The Court of Death

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Fable XLVII

Death, on a solemn night of state,
In all his pomp of terror sate:
The attendants of his gloomy reign,
Diseases dire, a ghastly train!
Crowd the vast court. With hollow tone,
A voice thus thundered from the throne:
   'This night our minister we name,
Let every servant speak his claim;
Merit shall bear this ebon wand;'
All, at the word, stretch'd forth their hand.

   Fever, with burning heat possess'd,
Advanced, and for the wand address'd:
'I to the weekly bills appeal,
Let those express my fervent zeal;
On every slight occasion near,
With violence I persevere.'
   Next Gout appears with limping pace,
Pleads how he shifts from place to place,
From head to foot how swift he flies, 19
And every joint and sinew plies;

Still working when he seems suppress'd,
A most tenacious stubborn guest.
   A haggard spectre from the crew
Crawls forth, and thus asserts his due:
'Tis I who taint the sweetest joy,
And in the shape of love destroy:
My shanks, sunk eyes, and noseless face,
Prove my pretension to the place.'
   Stone urged his ever-growing force.
And, next, Consumption's meagre corse,

With feeble voice, that scarce was heard,
Broke with short coughs, his suit preferred:
'Let none object my ling'ring way,
I gain, like Fabius, by delay;
Fatigue and weaken every foe
By long attack, secure, though slow.'
   Plague represents his rapid power,
Who thinned a nation in an hour.
   All spoke their claim, and hoped the wand.
Now expectation hushed the band,

When thus the monarch from the throne:
   'Merit was ever modest known,
What, no physician speak his right!
None here! but fees their toils requite.
Let then Intemperance take the wand,
Who fills with gold their zealous hand.
You, Fever, Gout, and all the rest,
(Whom wary men, as foes, detest,)
Forego your claim; no more pretend:
Intemperance is esteemed a friend;

He shares their mirth, their social joys,
And, as a courted guest, destroys.
The charge on him must justly fall,
Who finds employment for you all.'


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