Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, IMPROVEMENT IN THE FORTIES, by THOMAS BARNARD

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

First Line: I lately thought no man alive
Last Line: Grow, like himself, polite.
Alternate Author Name(s): Barnard Of Killaloe
Variant Title(s): On Mending His Thoughts
Subject(s): Middle Age

I LATELY thought no man alive
Could e'er improve past forty-five,
And ventured to assert it.
The observation was not new,
But seemed to me so just and true
That none could controvert it.

'No, sir,' said Johnson, ''tis not so;
'Tis your mistake, and I can show
An instance, if you doubt it.
You, who perhaps are forty-eight,
May still improve, 'tis not too late;
I wish you'd set about it.'

Encouraged thus to mend my faults,
I turned his counsel in my thoughts
Which way I could apply it;
Genius I knew was past my reach,
For who can learn what none can teach'
And wit--I could not buy it.

Then come, my friends, and try your skill;
You may improve me if you will,
(My books are at a distance);
With you I'll live and learn, and then
Instead of books I shall read men,
So lend me your assistance.

Dear Knight of Plympton, teach me how
To suffer with unclouded brow,
And smile serene as thine,
The jest uncouth and truth severe;
Like thee to turn my deafest ear,
And calmly drink my wine.

Thou say'st not only skill is gained,
But genius, too, may be attained,
By studious imitation;
Thy temper mild, thy genius fine,
I'll study till I make them mine
By constant meditation.

The art of pleasing teach me, Garrick,
Thou who reversest odes Pindaric
A second time read o'er;
O could we read thee backwards too,
Last thirty years thou shouldst review,
And charm us thirty more.

If I have thoughts and can't express'em,
Gibbon shall teach me how to dress'em
In terms select and terse;
Jones, teach me modesty and Greek;
Smith, how to think; Burke, how to speak;
And Beauclerk, to converse.

Let Johnson teach me how to place
In fairest light each borrowed grace,
From him I'll learn to write;
Copy his free and easy style,
And from the roughmess of his file
Grow, like himself, polite.

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