Elixer Vitæ - Poem by Ambrose Bierce
Of life's elixir I had writ, when sleep
(Pray Heaven it spared him who the writing read!)
Settled upon my senses with so deep
A stupefaction that men thought me dead.
The centuries stole by with noiseless tread,
Like spectres in the twilight of my dream;
I saw mankind in dim procession sweep
Through life, oblivion at each extreme.
Meanwhile my beard, like Barbarossa's growing,
Loaded my lap and o'er my knees was flowing.
The generations came with dance and song,
And each observed me curiously there.
Some asked: 'Who was he?' Others in the throng
Replied: 'A wicked monk who slept at prayer.'
Some said I was a saint, and some a bear-
These all were women. So the young and gay,
Visibly wrinkling as they fared along,
Doddered at last on failing limbs away;
Though some, their footing in my beard entangled,
Fell into its abysses and were strangled.
At last a generation came that walked
More slowly forward to the common tomb,
Then altogether stopped. The women talked
Excitedly; the men, with eyes agloom
Looked darkly on them with a look of doom;
And one cried out: 'We are immortal now-
How need we these?' And a dread figure stalked,
Silent, with gleaming axe and shrouded brow,
And all men cried: 'Decapitate the women,
Or soon there'll be no room to stand or swim in!'
So (in my dream) each lovely head was chopped
From its fair shoulders, and but men alone
Were left in all the world. Birth being stopped,
Enough of room remained in every zone,
And Peace ascended Woman's vacant throne.
Thus, life's elixir being found (the quacks
Their bread-and-butter in it gladly sopped)
'Twas made worth having by the headsman's axe.
Seeing which, I gave myself a hearty shaking,
And crumbled all to powder in the waking.
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