Plato Prater's Dialogue on Pleasure


 By Jove, dear Percy, this world cannot boast
A spot more charming nor a kinder host;
In your big chair, beside your leaping fire,
The flagon ready, what can man desire,
While he may see, in your accustomed place,
The smile of welcome on a handsome face?
Here friendship melts to love's divine form,
And while the soul is free, the heart is warm. Percy .
 It's not the flagon, nor the fire, nor I
That make your pleasure, but philosophy;
There's William smoking in his favorite nook,
Yet see the great Philistine's angry look. William .
 Changing at Lisbon dollars into reis
You grow no richer, though the sum amaze,
And Plato thinks all this so great a pleasure
Because he reckons in a little measure.
I know not if he thinks, he's so well schooled,
There is philosophy in being fooled;
But as for me, the pleasure feels the same,
Called by a cynical or fulsome name,
And what philosophy I yet have heard
Changed nothing for me when it changed a word. Percy .
 Perhaps there's something in the words we use;
Were Plato William, what a name he'd lose!
In giving you that name, your sainted dad,
Was, I am sure, prophetically mad.
In his priest's office, 'twas your father's turn
Incense in Hingham Meeting House to burn;
Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared,
Standing upon the night. “Be not afeared,”
Answered and said the angel, “Mr. Prater,
For thou shalt have a son to call thee pater;
And neither wine nor strong drink shall he drink,
But shall be filled with wisdom as with ink—
Great shall he be, and great shall be his fame,
And Plato Prater thou shalt call his name.”
Then said your father, “Whereby shall I know
That I should call my Christian offspring so?
No Platos in the Holy Bible be,
And ne'er a Plato on my family tree.”
At this proud bigotry the angel grieved;
“Because,” he answered, “thou hast not believed,
Even as I have said it shall be done,
And thou shalt have a heathen for a son.”
They would have called you, when the christening came,
Nebuchadnezzar from your father's name;
But you, to that fond parent's consternation,
With kicks and screams refused regeneration.
Then he confessed, and he did not deny;
“Yea, verily, the angel told no lie,
And let my heathen son be Plato till he die.” Plato .
 My parents lived in Transcendental days
When Plato for a name could not amaze;
And, spite of all the texts at your command,
Who's not a pagan in this Christian land?
Imagine how a heathen stoic's head
Would bristle at what Christian William said;
A stoic, who believed that he could still
Pain's evil, by not thinking pain an ill,
And whose strong heart, by ceasing to complain,
Turned to a virtue what it found a pain.
But how much easier to fashion joy
Than present pangs with reasons to destroy!
And yet it seems to me there must be cause
For all opinions in our nature's laws,
And if for such discussion you have leisure,
I would propose the question: What is pleasure? William .
 Pleasure is pleasure: All that you will say
Can but repeat it in another way,
Till from the maze of artificial doubt
The clue of common sense can bring you out;
And when you have retraced your twisted track,
You'll thank your wits you got your knowledge back.
Pleasure is doing anything we like:
If loved to love again, if struck to strike,
To eat when hungry, to be cooled when hot,
To drink when thirsty and, in fact, when not,
To smoke a merschaum, and to live at ease,
And, above all things, pleasure is to please. Percy .
 To hold your own up and to say “It's that!”
Is not to show the nature of a hat.
One costs five dollars, and of these, you know,
Two go for comfort and the rest for show;
And may we not believe our pleasures share
The hybrid nature of the hats we wear?
Some keep us sane and healthy on the way,
And some we value for the price we pay. William .
 How can that be? “The way” must lead us still
To other pleasures or away from ill;
And talk of health or virtue, wealth or fame,
The thing you seek is pleasure all the same. Percy .
 Think you Van Vooler chose his room this year
For being pleasant or for being dear?
Such fools will take—I know what you will say—
More pleasure in a thing the more they pay;
But if he gets his pleasure, by your rule
You shouldn't call Van Vooler still a fool. William .
 See how you quibble! Since Van Vooler thought
That he was valued for the things he bought,
The nincompoop is proved an arrant fool,
And boasts of that which brings him ridicule. Percy .
 For half the world, your wisdom can't deny,
A man is worth the things that he can buy;
And something more than ridicule it brings
To flaunt a fortune and a lot of rings.
These make a milkmaid think the fool a god,
And from the footlights bring a smile and nod;
For these at last some reigning belle will stoop
To tempt the shyness of the nincompoop;
And little compensations of this sort
Console Van Vooler for your ill report. Plato .
 But let us say, if Percy quibbles still,
For future pleasures I have reckoned ill,
And though I think I am the first of men,
All others flout me,—am I foolish then?
What difference in pleasure does it make
Whether the pleasure rest on a mistake?
If it is foolish to be pleased with lies,
Truth and not pleasure is the highest prize,
And an ideal of the fit and fair
Turns into shame the pleasure that is there. William .
 No: fit and fair are such because they please,
And pleasure rests on truth to be at ease.
A baseless pleasure pleases us in vain
Since it is followed by a greater pain,
But wisdom serves to render pleasure sure,
And truth to make it as herself endure. Percy .
 What taints our pleasures, then, is not the lie,
But the discovery that makes them die;
And since a falsehood, if it gain belief,
Can turn well-founded pleasure into grief,
Conceit and wise delight alike must cower
Before the whim of the succeeding hour.
The wise are wretched if they change their mind,
The blind are blest if they continue blind,
And safest, truest pleasure can be had
Only by men irreparably mad. Plato .
 Life's pleasure makes its value, William thinks;
But if it be so, how that value shrinks,
And what a blunderer must nature be
For pleasure to devise the world we see!
Is it for pleasure that the planets run
In patient circles round a burning sun?
Is it for pleasure that the lichens grow
Close to the edges of the chilling snow?
Is it for pleasure that the insects breed,
And pile their booty for another's need?
No: even we, in love's mysterious rage,
Have greater thirsts than loving can assuage;
Love is no longing of the single man,
But giant nature rushing to her plan;
Rousing her spirit to complete her task
And working witchcraft in a woman's mask.
No thought of self impels the valiant man
To seize a standard and to lead the van,
But nature, as she bids the swiftest guide
The herd of deer along the mountain side,
Commands her slave, with weapons all her own,
To save a people or to build a throne.
'Tis for their country soldiers think they fight,
Not for their pleasure, and their soul is right,
For nature does not tremble at their pain,
Too bent on victory to count the slain;
She conquers not alone with them that win,
Her glory is the slaughter and the din;
The loss and triumph are alike her deed,
And fate enacted is her labor's meed.
Suppose a thirsty boy, some summer day,
Drank of an icy spring, and went his way.
Long after he returns and sees the brook
And stoops for that delicious draught he took,
But thirst has left him on this winter day
And silent and perplexed he turns away.
So far his nature led him by the hand
And those quick thoughts he could not understand
Are no more selfish than the eagle's flight
Or the birds' welcome of the morning light.
But if some devil, cunning in deceit,
Offers a poisoned leaf and whispers, “Eat,
And thou shalt feel the pleasing thirst once more
And taste the fountain's sweetness as before;”
Then has young Adam made the great mistake
And has begun to live for pleasure's sake.
Yet men can so forget their happy days
And so far wander from their simple ways,
As to believe that they have ever wrought
As now, when prompted by a crooked thought.
They eat, but think not that they eat to live;
They give, but fancy that they do not give,
But that for heaven or some selfish good,
They lend their children and their neighbor food.
Thus the unnatural and puny mind
Feigns a mean motive to debase mankind;
Thus the shrill-voiced philosophers of vice
Say all men love and labor for a price,
Liken the ether to the Paris slime,
And think the eighteenth century is Time.
But never did a simple, noble heart
Devise a pleasure, or enjoy with art.
That he may live, a mother tends her son,
And brave men labor that the work be done,
Lift their devotion heavenward in stone,
And build their thought, as nature builds her own.
She, like the grim Egyptian, is intent
On raising her eternal monument,
And, as she lays each stone upon the pile,
Smiles for a moment—pleasure is that smile—
But till her total purpose be expressed,
She toils forever, and she cannot rest.
Within those stones the past world buried lies;
Her they will cover, when the future dies;
She knows not why she labors, such is doom,
Yet loves the beauty of her rising tomb. William .
 Who says that pleasure keeps the stars in motion?
It's not from me you got that silly notion.
Like all philosophers I ever saw
You're simply knocking down a man of straw.
We have our instincts, leading us one way,
Which it involves a pain to disobey,
And to escape the pain, we do a thing
Before we know the pleasure it will bring.
I do not say that instincts ever lied
Through knowledge of delight that will succeed,
But that the pleasure added to an act
Gives it the value which it else had lacked,
And though the cause of living none can give,
Pleasure's the reason why we ought to live.
It's better not to live than live in pain,
And life has prizes that we live to gain.
You seem to think that prudence is the root
Of evil, and that man should be a brute;
That it is wrong one's happiness to win,
And that to live by reason is a sin.
For reason's work is to keep pain away
And conquer as much pleasure as it may;
To bend blind nature to our human ends
And teach her forces to become our friends.
What nobler object can we have in life
Than to be victors in the unequal strife,
To build the world upon a better plan
And to promote the happiness of man?
For as to nature's purpose, by this time
To talk mythology should be a crime,
And in asylums all should be confined
Who know what gravitation has in mind. Plato .
 Was it not nature gave your reason birth?
And yet this lever that would move the earth
Rests on a fulcrum which is but a part
Of palpitating earth, a mortal heart.
Reason is weaker than what makes it be
And wise men's wisdom is humility;
They build their happiness on self-surrender,
And seek to follow nature, not to mend her. Percy .
 When men imagine life is made to please
And hardship's object is to be at ease,
By that sweet paradox their wit's abused,
And they begin to toil to be amused.
It is their solemn duty to be glad,
But conscientious gladness makes them sad;
Pursuing pleasure they enjoy it not,
And fan themselves so hard, it makes them hot;
They lose their dollar gaining for a dime,
And suffer tortures for a pleasant time;
Yet for their folly the excuse is this,
That they have quite forgot what pleasure is.
When Adam sinned and the immortals said
That henceforth every man should sweat for bread,
Against this sect they passed a special measure:
“The pleasurists shall also sweat for pleasure;
The more they sweat, the less fun they shall get,
The less they have, the harder they will sweat.”
So, my good William, if your faith is true,
I'll tell you what two things you ought to do;
First, to forbid that it be taught the poor,
Who have enough already to endure;
Second, to give it up yourself for good,
And find the secret of a merry mood.
What, are you going? but I want to know
What real pleasure is, before you go.
Let us clear up the muddle we are in,
And Plato, who began it, shall begin. Plato.
 Pleasure is peace. Whenever sharp desire
Enslaves the eyes and fans the bosom's fire,
If she has mercy whom the soul addressed,
The longing lulls, and pleasure is to rest.
When misers in a whispered dream behold
A gliding villain carry off their gold,
They waken with a pang, but breathing deep
They clutch their keys, and pleasure is to sleep.
When a wise man defends a righteous law
And sees the world is listening in awe,
Finding how weak are his astonished foes,
He feels his strength, and pleasure is repose.
And at the summit of the hill of life,
When all is beauty which below is strife,
Man feels his passions and his sorrows cease;
He has his all, and pleasure is but peace. William.
 Pleasure is wealth: to hold within your hand
The reins of nature, and to give command;
'Tis not to stifle but to feed the fire,
Not to abandon but fulfil desire;
To heap the riches of abundant life
And but in victory to cease from strife.
Pleasure is growth: to feel the rising tide
Of vital energy and noble pride,
To grow forever to a larger need
And on a richer harvest ever feed,
The deep recesses of the world to scan
And make all nature the domain of man.
Labor with hope gives soul and body health,
And all our pleasure is in growth and wealth. Percy .
 Pleasure is mirth: forever on the wing,
A quick, pert, merry, giddy little thing.
Where fashion dances, pleasure only skips;
Where folly swims, swift pleasure only dips;
Vice drinks the dregs, where pleasure only sips;
Where passion falls, sweet pleasure only slips.
'Tis but a spark, struck out as we are whirled
In this ridiculous and tedious world.
Go build a pretty castle in the air,
Laugh when it fades, and build one yet more fair;
Go kiss a little maiden glad and meek,
But kiss her once and kiss her on the cheek;
Go have your wine, your story, and your song,
Then leave the bawling fools, and come along.
So may you taste true pleasure, for on earth
The only pleasure that is sweet is mirth.
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