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Cassinus and Peter

A TRAGICAL ELEGY

1731


Two college sophs of Cambridge growth,
Both special wits and lovers both,
Conferring, as they used to meet,
On love, and books, in rapture sweet;
(Muse, find me names to fit my metre,
Cassinus this, and t'other Peter.)
Friend Peter to Cassinus goes,
To chat a while, and warm his nose:
But such a sight was never seen,
The lad lay swallow'd up in spleen.
He seem'd as just crept out of bed;
One greasy stocking round his head,
The other he sat down to darn,
With threads of different colour'd yarn;
His breeches torn, exposing wide
A ragged shirt and tawny hide.
Scorch'd were his shins, his legs were bare,
But well embrown'd with dirt and hair
A rug was o'er his shoulders thrown,
(A rug, for nightgown he had none,)
His jordan stood in manner fitting
Between his legs, to spew or spit in;
His ancient pipe, in sable dyed,
And half unsmoked, lay by his side.

Him thus accoutred Peter found, With eyes in smoke and weeping drown'd; The leavings of his last night's pot On embers placed, to drink it hot.

Why, Cassy, thou wilt dose thy pate: What makes thee lie a-bed so late? The finch, the linnet, and the thrush, Their matins chant in every bush; And I have heard thee oft salute Aurora with thy early flute. Heaven send thou hast not got the hyps! How! not a word come from thy lips?

Then gave him some familiar thumps, A college joke to cure the dumps.

The swain at last, with grief opprest, Cried, Celia! thrice, and sigh'd the rest.

Dear Cassy, though to ask I dread, Yet ask I must--is Celia dead?

How happy I, were that the worst! But I was fated to be curst!

Come, tell us, has she play'd the whore? O Peter, would it were no more! Why, plague confound her sandy locks!

Say, has the small or greater pox Sunk down her nose, or seam'd her face? Be easy, 'tis a common case.

O Peter! beauty's but a varnish, Which time and accidents will tarnish: But Celia has contrived to blast Those beauties that might ever last. Nor can imagination guess, Nor eloquence divine express, How that ungrateful charming maid My purest passion has betray'd: Conceive the most envenom'd dart To pierce an injured lover's heart.

Why, hang her; though she seem'd so coy, I know she loves the barber's boy.

Friend Peter, this I could excuse, For every nymph has leave to choose; Nor have I reason to complain, She loves a more deserving swain. But, oh! how ill hast thou divined A crime, that shocks all human kind; A deed unknown to female race, At which the sun should hide his face: Advice in vain you would apply-- Then leave me to despair and die. Ye kind Arcadians, on my urn These elegies and sonnets burn; And on the marble grave these rhymes, A monument to after-times-- "Here Cassy lies, by Celia slain, And dying, never told his pain."

Vain empty world, farewell. But hark, The loud Cerberian triple bark; And there--behold Alecto stand, A whip of scorpions in her hand: Lo, Charon from his leaky wherry Beckoning to waft me o'er the ferry: I come! I come! Medusa see, Her serpents hiss direct at me. Begone; unhand me, hellish fry: "Avaunt--ye cannot say 'twas I."[1]

Dear Cassy, thou must purge and bleed; I fear thou wilt be mad indeed. But now, by friendship's sacred laws, I here conjure thee, tell the cause; And Celia's horrid fact relate: Thy friend would gladly share thy fate.

To force it out, my heart must rend; Yet when conjured by such a friend-- Think, Peter, how my soul is rack'd! These eyes, these eyes, beheld the fact. Now bend thine ear, since out it must; But, when thou seest me laid in dust, The secret thou shalt ne'er impart, Not to the nymph that keeps thy heart;

(How would her virgin soul bemoan A crime to all her sex unknown!) Nor whisper to the tattling reeds The blackest of all female deeds; Nor blab it on the lonely rocks, Where Echo sits, and listening mocks; Nor let the Zephyr's treacherous gale Through Cambridge waft the direful tale; Nor to the chattering feather'd race Discover Celia's foul disgrace. But, if you fail, my spectre dread, Attending nightly round your bed-- And yet I dare confide in you; So take my secret, and adieu: Nor wonder how I lost my wits: Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia sh--!


[Footnote 1: From "Macbeth," in Act III, Sc. iv:

"Thou canst not say, I did it:" etc.
"Avaunt, and quit my sight."]


Jonathan Swift