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Portrait of Ambrose Bierce


Selections from

Shapes of Clay

by

Ambrose Bierce

(1903)
 

. The Passing Show

    I.

    I KNOW not if it was a dream. I viewed
    A city where the restless multitude,
    Between the eastern and the western deep
    Had roared gigantic fabrics, strong and rude.

    Colossal palaces crowned every height;
    Towers from valleys climbed into the light;
    O'er dwellings at their feet, great golden domes
    Hung in the blue, barbarically bright.

    But now, new-glimmering to-east, the day
    Touched the black masses with a grace of gray,
    Dim spires of temples to the nation's God
    Studding high spaces of the wide survey.

    Well did the roofs their solemn secret keep
    Of life and death stayed by the truce of sleep,
    Yet whispered of an hour-when sleepers wake,
    The fool to hope afresh, the wise to weep.

    The gardens greened upon the builded hills
    Above the tethered thunders of the mills
    With sleeping wheels unstirred to service yet
    By the tamed torrents and the quickened rills.

    A hewn acclivity, reprieved a space,
    Looked on the builder's blocks about his base
    And bared his wounded breast in sign to say:
    "Strike! 't is my destiny to lodge your race.

    "'T was but a breath ago the mammoth browsed
    Upon my slopes, and in my caves I housed
    Your shaggy fathers in their nakedness,
    While on their foeman's offal they caroused."

    Ships from afar afforested the bay.
    Within their huge and chambered bodies lay
    The wealth of continents; and merrily sailed
    The hardy argosies to far Cathay.

    Beside the city of the living spread--
    Strange fellowship!--the city of the dead;
    And much I wondered what its humble folk,
    To see how bravely they were housed, had said.

    Noting how firm their habitations stood,
    Broad-based and free of perishable wood--
    How deep in granite and how high in brass
    The names were wrought of eminent and good,

    I said: "When gold or power is their aim,
    The smile of beauty or the wage of shame,
    Men dwell in cities; to this place they fare
    When they would conquer an abiding fame."

    From the red East the sun--a solemn rite--
    Crowned with a flame the cross upon a height
    Above the dead; and then with all his strength
    Struck the great city all aroar with light!

    II.

    I know not if it was a dream. I came
    Unto a land where something seemed the same
    That I had known as 't were but yesterday,
    But what it was I could not rightly name.

    It was a strange and melancholy land.
    Silent and desolate. On either hand
    Lay waters of a sea that seemed as dead,
    And dead above it seemed the hills to stand,

    Grayed all with age, those lonely hills--ah me,
    How worn and weary they appeared to be!
    Between their feet long dusty fissures clove
    The plain in aimless windings to the sea.

    One hill there was which, parted from the rest,
    Stood where the eastern water curved a-west.
    Silent and passionless it stood. I thought
    I saw a scar upon its giant breast.

    The sun with sullen and portentous gleam
    Hung like a menace on the sea's extreme;
    Nor the dead waters, nor the far, bleak bars
    Of cloud were conscious of his failing beam.

    It was a dismal and a dreadful sight,
    That desert in its cold, uncanny light;
    No soul but I alone to mark the fear
    And imminence of everlasting night!

    All presages and prophecies of doom
    Glimmered and babbled in the ghastly gloom,
    And in the midst of that accursed scene
    A wolf sat howling on a broken tomb.

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. At the Close of the Canvass

    'TWAS a Venerable Person, whom I met one Sunday morning,
    All appareled as a prophet of a melancholy sect;
    And in a jeremaid of objurgatory warning
    He lifted up his jodel to the following effect:

    O ye sanguinary statesmen, intermit your verbal tussles
    O ye editors and orators, consent to hear my lay!
    And a little while the digital and maxillary muscles
    And attend to what a Venerable Person has to say.

    Cease your writing, cease your shouting, cease your wild unearthly lying;
    Cease to bandy such expressions as are never, never found
    In the letter of a lover; cease "exposing" and "replying"--
    Let there be abated fury and a decrement of sound.

    For to-morrow will be Monday and the fifth day of November--
    Only day of opportunity before the final rush.
    Carpe diem! go conciliate each person who's a member
    Of the other party--do it while you can without a blush.

    "Lo! the time is close upon you when the madness of the season
    Having howled itself to silence, like a Minnesota 'clone,
    Will at last be superseded by the still, small voice of reason,
    When the whelpage of your folly you would willingly disown.

    "Ah, 'tis mournful to consider what remorses will be thronging,
    With a consciousness of having been so ghastly indiscreet,
    When by accident untoward two ex-gentlemen belonging
    To the opposite political denominations meet!

    "Yes, 'tis melancholy, truly, to forecast the fierce, unruly
    Supersurging of their blushes, like the flushes upon high
    When Aurora Borealis lights her circumpolar palace
    And in customary manner sets her banner in the sky.

    "Each will think: 'This falsifier knows that I too am a liar.
    Curse him for a son of Satan, all unholily compound!
    Curse my leader for another! Curse that pelican, my mother!
    Would to God that I when little in my victual had been drowned!'"

    Then that Venerable Person went away without returning
    And, the madness of the season having also taken flight,
    All the people soon were blushing like the skies to crimson burning
    When Aurora Borealis fires her premises by night.

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. Yorick

    HARD by an excavated street one sat
    In solitary session on the sand;
    And ever and anon he spake and spat
    And spake again--a yellow skull in hand,
    To which that retrospective Pioneer
    Addressed the few remarks that follow here:

    "Who are you? Did you come 'der blains agross,'
    Or 'Horn aroundt'? In days o' '49
    Did them thar eye-holes see the Southern Cross
    From the Antarctic Sea git up an' shine?
    Or did you drive a bull team 'all the way
    From Pike,' with Mr. Joseph Bowers?--say!

    "Was you in Frisco when the water came
    Up to Montgum'ry street? and do you mind
    The time when Peters run the faro game--
    Jim Peters from old Mississip--behind
    Wells Fargo's, where he subsequent was bust
    By Sandy, as regards both bank and crust?

    "I wonder was you here when Casey shot
    James King o' William? And did you attend
    The neck-tie dance ensuin'? I did not,
    But j'ined the rush to Go Creek with my friend
    Ed'ard McGowan; for we was resolved
    In sech diversions not to be involved.

    "Maybe I knowed you; seems to me I've seed
    Your face afore. I don't forget a face,
    But names I disremember--I'm that breed
    Of owls. I'm talking some'at into space
    An' maybe my remarks is too derned free,
    Seein' yer name is unbeknown to me.

    "Ther' was a time, I reckon, when I knowed
    Nigh onto every dern galoot in town.
    That was as late as '50. Now she's growed
    Surprisin'! Yes, me an' my pardner, Brown,
    Was wide acquainted. If ther' was a cuss
    We didn't know, the cause was--he knowed us.

    "Maybe you had that claim adjoinin' mine
    Up thar in Calaveras. Was it you
    To which Long Mary took a mighty shine,
    An' throwed squar' off on Jake the Kangaroo?
    I guess if she could see ye now she'd take
    Her chance o' happiness along o' Jake.

    "You ain't so purty now as you was then:
    Yer eyes is nothin' but two prospect holes,
    An' women which are hitched to better men
    Would hardly for sech glances damn their souls,
    As Lengthie did. By G----! I hope it's you,
    For" (kicks the skull) "I'm Jake the Kangaroo."

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. Business

    TWO villains of the highest rank
    Set out one night to rob a bank.
    They found the building, looked it o'er,
    Each window noted, tried each door,
    Scanned carefully the lidded hole
    For minstrels to cascade the coal--
    In short, examined five-and-twenty
    Good paths from poverty to plenty.
    But all were sealed, they saw full soon,
    Against the minions of the moon.
    "Enough," said one: "I'm satisfied."
    The other, smiling fair and wide,
    Said: "I'm as highly pleased as you:
    No burglar ever can get through.
    Fate surely prospers our design--
    The booty all is yours and mine."
    So, full of hope, the following day
    To the exchange they took their way
    And bought, with manner free and frank,
    Some stock of that devoted bank;
    And they became, inside the year,
    One President and one Cashier.

    Their crime I can no further trace--
    The means of safety to embrace,
    I overdrew and left the place.

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. Politics

    THAT land full surely hastens to its end
    Where public sycophants in homage bend
    The populace to flatter, and repeat
    The doubled echoes of its loud conceit.
    Lowly their attitude but high their aim,
    They creep to eminence through paths of shame,
    Till fixed securely in the seats of pow'r,
    The dupes they flattered they at last devour.

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. Poesy

    SUCCESSIVE bards pursue Ambition's fire
    That shines, Oblivion, above thy mire.
    The latest mounts his predecessor's trunk,
    And sinks his brother ere himself is sunk.
    So die ingloriously Fame's elite,
    But dams of dunces keep the line complete.

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. Religion

    HASSAN Bedreddin, clad in rags, ill-shod,
    Sought the great temple of the living God.
    The worshippers arose and drove him forth,
    And one in power beat him with a rod.

    "Allah," he cried, "thou seest what I got;
    Thy servants bar me from the sacred spot."
    "Be comforted," the Holy One replied;
    "It is the only place where I am not."

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. An Anarchist

    FALSE to his art and to the high command
    God laid upon him, Markham's rebel hand
    Beats all in vain the harp he touched before:
    It yields a jingle and it yields no more.
    No more the strings beneath his finger-tips
    Sing harmonies divine. No more his lips,
    Touched with a living coal from sacred fires,
    Lead the sweet chorus of the golden wires.
    The voice is raucous and the phrases squeak;
    They labor, they complain, they sweat, they reek!
    The more the wayward, disobedient song
    Errs from the right to celebrate the wrong,
    More diligently still the singer strums,
    To drown the horrid sound, with all his thumbs.
    Gods, what a spectacle! The angels lean
    Out of high Heaven to view the sorry scene,
    And Israfel, "whose heart-strings are a lute,"
    Though now compassion makes their music mute,
    Among the weeping company appears,
    Pearls in his eyes and cotton in his ears.

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. Technology

    'TWAS a serious person with locks of gray
    And a figure like a crescent;
    His gravity, clearly, had come to stay,
    But his smile was evanescent.

    He stood and conversed with a neighbor, and
    With (likewise) a high falsetto;
    And he stabbed his forefinger into his hand
    As if it had been a stiletto.

    His words, like the notes of a tenor drum,
    Came out of his head unblended,
    And the wonderful altitude of some
    Was exceptionally splendid.

    While executing a shake of the head,
    With the hand, as it were, of a master,
    This agonizing old gentleman said:
    "'Twas a truly sad disaster!

    "Four hundred and ten longs and shorts in all,
    Went down"--he paused and snuffled.
    A single tear was observed to fall,
    And the old man's drum was muffled.

    "A very calamitous year," he said.
    And again his head-piece hoary
    He shook, and another pearl he shed,
    As if he wept con amore.

    "O lacrymose person," I cried, "pray why
    Should these failures so affect you?
    With speculators in stocks no eye
    That's normal would ever connect you."

    He focused his orbs upon mine and smiled
    In a sinister sort of manner.
    "Young man," he said, "your words are wild:
    I spoke of the steamship 'Hanner.'

    "For she has went down in a howlin' squall,
    And my heart is nigh to breakin'--
    Four hundred and ten longs and shorts in all
    Will never need undertakin'!

    "I'm in the business myself," said he,
    "And you've mistook my expression;
    For I uses the technical terms, you see,
    Employed in my perfession."

    That old undertaker has joined the throng
    On the other side of the River,
    But I'm still unhappy to think I'm a "long,"
    And a tape-line makes me shiver.

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. By a Defeated Litigant

    LIARS for witnesses; for lawyers brutes
    Who lose their tempers to retrieve their suits;
    Cowards for jurors; and for judge a clown
    Who ne'er took up the law, yet lays it down;
    Justice denied, authority abused,
    And the one honest person the accused--
    Thy courts, my country, all these awful years,
    Move fools to laughter and the wise to tears.

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. The Politician

    LET Glory's sons manipulate
    The tiller of the Ship of State.
    Be mine the humble, useful toil
    To work the tiller of the soil."

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. An Inscription

    For a Proposed Monument in Washington to Him who Made it Beautiful.

    ERECTED to "Boss" Shepherd by the dear
    Good folk he lived and moved among in peace--
    Guarded on either hand by the police,
    With soldiers in his front and in his rear.

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. A "Mute Unglorious Milton"

    "O, I'M the Unaverage Man,
    But you never have heard of me,
    For my brother, the Average Man, outran
    My fame with rapiditee,
    And I'm sunk in Oblivion's sea,
    But my bully big brother the world can span
    With his wide notorietee.
    I do everything that I can
    To make 'em attend to me,
    But the papers ignore the Unaverage Man
    With a weird uniformitee."

    So sang with a dolorous note
    A voice that I heard from the beach;
    On the sable waters it seemed to float
    Like a mortal part of speech.
    The sea was Oblivion's sea,
    And I cried as I plunged to swim:
    "The Unaverage Man shall reside with me."
    But he didn't--I stayed with him!

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. The Free Trader's Lament

    "OFT from a trading-boat I purchased spice
    And shells and corals, brought for my inspection
    From the fair tropics--paid a Christian price
    And was content in my fool's paradise,
    Where never had been heard the word "Protection."

    'T was my sole island; there I dwelt alone--
    No customs-house, collector nor collection,
    But a man came, who, in a pious tone
    Condoled with me that I had never known
    The manifest advantage of Protection.

    So, when the trading-boat arrived one day,
    He threw a stink-pot into its mid-section.
    The traders paddled for their lives away,
    Nor came again into that haunted bay,
    The blessed home thereafter of Protection.

    Then down he sat, that philanthropic man,
    And spat upon some mud of his selection,
    And worked it, with his knuckles in a pan,
    To shapes of shells and coral things, and span
    A thread of song in glory of Protection.

    He baked them in the sun. His air devout
    Enchanted me. I made a genuflexion:
    "God help you, gentle sir," I said. "No doubt,"
    He answered gravely, "I'll get on without
    Assistance now that we have got Protection."

    Thenceforth I bought his wares--at what a price
    For shells and corals of such imperfection!
    "Ah, now," said he, "your lot is truly nice."
    But still in all that isle there was no spice
    To season to my taste that dish, Protection.

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. An Explanation

    "I NEVER yet exactly could determine
    Just how it is that the judicial ermine
    Is kept so safely from predacious vermin."

    "It is not so, my friend: though in a garret
    'Tis kept in camphor, and you often air it,
    The vermin will get into it and wear it."

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. Constancy

    "DULL were the days and sober,
    The mountains were brown and bare,
    For the season was sad October
    And a dirge was in the air.

    The mated starlings flew over
    To the isles of the southern sea.
    She wept for her warrior lover--
    Wept and exclaimed: "Ah, me!

    "Long years have I mourned my darling
    In his battle-bed at rest;
    And it's O, to be a starling,
    With a mate to share my nest!"

    The angels pitied her sorrow,
    Restoring her warrior's life;
    And he came to her arms on the morrow
    To claim her and take her to wife.

    An aged lover--a portly,
    Bald lover, a trifle too stiff,
    With manners that would have been courtly,
    And would have been graceful, if--

    If the angels had only restored him
    Without the additional years
    That had passed since the enemy bored him
    To death with their long, sharp spears.

    As it was, he bored her, and she rambled
    Away with her father's young groom,
    And the old lover smiled as he ambled
    Contentedly back to the tomb.

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. Two Rogues

    "DIM, grim, and silent as a ghost,
    The sentry occupied his post,
    To all the stirrings of the night
    Alert of ear and sharp of sight.
    A sudden something--sight or sound,
    About, above, or underground,
    He knew not what, nor where--ensued,
    Thrilling the sleeping solitude.
    The soldier cried: "Halt! Who goes there?"
    The answer came: "Death--in the air."
    "Advance, Death--give the countersign,
    Or perish if you cross that line!"
    To change his tone Death thought it wise--
    Reminded him they 'd been allies
    Against the Russ, the Frank, the Turk,
    In many a bloody bit of work.
    "In short," said he, "in every weather
    We've soldiered, you and I, together."
    The sentry would not let him pass.
    "Go back," he growled, "you tiresome ass--
    Go back and rest till the next war,
    Nor kill by methods all abhor:
    Miasma, famine, filth and vice,
    With plagues of locusts, plagues of lice,
    Foul food, foul water, and foul gases,
    Rank exhalations from morasses.
    If you employ such low allies
    This business you will vulgarize.
    Renouncing then the field of fame
    To wallow in a waste of shame,
    I'll prostitute my strength and lurk
    About the country doing work--
    These hands to labor I'll devote,
    Nor cut, by Heaven, another throat!"

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. Beecher

    SO, BEECHER'S dead. His was a great soul, too--
    Great as a giant organ is, whose reeds
    Hold in them all the souls of all the creeds
    That man has ever taught and never knew.

    When on this mighty instrument He laid
    His hand Who fashioned it, our common moan
    Was suppliant in its thundering. The tone
    Grew more vivacious when the Devil played.

    No more those luring harmonies we hear,
    And lo! already men forget the sound.
    They turn, retracing all the dubious ground
    O'er which it led them, pigwise, by the ear.

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. Fallen

    O, HADST thou died when thou wert great,
    When at thy feet a nation knelt
    To sob the gratitude it felt
    And thank the Saviour of the State,
    Gods might have envied thee thy fate!

    Then was the laurel round thy brow,
    And friend and foe spoke praise of thee,
    While all our hearts sang victory.
    Alas! thou art too base to bow
    To hide the shame that brands it now.

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. One Morning

    BECAUSE that I am weak, my love, and ill,
    I cannot follow the impatient feet
    Of my desire, but sit and watch the beat
    Of the unpitying pendulum fulfill
    The hour appointed for the air to thrill
    And brighten at your coming. O my sweet,
    The tale of moments is at last complete--
    The tryst is broken on the gusty hill!
    O lady, faithful-footed, loyal-eyed,
    The long leagues silence me; yet doubt me not;
    Think rather that the clock and sun have lied
    And all too early, you have sought the spot.
    For lo! despair has darkened all the light,
    And till I see your face it still is night.

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. A Guest

    DEATH, are you well? I trust you have no cough
    That's painful or in any way annoying--
    No kidney trouble that may carry you off,
    Or heart disease to keep you from enjoying
    Your meals--and ours. 'T were very sad indeed
    To have to quit the busy life you lead.

    You've been quite active lately for so old
    A person, and not very strong-appearing.
    I'm apprehensive, somehow, that my bold,
    Bad brother gave you trouble in the spearing.
    And my two friends--I fear, sir, that you ran
    Quite hard for them, especially the man.

    I crave your pardon: 'twas no fault of mine;
    If you are overworked I'm sorry, very.
    Come in, old man, and have a glass of wine.
    What shall it be--Marsala, Port or Sherry?
    What! just a mug of blood? That's funny grog
    To ask a friend for, eh? Well, take it, hog!

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. Bimetalism

    BEN Bulger was a silver man,
       Though not a mine had he:
    He thought it were a noble plan
       To make the coinage free.

    "There hain't for years been sech a time,"
       Said Ben to his bull pup,
    "For biz--the country's broke and I'm
       The hardest kind of up.

    "The paper says that that's because
       The silver coins is sea'ce,
    And that the chaps which makes the laws
       Puts gold ones in their place.

    "They says them nations always be
       Most prosperatin' where
    The wolume of the currency
       Ain't so disgustin' rare."

    His dog, which hadn't breakfasted,
       Dissented from his view,
    And wished that he could swell, instead,
       The volume of cold stew.

    "Nobody'd put me up," said Ben,
       "With patriot galoots
    Which benefits their feller men
       By playin' warious roots;

    "But havin' all the tools about,
       I'm goin' to commence
    A-turnin' silver dollars out
       Wuth eighty-seven cents.

    "The feller takin' 'em can't whine:
       (No more, likewise, can I):
    They're better than the genooine,
       Which mostly satisfy.

    "It's only makin' coinage free,
       And mebby might augment
    The wolume of the currency
       A noomerous per cent."

    I don't quite see his error nor
       Malevolence prepense,
    But fifteen years they gave him for
       That technical offense.

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. Bereavement

    A COUNTESS (so they tell the tale)
    Who dwelt of old in Arno's vale,
    Where ladies, even of high degree,
    Know more of love than of A.B.C,
    Came once with a prodigious bribe
    Unto the learned village scribe,
    That most discreet and honest man
    Who wrote for all the lover clan,
    Nor e'er a secret had betrayed--
    Save when inadequately paid.
    "Write me," she sobbed--"I pray thee do--
    A book about the Prince di Giu--
    A book of poetry in praise
    Of all his works and all his ways;
    The godlike grace of his address,
    His more than woman's tenderness,
    His courage stern and lack of guile,
    The loves that wantoned in his smile.
    So great he was, so rich and kind,
    I'll not within a fortnight find
    His equal as a lover. O,
    My God! I shall be drowned in woe!"

    "What! Prince di Giu has died!" exclaimed
    The honest man for letters famed,
    The while he pocketed her gold;
    "Of what'?--if I may be so bold."
    Fresh storms of tears the lady shed:
    "I stabbed him fifty times," she said.

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. A Builder

    I SAW the devil--he was working free:
    A customs-house he builded by the sea.
    "Why do you this?" The devil raised his head;
    "Churches and courts I've built enough," he said.

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. An Example

    THEY were two deaf mutes, and they loved and they
       Resolved to be groom and bride;
    And they listened to nothing that any could say,
       Nor ever a word replied.

    From wedlock when warned by the married men,
       Maintain an invincible mind:
    Be deaf and dumb until wedded--and then
       Be deaf and dumb and blind.

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. Election Day

    DESPOTS effete upon tottering thrones
    Unsteadily poised upon dead men's bones,
    Walk up! walk up! the circus is free,
    And this wonderful spectacle you shall see:
    Millions of voters who mostly are fools--
    Demagogues' dupes and candidates' tools,
    Armies of uniformed mountebanks,
    And braying disciples of brainless cranks.
    Many a week they've bellowed like beeves,
    Bitterly blackguarding, lying like thieves,
    Libeling freely the quick and the dead
    And painting the New Jerusalem red.
    Tyrants monarchical--emperors, kings,
    Princes and nobles and all such things--
    Noblemen, gentlemen, step this way:
    There's nothing, the Devil excepted, to pay,
    And the freaks and curios here to be seen
    Are very uncommonly grand and serene.

    No more with vivacity they debate,
    Nor cheerfully crack the illogical pate;
    No longer, the dull understanding to aid,
    The stomach accepts the instructive blade,
    Nor the stubborn heart learns what is what
    From a revelation of rabbit-shot;
    And vilification's flames--behold!
    Burn with a bickering faint and cold.

    Magnificent spectacle!--every tongue
    Suddenly civil that yesterday rung
    (Like a clapper beating a brazen bell)
    Each fair reputation's eternal knell;
    Hands no longer delivering blows,
    And noses, for counting, arrayed in rows.

    Walk up, gentlemen--nothing to pay--
    The Devil goes back to Hell to-day.

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. A Bit of Science

    WHAT! photograph in colors? 'Tis a dream
    And he who dreams it is not overwise,
    If colors are vibration they but seem,
    And have no being. But if Tyndall lies,
    Why, come, then--photograph my lady's eyes.
    Nay, friend, you can't; the splendor of their blue,
    As on my own beclouded orbs they rest,
    To naught but vibratory motion's due,
    As heart, head, limbs and all I am attest.
    How could her eyes, at rest themselves, be making
    In me so uncontrollable a shaking?

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. Presentiment

    WITH saintly grace and reverent tread,
    She walked among the graves with me;
    Her every foot-fall seemed to be
    A benediction on the dead.

    The guardian spirit of the place
    She seemed, and I some ghost forlorn
    Surprised in the untimely morn
    She made with her resplendent face.

    Moved by some waywardness of will,
    Three paces from the path apart
    She stepped and stood--my prescient heart
    Was stricken with a passing chill.

    The folk-lore of the years agone
    Remembering, I smiled and thought:
    "Who shudders suddenly at naught,
    His grave is being trod upon."

    But now I know that it was more
    Than idle fancy. O, my sweet,
    I did not think such little feet
    Could make a buried heart so sore!

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. To-Day

    I SAW a man who knelt in prayer,
    And heard him say:
    "I'll lay my inmost spirit bare
         To-day.

    "Lord, for to-morrow and its need
    I do not pray;
    Let me upon my neighbor feed
         To-day.

    "Let me my duty duly shirk
    And run away
    From any form or phase of work
         To-day.

    "From Thy commands exempted still
    Let me obey
    The promptings of my private will
         To-day.

    "Let me no word profane, no lie
    Unthinking say
    If anyone is standing by
         To-day.

    "My secret sins and vices grave
    Let none betray;
    The scoffer's jeers I do not crave
         To-day.

    "And if to-day my fortune all
    Should ebb away,
    Help me on other men's to fall
         To-day.

    "So, for to-morrow and its mite
    I do not pray;
    Just give me everything in sight
         To-day."

    I cried: "Amen!" He rose and ran
    Like oil away.
    I said: "I've seen an honest man
         To-day."

    Ambrose Bierce

 

. The Birth of Virtue

    WHEN, long ago, the young world circling flew
    Through wider reaches of a richer blue,
    New-eyed, the men and maids saw, manifest,
    The thoughts untold in one another's breast:
    Each wish displayed, and every passion learned--
    A look revealed them as a look discerned.
    But sating Time with clouds o'ercast their eyes;
    Desire was hidden, and the lips framed lies.
    A goddess then, emerging from the dust,
    Fair Virtue rose, the daughter of Distrust.

    Ambrose Bierce



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