Last and Worst

UPON life’s highway I was hastening, when
I met a trouble grim,
Whom I had often seen with other men,
But I was far from him.
He seized my arm, and with a sneering lip
Looked o’er my happy past;
With sinking heart I felt his bony grip
Clutch tight and hold me fast.
“ You look,” he said, “ so happy and so bright
That I have come to see
Why other troubles miss you in their flight,
And what you ’ll do with me.”
“And have you come to stay with me?” I cried,
Hoping respite to win.
“ Yes, I have come to stay. Your world is wide ;
I’m crowded where I ’ve been.”
I would not look him in the face, but turned
To take him home with me
To all my other troubles, who had spurned
His hateful company.
So he was “crowded,” and with me would roam?
I laughed with sullen glee;
At arm’s-length took him up the steps of home
Under my own roof tree.
And there I clutched his scrawny neck and thin,
To thrust him in the room
Where, locked and barred, I kept my troubles, in
Seclusion’s friendly gloom.
Grimly he looked at me with eyes that burned:
“ You nothing know of me;
The key on other troubles may be turned,
But I — am Poverty.”
Ah! soon I knew it was in vain, in vain !
No locks availed for him ;
Nor double doors, nor thickly curtained pane,
Could make his presence dim.
He wrote his name on all my threadbare ways,
And in my shrinking air
He told the tale of useless shifts and stays
I made against despair.
He brushed the smile from off my sweet wife’s face,
And left an anxious frown;
The fresh young joys that should my children grace
His heavy feet trod down.
He took my other troubles out, and walked
With them the public street;
Clad in my sacred sorrows, cheaply talked
With all he chanced to meet.
The hours he stretched upon the rack of days,
The days to weeks of fears;
The weeks were months, whose weary, toilsome ways
Stretched out through hopeless years.
To-day I stooped to fan with eager strife
A single hope which glowed,
And ’mid the fading embers of my life
A fitful warmth bestowed.
Cheered by a spark, I turned with trembling limb
Once more the strife to wage;
But, as I turned I saw my trouble grim
Linking his arm with Age.
Old age and poverty, — here end the strife !
And ye, remorseless pair,
Drape on the last, dim mile-stone of my life
Your banner of despair.
Francis Ekin Allison.