Frost flecked his hair with many a winter’s flight,
And, etched with the sharp pencil of the years,
His rugged features set in lines of stress
Match well his knotted hands and toil-thwart form.
But time that set the silver in his hair
Steeled his gaunt frame to an endurance grim
Of which it gives no promise save the tale
Of each day’s toil that wavers not, nor wanes
In tithe or tittle; but by the unwritten law
He stands convicted of the deadly crime,
The thrice accursed crime of being old.
To-morrow, ten will quarrel for his place,
Thumbs down — he has it! — let the grey-beard go!
No more in the arena of to-day
His place shall know him, nor his strong arms wrest
From youth-accoutred foes the piteous prize
Of daily bread — and wherefore shall he turn
To learn new arts and wield new weapons, now
That tower of manly strength, which stood the shock
Of deadly combat, totters at its base,
And reels before the dastard strategy
That binds his chained limbs to the conqueror’s wheel?
For him no mercy stroke of swift, bright steel,
No lightning-pang that brings oblivion
With cradling arms of peace to pillow him;
Such barbarous modes, such rude arbitrament,
Our modern school of ethics doth forbid!
O Christian code more black, more damnable
Than heathen rage that spilt the futile blood!
O whited sepulchre of dead men’s bones
No holy spark shall quicken into life!
Who wasted Sodom and yet spareth thee
To taint the Universe with blasphemy?
Thumbs down! his fight is fought, his fate is set!
Quick! cast him forth to the lean things of prey,
The stealthy, gaunt things snuffing at the bars
Of strength and courage that the ruthless years
Have slow corrupted, and which soon shall fall
And leave him naked and defenceless.
And, mirrored in the terror of his eyes,
Dim shadowy shapes start up from lairs of fear
And creep from point to point, now swift advance,
Now ’mazed retreat, to whipped submission cowed
By some faint flicker of the man he was.
The hunger-pack his steel thews kept at bay
Snuff tardy death and scent the carnival,
And horrid carrion pinions beat the air
In loathsome expectation of his doom.
Creep! — Creep! — the grisly circle closes in —
The ring of death, long cheated, claims its own.
* * * * * * * * *
There is no blood upon their hands, good sirs! —
See here the legal bill of his decease —
And “Death from natural causes” thereon writ
By our respected city Coroner,
And lo! for those that read, ’tis countersigned
All in the grim sign manual of the three
Dark sisters, Sorrow, Hunger, and Despair.
Sic transit! — in the game upon the board
’Tis dross kings count, a man is but a pawn!
Marie E. J. Pitt, The Horses of the Hills and Other Verses, Melbourne: Specialty Press, 1911, pages 45-47