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I, BEING a bóy, used thus to count my fingers :
Stand úp, right thúmb here; thou art Geoffrey Chaucer,
Grave, reverend father of old English song,
The clear, the strong, the dignified, the plain; .
I love thee well, thy prologues and thy tales,
Néver for me too long, nor long enough;
From theé I 've learned, if I have learned, my tongue,
Nót from the modern winnowers perverse
Who sáve the chaff and cast away the grain.
Yét, Chaucer, though I honor and admire
And deárly love thee, there are in my breast
Some deép emotions which thou touchest never:
Kind, gentle, tearful pity, dire revenge,
Stérn, unrelenting hatred, and sweet love;
Åwe reverential too of influences
Unearthly, unsubstantial, superhuman,
And almost adoration of the face
Sublíme of wild, uncultivated nature --
Chaucer, thou touchest none of these; go down.
Stand úp, forefinger; thou 'rt the arch - enchanter,
Sweet, fánciful, delicious, playful Shakespeare,
With his hobgoblins, fairies, Bottom, Puck,
His robbers and his cut-throats and his witches,
And bóld Sir John and all his men in buckrani,
And gentle Juliet and impassioned Romeo,
And bloody Richard wooing lady Ann
Or stúdying prayers between two reverend bishops.
But chárming though thou art and captivating,
I 've yét a crow to pluck with thee, my Shakespeare;
For whén thou shouldst be noble thou 'rt oft mean,
And full of prattle when thou shouldst be brief,
And, like a míser doating grown and blind,
Stúffest intó thy bags of gems and gold,
Nót the pure métals only but false coins
And víle alloys groped out of mire and dirt,
Which éven the scavenger had disdained to touch -
I 'm sorry, Shakespeare, but thou must go down.
Stand úp, strong middle finger; thou 'rt John Milton,
Mónarch of England's poets, prince of verse;
I love thy deep, harmonious, flowing numbers,
Thy sénse, thy learning, gravity and knowledge,
Thy rátional Adam, and sweet, hapless Eve;
Thy small philosophy and mean religion,
Nor that inflexible, obdúrate temper
Thou bórrowedst from the temper of the times;
No vénial faults are these, so get thee down.
Stand úp, ring finger; thou 'rt accomplished Pope,
Melódious minstrel of the rounded rhyme,
Philosopher and satirist and wit,
Acúte, dogmatic, antithetic, bright,
The poet of the reason not the heart,
A pédagogue who lashes and instructs,
A rhétorician less loved than admired,
Whó, when we ask him for a tender tale,
Reads us a syllogism, a dry prelection ;
Yét for his brilliant wit's sake and his keen
Well mérited scourgings of that vicious age,
Ånd for the noble height at which he stood
Above religion's vile hypocrisy
I could forgive his frailties and forget,
Hád he but with more conscientious hand,
More skilled, more diligent, less imaginative,
Painted his English portrait of great Homer -
Thou must go dówn, Pope, I love others better.
Stand úp, weak little - finger; thou art Goldsmith,
Simple and tenderhearted to a fault,
Jóhnson and Burke and Reynolds, coarser natures
Or dúly valuing had they understood,
The poet's almost childish inexpertness
In lífe's conventionalities, masquerade,
And súbtle thimble-rig and hocus - pocus.
Yét his sweet Auburn, Traveller, Venison - Haunch,
Good, simple Vicar and queer Tony Lumpkin
Shall fill their separate niches in Fame's temple
When féw shall ask what was 't churl Johnson wrote,
Burke tálked about, or cold Sir Joshua painted.
Still áll too soft thy gentle genius, Goldsmith,
And more the wax resembling which receives,
Thán the hard stone which stamps, the strong impression;
I love thee well, but yet thou must go down.
Stand úp, left thumb here; thou art mighty Homer,
Bright morning sun of poesie heroic,
Whose beams far- darting west are with redoubled
Splendor and beauty from the disks reflected
of the great Mantuan and British planets.
I know not, Homer, whence thou in thy turn
Thy light hadst, whether from some farther sun
Whose ráys direct have never reached our eyes,
Ór from a fount in thine own self inherent,
But this I know at least: those sceptics err
Who seé indeed and recognise the light
But have no faith there ever was a Homer.
Well! let it be, so long as they cannot
Rób us same time of th’ Odyssey and Iliad,
Themselves, their species, of the noblest work
That issued ever from the hands of man;
Not perfect, some have said — alas! what is perfect,
What can be perfect in imperfect eyes,
That must, were 't but for change, have imperfection ?
So, blámed or blámeless, get thee down, great Homer.
Stand up, forefinger; nightingale of Andes,
That in the dewy evening's pleasant cool
Sángst out of húmble hazelbush sweet ditties
Of Córydon and Thyrsis, and how best
To twine the pollard with the vine's soft arms; •
Then bólder grown pour’dst from the highest top
Of bírch or hólm - oak thy sonorous song
Of wárs and battles, Gods and Goddesses,
And Róme's foundation by the second Jason,
Adventurous like the first, and, like the first,
Perfidious, calculating, cold seducer,
Whóm with more complaisance than truth thou styl'st
The ténderhearted -- I blush fór thee, Virgil ;
Hádst thou no other fault, thou must go down.
Stand up, strong middle finger; thou 'rt Venusium's Wórld - famous lyrist, moralist, and critic,
My heart's delight, judicious, pithy Horace, '
Who, frúgal in his plenty, never wastes
A word not by the sense required, and, liberal
Éven in the midst of his frugality,
Flings freé the useful, necessary word
Yét, Horace, thou 'rt for mé something too much
The courtier; for a prince's smiles and favors
Too readily sold’st a poet's independance.
I can forgive the purchase by the great
Óf the vile populace' vivats and hurrahs,
Óf the priests únction and the lawyer's parchment,
Éven of Hygéa's ministers' leave to live
A life of sin and luxury and riot,
Bút I cannot forgive the poet's sale
Óf his fine soúl to the demon Patronage --
Too, toó obsequious Horace, thou must down.
Stand úp, ring finger; thou 'rt the Florentine,
The hápless, exiled, ever persecuted
But still undaúnted Dante, who in the dim
Dark middle age the first was to hold high
The beácon torch of rational enquiry
And boldly speak the truth he boldly thought;
Wért thou less stérn, less terrible, less just,
Less Éschylean, hadst thou less of Moses,
Léss of that jealous and vindictive God
Who púnishes children for their fathers' sins
Éven to the generation third and fourth,
And hádst thou taken Maro for thy real,
Not merely for thy nominal, leader through
Death's awful, unexplored, Trans - Stygian land,
And hádst thou oftener slaked thy knowledge - thirst
Át the clear, wélling fountain of Lucretius,