Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Poem.

Enjoy this? Share it!

A Modest Request
by [?]


SCENE,–a back parlor in a certain square,
Or court, or lane,–in short, no matter where;
Time,–early morning, dear to simple souls
Who love its sunshine and its fresh-baked rolls;
Persons,–take pity on this telltale blush,
That, like the AEthiop, whispers, “Hush, oh hush!”

Delightful scene! where smiling comfort broods,
Nor business frets, nor anxious care intrudes;
O si sic omnia I were it ever so!
But what is stable in this world below?
Medio e fonte,–Virtue has her faults,–
The clearest fountains taste of Epsom salts;
We snatch the cup and lift to drain it dry,–
Its central dimple holds a drowning fly
Strong is the pine by Maine’s ambrosial streams,
But stronger augers pierce its thickest beams;
No iron gate, no spiked and panelled door,
Can keep out death, the postman, or the bore.
Oh for a world where peace and silence reign,
And blunted dulness verebrates in vain!
–The door-bell jingles,–enter Richard Fox,
And takes this letter from his leathern box.

“Dear Sir,–
In writing on a former day,
One little matter I forgot to say;
I now inform you in a single line,
On Thursday next our purpose is to dine.
The act of feeding, as you understand,
Is but a fraction of the work in hand;
Its nobler half is that ethereal meat
The papers call ‘the intellectual treat;’
Songs, speeches, toasts, around the festive board
Drowned in the juice the College pumps afford;
For only water flanks our knives and forks,
So, sink or float, we swim without the corks.
Yours is the art, by native genius taught,
To clothe in eloquence the naked thought;
Yours is the skill its music to prolong
Through the sweet effluence of mellifluous song;
Yours the quaint trick to cram the pithy line
That cracks so crisply over bubbling wine;
And since success your various gifts attends,
We–that is, I and all your numerous friends–
Expect from you–your single self a host–
A speech, a song, excuse me, and a toast;
Nay, not to haggle on so small a claim,
A few of each, or several of the same.
(Signed), Yours, most truly, _______”

No! my sight must fail,–
If that ain’t Judas on the largest scale!
Well, this is modest;–nothing else than that?
My coat? my boots? my pantaloons? my hat?
My stick? my gloves? as well as all my wits,
Learning and linen,–everything that fits!

Jack, said my lady, is it grog you’ll try,
Or punch, or toddy, if perhaps you’re dry?
Ah, said the sailor, though I can’t refuse,
You know, my lady, ‘t ain’t for me to choose;
I’ll take the grog to finish off my lunch,
And drink the toddy while you mix the punch.

. . . . . . . .

THE SPEECH. (The speaker, rising to be seen,
Looks very red, because so very green.)
I rise–I rise–with unaffected fear,
(Louder!–speak louder!–who the deuce can hear?)
I rise–I said–with undisguised dismay
–Such are my feelings as I rise, I say
Quite unprepared to face this learned throng,
Already gorged with eloquence and song;
Around my view are ranged on either hand
The genius, wisdom, virtue of the land;
“Hands that the rod of empire might have swayed”
Close at my elbow stir their lemonade;
Would you like Homer learn to write and speak,
That bench is groaning with its weight of Greek;
Behold the naturalist who in his teens
Found six new species in a dish of greens;
And lo, the master in a statelier walk,
Whose annual ciphering takes a ton of chalk;
And there the linguist, who by common roots
Thro’ all their nurseries tracks old Noah’s shoots,–
How Shem’s proud children reared the Assyrian piles,
While Ham’s were scattered through the Sandwich Isles!