Verse > Anthologies > T. R. Smith, ed. > Poetica Erotica: A Collection of Rare and Curious Amatory Verse
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T. R. Smith, comp.  Poetica Erotica: Rare and Curious Amatory Verse.  1921–22.
 
From “The Mad-dog”
By John Gay (1685–1732)
 
(A Tale, 1720)

A PRUDE, at morn and ev’ning prayer,
Had worn her velvet cushion bare;
Upward she taught her eyes to roll,
As if she watched her soaring soul;
And when devotion warmed the crowd,        5
None sung, or smote their breast so loud:
Pale Penitence had mark’d her face
With all the meagre signs of grace.
Her mass-book was completely lined
With painted saints of various kind:        10
But when in ev’ry page she viewed
Fine ladies who the flesh subdued;
As quick her beads she counted o’er,
She cried—such wonders are no more!
She chose not to delay confession,        15
To bear at once a year’s transgression,
But ev’ry week set all things even,
And balanced her accounts with heaven.
 
  Behold her now in humble guise,
Upon her knees with downcast eyes        20
Before the Priest: she thus begins,
And, sobbing, blubbers forth her sins;
 
  Who could that tempting man resist?
My virtue languished, as he kissed;
I strove,—till I could strive no longer,        25
How can the weak subdue the stronger?
 
  The father asked her where and when?
How many? and what sort of men?
By what degrees her blood was heated?
How oft the frailty was repeated?        30
Thus have I seen a pregnant wench
All flushed with guilt before the bench,
The judges (waked by wanton thought)
Dive to the bottom of her fault,
They leer, they simper at her shame,        35
And make her call all things by name.
 
  And now to sentence he proceeds,
Prescribes how oft to tell her beads;
Shows her what saints could do her good,
Doubles her fasts to cool her blood.        40
Eased of her sins, and light as air,
Away she trips, perhaps to prayer.
’Twas no such thing. Why then this haste?
The clock has struck, the hour is past,
And on the spur of inclination,        45
She scorn’d to bilk her assignation.
 
  Whate’er she did, next week she came,
And piously contest the same;
The Priest, who female frailties pitied,
First chid her, then her sins remitted.
*        *        *        *        *
        50
  Madam, I grant there’s something in it,
That virtue has th’ unguarded minute;
But pray now tell me what are whores,
But women of unguarded hours?
Then you must sure have lost all shame.        55
What, ev’ry day, and still the same,
And no fault else! ’tis strange to find
A woman to one sin confined!
Pride is this day her darling passion,
The next day slander is in fashion;        60
Gaming succeeds; if fortune crosses,
Then virtue’s mortgaged for her losses;
By use her fav’rite vice she loathes,
And loves new follies like new clothes:
But you, beyond all thought unchaste,        65
Have all sin center’d near your waist!
Whence is this appetite so strong?
Say, Madam, did your mother long?
Or is it luxury and high diet
That won’t let virtue sleep in quiet?        70
She tells him now with meekest voice,
That she had never erred by choice,
Nor was their known a virgin chaster,
Till ruin’d by a sad disaster.
 
  That she a fav’rite lap-dog had,        75
Which, (as she stroked and kiss’d) grew mad;
And on her lip a wound indenting,
First set her youthful blood fermenting.
*        *        *        *        *
 
 
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