The Jester's Sermon

George Walter Thornbury

The jester shook his hood and bells and leaped upon a chair;
The pages laughed, the women screamed, and tossed their scented hair;
The falcon whistled, stag-hounds bayed, the lap-dog barked without;
The scullion dropped the pitcher brown,--the cook railed at the lout;
The steward, counting out his gold, let pouch and money fall:
And why? Because the jester rose to say grace in the hall!

The page played with the heron's plume, the steward with his chain;
The butler drummed upon the board, and laughed with might and main;
The grooms beat on their metal tins, and roared till they turned red;
But still the jester shut his eyes and rolled his witty head;
And when they grew a little still, read half a yard of text;
And waving hand struck on the desk, then frowned, like one perplexed.

"Dear sinners all!" the fool began, "man's life is but a jest,
A dream, a shadow, bubbles, air, a vapour at the best.
In a thousand pounds of law I find not a single ounce of love.
A blind man killed the parson's cow, in shooting at the dove.
The fool who eats till he is sick must fast till he is well.
The wooer who can flatter most will bear away the bell.

Let no man halloo he is safe till he is through the wood.
He who will not when he may, must tarry when he should.
He who laughs at crooked men should need walk very straight.
Oh, he who once has won a name may lie abed till eight.
Make haste to purchase house and land, be very slow to wed.
True coral needs no painter's brush, nor need be daubed with red.

The friar, preaching, cursed the thief (the pudding in his sleeve).
To fish for sprats with golden hooks is foolish, by your leave.
To travel well, an ass's ears, ape's face, hog's mouth, and ostrich legs.
He does not care a pin for thieves, who limps around and begs.
Be always first man at a feast, and last man at a fray.
The short way round, in spite of all, is still the longest way.

When the hungry curate licks the knife, there's not much for the clerk.
When the pilot, turning pale and sick, looks up, the storm grows dark."
Then loud they laughed; the fat cook's tears ran down into the pan;
The steward shook, that he was forced to drop the brimming can;
And then again the women screamed and every stag-hound bayed:
And why? Because the motley fool so wise a sermon made!

[Previous legend]     [Jesters in Literature page]     [Back to top]     [Jesters main page]     [Next legend]