An Impulsive Ode to a Picture of Benjamin Franklin on a Box of Sugar

(On or about his 215th birthday)

Great Benjamin! I cheerfully concede
That, to Miss Reed,
As hungry and half-ill
Along the streets of Phil-
adelphia you sped,
A-crunching That loaf of baker’s bread,
You may have seemed
Beauteous and sightly,
And have been deemed
A person rightly
To have a place
— That is, your face —
Upon a sugar-box.

And afterwards in France,
In homespun coat and pants,
With white locks streaming,
And from your countenance
Kindness perspiredly beaming,
You certainly had them clustering
— Those demoiselles —
As with your gracious spells
(Your best French mustering),
You held them all
In thrall.

Benjamin, you were great
In all affairs of state;
Your Almanac’s wise pages
Have hurtled down the ages
Its precepts terse and many,
Teaching a spendthrift nation
The art of conservation
And how to save the Penny.
And from that teeming brain
Came forth a streaming train
Of wonderful inventions;
And it was thought a pity
If, in (nearly) every city,
You were not head of each committee
At all conventions.

But You and Sugar! O Good Benjamin,
What juxtaposition does this put you in!
What but the brain of some young profiteer
Would e’er have thought to start on
A scheme to paint the features of a seer
Upon a sugar carton?
When at my daily task in kitchen, cooking,
To sugar-box I go,
Your countenance seems to me severely looking,
As if to say, ‘Go slow.'
As in I dip, you seem to be a-calling,
‘ Go slow — go slow — go slower —
Market reports that sugar ’s still a-falling;
Wait till it gets still lower.'
And now when early strawberries are needing sweeting,
And rhubarb clamors for the sugar-box,
Your lips reproachful seem to be entreating,
‘Cease sugaring,’ and then to be repeating
Your adage, meant the prodigal to move,
‘Who dainties love, you know, will beggars prove.'
(’T was writ to touch the conscience of the cook —
The fourteenth page in his ‘Poor Richard’ book.)

And when it comes to cake and lemon Pie
(With all that rich méringue),
Your presence there upon my sugarbox,
Your disapproving scowl — it fairly mocks;
No matter what I try;
I fain would say, ‘Go ’lang.'
’T is true, of sugar cooking takes a mint;
Yet with all due respect to Richard’s thrift,
I do maintain it is a wondrous gift
To make good stuff to eat
And make it sweet
Yet put no sugar in’t.

I’m glad, Good Benjamin, to gaze on thee
Hanging in state-house and the halls of Art;
Your homely features, lit with charity,
Are of our nation’s life a treasured part;
But would you mind it greatly if I say,
I believe it would ensure us
More freedom in a culinary way,
If they would take you off and put on, say —
Say, Epicurus.