The Philosopher And The Glow-Worm

A Glow-worm shone; a Philosopher picked it up and it went out but the Philosopher’s talk brought it back. The power to shine belongs to all.

Don’t be led astray and you’ll shine for more than a day.


JN Fable 039

Sketch: James Northcote; Wood drawing: William Harvey; Engraving: T. Moses (1828)

The toilsome hours of day were spent,
The world seem’d wrapt in calm content;
Each anxious care forsook the breast,
Sleep gently clos’d each eye to rest:
Cynthia her brightest aspect wore,
And heav’ns expanse was studded o’er.
A Sage, by meditation drawn,
Forsook his cot, and sought the lawn;
In contemplation deep he stray’d,
And nature’s dozing charms survey’d;
On either band new beauties view’d,
As he his tranquil path pursu’d.
By chance a Glow-worm in his way
Shot forth his little glitt’ring ray;
Proudly unfolding ev’ry grace,
As trailing round from place to place.
Illumining the moss-fring’d plain,
On other worms he looked disdain:
The Sage, with philosophic eye,
Survey’d the wand’rer crawling by;
Then stooping low with gentle hand,
High lifts him from the dew-fraught land.
The grub, (tho’ not dismay’d thro’ fear,)
Conscious be was not in his sphere,
Withdrew his beam of light away,
To hear what man, vain man! would say.
The leam’d Philosopher, amaz’d,
Paus’d for some time and anxious gaz’d;
Astonish’d that the worm shou’d die
So soon, then careless threw it by:
But first, this application made;
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‘This creeping reptile, lo! is dead,
‘And with his life his glory’s fled.
‘So is’t with all ambition’s race,
‘Who fill up each exalted place;
‘Brilliant they shine with borrow’d ray,
‘And wanton in the blaze of day,
‘Till fortune’s second wheel turns round,
‘And leaves them, where they first were found.’
The Glow-worm with attention heard,
And weigh’d with prudence ev’ry word,
Trimm’d bright his little lamp again,
And shone more beauteous o’er the plain.
Then thus address’d the wond’ring Sage,
The known Philosopher of the age:
‘Know thou, the happy pow’r to shine
‘Is truly man’s as well as mine,
‘I know my sphere: did he the same,
‘He’d tread that path that leads to fame.
‘Did he in dang’rous times retire,
‘And check with care ambition’s fire;
‘Like me, he might new lustre spread,
‘And deck With laurels fresh his head:
‘But, coxcomb-like, he’s led astray
‘To shine, and shines but for a day.’

JN Fable 039a

Wood drawing: William Harvey; Engraving: A.J. Mason (1828)