By Edith Wharton
Like Crusoe with the bootless gold we stand
Upon the desert verge of death, and say:
“What shall avail the woes of yesterday
To buy to-morrow’s wisdom, in the land
Whose currency is strange unto our hand?
In life’s small market they had served to pay
Some late-found rapture, could we but delay
Till Time hath matched our means to our demand.”
But otherwise Fate wills it, for, behold,
Our gathered strength of individual pain,
When Time’s long alchemy hath made it gold,
Dies with us—hoarded all these years in vain,
Since those that might be heir to it the mould
Renew, and coin themselves new griefs again.
O Death, we come full-handed to thy gate,
Rich with strange burden of the mingled years,
Gains and renunciations, mirth and tears,
And love’s oblivion, and remembering hate,
Nor know we what compulsion laid such freight
Upon our souls—and shall our hopes and fears
Buy nothing of thee, Death? Behold our wares,
And sell us the one joy for which we wait.
Had we lived longer, like had such for sale,
With the last coin of sorrow purchased cheap,
But now we stand before thy shadowy pale,
And all our longings lie within thy keep—
Death, can it be the years shall naught avail?
“Not so,” Death answered, “they shall purchase sleep.”
Source: American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century (The Library of America, 1993)
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