The Ravens, the Sexton, and the Earth-Worm

Moral: No Moral. Suggest us a moral of this fable in comment section. My Laura, your rebukes are prudish;
For although flattery is rudish,
Yet deference, not more than just,
May be received without disgust.
Am I a privilege denied
Assumed by every tongue beside?
And are you, fair and feminine,
Prone to reject a verse benign?
And is it an offence to tell
A fact which all mankind knows well?
Or with a poet’s hand to trace
The beaming lustre of your face?
Nor tell in metaphor my tale,
How the moon makes the planets pale?
I check my song; and only gaze,
Admiring what I may not praise.
If you reject my tribute due,
I’ll moralise—despite of you.
To moralise a theme is duty:
My muse shall moralise of beauty.
Amidst the galaxy of fair,
Who do not moralise, the ear
Might be offended to be told
That beauty ever can grow old.
Though you by age must lose much more
Than ever beauty lost before,
You will regard it, when ’tis flown,
As if it ne’er had been your own.
Were you by Antoninus taught?
Or is it native strength of thought,
To view with such an equal mind
The fleeting bloom to doom consigned.
Those eyes, in truth, are only clay:
As diamonds, e’en so are they.
And what is beauty in her power?
The tyrant of the passing hour.
How baseless is all human pride?
Naught have we whereon to confide.
Why lose we life in anxious cares,
And lay up hoards for future years?
Or can they cheer the sick, or buy
One hour of breath to those who die?
For what is beauty but a flower,
Grass of the field, which lives its hour?
And what of lordly man the sway,
The tyrant of the passing day?
The laws of nature hold their reign
O’er man throughout her whole domain.
The monarch of long regal line
Possesses dust as frail as mine:
Nor can he any more than I
Fever or restless pains defy.
Nor can he, more than I, delay
The mortal period of his day.
Then let my muse remember aye
Beauty and grandeur still are clay.
The king and beggar in the tomb
Commingling in the dust and doom.
Upon a venerable yew,
Which in the village churchyard grew,
Two ravens sat. With solemn croak
Thus to his mate a raven spoke:—
“Ah! ah! I scent upon the blast
The odour of some flesh at last.
Huzza! it is old Dobbin’s steed,
On which we daintily shall feed.
I know the scent of divers courses,
And own the present as a horse’s.”
A sexton, busy at his trade,
Paused, to hear more, upon his spade;
For death was puzzled in his brain
With sexton fees and sexton gain.
He spoke, and said: “You blundering fowls,
Nought better in your scent than owls:
It is the squire of Hawthorn Hall,
Who now is lying under pall.
I dig his grave;—a pretty bit
Of work it is—though I say it.
A horse’s! Ah! come out of that;
Yet needs must own that squire was fat.
What then? Do you birds make pretence
To smelling—which is a fifth sense—
And yet your sense of smell so coarse is
You can’t distinguish man and horse’s?”
“I,” said the bird, “did not intend
To do you disrespect, my friend:
Indeed, we no reflection meant
By such similitude of scent.
The Arabs—epicures—will feed,
Preferring it to all, on steed;
As Britons, of your proper brood.
Think venison to be mighty good.”
The sexton roared with indignation,
And spoke, methinks, about salvation;
At any rate, his rage to carry on,
He called the ravens brutes and carrion!
The situation of the foes
Prevented they should come to blows:
But for revilings vile, as friends—
They banded words, to gain their ends.
“Hold!” said the raven, “human pride
Cannot by reason be defied.
The point is knotty; tastes may err:
Refer it to some connoisseur.”
And, as he spoke, a worn unrolled
His monstrous volumes from the mould;
They chose him for the referee,
And on the pleadings they agree.
The earthworm, with a solemn face,
Reviewed the features of the case:
“For I,” said he, “have doubtless dined
On carcases of every kind;
Have fed on man, fowl, beast, and fish,
And know the flavour of each dish.
A glutton is the worst: for the rest
‘Tis difficult to tell the best.
If I were man, I would not strive
Upon this question,—man alive!
With other points to win applause:
The King who gives his people laws
Unto the people, who obey them;
And, though at last Death comes to slay them,
Yet were the noble souls and good
Never resigned to worms for food.
Virtue distinguishes mankind,—
Immortal is the soul and mind;
And that, which is not buried here,
Mounts somewhere; but I know not where!
So good man sexton, since the case
Appears with such a dubious face,
Excuse me, if I can’t determine
What different tastes suit different vermin!”

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