One Cruel Word [poem by Menie Parkes]

[Editor: This poem by Menie Parkes was published in Poems (1867).]

One Cruel Word.

As long as existence lasts,
As long as a life-breath’s stirred,
His soul the bitterness tastes
Of that one — that cruel word!

It was uttered by one he loved,
In words of mocking pride,
And in soft and silvery tones
The laughing sentence died.

It was fifty years ago,
And he was young and strong,
When she he worshipped well
Did to his soul this wrong.

There were fifty years gone by,
And she — the loved and lost! —
Lies where other idols lie;
And he life’s waste has crossed.

They were fifty foolish years! —
How swiftly they have flown! —
Yet still that simple word
Can make the old heart groan.

There was much that he might have done,
But ever, as he tried,
There floated up with a ban
Those words of girlish pride.

There was much that he might have been —
His was no mind to stoop! —
But ever there came between
That sign for his will to droop.

More than fifty foolish years,
Seventy years and five,
And the old man lies on a bed of death,
Only his heart alive.

He looks on a wasted life,
On wasted wealth and brain,
But the old man shakes his head —
“I should use them so again.”

The old man mutters and moans
Thro’ the last breath, faintly stirred,
Broken and hindered by groans
Bearing that cruel word.

The old man raises his eyes,
No whisper of prayer is heard;
They listen for “Saviour” and “Heaven” —
They hear but that cruel word!

Menie Parkes, Poems, F. Cunninghame, Sydney, [1867], pages 5-6

Editor’s notes:
ban = a curse, an imprecation, a malediction

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