Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Restoration Verse
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Restoration Verse.  1910.
 
An Elegy to an Old Beauty
By Thomas Parnell (1679–1718)
 
IN vain, poor nymph, to please our youthful sight
You sleep in cream and frontlets all the night,
Your face with patches soil, with paint repair,
Dress with gay gowns, and shade with foreign hair.
If truth, in spite of manners, must be told,        5
Why really fifty-five is something old.
  Once you were young; or one, whose life’s so long
She might have borne my mother, tells me wrong:
And once, since envy’s dead before you die,
The women own, you played a sparkling eye,        10
Taught the light foot a modish little trip,
And pouted with the prettiest purple lip.
  To some new charmer are the roses fled,
Which blew, to damask all thy cheek with red;
Youth calls the Graces there to fix their reign,        15
And airs by thousands fill their easy train.
So parting summer bids her flowery prime
Attend the sun to dress some foreign clime,
While withering seasons in succession, here,
Strip the gay gardens, and deform the year.        20
  But thou, since nature bids, the world resign,
’Tis now thy daughter’s daughter’s time to shine.
With more address, or such as pleases more,
She runs her female exercises o’er,
Unfurls or closes, raps or turns the fan,        25
And smiles, or blushes at the creature man.
With quicker life, as gilded coaches pass,
In sideling courtesy she drops the glass.
With better strength, on visit-days she bears
To mount her fifty flights of ample stairs.        30
Her mein, her shape, her temper, eyes, and tongue,
Are sure to conquer—for the rogue is young:
And all that’s madly wild, or oddly gay,
We call it only pretty Fanny’s way.
  Let time, that makes you homely, make you sage,        35
The sphere of wisdom is the sphere of age.
  ’Tis true, when beauty dawns with early fire,
And hears the flattering tongues of soft desire,
If not from virtue, from its gravest ways
The soul with pleasing avocation strays.        40
But beauty gone, ’tis easier to be wise,
As harpers better, by the loss of eyes.
Henceforth retire, reduce your roving airs,
Haunt less the plays, and more the public prayers,
Reject the Mechlin head, and gold brocade,        45
Go pray in sober Norwich crape arrayed.
Thy pendant diamonds let thy Fanny take,
(Their trembling lustre shows how much you shake);
Or bid her wear your necklace rowed with pearl,
You’ll find your Fanny an obedient girl.        50
So for the rest, with less incumbrance hung,
You walk through life, unmingled with the young,
And view the shade and substance as you pass,
With joint endeavour trifling at the glass,
Or folly drest, and rambling all her days,        55
To meet her counterpart, and grow by praise:
Yet still sedate yourself, and gravely plain,
You neither fret, nor envy at the vain.
’Twas thus, if man with woman we compare
The wise Athenian cross’d a glittering fair,        60
Unmoved by tongue and sights, he walked the place,
Through tape, toys, tinsel, gimp, perfume, and lace;
Then bends from Mar’s hill his awful eyes,
And—What a world I never want? he cries:
But cries unheard: for folly will be free.        65
So parts the buzzing gaudy crowd and he:
As careless he for them, as they for him:
He wrapt in wisdom, and they whirl’d by whim.
 
 
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