THE VANITY OF HUMAN WISHES
The Tenth Satire of Juvenal was adapted by Dr Johnson (1749). It’s a poem of 368 lines, the first ten of which are:
Let Observation with extensive View,
Survey Mankind from China to Peru;
Remark each anxious Toil, each eager Strife,
And watch the busy scenes of crowded Life;
Then say how Hope and Fear, Desire and Hate,
O’erspread with Snares the clouded Maze of Fate,
Where Wav’ring Man, betray’d by vent’rous Pride,
To tread the dreary Paths without a Guide;
As treach’rous Phantoms in the Mist delude,
Shuns fancied Ills, or chases airy Good.
I’ve always been fond of this brief parody with its echoes of Ozymandias. It is by the American humorist Arthur Guiterman (1871-1943) and reminds me of an old Italian proverb: ‘When the game is over, kings and pawns go into the same box.’
On the Vanity of Earthly Greatness
The tusks which clashed in mighty brawls
Of mastodons, are billiard balls.
The sword of Charlemagne the Just
Is Ferric Oxide, known as rust.
The grizzly bear, whose potent hug,
Was feared by all, is now a rug.
Great Caesar’s bust is on the shelf,
And I don’t feel so well myself.