The Five Nations/The Old Men
THE OLD MEN
This is our lot if we live so long and labour unto the end—
That we outlive the impatient years and the much too patient friend;
And because we know we have breath in our mouth and think we have thought in our head,
We shall assume that we are alive, whereas we are really dead.
We shall not acknowledge that old stars fade or alien planets arise
(That the sere bush buds or the desert blooms or the ancient well-head dries),
Or any new compass wherewith new men adventure 'neath new skies.
We shall lift up the ropes that constrained our youth to bind on our children's hands;
We shall call to the water below the bridges to return and replenish our lands;
We shall harness horses (Death's own pale horses) and scholarly plough the sands.
We shall lie down in the eye of the sun for lack of a light on our way—
We shall rise up when the day is done and chirrup, "Behold, it is day!"
We shall abide till the battle is won ere we amble into the fray.
We shall peck out and discuss and dissect, and evert and extrude to our mind,
The flaccid tissues of long-dead issues offensive to God and mankind—
(Precisely like vultures over an ox that the Army has left behind).
We shall make walk preposterous ghosts of the glories we once created—
(Immodestly smearing from muddled palettes amazing pigments mismated)
And our friends will weep when we ask them with boasts if our natural force be abated.
The Lamp of our Youth will be utterly out: but we shall subsist on the smell of it,
And whatever we do, we shall fold our hands and suck our gums and think well of it.
Yes, we shall be perfectly pleased with our work, and that is the perfectest Hell of it!
This is our lot if we live so long and listen to those who love us—
That we are shunned by the people about and shamed by the Powers above us.
Wherefore be free of your harness betimes; but being free be assured,
That he who hath not endured to the death, from his birth he hath never endured!