None are so wise as they who make pretence
To know what fate conceals from mortal sense.
This moral from a tale of Ho-hang-ho
Might have been drawn a thousand years ago,
Long ere the days of spectacles and lenses,
When men were left to their unaided senses.
Two young short-sighted fellows, Chang and Ching,
Over their chopsticks idly chattering,
Fell to disputing which could see the best:
At last they agreed to put it to the test.
Said Chang: "A marble tablet, so I hear,
Is placed upon the Bo-hee temple near,
With an inscription on it. Let us go
And read it (since you boast your optics so),
Standing together at a certain place
In front, where we the letters just may trace.
Then he who quickest reads the inscription there
The palm for keenest eyes henceforth shall bear."
"Agreed," said Ching; "but let us try it soon:
Suppose we say to-morrow afternoon."
"Nay, not so soon," said Chang: "I'm bound to go,
To-morrow, a day's ride from Ho-hang-ho,
And sha'n't be ready till the following day:
At ten A.M. on Thursday let us say."
So 'twas arranged. But Ching was wide awake:
Time by the forelock he resolved to take;
And to the temple went at once, and read
Upon the tablet: "To the illustrious dead—
The chief of mandarins, the great Goh-Bang."
Scarce had he gone when stealthily came Chang,
Who read the same; but, peering closer, he
Spied in a corner what Ching failed to see—
The words, "This tablet is erected here
By those to whom the great Goh-Bang was dear."
So, on the appointed day—both innocent
As babes, of course—these honest fellows went
And took their distant station; and Ching said,
"I can read plainly, 'To the illustrious dead—
The chief of mandarins, the great Goh-Bang.'"
"And is that all that you can spell?" said Chang.
"I see what you have read, but furthermore,
In smaller letters, toward the temple-door,
Quite plain, 'This tablet is erected here
By those to whom the great Goh-Bang was dear.'"
"My sharp-eyed friend, there are no such words!" said Ching.
"They're there," said Chang, "if I see anything—
As clear as daylight!" "Patent eyes, indeed,
You have!" cried Ching. "Do you think I cannot read?"
"Not at this distance, as I can," Chang said,
"If what you say you saw is all you read."
In fine, they quarreled, and their wrath increased,
Till Chang said, "Let us leave it to the priest:
Lo, here he comes to meet us." "It is well,"
Said honest Ching: "no falsehood he will tell."
The good man heard their artless story through,
And said, "I think, dear sirs, there must be few
Blest with such wondrous eyes as those you wear.
There's no such tablet or inscription there.
There was one, it is true; 'twas moved away,
And placed within the temple yesterday."