Greybeards at Play / by G.K. Chesterton

Of the Dangers Attending Altruism on the High Seas

Observe these Pirates bold and gay,
that sail a gory sea
notice their bright expression: --
the handsome one is me.

We plundered ships and harbours,
we spoiled the Spanish main;
but Nemesis watched over us,
for it began to rain.

Oh all well-meaning folk take heed
Our Captain's fate was sore
a more well-meaning Pirate,
had never dripped with gore.

The rain was pouring long and loud,
the sea was drear and dim;
a little fish was floating there
our Captain pitied him.

"How sad," he said, and dropped a tear,
splash on the cabin roof,
"that we are dry, while he is there
without a waterproof."

"We'll get him up on board at once;
for Science teaches me,
he will be wet if he remains
much longer in the sea.

They fished him out; the First Mate wept,
and came with rugs and ale:
the Boatswain brought him one golosh,
and fixed it on his tail.

But yet he never loved the ship;
against the mast he'd lean:
if spoken to, he coughed and smiled,
and blushed a pallid green.

Though plied with hardbake, beef and beer,
he showed no wish to sup:
the neatest riddles they could ask,
he always gave them up.

They seized him and court-martialled him,
in some excess of spleen,
for lack of social sympathy,
(Victoria XII. 18).

They gathered every evidence
that might remove a doubt:
they wrote a postcard in his name,
and partly scratched it out.

Till, when his guilt was clear as day,
with all formality,
they doomed the traitor to be drowned,
and threw him In the sea.

The flashing sunset, as he sank,
made every scale a gem;
and, turning with a graceful bow,
he kissed his fin to them.


I am, I think I have remarked,
terrifically old
(the second Ice-age was a farce,
the first was rather cold).

A friend of mine, a Trilobite,
had gathered in his youth,
when Trilobites were Trilobites,
this all-important truth.

We aged ones play solemn parts --
sire -- guardian -- uncle -- king.
Affection is the salt of life,
kindness a noble thing.

The old alone may comprehend
a sense in my decree;
but -- if you find a fish on land,
oh throw it in the sea.

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