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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Persius (34–62)

Poetic Fame

From “Satires,” translated by William Gifford

IMMURED within our studies, we compose;

Some, shackled meter; some, freefooted prose;

But all, bombast—stuff, which the breast may strain,

And the huge lungs puff forth with awkward pain.

’Tis done! And now the bard, elate and proud,

Prepares a grand rehearsal for the crowd.

Lo! he steps forth in birthday splendor bright,

Combed and perfumed, and robed in dazzling white,

And mounts the desk; his pliant throat he clears,

And deals, insidious, round his wanton leers;

While Rome’s first nobles, by the prelude wrought,

Watch, with indecent glee, each prurient thought,

And squeal with rapture, as the luscious line

Thrills through the marrow and inflames the chine.

Vile dotard! Canst thou thus consent to please,

To pander for such itching fools as these?

Fools, whose applause must shoot beyond thy aim,

And tinge thy cheek, bronzed as it is, with shame!

But wherefore have I learned, if, thus represt,

The leaven still must swell within my breast;

If the wild fig-tree, deeply rooted there,

Must never burst its bounds and shoot in air?

Are these the fruits of study, these of age?

Oh, times, oh, manners! Thou misjudging sage,

Is science only useful as ’tis shown,

And is thy knowledge nothing if not known?

But, sure, ’tis pleasant, as we walk, to see

The pointed finger, hear the loud “That’s he!”

On every side. And seems it, in your sight,

So poor a trifle, that whate’er we write

Is introduced to every school of note,

And taught the youth of quality by rote?

Nay, more! Our nobles, gorged, and swilled with wine,

Call, o’er the banquet, for a lay divine.

Here one, on whom the princely purple glows,

Snuffles some musty legend through his nose,

Slowly distils Hypsipyle’s sad fate,

And love-lorn Phyllis dying for her mate,

With what of woful else is said or sung,

And trips up every word with lisping tongue.

The maudlin audience, from the couches round,

Hum their assent, responsive to the sound.

And are not now the poet’s ashes blest?

Now lies the turf not lightly on his breast?

They pause a moment, and again the room

Rings with his praise. Now will not roses bloom,

Now, from his relics, will not violets spring,

And o’er his hallowed urn their fragrance fling?

You laugh (’tis answered), and too freely here

Indulge that vile propensity to sneer.

Lives there, who would not at applause rejoice,

And merit, if he could, the public voice?

Who would not leave posterity such rimes,

As cedar oil might keep to latest times—

Rimes which should fear no desperate grocer’s hand,

Nor fly with fish and spices through the land?

Thou, my kind monitor, whoe’er thou art,

Whom I suppose to play the opponent’s part,

Know, when I write, if chance some happier strain

(And chance it needs must be) rewards my pain,

Know, I can relish praise with genuine zest;

Not mine the torpid, mine the unfeeling breast.

But that I merely toil for this acclaim,

And make these eulogies my end and aim,

I must not, cannot grant. For—sift them all,

Mark well their value, and on what they fall—

Are they not showered (to pass these trifles o’er)

On Labeo’s Iliad, drunk with hellebore,

On princely love-lays driveled without thought,

And the crude trash on citron couches wrought?

You spread the table, ’tis a master-stroke,

And give the shivering guest a threadbare cloak;

Then, while his heart with gratitude dilates

At the glad vest and the delicious cates,

“Tell me,” you cry, “for truth is my delight,

What says the town of me, and what I write?”

He cannot; he has neither ears nor eyes.

But shall I tell you who your bribes despise?

Bald trifler! cease at once your thriftless trade;

That mountain paunch for verse was never made.