To a Young Lady, With Some Lampreys

By John Gay 1685–1732 John Gay
With lovers, ’twas of old the fashion
By presents to convey their passion;
No matter what the gift they sent,
The Lady saw that love was meant.
Fair Atalanta, as a favour,
Took the boar’s head her Hero gave her;
Nor could the bristly thing affront her,
’Twas a fit present from a hunter.
When Squires send woodcocks to the dame,
It serves to show their absent flame:
Some by a snip of woven hair,
In posied lockets bribe the fair;
How many mercenary matches
Have sprung from Di’mond-rings and watches!
But hold – a ring, a watch, a locket,
Would drain at once a Poet’s pocket;
He should send songs that cost him nought,
Nor ev’n he prodigal of thought.
    Why then send Lampreys? fye, for shame!
’Twill set a virgin’s blood on flame.
This to fifteen a proper gift!
It might lend sixty five a lift.
    I know your maiden Aunt will scold,
And think my present somewhat bold.
I see her lift her hands and eyes.
    ‘What eat it, Niece? eat Spanish flies!
‘Lamprey’s a most immodest diet:
‘You’ll neither wake nor sleep in quiet.
‘Should I to night eat Sago cream,
‘’Twould make me blush to tell my dream;
‘If I eat Lobster, ’tis so warming,
‘That ev’ry man I see looks charming;
‘Wherefore had not the filthy fellow
‘Laid Rochester upon your pillow?
‘I vow and swear, I think the present
‘Had been as modest and as decent.
    ‘Who has her virtue in her power?
‘Each day has its unguarded hour;
‘Always in danger of undoing,
‘A prawn, a shrimp may prove our ruin!
    ‘The shepherdess, who lives on salad,
‘To cool her youth, controuls her palate;
‘Should Dian’s maids turn liqu’rish livers,
‘And of huge lampreys rob the rivers,
‘Then all beside each glade and Visto,
‘You’d see Nymphs lying like Calisto.
    ‘The man who meant to heat your blood,
‘Needs not himself such vicious food –’
    In this, I own, your Aunt is clear,
I sent you what I well might spare:
For when I see you, (without joking)
Your eyes, lips, breasts, are so provoking,
They set my heart more cock-a-hoop,
Than could whole seas of craw-fish soupe.

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Poet John Gay 1685–1732

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Augustan

Subjects Love, Classic Love, Desire, First Love

 John  Gay

Biography

Poet and playwright John Gay was born in Devon to an aristocratic though impoverished family. Unable to afford university, Gay went to London to apprentice as a draper instead. While in London, he began writing journalism, including the pamphlet The Present State of Wit (1711), a survey of contemporary periodicals and authors. Rural Sports (1713) is generally considered his first important poem; the poem is ostensibly pastoral, . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Love, Classic Love, Desire, First Love

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Augustan

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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