Pieces People Ask For/An Unknown Man, Respectably Dressed

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"AN UNKNOWN MAN, RESPECTABLY DRESSED."

"An unknown man, respectably dressed,"
That was all that the record said:
Wondering pity might guess the rest;
One thing was sure,—the man was dead.
 
And dead, because he'd no heart to live;
His courage had faltered, and failed the test:
How little the all we now can give,—
A nameless sod to cover his breast!

"Respectably dressed!" The thoughtless read
The sentence over, and idly say,—
"What was it, then, since it was not need,
Which made him thus fling his life away?"

"Respectably dressed!" How little they know,
Who never have been for money pressed,
What it costs respectable poor to go,
Day after day, "respectably dressed!"

The beggars on sidewalks suffer less;
They herd all together, clan and clan;
Alike and equal in wretchedness,
No room for pride between man and man.

Nothing to lose by rags or by dirt,
More often something is gained instead;
Nothing to fear but bodily hurt,
Nothing to hope for save daily bread.

But respectable poor have all to lose;
For the world to know, means loss and shame;
They'd rather die, if they had to choose;
They cling as for life to place and name,—

Cling, and pretend, and conceal and hide;
Never an hour but its terror bears;
Terror which slinks like guilt to one side,
And often a guiltier countenance wears.

"Respectably dressed" to the last; ay, last!
Last dollar, last crust, last proud pulse-beat;
Starved body, starved soul, hope dead and past:
What wonder that any death looks sweet?

"An unknown man, respectably dressed,"
That was all that the record said.
When will the question let us rest,—
Is it fault of ours that the man was dead?

Helen Jackson.