The Bowling-Green

by William Somervile

William Somervile

Where fair Sabrina's wandering currents flow,
A large smooth plain extends its verdant brow;
Here every morn, while fruitful vapours feed
The swelling blade, and bless the smoking mead,
A cruel tyrant reigns: like Time, the swain
Whets his unrighteous scythe, and shaves the plain:
Beneath each stroke the peeping flowers decay,
And all the' unripen'd crop is swept away:
The heavy roller next he tugs along,
Whiffs his short pipe, or rears a rural song;
With curious eye then the press'd turf he views,
And every rising prominence subdues.
Now when each craving stomach was well-stor'd,
And Church and King had travell'd round the board,
Hither at Fortune's shrine to pay their court
With eager hopes the motley tribe resort;
Attornies spruce, in their plate-button'd frocks,
And rosy parsons, fat and orthodox:
Of every sect, Whigs, Papists, and Highflyers,
Cornuted aldermen and hen-peck'd squires;
Fox-hunters, quacks, scribblers in verse and prose,
And half-pay captains, and half-witted beans.
On the green cirque the ready racers stand,
Dispos'd in pairs, and tempt the bowler's hand;
Each polish'd sphere does his round brother own,
The twins distinguish'd by their marks are known.
As the strong rein guides the well-manag'd horse,
Here weighty lead infus'd directs their course:
These in the ready road drive on with speed,
But those in crooked paths more artfully succeed.
So the tall ship that makes some dangerous bay,
With a side wind obliquely slopes her way.
Lo! there the silver tumbler fix'd on high,
The victor's prize, inviting every eye!
The champions or consent or chance divide,
While each man thinks his own the surer side,
And the jack leads the skilful bowler's guide.
Bendo stripp'd first; from foreign coasts he brought
A chaos of receipts, and anarchy of thought;
Where the tumultuous whims to faction prone,
Still justled monarch Reason from her throne:
More dangerous than the porcupine's his quill,
Inur'd to slaughter, and secure to kill.
Let loose, just Heav'n! each virulent disease,
But save us from such murderers as these.
Might Bendo live but half a patriarch's age,
The' unpeopled world would sink beneath his rage;
Nor need to' appease the just Creator's ire
A second deluge or consuming fire.
He winks one eye, and knits his brow severe,
Then from his hand launches the flying sphere;
Out of the green the guiltless wood he hurl'd,
Swift as his patients from this nether world;
Then grinn'd malignant, but the jocund crowd
Deride his senseless rage, and shout aloud.
Next, Zadoc, 'tis thy turn, imperious priest!
Still late at church, but early at a feast.
No turkey-cock appears with better grace,
His garments black, vermilion paints his face:
His wattles hang upon his stiffen'd band,
His platter feet upon the trigger stand,
He grasps the bowl in his rough brawny hand:
Then squatting down, with his grey goggle-eyes
He takes his aim, and at the mark it flies,
Zadoc pursues, and wabbles o'er the plain,
But shakes his strutting paunch, and ambles on in vain;
For, oh! wide-erring to the left it glides,
The inmate lead the lighter wood misguides.
He, sharp reproofs with kind entreaties joins,
Then on the counter side with pain reclines,
As if he meant to regulate its course,
By pow'r attractive and magnetic force:
Now almost in despair, he raves, he storms,
Writhes his unwieldy trunk in various forms.
Unhappy Proteus! still in vain he tries
A thousand shapes, the bowl erroneous flies,
Deaf to his pray'rs, regardless of his cries;
His puffing cheeks with rising rage inflame,
And all his sparkling rubies glow with shame.
Bendo's proud heart, proof against Fortune's frown,
Resolves once more to make the prize his own:
Cautious he plods surveying all the green,
And measures with his eye the space between:
But as on him 'twas a peculiar curse
To fall from one extreme into a worse,
Conscious of too much vigour, now for fear
He should exceed, at hand he checks the sphere.
Soon as he found its languid force decay,
And the too weak impression die away,
Quick after it he scuds, urges behind,
Step after step, and now, with anxious mind,
Hangs o'er the bowl slow-creeping on the plain,
And chides its faint efforts, and bawls amain:
Then on the guiltless green the blame to lay,
Curses the mountains that obstruct his way;
Brazens it out with an audacious face,
His insolence improving by disgrace.
Zadoc, who now with three black mugs had cheer'd
His drooping heart, and his sunk spirits rear'd,
Advances to the trigg with solemn pace,
And ruddy hope sits blooming on his face.
The bowl he pois'd, with pain his hains he bends,
On well-chose ground unto the mark it tends:
Each adverse heart pants with unusual fear,
With joy he follows the propitious sphere:
Alas! how frail is every mortal scheme,
We build on sand, our happiness a dream!
Bendo's short bowl stops the proud victor's course,
Purloins his fame, and deadens all its force.
At Bendo, from each corner of his eyes,
He darts malignant rays, then muttering flies
Into the bower; there, panting and half dead,
In thick mundungus clouds he hides his head.
Muse! raise thy voice: to win the glorious prize,
Bid all the fury of the battle rise.
These but the light-arm'd champions of the field,
See Griper there! a veteran well skill'd:
This able pilot knows to steer a cause
Through all the rocks and shallows of the laws;
Or if 'tis wreck'd, his trembling client saves
On the next plank, and disappoints the waves.
In this, at least, all histories agree,
That though he lost his cause he sav'd his fee.
When the fat client looks in jovial plight,
How complaisant the man! each point how right!
But if the' abandon'd orphan puts his case,
And poverty sits shrinking on his face,
How like a cur he snarls! when at the door
For broken scraps he quarrels with the poor.
The farmer's oracle, when rent-day's near,
And landlords, by forbearance, are severe;
When huntsmen trespass, or his neighbour's swine,
Or tatter'd Crape extorts by right divine:
Him all the rich their contributions pay,
Him all the poor with aching hearts obey:
He in his swanskin doublet struts along,
Now begs, and now rebukes, the pressing throng.
A passage clear'd, he takes his aim with care,
And gently from his hand lets loose the sphere:
Smooth as a swallow o'er the plain it flies,
While he pursues its track with eager eyes;
Its hopeful course approv'd, he shouts aloud,
Claps both his hands, and justles through the crowd.
Hovering awhile, soon at the mark it stood,
Hung o'er inclin'd, and fondly kiss'd the wood;
Loud is the' applause of every betting friend,
And peals of clamorous joy the concave rend.
But in each hostile face a dismal gloom
Appears, the sad presage of loss to come;
'Mong these Trebellius, with a mournful air
Of livid hue, just dying with despair,
Shuffles about, screws his chop-fallen face,
And no whipp'd gig so often shifts his place;
Then gives his sage advice with wondrous skill,
Which no man ever heeds, or ever will:
Yet he persists, instructing to confound,
And with his cane points out the dubious ground.
Strong Nimrod now, fresh as the rising dawn,
Appears; his sinewy limbs and solid brawn
The gazing crowd admires. He nor in courts
Delights, nor pompous balls, but rural sports
Are his soul's joy. At the horn's brisk alarms
He shakes the' unwilling Phillis from his arms;
Mounts with the sun, begins his bold career,
To chase the wily fox or rambling deer.
So Hercules, by Juno's dread command,
From savage beasts and monsters freed the land.
Hark! from the covert of yon gloomy brake
Harmonious thunder rolls, the forests shake;
Men, boys, and dogs, impatient for the chase,
Tumultuous transports flush in every face;
With ears erect the courser paws the ground,
Hills, vales, and hollow rocks, with cheering cries resound:
Drive down the precipice (brave youths!) with speed,
Bound o'er the river banks, and smoke along the mead:
But whither would the devious Muse pursue
The pleasing theme, and my past joys renew?
Another labour now demands thy song.
Stretch'd in two ranks, behold the' expecting throng
As Nimrod pois'd the sphere: his arms he drew it flew:
Back like an arrow in the Parthian yew,
Then launch'd the whirling globe, and full as swift
Bowls dash'd on bowls confounded all the plain,
Safe stood the foe, well cover'd by his train.
Assaulted tyrants thus their guard defends,
Escaping by the ruin of their friends.
But now he stands expos'd, their order broke,
And seems to dread the next decisive stroke.
So at some bloody siege, the pondrous ball
Batters with ceaseless rage the crumbling wall,
(A breach once made) soon galls the naked town,
Riots in blood, and heaps on heaps are thrown.
Each avenue thus clear'd, with aching heart
Griper beheld, exerting all his art;
Once more resolves to check his furious foe,
Block up the passage, and elude the blow.
With cautious hand, and with less force, he threw
The well-pois'd sphere, that gently circling flew,
But stopping short, cover'd the mark from view.
So little Teucer on the well-fought field
Securely skulk'd behind his brother's shield.
Nimrod, in dangers bold, whose heart elate
Nor courted Fortune's smiles nor fear'd her hate,
Perplex'd, but not discourag'd, walk'd around,
With curious eye examin'd all the ground;
Not the least opening in the front was found.
Sideway he leans, declining to the right,
And marks his way, and moderates his might.
Smooth-gliding o'er the plain the' obedient sphere
Held on its dubious road, while hope and fear
Alternate ebb'd and flow'd in every breast:
Now rolling nearer to the mark it press'd;
Then chang'd its course, by the strong bias rem'd,
And on the foe discharg'd the force that yet remain'd: —
Smart was the stroke: away the rival fled,
The bold intruder triumph'd in his stead.
Victorious Nimrod seiz'd the glittering prize,
Shouts of outrageous joy invade the skies;
Hands, tongues, and caps, exalt the victor's fame,
Sabrina's banks return him loud acclaim.

Last updated October 28, 2017