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How Good Are The Poor
by [?]

(“Il est nuit. La cabane est pauvre.”)

[Bk. LII. iii.]

‘Tis night–within the close stout cabin door,
The room is wrapped in shade save where there fall
Some twilight rays that creep along the floor,
And show the fisher’s nets upon the wall.

In the dim corner, from the oaken chest,
A few white dishes glimmer; through the shade
Stands a tall bed with dusky curtains dressed,
And a rough mattress at its side is laid.

Five children on the long low mattress lie–
A nest of little souls, it heaves with dreams;
In the high chimney the last embers die,
And redden the dark room with crimson gleams.

The mother kneels and thinks, and pale with fear,
She prays alone, hearing the billows shout:
While to wild winds, to rocks, to midnight drear,
The ominous old ocean sobs without.

Poor wives of fishers! Ah! ’tis sad to say,
Our sons, our husbands, all that we love best,
Our hearts, our souls, are on those waves away,
Those ravening wolves that know not ruth, nor rest.

Think how they sport with these beloved forms;
And how the clarion-blowing wind unties
Above their heads the tresses of the storms:
Perchance even now the child, the husband, dies.

For we can never tell where they may be
Who, to make head against the tide and gale,
Between them and the starless, soulless sea
Have but one bit of plank, with one poor sail.

Terrible fear! We seek the pebbly shore,
Cry to the rising billows, “Bring them home.”
Alas! what answer gives their troubled roar,
To the dark thought that haunts us as we roam.

Janet is sad: her husband is alone,
Wrapped in the black shroud of this bitter night:

His children are so little, there is none
To give him aid. “Were they but old, they might.”
Ah, mother! when they too are on the main,
How wilt thou weep: “Would they were young again!”

She takes his lantern–’tis his hour at last
She will go forth, and see if the day breaks,
And if his signal-fire be at the mast;
Ah, no–not yet–no breath of morning wakes.

No line of light o’er the dark water lies;
It rains, it rains, how black is rain at morn:
The day comes trembling, and the young dawn cries–
Cries like a baby fearing to be born.

Sudden her humane eyes that peer and watch
Through the deep shade, a mouldering dwelling find,
No light within–the thin door shakes–the thatch
O’er the green walls is twisted of the wind,

Yellow, and dirty, as a swollen rill,
“Ah, me,” she saith, “here does that widow dwell;
Few days ago my good man left her ill:
I will go in and see if all be well.”

She strikes the door, she listens, none replies,
And Janet shudders. “Husbandless, alone,
And with two children–they have scant supplies.
Good neighbor! She sleeps heavy as a stone.”

She calls again, she knocks, ’tis silence still;
No sound–no answer–suddenly the door,
As if the senseless creature felt some thrill
Of pity, turned–and open lay before.

She entered, and her lantern lighted all
The house so still, but for the rude waves’ din.
Through the thin roof the plashing rain-drops fall,
But something terrible is couched within.

* * * * *

“So, for the kisses that delight the flesh,
For mother’s worship, and for children’s bloom,
For song, for smile, for love so fair and fresh,
For laugh, for dance, there is one goal–the tomb.”

And why does Janet pass so fast away?
What hath she done within that house of dread?
What foldeth she beneath her mantle gray?
And hurries home, and hides it in her bed:
With half-averted face, and nervous tread,
What hath she stolen from the awful dead?