Thursday, February 26, 2015

Soliloquy on an Empty Purse - Mary Jones

Alas, my Purse! how lean and low!
My silken Purse! what art thou now!
One I beheld - but stocks will fall -
When both thy ends had wherewithal.
When I within thy slender fence
My fortune placed, and confidence;
A poet's fortune! - not immense:
Yet, mixed with keys, and coins among,
Chinked to the melody of song.

     Canst thou forget, when, high in air,
I saw thee fluttering at a fair?
And took thee, destined to be sold,
My lawful Purse, to have and hold?
Yet used so oft to disembogue,
No prudence could thy fate prorogue.
Like wax they silver melted down,
Touch but the brass, and lo! 'twas gone:
And gold would never with thee stay,
For gold had wings, and flew away.

     Alas, my Purse! yet still be proud,
For see the Virtues round thee crowd!
See, in the room of paltry wealth,
Calm Temperance rise, the nurse of health;
And Self-Denial, slim and spare,
And Fortitude, with look severe;
And Abstinence, to leanness prone,
And Patience, worn to skin and bone:
Prudence and Foresight on thee wait,
And Poverty lies here in state!
Hopeless her spirits to recruit,
For every Virtue is a mute.

     Well then, my Purse, thy Sabbaths keep;
Now thou art empty, I shall sleep.
No silver sounds shall thee molest,
Nor golden dreams disturb my breast.
Safe shall I walk with thee along,
Amidst temptations thick and strong;
Catched by the eye, no more shall stop
At Wildey's toys, or Pinchbeck's shop;
Nor cheapening Payne's ungodly books,
Be drawn aside by pastry-cooks:
But fearless now we both may go
Where Ludgate's mercers bow so low;
Beholding all with equal eye,
Nor moved at - "Madam, what d'ye buy?"

     Away, far hence each worldly care!
Nor dun nor pick-purse shalt thou fear,
Nor flatterer base annoy my ear.
Snug shalt though travel through the mob,
For who a poet's purse will rob?
And softly sweet in garret high

Will I thy virtues magnify;
Outsoaring flatterers' stinking breath,
And gently rhyming rats to death.

Mary Jones, an 18th century English poet, much informed by Alexander Pope, here, with wry humor, extols the virtues of an empty coin purse, and poverty.  My favorite bit of the poem is definitely the line, "For who a poet's purse will rob?"  I laughed aloud at that, having once lived the stereotypical musician's life (Allow a long parenthetical aside for a joke.  How do you improve the aerodynamic properties of a trombone player's car?  You take the pizza sign off the top.  That was true of me for several years.) I can understand the "Who would want to rob me?" mentality.

Of particular delight are the fourth and fifth stanzas, in which Jones can walk past all manner of shopkeepers free from temptation, and from pickpockets, for she is free from money.  While she is humorously praising poverty, I think she does recognize the real virtues of a simple life, as outlined in the third stanza.  The last line, as far as I can tell, is a humorous way of both recognizing her poverty, and stating her intent to continue her poetry anyways.  I think it's meant mostly to be humorous, as is the rest of this poem, with some kernels of truth interspersed.

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