Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A DIALOGUE ON CONTENTMENT, by JOHN BYROM



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A DIALOGUE ON CONTENTMENT, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: What ills, dear phebe, would it not prevent
Last Line: Are well bestow'd on such a charming flow'r.
Subject(s): Contentment


John. WHAT ills, dear Phebe, would it not prevent
To learn this one short lesson, "BE CONTENT!"
No very hard prescription in effect
This same content;—and yet thro' its neglect,
What mighty evils do "we human elves,"
As Prior calls us, bring upon ourselves!
Evils that nature never meant us for,
Vacuums which heartily she does abhor.
Of all the ways of judging things amiss
No instance shews our weakness more than this,—
That men on earth won't set their hearts at rest,
When God in heaven does all things for the best.
What strange, absurd perverseness!

Phebe. Hold, good brother!
Don't put yourself, I pray, in such a pother.
"'Tis a fine thing to be content;"—why, true,
'Tis just and right we know as well as you;
And yet to be so, after all this rout,
Has sometimes puzzled you, I make no doubt.
Folks in the vigour of their health and strength
May rail at discontent, in words at length,
Who yet when disappointed of their wishes,
Will put you off with surly humphs and pishes.
"Let's be content and easy,"—gen'ral stuff!
Your happy people are content enough.
If you would reason to the purpose, shew
How they who are unhappy may be so;
How they who are in sickness, want, or pain,
May get their health, estate, and ease again;
How they—

John. Nay, Phebe, don't go on so fast;
Your just rebuke now suits yourself at last.
Methinks you wander widely from the fact;
'Tis not how you, or I, or others act,
That we are talking of, but how we should;
A rule tho' ill observ'd may still be good.
Nor did I say that a contented will
Would hinder all, but many sorts of ill;
This it will do;—and give me leave to say,
'Twill lessen what it cannot take away.
You said yourself, 'twas just; I think you did,—

Phebe. Yes; I don't deny it;—

John. Good sense forbid
That e'er you should! Its practice then, perchance,
Is monstrous hard in many a circumstance.

Phebe. "Monstrous!" why "monstrous?" Let that word be barr'd,
I shall not hesitate to think it "hard,"
And very hard; nay, I could almost add,
That in some cases 'tis not to be had.

John. "Not to be had!" Content:—It costs us nought;
'Tis purchas'd only with a little thought;
We need not fetch it from a distant clime,
At home it may be found at any time;
Our very cares contribute to its growth;
It knows no check but voluntary sloth;
None but ourselves can rob us of its fruit;
It finds, whene'er we use it, fresh recruit;
The more we gather, still the more it thrives,
Fresh as our hopes and lasting as our lives.
"Not to be had" is wrong; but I forgot,
You did not say quite absolutely "not,"
But could almost have said so;—the almost
Was meant perhaps against a florid boast
Of such content as when a trial came
Severe enough, would hardly own its name.

Phebe. Perhaps it was, and now your fire is spent,
You can reflect, I find, that this content,
Which you are fond of celebrating so,
May now and then be difficult to shew;
So difficult that—

John. Hold a bit, or ten
To one the chance, that I shall fire again;
"'Tis just and right," is own'd by you and me;
Now for my part, I rather choose to see
The easiness of what is just and right,
Which makes it more encouraging to sight,
Than scare-crow hardships that almost declare
Content an uncome-at-able affair,
And consequently tempt one to distrust
As difficulties, what is right and just.
Thus I object to hardship;—if you please,
Shew for what reason you object to ease;—

Phebe. Why, for this reason,—tho' it should be true
That what is just and right is easy too,
Such ease is nothing of a talking kind;
It is right will, which likes to be resign'd,
And cherishes a grace which with regard
To the unpractis'd, may sometimes be hard.
You treat CONTENT as if it were a weed
Of neither cost nor culture, when indeed,
It is as fine a flow'r as can be found
Within the mind's best cultivated ground;
Where like a seed, it must have light and air
To help its growth, according to the care
That owners take, whose philosophic skill
Will much depend upon the weather still;
Good should not make them careless, nor should bad
Discourage—

John. Right, provided it be had;—
I'll not dispute, but own, what you have said
Has hit the nail directly on the head.
Easy or hard, all pains within our pow'r
Are well bestow'd on such a charming flow'r.





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