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The Old Vagabond

Pierre-Jean de Béranger

Here in the ditch my bones I'll lay;
Weak, wearied, old, the world I leave.
"He's drunk," the passing crowd will say
'T is well, for none will need to grieve.

Some turn their scornful heads away,
Some fling an alms in hurrying by; --
Haste, 't is the village holyday!
The aged beggar needs no help to die.

Yes! here, alone, of sheer old age I die;
For hunger slays not all.
I hoped my misery's closing page
To fold within some hospital;

But crowded thick is each retreat,
Such numbers now in misery lie.
Alas! my cradle was the street!
As he was born the aged wretch must die.

In youth, of workmen, o'er and o'er,
I've asked, "Instruct me in your trade."
"Begone! our business is not more
Than keeps ourselves, go, beg!" they said.

Ye rich, who bade me toil for bread,
Of bones your tables gave me store,
Your straw has often made my bed; --
In death I lay no curses at your door.

Thus poor, I might have turned to theft; --
No! better still for alms to pray!
At most, I've plucked some apple, left
To ripen near the public way,

Yet weeks and weeks, in dungeons laid
In the king's name, they let me pine;
They stole the only wealth I had, --
Though poor and old, the sun, at least, was mine.

What country has the poor to claim --
What boots to me your corn and wine,
Your busy toil, your vaunted fame,
The senate where your speakers shine?

Once, when your homes, by war o'erswept,
Saw strangers battening on your land,
Like any puling fool, I wept!
The aged wretch was nourished by their hand.

Mankind! why trod you not the worm,
The noxious thing, beneath your heel?
Ah! had you taught me to perform
Due labor for the common weal!

Then, sheltered from the adverse wind,
The worm and ant had learned to grow;
Ay, -- then I might have loved my kind; --
The aged beggar dies your bitter foe!

Home :: Poetry :: Protest (5) :: The Old Vagabond

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