Baucis and Philemon

Cover Image

by Jonathan Swift

Imitated from the eighth book of Ovid

   In ancient time, as story tells,
The saints would often leave their cells,
And stroll about, but hide their quality,
To try good people's hospitality.

  It happen'd on a winter's night,
As authors of the legend write,
Two brother hermits, saints by trade,
Taking their tour in masquerade,
Came to a village hard by Rixham,[2]
Ragged and not a groat betwixt 'em.

   It rain'd as hard as it could pour,
Yet they were forced to walk an hour
From house to house, wet to the skin,
Before one soul would let 'em in.

   They call'd at every door: "Good people,
My comrade's blind, and I'm a creeple!
Here we lie starving in the street,
'Twould grieve a body's heart to see't,
No Christian would turn out a beast,
In such a dreadful night at least;
Give us but straw and let us lie
In yonder barn to keep us dry."
Thus in the stroller's usual cant,
They begg'd relief, which none would grant.
No creature valued what they said,
One family was gone to bed:

   The master bawled out half asleep,
"You fellows, what a noise you keep!
So many beggars pass this way,
We can't be quiet, night nor day;
We cannot serve you every one;
Pray take your answer, and be gone."
One swore he'd send 'em to the stocks;
A third could not forbear his mocks;
But bawl'd as loud as he could roar
"You're on the wrong side of the door!"
One surly clown look't out and said,
"I'll fling the p--pot on your head:
You sha'nt come here, nor get a sous!
You look like rogues would rob a house.
Can't you go work, or serve the King?
You blind and lame! 'Tis no such thing.
That's but a counterfeit sore leg!
For shame! two sturdy rascals beg!
If I come down, I'll spoil your trick,
And cure you both with a good stick."

  Our wand'ring saints, in woful state,
Treated at this ungodly rate,
Having thro' all the village past,
To a small cottage came at last
Where dwelt a good old honest ye'man,
Call'd thereabout good man Philemon;
Who kindly did the saints invite
In his poor house to pass the night;
And then the hospitable sire
Bid Goody Baucis mend the fire;
Whilst he from out the chimney took
A flitch of bacon off the hook,
And freely from the fattest side
Cut out large slices to be fry'd;
Which tost up in a pan with batter,
And served up in an earthen platter,
Quoth Baucis, "This is wholesome fare,
Eat, honest friends, and never spare,
And if we find our victuals fail,
We can but make it out in ale."

  To a small kilderkin of beer,
Brew'd for the good time of the year,
Philemon, by his wife's consent,
Stept with a jug, and made a vent,
And having fill'd it to the brink,
Invited both the saints to drink.
When they had took a second draught,
Behold, a miracle was wrought;
For, Baucis with amazement found,
Although the jug had twice gone round,
It still was full up to the top,
As they ne'er had drunk a drop.
You may be sure so strange a sight,
Put the old people in a fright:
Philemon whisper'd to his wife,
"These men are--Saints--I'll lay my life!"
The strangers overheard, and said,
"You're in the right--but be'nt afraid:
No hurt shall come to you or yours:
But for that pack of churlish boors,
Not fit to live on Christian ground,
They and their village shall be drown'd;
Whilst you shall see your cottage rise,
And grow a church before your eyes."

  Scarce had they spoke, when fair and soft,
The roof began to mount aloft;
Aloft rose ev'ry beam and rafter;
The heavy wall went clambering after.
The chimney widen'd, and grew higher,
Became a steeple with a spire.
The kettle to the top was hoist,
And there stood fastened to a joist,
But with the upside down, to show
Its inclination for below:
In vain; for a superior force
Applied at bottom stops its course:
Doom'd ever in suspense to dwell,
'Tis now no kettle, but a bell.

  The wooden jack, which had almost
Lost by disuse the art to roast,
A sudden alteration feels,
Increas'd by new intestine wheels;
But what adds to the wonder more,
The number made the motion slower.
The flyer, altho't had leaden feet,
Would turn so quick you scarce could see't;
But, now stopt by some hidden powers,
Moves round but twice in twice twelve hours,
While in the station of a jack,
'Twas never known to turn its back,
A friend in turns and windings tried,
Nor ever left the chimney's side.
The chimney to a steeple grown,
The jack would not be left alone;
But, up against the steeple rear'd,
Became a clock, and still adher'd;
And still its love to household cares,
By a shrill voice at noon declares,
Warning the cookmaid not to burn
That roast meat, which it cannot turn.

  The groaning-chair began to crawl,
Like a huge insect, up the wall;
There stuck, and to a pulpit grew,
But kept its matter and its hue,
And mindful of its ancient state,
Still groans while tattling gossips prate.
The mortar only chang'd its name,
In its old shape a font became.

  The porringers, that in a row,
Hung high, and made a glitt'ring show,
To a less noble substance chang'd,
Were now but leathern buckets rang'd.

  The ballads, pasted on the wall,
Of Chevy Chase, and English Mall,[3]
Fair Rosamond, and Robin Hood,
The little Children in the Wood,
Enlarged in picture, size, and letter,
And painted, lookt abundance better,
And now the heraldry describe
Of a churchwarden, or a tribe.
A bedstead of the antique mode,
Composed of timber many a load,
Such as our grandfathers did use,
Was metamorphos'd into pews;
Which yet their former virtue keep
By lodging folk disposed to sleep.

  The cottage, with such feats as these,
Grown to a church by just degrees,
The holy men desired their host
To ask for what he fancied most.
Philemon, having paused a while,
Replied in complimental style:
"Your goodness, more than my desert,
Makes you take all things in good part:
You've raised a church here in a minute,
And I would fain continue in it;
I'm good for little at my days,
Make me the parson if you please."

  He spoke, and presently he feels
His grazier's coat reach down his heels;
The sleeves new border'd with a list,
Widen'd and gather'd at his wrist,
But, being old, continued just
As threadbare, and as full of dust.
A shambling awkward gait he took,
With a demure dejected look,
Talk't of his offerings, tythes, and dues,
Could smoke and drink and read the news,
Or sell a goose at the next town,
Decently hid beneath his gown.
Contriv'd to preach old sermons next,
Chang'd in the preface and the text.
At christ'nings well could act his part,
And had the service all by heart;
Wish'd women might have children fast,
And thought whose sow had farrow'd last;
Against dissenters would repine.
And stood up firm for "right divine;"
Carried it to his equals higher,
But most obedient to the squire.
Found his head fill'd with many a system;
But classic authors,--he ne'er mist 'em.

  Thus having furbish'd up a parson,
Dame Baucis next they play'd their farce on.
Instead of homespun coifs, were seen
Good pinners edg'd with colberteen;[4]
Her petticoat, transform'd apace,
Became black satin, flounced with lace.
"Plain Goody" would no longer down,
'Twas "Madam," in her grogram gown.
Philemon was in great surprise,
And hardly could believe his eyes.
Amaz'd to see her look so prim,
And she admir'd as much at him.

  Thus happy in their change of life,
Were several years this man and wife:
When on a day, which prov'd their last,
Discoursing o'er old stories past,
They went by chance, amidst their talk,
To the churchyard, to take a walk;
When Baucis hastily cry'd out,
"My dear, I see your forehead sprout!"--
"Sprout;" quoth the man; "what's this you tell us?
I hope you don't believe me jealous!
But yet, methinks, I feel it true,
And really yours is budding too--
Nay,--now I cannot stir my foot;
It feels as if 'twere taking root."

  Description would but tire my Muse,
In short, they both were turn'd to yews.
Old Goodman Dobson of the Green
Remembers he the trees has seen;
He'll talk of them from noon till night,
And goes with folk to show the sight;
On Sundays, after evening prayer,
He gathers all the parish there;
Points out the place of either yew,
Here Baucis, there Philemon, grew:
Till once a parson of our town,
To mend his barn, cut Baucis down;
At which, 'tis hard to be believ'd
How much the other tree was griev'd,
Grew scrubby, dy'd a-top, was stunted,
So the next parson stubb'd and burnt it.

Created: Mar 12, 2011


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