A TALE OF A CITIZEN AND HIS WIFE.
by John Donne
I SING no harm, good sooth, to any wight,
To lord or fool, cuckold, beggar, or knight,
To peace-teaching lawyer, proctor, or brave
Reformed or reducèd captain, knave,
Officer, juggler, or justice of peace,
Juror or judge ; I touch no fat sow's grease ;
I am no libeller, nor will be any,
But—like a true man—say there are too many.
I fear not ore tenus ; for my tale
Nor count nor counsellor will look red or pale.
A citizen and his wife the other day
Both riding on one horse, upon the way
I overtook ; the wench a pretty peat,
And—by her eye—well fitting for the feat.
I saw the lecherous citizen turn back
His head, and on his wife's lip steal a smack ;
Whence apprehending that the man was kind,
Riding before to kiss his wife behind,
To get acquaintance with him I began
To sort discourse fit for so fine a man ;
I ask'd the number of the plaguing bill ;
Ask'd if the custom farmers held out still ;
Of the Virginian plot, and whether Ward
The traffic of the island seas had marr'd ;
Whether the Britain Burse did fill apace,
And likely were to give th' Exchange disgrace.
Of new-built Aldgate, and the Moor-field crosses,
Of store of bankrupts, and poor merchants' losses
I urgèd him to speak ; but he—as mute
As an old courtier worn to his last suit—
Replies with only yeas and nays ; at last
—To fit his element—my theme I cast
On tradesmen's gains ; that set his tongue a-going.
“ Alas ! good sir,” quoth he, “ There is no doing
In court or city now” ; she smiled, and I,
And, in my conscience, both gave him the lie
In one met thought ; but he went on apace,
And at the present time with such a face
He rail'd, as fray'd me ; for he gave no praise
To any but my Lord of Essex' days ;
Call'd that the age of action—“ True ! ” quoth I—
“ There's now as great an itch of bravery,
And heat of taking up, but cold lay down,
For, put to push of pay, away they run ;
Our only city trades of hope now are
Bawd, tavern-keepers, whores, and scriveners.
The much of privileged kinsmen and store
Of fresh protections make the rest all poor.
In the first state of their creation
Though many stoutly stand, yet proves not one
A righteous pay-master.” Thus ran he on
In a continued rage ; so void of reason
Seem'd his harsh talk, I sweat for fear of treason.
And—troth—how could I less ? when in the prayer
For the protection of the wise Lord Mayor,
And his wise brethren's worships, when one prayeth,
He swore that none could say amen with faith.
To get off him from what I glow'd to hear,
In happy time an angel did appear,
The bright sign of a loved and well-tried inn,
Where many citizens with their wives had been
Well used and often ; here I pray'd him stay,
To take some due refreshment by the way.
Look, how he look'd that hid the gold, his hope,
And at return found nothing but a rope,
So he at me ; refused and made away,
Though willing she pleaded a weary stay.
I found my miss, struck hands, and pray'd him tell—
To hold acquaintance still—where he did dwell.
He barely named the street, promised the wine,
But his kind wife gave me the very sign.
Donn, John. Poems of John Donne. vol I.
E. K. Chambers, ed.
London: Lawrence & Bullen, 1896. 133-136.