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        John Gay (1685-1732)

To a Lady on Her Passion for Old China

    WHAT ecstasies her bosom fire!
    How her eyes languish with desire!
    How blest, how happy should I be,
    Were that fond glance bestow'd on me!
    New doubts and fears within me war:
    What rival's near? a China jar.

        China's the passion of her soul;
    A cup, a plate, a dish, a bowl,
    Can kindle wishes in her breast,
    Inflame with joy, or break her rest.

        Some gems collect; some medals prize,
    And view the rust with lover's eyes;
    Some court the stars at midnight hours;
    Some dote on Nature's charms in flowers!
    But ev'ry beauty I can trace
    In Laura's mind, in Laura's face;
    My stars are in this brighter sphere,
    My lily and my rose is here.

        Philosophers more grave than wise
    Hunt science down in Butterflies;
    Or fondly poring on a Spider
    Stretch human contemplation wider;
    Fossiles give joy to Galen's soul,
    He digs for knowledge, like a mole;
    In shells so learn'd that all agree
    No fish that swims knows more than he!
    In such pursuits if wisdom lies,
    Who, Laura, shall thy taste despise?

        When I some antique Jar behold,
    Or white, or blue, or speck'd with gold,
    Vessels so pure and so refin'd,
    Appear the types of woman-kind:
    Are they not valu'd for their beauty,
    Too fair, too fine for houshold duty?
    With flowers and gold and azure dy'd,
    Of ev'ry house the grace and pride?
    How white, how polish'd is their skin,
    And valu'd most when only seen!
    She who before was highest priz'd,
    Is for a crack or flaw despis'd;
    I grant they're frail, yet they're so rare,
    The treasure cannot cost too dear!
    But Man is made of coarser stuff,
    And serves convenience well enough;
    He's a strong earthen vessel made,
    For drudging, labour, toil, and trade;
    And when wives lose their other self,
    With ease they bear the loss of Delf.

        Husbands more covetous than sage
    Condemn this China-buying rage;
    They count that woman's prudence little,
    Who sets her heart on things so brittle.
    But are those wise-men's inclinations
    Fixt on more strong, more sure foundations?
    If all that's frail we must despise,
    No human view or scheme is wise.
    Are not Ambition's hopes as weak?
    They swell like bubbles, shine and break.
    A Courtier's promise is so slight,
    'Tis made at noon, and broke at night.
    What pleasure's sure? The Miss you keep
    Breaks both your fortune and your sleep.
    The man who loves a country life,
    Breaks all the comforts of his wife;
    And if he quit his farm and plough,
    His wife in town may break her vow.
    Love, Laura, love, while youth is warm,
    For each new winter breaks a charm;
    And woman's not like China sold,
    But cheaper grows in growing old;
    Then quickly chuse the prudent part,
    Or else you break a faithful heart.


This poem can be found, for example, in:
  • Gay, John. John Gay: Poetry and Prose. Vinton A. Dearing and Charles E. Beckwith, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.
  • Williams, Oscar, ed. Immortal Poems of the English Language New York: Pocket Books, 1952.