“Prologue” (For the Opening of Drury Lane Theatre, 1747)

When Learning’s triumph o’er her barbarous foes
First reared the stage, immortal Shakespeare rose;
Each change of many-colored life he drew,
Exhausted worlds, and then imagined new:
Existence saw him spurn her bounded reign,
And panting Time toiled after him in vain.
His powerful strokes presiding Truth impressed,
And unresisted Passion stormed the breast.

Then Jonson came, instructed from the school
To please in method and invent by rule;
His studious patience and laborious art
By regular approach essayed the heart;
Cold Approbation gave the lingering bays,
For those who durst not censure, scarce could praise.
A mortal born, he met the general doom,
But left, like Egypt’s kings, a lasting tomb.

The wits of Charles found easier ways to fame,
Nor wished for Jonson’s art, or Shakespeare’s flame;
Themselves they studied; as they felt, they writ;
Intrigue was plot, obscenity was wit.
Vice always found a sympathetic friend;
They pleased their age, and did not aim to mend.
Yet bards like these aspired to lasting praise,
And proudly hoped to pimp in future days.
Their cause was general, their supports were strong,
Their slaves were willing, and their reign was long;
Till Shame regained the post that Sense betrayed,
And Virtue called Oblivion to her aid.

Then, crushed by rules, and weakened as refined,
For years the power of Tragedy declined;
From bard to bard the frigid caution crept,
Till Declamation roared while Passion slept;
Yet still did Virtue deign the stage to tread;
Philosophy remained though Nature fled;
But forced at length her ancient reign to quit,
She saw great Faustus lay the ghost of Wit;
Exulting Folly hailed the joyous day,
And Pantomime and song confirmed her sway.

But who the coming changes can presage,
And mark the future periods of the stage?
Perhaps if skill could distant times explore,
New Behns, new Durfeys, yet remain in store;
Perhaps where Lear has raved, and Hamlet died,
On flying cars new sorcerers may ride;
Perhaps (for who can guess the effects of chance?)
Here Hunt may box, or Mahomet may dance.

Hard is his lot that, here by fortune placed,
Must watch the wild vicissitudes of taste;
With every meteor of caprice must play,
And chase the new-blown bubbles of the day.
Ah! let not censure term our fate our choice,
The stage but echoes back the public voice;
The drama’s laws, the drama’s patrons give,
For we that live to please, must please to live.

Then prompt no more the follies you decry,
As tyrants doom their tools of guilt to die;
‘Tis yours this night to big the reign commence
Of rescued Nature and reviving Sense;
To chase the charms of Sound, the pomp of Show,
For useful Mirth and salutary Woe;
Bid scenic Virtue form the rising age,
And Truth diffuse her radiance from the stage.
-Samuel Johnson

“Hymn”

At morn – at noon – at twilight dim-
Maria! thou hast heary my hymn!
In joy and woe – in good and ill –
Mother of God, be with me still!
When the Hours flew brightly by,
And not a cloud obscured the sky,
My soul, lest it should truant be,
Thy grace did guide to thine and thee
Now, when storms of Fate o’ercast
Darkly my Present and my Past,
Let my future radiant shine
With sweet hopes of thee and thine.
-Edgar Allen Poe

“To Lucasta, Going to the Wars”

Tell me not, (sweet,) I am unkind,
That from the nunnerie
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind,
To war and arms I fly.

True: a new Mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger fair embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.

Yet this inconstancy is such,
As you too shall adore;
I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Lov’d I not Honour more.
Richard Lovelace

“When Earth’s Last Picture is Painted”

When Earth’s last picture is painted
And the tubes are twisted and dried
When the oldest colours have faded
And the youngest critic has died.
We shall rest, and faith we will need it,
Lie down for an aeon or two
‘Till the Master of all good workmen
Shall put us to work anew

And those that were good shall be happy
They’ll sit in a golden chair
They’ll splash at a ten-league canvas
With brushes of comet’s hair
They’ll find real Saints to draw from
Magdalene, Peter, and Paul,
They’ll work for an age at a sitting
And never be tired at all

And only the Master shall praise us
And only the Master shall blame
And no one will work for the money
No one will work for the fame
But each for the joy of the working
And each, in his separate star
Will draw the Thing as he sees It
For the God of Things as they Are!
–Rudyard Kipling

Norman and Saxon

“MY son,” said the Norman Baron, “I am dying, and you will be heir
To all the broad acres in England that William gave me for my share
When we conquered the Saxon at Hastings, and a nice little handful it is.
But before you go over to rule it I want you to understand this:–

“The Saxon is not like us Normans. His manners are not so polite.
But he never means anything serious till he talks about justice and right.
When he stands like an ox in the furrow with his sullen set eyes on your own,
And grumbles, ‘This isn’t fair dealing,’ my son, leave the Saxon alone.

“You can horsewhip your Gascony archers, or torture your Picardy spears;
But don’t try that game on the Saxon; you’ll have the whole brood round your ears.
From the richest old Thane in the country to the poorest chained serf in the field,
They’ll be at you and on you like hornets, and, if you are wise, you will yield.

“But first you must master their language, their dialect, proverbs and songs.
Don’t trust any clerk to interpret when they come with the tale of their wrongs.
Let them know that you know what they’re saying; let them feel that you know what to say.
Yes, even when you want to go hunting, hear ‘em out if it takes you all day.

“They’ll drink every hour of the daylight and poach every hour of the dark.
It’s the sport not the rabbits they’re after (we’ve plenty of game in the park).
Don’t hang them or cut off their fingers. That’s wasteful as well as unkind,
For a hard-bitten, South-country poacher makes the best man-at-arms you can find.

“Appear with your wife and the children at their weddings and funerals and feasts.
Be polite but not friendly to Bishops; be good to all poor parish priests.
Say ‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘ours’ when you’re talking, instead of ‘you fellows’ and ‘I.’
Don’t ride over seeds; keep your temper; and never you tell ‘em a lie!”
-Rudyard Kipling

 

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
-Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

“Say Not the Struggle Nought Availeth”

Say not the struggle nought availeth,
The labor and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain.

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e’en now the fliers,
And, but for you, possess the field.

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front, the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward, look, the land is bright.
Arthur Hugh Clough