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Ben Franklin, Poet

Benjamin Franklin was an accomplished poet and writer who specialized in epigrams (brief, pithy poems and prose sayings). In addition to being one of America's first and foremost writers, Franklin created the first American public library, the first American hospital, one of the first American fire departments, the first American fire insurance company, and the first American political cartoon ("Join or Die" in 1754). He was also the first person to suggest what is now called Daylight Savings Time, and he helped chart the Gulf Stream, and named it. The Thomas Alva Edison of his day, he also invented bifocals, the Franklin stove, the glass armonica (harmonica), watertight bulkheads for ships, an early odometer, swim fins (flippers) and the lightning rod. He even created an early urinary catheter for his brother John, who suffered with kidney stones. His most famous scientific endeavor was his kite experiment, in which he demonstrated the relationship between lightning and electricity. His 1754 "Plan of Union" for the American colonies influenced the later Articles of Confederation and Constitution. In 1776 he was a member of the "Committee of Five" that drafted the Declaration of Independence. In December 1776, he became the United States ambassador to France, and was instrumental in obtaining French support for the American Revolution. Without that aid, the United States could not have won independence from Great Britain. A signer of both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, he is generally considered to be one of the leading American Founding Fathers. Unlike George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who owned slaves until their deaths, Benjamin Franklin freed his slaves and later became president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. He was also the first Postmaster General of the United States. He was also, famously (or infamously, depending on one's morals) a ladies' man. But his single greatest claim to fame probably remains his wit and wisdom as a freethinking, wise, aphoristic writer.

Little strokes
fell great oaks.

Plough deep
while sluggards sleep.

Vessels large may venture more,
but little boats should keep near shore.

He that goes a-borrowing
goes a-sorrowing.

Early to bed,
early to rise,
makes a man healthy,
and wise.

Hide not your talents.
They for use were made.
What's a sundial in the shade?

Never confuse motion
with action.

He who multiplies riches,
multiplies cares.

There never was a good war,
a bad peace.

Any fool
can criticize,
and complain,
and most fools

Experience keeps a dear school,
but fools
will learn in no other.

Where sense is wanting,
everything is wanting.

We must indeed all hang together,
or, most assuredly,
we shall all hang separately.

They that can give up essential liberty
to obtain a little temporary safety
deserve neither liberty
nor safety.


WEDLOCK, as old men note, hath likened been,
Unto a public crowd or common rout;
Where those that are without would fain get in,
And those that are within, would fain get out.
Grief often treads upon the heels of pleasure,
Marry'd in haste, we oft repent at leisure;
Some by experience find these words missplaced,
Marry'd at leisure, they repent in haste.

"Wedlock" appeared in Poor Richard's Almanack, May, 1734.


SOME have learn't many tricks of sly evasion,
Instead of truth they use equivocation,
And eke it out with mental reservation,
Which, to good men, is an abomination.
Our smith of late most wonderfully swore,
That whilst he breathed he would drink no more,
But since, I know his meaning, for I think,
He meant he would not breathe whilst he did drink.

"Equivocation" appeared in Poor Richard's Almanack, January, 1736.


The Body
Benjamin Franklin
Like the cover of an old book
Its contents torn out
And stript of its lettering and gilding)
Lies here, food for worms.
But the work shall not be lost
For it will (as he believed) appear once more
In a new and more elegant edition
Revised and corrected
The Author.


DEATH is a fisherman, the world we see
His fish-pond is, and we the fishes be;
His net some general sickness; howe'er he
Is not so kind as other fishers be;
For if they take one of the smaller fry,
They throw him in again, he shall not die:
But death is sure to kill all he can get,
And all is fish with him that comes to net.

"Death is a Fisherman" appeared in Poor Richard's Almanack, September, 1733.

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