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Short poem

George Gascoigne (ca. 1534-1577)

The Steel Glass


          430O knights, O squires, O gentle bloods yborn,
          431You were not born all only for yourselves:
          432Your country claims some part of all your pains.
          433There should you live, and therein should you toil
          434To hold up right and banish cruel wrong,
          435To help the poor, to bridle back the rich,
          436To punish vice, and virtue to advance,
          437To see God serv'd and Belzebub suppres'd.
          438You should not trust lieutenants in your room,
          439And let them sway the sceptre of your charge,
          440Whiles you, meanwhile, know scarcely what is done,
          441Nor yet can yield accompt if you were call'd.
          442The stately lord, which wonted was to keep
          443A court at home, is now come up to court,
          444And leaves the country for a common prey
          445To pilling, polling, bribing, and deceit
          446(All which his presence might have pacified,
          447Or else have made offenders smell the smoke).
          448And now the youth which might have served him
          449In comely wise, with country clothes yclad,
          450And yet thereby been able to prefer
          451Unto the prince, and there to seek advance,
          452Is fain to sell his lands for courtly clouts,
          453Or else sits still, and liveth like a lout
          454(Yet of these two the last fault is the less).
          455And so those imps which might in time have sprung
          456Aloft, good lord, and serv'd to shield the state,
          457Are either nipp'd with such untimely frosts,
          458Or else grow crook'd, because they be not proynd.



        1131Alas, my lord, my haste was all too hot,
        1132I shut my glass before you gaz'd your fill,
        1133And, at a glimpse, my silly self have spied
        1134A stranger troop than any yet were seen.
        1135Behold, my lord, what monsters muster here,
        1136With angel's face, and harmful hellish hearts,
        1137With smiling looks, and deep deceitful thoughts,
        1138With tender skins, and stony cruel minds,
        1139With stealing steps, yet forward feet to fraud.
        1140Behold, behold, they never stand content,
        1141With God, with kind, with any help of art,
        1142But curl their locks with bodkins and with braids,
        1143But dye their hair with sundry subtle sleights,
        1144But paint and slick till fairest face be foul,
        1145But bumbast, bolster, frizzle, and perfume.
        1146They mar with musk the balm which nature made
        1147And dig for death in delicatest dishes.
        1148The younger sort come piping on apace,
        1149In whistles made of fine enticing wood,
        1150Till they have caught the birds for whom they birded.
        1151The elder sort go stately stalking on,
        1152And on their backs they bear both land and fee,
        1153Castles and towers, revenues and receipts,
        1154Lordships and manors, fines, yea, farms and all.
        1155What should these be? Speak you, my lovely lord.
        1156They be not men: for why? they have no beards.
        1157They be no boys, which wear such side long gowns.
        1158They be no gods, for all their gallant gloss.
        1159They be no devils, I trow, which seem so saintish.
        1160What be they? women? masking in men's weeds?
        1161With Dutchkin doublets, and with jerkins jagg'd?
        1162With Spanish spangs, and ruffs fet out of France,
        1163With high-copp'd hats, and feathers flaunt-a-flaunt?
        1164They be so sure, even wo to men indeed.
        1165Nay then, my lord, let shut the glass apace,
        1166High time it were for my poor muse to wink,
        1167Since all the hands, all paper, pen, and ink,
        1168Which ever yet this wretched world possess'd
        1169Cannot describe this sex in colours due!
        1170No, no, my lord, we gazed have enough;
        1171And I too much, God pardon me therefore.
        1172Better look off, than look an ace too far;
        1173And better mum, than meddle overmuch.
        1174But if my glass do like my lovely lord,
        1175We will espy, some sunny summer's day,
        1176To look again, and see some seemly sights.
        1177Meanwhile, my Muse right humbly doth beseech,
        1178That my good lord accept this vent'rous verse,
        1179Until my brains may better stuff devise.


430] The first formal satire in English verse, and dedicated to Lord Grey of Wilton. Aided by ab imaginary steel mirror, which reflects more accurately than the flattering crystal, the author presents a series of pictures of contemporary abuses.

445] pilling: pillage.
polling: plunder.

450] prefer: apparently, "be recommended." The word is usually transitive.

455] imps: children (literally, "young shoots, saplings").

456] good lord: Lord Grey of Wilton, to whom the poem is addressed.

458] proynd: pruned.

1133] silly: simple.

1141] kind: nature.

1157] side: wide.

1161] Dutchkin: of the Dutch (German) kind.

1162] spangs: spangles.
fet: fetched.

1163] high-copp'd: high-peaked.

1174] like: please.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: George Gascoigne, The Steele glas (1576); facs. edn. (Amsterdam: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1973). PR 2277 S8 1973 Robarts Library
First publication date: 1576
RPO poem editor: N. J. Endicott
RP edition: 2RP.1.101; RPO 1998-2000.
Recent editing: 2:2002/3/28

Rhyme: ababccdd

Other poems by George Gascoigne