Baucis and Philemon

by JONATHAN SWIFT (1667-1745)

Imitated from The Eighth Book of Ovid.

In ancient times, as story tells,
The saints would often leave their cells,
And stroll about, but hide their quality,
To try good people’s hospitality.

It happened on a winter night,
As authors of the legend write,
Two brother hermits, saints by trade,
Taking their tour in masquerade,
Disguised in tattered habits, went
To a small village down in Kent;
Where, in the strollers’ canting strain,
They begged from door to door in vain;
Tried every tone might pity win,
But not a soul would let them in.

Our wandering saints in woeful state,
Treated at this ungodly rate,
Having through all the village passed,
To a small cottage came at last,
Where dwelt a good honest old yeoman,
Called, in the neighbourhood, Philemon,
Who kindly did these saints invite
In his poor hut to pass the night;
And then the hospitable Sire
Bid goody Baucis mend the fire;
While he from out the chimney took
A flitch of bacon off the hook,
And freely from the fattest side
Cut out large slices to be fried;
Then stepped aside to fetch ’em drink,
Filled a large jug up to the brink,
And saw it fairly twice go round;
Yet (what is wonderful) they found
‘Twas still replenished to the top,
As if they ne’er had touched a drop.

The good old couple were amazed,
And often on each other gazed;
For both were frightened to the heart,
And just began to cry,— What art!
Then softly turned aside to view,
Whether the lights were burning blue.
The gentle pilgrims soon aware on’t,
Told ’em their calling, and their errant;
“Good folks, you need not be afraid,
We are but saints,” the hermits said;
“No hurt shall come to you or yours;
But, for that pack of churlish boors,
Not fit to live on Christian ground,
They and their houses shall be drowned;
Whilst you shall see your cottage rise,
And grow a church before your eyes.”

They scarce had spoke; when fair and soft,
The roof began to mount aloft;
Aloft rose every beam and rafter,
The heavy wall climbed slowly after.
The chimney widened, and grew higher,
Became a steeple with a spire.
The kettle to the top was hoist,
And there stood fastened to a joist;
But with the upside down, to show
Its inclination for below.
In vain; for a superior force
Applied at bottom, stops its coarse,
Doomed ever in suspense to dwell,
‘Tis now no kettle, but a bell.

Share