The Hoary Precedent

Mr. Pericles, M.P.,
In four-sixty-nine B.C.,
Outed Cimon at a general election;
Premier Cimon, thuswise ex-ed,
Was quite naturally vexed,
And he made an angry speech in this connection;
He remarked, in peroration, as he grabbed his coat and hat,
'You're a Socialist, you rotter! You'd no precedent for that!'
Mr. Pericles is dead
Thoroughly, I've heard it said
And his words and acts may now be safely quoted
By our statesmen eminent,
Who on mouldy precedent
(If it's old enough and dead enough) have doted.
For precedent, I'd have you note, is most peculiar stuff;
It's absolutely useless if it isn't dead enough.

In my youth I ever held
Grave respect for all the eld,
And I found in history a strong attraction.
So, whene'er a scheme I planned,
Eagerly the tomes I scanned
That I might find precedent for ev'ry action.
Yet, despite my zealous labour, and the piles of books I read,
In the things that truly mattered I seemed not to forge ahead.

As I nursed my bulging brow,
Said I, 'This is wrong somehow.
Precedent, as we all know, is something holy
Something we should not neglect
To regard with great respect,
And I feel I'm safe in following it solely.
But had we done it from the start - I grasp, at least, this much
We would still be munching apples that we didn't oughter touch.

'Well, this problem is immense!'
In my experience
I reflected. 'How have we progressed, I wonder?'
Then the obvious reply
Hit me squarely in the eye:
It is by ignoring precedent, by thunder!
'Tis men who fix the precedents that lead the nations on
And not the folk who pin their faith to leaders dead and gone.

Mr. Pericles, M.P.,
You're the sort of man for me
(Though I understand you are a Dago alien):
'Spite your moral character,
O'er the Styx I greet you, sir,
You're the sort we need to-day in things Australian.
For we're moved to ask the question of our statesmen now and then:
'Does this job of fixing precedents belong to ancient men?'

Mr. Pericles, deceased,
'Spite his deadness, has increased
My respect for all the world's originators.
If we must have precedents,
My ideal he represents,
For I'm done with copyists and imitators.
And, after this, my reference is Pericles, M.P.,
He acted without precedent; that's precedent for me.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011



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