English Literature » Mark Twain » To the Above Old People

To the Above Old People by

Sleep! for the Sun that scores another Day
Against the Tale allotted You to stay,
Reminding You, is Risen, and now
Serves Notice–ah, ignore it while You stay!

The chill Wind blew, and those who stood before
The Tavern murmured, ‘Having drunk his Score,
Why tarries He with empty Cup? Behold,
The Wine of Youth once poured, is poured no more

‘Come, leave the Cup, and on the Winter’s Snow
Your Summer Garment of Enjoyment throw:
Your Tide of Life is ebbing fast, and it,
Exhausted once, for You no more shall flow.’

While yet the Phantom of false Youth was mine,
I heard a Voice from out the Darkness whine,
‘O Youth, O whither gone? Return,
And bathe my Age in thy reviving Wine.’

In this subduing Draught of tender green
And kindly Absinth, with its wimpling Sheen
Of dusky half-lights, let me drown
The haunting Pathos of the Might-Have-Been.

For every nickeled Joy, marred and brief,
We pay some day its Weight in golden Grief
Mined from our Hearts. Ah, murmur not–
From this one-sided Bargain dream of no Relief!

The Joy of Life, that streaming through their Veins
Tumultuous swept, falls slack–and wanes
The Glory in the Eye–and one by one
Life’s Pleasures perish and make place for Pains.

Whether one hide in some secluded Nook–
Whether at Liverpool or Sandy Hook–
‘Tis one. Old Age will search him out–and He–
He–He–when ready will know where to look.

From Cradle unto Grave I keep a House
OF Entertainment where may drowse
Bacilli and kindred Germs–or feed–or breed
Their festering Species in a deep Carouse.

Think–in this battered Caravanserai,
Whose Portals open stand all Night and Day,
How Microbe after Microbe with his Pomp
Arrives unasked, and comes to stay.

Our ivory Teeth, confessing to the Lust
Of masticating, once, now own Disgust
Of Clay-Plug’d Cavities–full soon our Snags
Are emptied, and our Mouths are filled with Dust.

Our Gums forsake the Teeth and tender grow,
And fat, like over-riped Figs–we know
The Sign–the Riggs’ Disease is ours, and we
Must list this Sorrow, add another Woe;

Our Lungs begin to fail and soon we Cough,
And chilly Streaks play up our Backs, and off
Our fever’d Foreheads drips an icy Sweat–
We scoffered before, but now we may not scoff.

Some for the Bunions that afflict us prate~` Of Plasters unsurpassable, and hate
To Cut a corn–ah cut, and let the Plaster go,
Nor murmur if the Solace come too late.

Some for the Honours of Old Age, and some
Long for its Respite from the Hum
And Clash of sordid Strife–O Fools,
The Past should teach them what’s to Come:

Lo, for the Honours, cold Neglect instead!
For Respite, disputatious Heirs a Bed
Of Thorns for them will furnish. Go,
Seek not Here for Peace–but Yonder–with the Dead.

For whether Zal and Rustam heed this Sign,
And even smitten thus, will not repine,
Let Zal and Rustam shuffle as they may,
The Fine once levied they must Cash the Fine.

O Voices of the Long Ago that were so dear!
Fall’n Silent, now, for many a Mould’ring Year,
O whither are ye flown? Come back,
And break my heart, but bless my grieving ear.

Some happy Day my Voice will Silent fall,
And answer not when some that love it call:
Be glad for Me when this you note–and think
I’ve found the Voices lost, beyond the Pall.

So let me grateful drain the Magic Bowl
That medicines hurt Minds and on the Soul
The Healing of its Peace doth lay–if then
Death claim me–Welcome be his Dole!

SANNA, SWEDEN, September 15th.

Private.–If you don’t know what Riggs’s Disease of the Teeth is, the dentist will tell you. I’ve had it–and it is more than interesting.



Fearing that there might be some mistake, we submitted a proof of this article to the (American) gentlemen named in it, and asked them to correct any errors of detail that might have crept in among the facts. They reply with some asperity that errors cannot creep in among facts where there are no facts for them to creep in among; and that none are discoverable in this article, but only baseless aberrations of a disordered mind. They have no recollection of any such night in Boston, nor elsewhere; and in their opinion there was never any such night. They have met Mr. Twain, but have had the prudence not to intrust any privacies to him–particularly under oath; and they think they now see that this prudence was justified, since he has been untrustworthy enough to even betray privacies which had no existence. Further, they think it a strange thing that Mr. Twain, who was never invited to meddle with anybody’s boyhood dreams but his own, has been so gratuitously anxious to see that other people’s are placed before the world that he has quite lost his head in his zeal and forgotten to make any mention of his own at all. Provided we insert this explanation, they are willing to let his article pass; otherwise they must require its suppression in the interest of truth.

P.S.–These replies having left us in some perplexity, and also in some fear lest they distress Mr. Twain if published without his privity, we judged it but fair to submit them to him and give him an opportunity to defend himself. But he does not seem to be troubled, or even aware that he is in a delicate situation. He merely says: ‘Do not worry about those former young people. They can write good literature, but when it comes to speaking the truth, they have not had my training.–MARK TWAIN.’ The last sentence seems obscure, and liable to an unfortunate construction. It plainly needs refashioning, but we cannot take the responsibility of doing it.–EDITOR.

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