The Fables of Florian (tr. Phelps)/The Rope Dancer

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A young man on the tight-rope danc'd
       With balance-pole in hand;
Sway'd to and fro, fell back, advanc'd,
       Or bolt up straight would stand.
A crowd of persons came to see,
His feats of bold agility.
Now up he goes, then down again,
All free and easy, light and spry;
Rebounding from the tight rope's strain,
In cadence with it springing high.


As birds that o'er the water go,
But barely touch it with the wing,
So he but seem'd to press the toe
Upon the quick-responding string.

Of these exploits grown proud at length,
He said one day:—"Why use this pole?
It weighs me down, impairs my strength,
Embarrasses my free control—
More grace I'd have and freer play
If I should throw the thing away."
       No sooner said than done.
But once his pole was thrown aside,
And his new dancing had begun,
With arms outstretch'd and awkward stride,
He waver'd, lost his balance, fell,
Broke his nose, and all the crowd
At his tumble laughed aloud.

My dear young friends! you know full well
That he who has no check at all,
Must soon or later have a fall.
Though reason, virtue, rule, and law
Against young inclinations draw
       Like a check-rein,
Your fiery passions to restrain;
They are the needed balance-pole,
To keep your fame and fortune whole.