Ella Wheeler Wilcox

(5 November 1850 - 30 October 1919 / Johnstown Center / Rock County / Wisconsin)

The Signboard


I will paint you a sign, rumseller,
And hang it above your door;
A truer and better signboard
Than ever you had before.
I will paint with the skill of a master,
And many shall pause to see
This wonderful piece of painting,
So like the reality.

I will paint yourself, rumseller,
As you wait for that fair young boy,
Just in the morning of manhood,
A mother’s pride and joy.
He has no thought of stopping,
But you greet him with a smile
And you seem so blithe and friendly,
That he pauses a chat awhile.

I will paint you again, rumseller,
I will paint you as you stand,
With a foaming glass of liquor
Extended in your hand.
He wavers, but you urge him –
Drink, pledge me just this one!
And he takes the glass and drains it,
And the hellish work is done.

And next I will paint a drunkard –
Only a year has flown,
But into that loathesome creature
The fair young boy has grown.
The work was sure and rapid.
I will paint him as he lies
In a torpid, drunken slumber,
Under the wintry skies.

I will paint the form of the mother
As she kneels at her darling’s side,
Her beautiful boy that was dearer
Than all the world beside.
I will paint the shape of a coffin
Labelled with one word – ‘Lost’
I will paint all this, rumseller,
And will paint it free of cost.

The sin and the shame and the sorrow,
The crime and the want and the woe
That are born there in your workshop,
No hand can paint, you know
But I’ll paint you a sign, rumseller,
And many shall pause to view
This wonderful swinging signboard,
So terribly, fearfully true.

Submitted: Monday, May 26, 2003

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