The Shepard and the Philosopher

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Introduction

Remote from cities lived a swain,
Unvexed with all the cares of gain;
His head was silvered o'er with age,
And long experience made him sage;
In summer's heat, and winter's cold,
He fed his flock and penned the fold;
His hours in cheerful labour flew,
Nor envy nor ambition knew:
His wisdom and his honest fame
Through all the country raised his name.

   A deep philosopher (whose rules
Of moral life were drawn from schools)
The shepherd's homely cottage sought
And thus explored his reach of thought:
   'Whence is thy learning? Hath thy toil
O'er books consumed the midnight oil?
Hast thou old Greece and Rome surveyed,
And the vast sense of Plato weighed?
Hath Socrates thy soul refined,
And hast thou fathomed Tully's mind?

Or like the wise Ulysses, thrown
By various fates, on realms unknown,
Hast thou through many cities strayed,
Their customs, laws, and manners weighed?'
   The shepherd modestly replied,
'I ne'er the paths of learning tried;
Nor have I roamed in foreign parts
To read mankind, their laws and arts;
For man is practised in disguise,
He cheats the most discerning eyes;

Who by that search shall wiser grow,
When we ourselves can never know?
The little knowledge I have gained,
Was all from simple nature drained;
Hence my life's maxims took their rise,
Hence grew my settled hate to vice.
The daily labours of the bee
Awake my soul to industry.
Who can observe the careful ant,
And not provide for future want?

My dog (the trustiest of his kind)
With gratitude inflames my mind.
I mark his true, his faithful way,
And in my service copy Tray.
In constancy and nuptial love,
I learn my duty from the dove.
The hen, who from the chilly air,
With pious wing protects her care;
And every fowl that flies at large,
Instructs me in a parent's charge.

   From nature too I take my rule,
To shun contempt and ridicule.
I never, with important air,
In conversation overbear.
Can grave and formal pass for wise,
When men the solemn owl despise?
My tongue within my lips I rein;
For who talks much, must talk in vain.
We from the wordy torrent fly:
Who listens to the chattering pye?

Nor would I, with felonious flight,
By stealth invade my neighbour's right;
Rapacious animals we hate:
Kites, hawks, and wolves deserve their fate.
Do not we just abhorrence find
Against the toad and serpent kind?
But envy, calumny, and spite,
Bear stronger venom in their bite.
Thus every object of creation
Can furnish hints to contemplation;

And from the most minute and mean,
A virtuous mind can morals glean.'
   'Thy fame is just,' the sage replies;
'Thy virtue proves thee truly wise.
Pride often guides the author's pen,
Books as affected are as men:
But he who studies nature's laws,
From certain truth his maxims draws;
And those, without our schools, suffice
To make men moral, good, and wise.'


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