by Brett Rutherford, after the German of Uhland
Such was his lot — each dismal day
was short, and was marked with sorrow;
just as a poet ought, he withered
and quite forgotten, passed away.
He was an ill-starred infant
with only a muse hag for a nurse-maid,
and she it was who tutored him
to sing whether supper came or did not.
His mother, if one called some woman that,
crisped early to her untitled urn,
and so presaged his latter doom,
an anonymous and unread vessel
unfit for holding in or keeping gold.
When all around passed pewter mugs,
flagons and cups and champagne flutes,
he was the one they scorned to cheer,
pouring the dregs on cindered ground.
He knew the names of their fine vintages,
the lineage of kings who trod the valleys;
he could tell the rise and fall of empires,
but not one sip was given him!
Still, smiles returned to him each Spring,
his dreams of sweet blossoms woven,
but others hewed his trees to splinters,
boots muddying his purple stream.
When others orgied holidays, game days
and feasts, and marched in victory parades,
he raised his proud cup from afar —
his, the clear cold water; theirs, bloating beers.
The others watched him as he walked on by,
between his study and the library shelves,
thought him a pale being of scarcely flesh.
“He must have inherited money.
“An other-worldly man, almost a ghost.
He doesn't live like us. Ambrosia, mead,
strange fruits and berries, and a millet stew,
must be his monkish provender.”
Dead! dead! they found him sitting there
over the crumbs of one last saltine, pot
of a weak tea too many times infused
until it was merely shaded water.
There was nothing in his house! Just papers piled!
Cupboards zig-zaggedy with spiderwebs,
ice-box unplugged, a gasless stove,
plates in the sink, oh, too far gone for mould!
Easy it was to carry him, pine box
weighing no more than pine box and a suit
of grave-clothes. No hearse for him: a handcart
sufficed to trundle him off to the graveyard.
His tread had scarcely marked the dust
when he walked of nights. May the earth
rest light on his shoulders. May someone find
those papers he left, and publish them.
May someone remember those words were his.