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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Advice to a Poet

By Frederick Locker-Lampson (1821–1895)

DEAR POET, never rhyme at all:—

But if you must, don’t tell your neighbors;

Or five in six, who cannot scrawl,

Will dub you donkey for your labors.

This epithet may seem unjust

To you—or any verse-begetter:

Oh, must we own—I fear we must!—

That nine in ten deserve no better.

Then let them bray with leathern lungs,

And match you with the beast that grazes;

Or wag their heads, and hold their tongues,

Or damn you with the faintest praises.

Be patient,—you will get your due

Of honors, or humiliations;

So look for sympathy—but do

Not look to find it from relations.

When strangers first approved my books,

My kindred marveled what the praise meant,

They now wear more respectful looks,

But can’t get over their amazement.

Indeed, they’ve power to wound, beyond

That wielded by the fiercest hater;

For all the time they are so fond—

Which makes the aggravation greater.

Most warblers now but half express

The threadbare thoughts they feebly utter:

If they attempted naught—or less!—

They would not sink, and gasp, and flutter.

Fly low, my friend; then mount, and win

The niche for which the town’s contesting:

And never mind your kith and kin—

But never give them cause for jesting.

A bard on entering the lists

Should form his plan; and having conned it,

Should know wherein his strength consists,

And never, never go beyond it.

Great Dryden all pretense discards;

Does Cowper ever strain his tether?

And Praed (Watteau of English Bards)—

How well he keeps his team together!

Hold Pegasus in hand—control

A vein for ornament ensnaring;

Simplicity is still the soul

Of all that Time deems worth the sparing.

Long lays are not a lively sport;

Reduce your own to half a quarter:

Unless your public thinks them short,

Posterity will cut them shorter.

I look on bards who whine for praise

With feelings of profoundest pity:

They hunger for the poet’s bays,

And swear one’s spiteful when one’s witty.

The critic’s lot is passing hard:

Between ourselves, I think reviewers,

When called to truss a crowing bard,

Should not be sparing of the skewers.

We all—the foolish and the wise—

Regard our verse with fascination,

Through asinine paternal eyes,

And hues of Fancy’s own creation;

Then pray, sir, pray, excuse a queer

And sadly self-deluded rhymer,

Who thinks his beer (the smallest beer!)

Has all the gust of alt hochheimer.

Dear Bard, the Muse is such a minx,

So tricksy, it were wrong to let her

Rest satisfied with what she thinks

Is perfect: try and teach her better.

And if you only use, perchance,

One half the pains to learn that we, sir,

Still use to hide our ignorance—

How very clever you will be, sir!