to expect 'em from a bullock's grease!
And think'st that when the fatten'd flames aspire,
Thou seest th' accomplishment of thy desire!
Now, now, my bearded harvest gilds the plain,
The scanty folds can scarce my sheep contain,
And show'rs of gold come pouring in amain:
Thus dreams the wretch, and vainly thus dreams on,
Till his lank purse declares his money gone.
Should I present thee with rare figur'd plate,
Or gold as rich in workmanship as weight;
O how thy rising heart would throb and beat,
And thy left side, with trembling pleasure, sweat!
Thou measur'st by thyself the pow'rs divine;
Thy gods are burnish'd gold, and silver is their shrine.
Thy puny godlings of inferior race,
Whose humble statues are content with brass,
Should some of these, in visions purg'd from phlegm,
Foretell events, or in a morning dream;
Ev'n those thou wouldst in veneration hold;
And, if not faces, give 'em beards of gold.
The priests in temples now no longer care
For Saturn's brass, or Numa's earthen ware,
Or vestal urns, in each religious rite:
This wicked gold has put 'em all to flight.
O souls, in whom no heav'nly fire is found,
Fat minds, and ever groveling on the ground!
We bring our manners to the blest abodes,
And think what pleases us must please the gods.
Of oil and cassia one th' ingredients takes,
And, of the mixture, a rich ointment makes;
Another finds the way to dye in grain,
And make Calabrian wool receive the Tyrian stain;
Or from the shells their orient treasure takes,
Or, for their golden ore, in rivers rakes;
Then melts the mass. All these are vanities!
Yet still some profit from their pains may rise:
But tell me, priest, if I may be so bold,
What are the gods the better for this gold?
The wretch that offers from his wealthy store
These presents, bribes the pow'rs to give him more;
As maids to Venus offer baby-toys,
To bless the marriage bed with girls and boys.
But let us for the gods a gift prepare,
Which the great man's great chargers cannot bear:
A soul, where laws, both human and divine,
In practice more than speculation shine;
A genuine virtue, of a vigorous kind,
Pure in the last recesses of the mind;
When with such off'rings to the gods come,
A cake thus giv'n is worth a hecatomb.

Last updated November 04, 2022