Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE GRAND QUESTION DEBATED, by JONATHAN SWIFT

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE GRAND QUESTION DEBATED, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Thus spoke to my lady the knight full of care
Last Line: Give me but a barrack; a fig for the clergy.'
Variant Title(s): The Soldier And A Scholar


THUS spoke to my lady the knight full of care;
'Let me have your advice in a weighty affair.
This Hamilton's Bawn, whilst it sticks on my hand,
I lose by the house what I get by the land;
But how to dispose of it to the best bidder,
For a barrack or malt-house, we now must consider.
'First, let me suppose I make it a malt-house,
Here I have computed the profit will fall t'us;
There's nine hundred pounds for labour and grain,
I increase it to twelve, so three hundred remain;
A handsome addition for wine and good cheer,
Three dishes a day, and three hogsheads a year:
With a dozen large vessels my vault shall be stored,
No little scrub joint shall come on to my board:
And you the dean no more shall combine
To stint me at night to one bottle of wine;
Nor shall I, for his humour, permit you to purloin
A stone and a quarter of beef from my sirloin.
If I make it a barrack, the Crown is my tenant;
My dear, I have pondered again and again on't;
In poundage and drawbacks I lose half my rent;
Wheatever they give me I must be content,
Or join with the Court in every debate;
And rather than that I would lose my estate,'
Thus ended the knight: thus began his meek wife;
'It must and it shall be a barrack, my life.
I'm grown a mere mopus; no company comes
But a rabble of tenants and rusty dull Rums.
With parsons what lady can keep herself clean?
I'm all over daubed when I sit by the dean.
But if you will give us a barrack, my dear,
The captain, I'm sure, will always come here;
I then shall not value his deanship a straw,
For the captain, I warrant, will keep him in awe;
Or, should he pretend to be brisk and alert,
Will tell him that chaplains should not so pert;
That men of his coat should be minding their prayers,
And not among ladies to give themselves airs,
Thus argued my lady, but argued in vain;
The knight his opinion resolved to maintain.
But Hannah, who listened to all that was passed
And could not endure so vulgar a taste,
As soon as her ladyship called to be dressed,
Cried, 'Madam, why surely my master's possessed,
Sir Arthur the maltster! How fine it will sound!
I'd rather the bawn were sunk under ground.
But, madam, I guessed there would never come good,
When I saw him go often with Darby and Wood.
And now my dream's out; for I was a-dreamed
That I saw a huge rat; O dear, how I screamed!
And after, the said, I had lost my new shoes;
And Molly, she said, I should hear some ill news.
'Dear madam, had you but the spirit to tease
You might have a barrack whenever you please;
And, madam, I always believed you so stout
That for twenty denials you would not give out.
If I had a husband like him, I purtest,
Till he gave me my will, I would give him no rest;
And rather than come in the same pair of sheets
With such a cross man, I would lie in the streets:
But, madam, I beg you, contrive and invent,
And worry him out, till he gives his consent.
Dear madam, whene'er of a barrack I think,
An I were to be hanged I can't sleep a wink:
For if a new crotchet comes into my brain,
I can't get it out, though I'd never so fain.
I fancy already a barrack contrived
At Hamiltion's Bawn, and the troop is arrived;
Of this, to be sure, Sir Arthur has warning,
And waits on the captain betimes the next morning.
Now see when they meet how their honours behave,
"Noble captain, your servant"--" Sir Arthur, your slave";
"You honour me much"--"the honour is mine"--
" 'Twas a sad rainy night"--"but the morning is fine."
"Pray how does my lady?"--"My wife's at your service."
"I think I have seen her picture by Jervis."
"Good morrow, good captain"--"I'll wait on you down"--
"You shan't stir a foot"--"you'll think me a clown"--
"For all the world, captain, not half an inch farther"--
"You must be obeyed--your servant, Sir Arthur;
My humble respects to my lady unknown"--
"I hope you will use my house as your own."
'Go bring me my smock, and leave off your prate,
Thou hast certainly gotten a cup in thy pate.'
'Pray, madam, be quiet: what was it I said
You had like to have put quite out of my head.
'Next day, to be sure, the captain will come
At the head of his troop, with trumpet and drum;
Now, madam, observe how he marches in state;
The man with the kettle drum enters the gate;
Dub, dub, adub, dub. The trumpeters follow,
Tantara, tantara; while all the boys hallo.
See now comes the captain all daubed with gold lace;
O, la! the sweet gentleman, look in his face;
And see how he rides like a lord of the land,
With the fine flaming sword that he holds in his hand;
And his horse, the dear creter, it prances and rears,
With ribbons in knots at its tail and its ears;
At last comes the troop, by the word of command,
Drawn up in our Court, when the captain cries, Stand!
Your ladyship lifts up the sash to be seen,
(For sure I had dizened you out like a queen);
The captain, to show he is proud of the favour,
Looks up to your window, and cocks up his beaver
(His beaver is cocked; pray, madam, mark that,
For a captain of horse never takes off his hat;
Because he has never a hand that is idle,
For the right holds the sword, and the left holds the bridle);
Then flourishes thrice his sword in the air,
As a compliment due to a lady so fair
(How I tremble to think of the blood it has spilt);
Then he lowers down the point, and kisses the hilt.
Your ladyship smiles, and thus you begin:
"Pray, captain, be pleased to alight and walk in."
The captain salutes you with congee profound,
And your ladyship curtsies halfway to the ground.
"Kit, run to your master, and bid him come to us;
I'm sure he'll be proud of the honour you do us.
And, captain, you'll do us the favour to stay,
And take a short dinner here with us to-day;
You're heartily welcome; but as for good cheer,
You come in the very worst time of the year.
If I had expected so worthy a guest"--
"Lord, madam! your ladyship sure is in jest;
You banter me, madam, the kingdom must grant"--
"You officers, captain, are so complaisant."'
'Hist, hussy, I think I hear somebody coming!'
'No, madam! 'tis only Sir Arthur a-humming.
To shorten my tale (for I hate a long story)
The captain at dinner appears in his glory;
The dean and the doctor have humbled their pride,
For the captain's entreated to sit by your side;
And, because he 's their betters, you carve for him first,
The parsons for envy are ready to burst;
The servants amazed are scarce ever able
To keep off their eyes as they wait at the table;
And Molly and I have thrust in our nose
To peep at the captain in all his fine clo'es;
Dear madam, be sure he 's a fine-spoken man,
Do but hear on the clergy how glib his tongue ran;
And "Madam," says he, "if such dinners you give,
You'll ne'er want for parsons as long as you live;
I ne'er knew a parson without a good nose,
But the devil's as welcome wherever he goes;
-- -- -- -- -- --, they bid us reform and repent,
But z--s, by their looks they never keep Lent;
Mister Curate, for all your grave looks, I'm afraid
You cast a sheep's eye on her ladyship's maid;
I wish she would lend you her pretty white hand
In mending your cassock, and smoothing your band"
(For the dean was so shabby, and looked like a ninny,
That the captain supposed be was curate to Jinny),
"Whenever you see a cassock and gown,
A hundred to one but it covers a clown;
Observe how a parson comes into a room,
-- -- -- -- -- --, he hobbles as bad as my groom;
A scholard, when just from his college broke loose,
Can hardly tell how to cry Bo to a goose;
Your Noveds, and Bluturks, and Omurs, and stuff,
By -- --, they don't signify this pinch of snuff.
To give a young gentleman right education,
The Army's the only good school in the nation;
My schoolmaster called me a dunce and a fool,
But at cuffs I was always the cock of the school;
I never could take to my book for the blood o' me,
And the puppy confessed he expected no good of me.
He caught me one morning coquetting his wife,
And he mauled me; I ne'er was so mauled in my life;
So I took to the road, and, what's very odd,
The first man I robbed was a parson, by G-- --.
Now, madam, you'll think it a strange thing to say,
But the sight of a book makes me sick to this day."
'Never since I was born did I hear so much wit,
And, madam, I laughed till I thought I should split.
So then you looked scornful, and sniffed at the dean,
As who should say, Now, am I skinny and lean?
But he durst not so much as once open his lips,
And the doctor was plaguily down in the hips.'
Thus merciless Hannah ran on in her talk,
Till she heard the dean call 'Will your ladyship walk?'
Her ladyship answers, 'I'm just coming down,
Then, turning to Hannah, and forcing a frown,
Although it was plain in her heart she was glad,
Cried, 'Hussy, why sure the wench has gone mad;
How could these chimeras get into your brains?
Come hither, and take this old gown for your pains.
But the dean, if this secret should come to his ears,
Will never have done with his jibes and his jeers.
For your life not a word of the matter, I charge ye,
Give me but a barrack; a fig for the clergy.'

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