Old Men Complaining - Poem by Padraic Colum
First Old Man
He threw his crutched stick down: there came
Into his face the anger flame,
And he spoke viciously of one
Who thwarted him—his son’s son.
He turned his head away.—“I hate
Absurdity of language, prate
From growing fellows. We’d not stay
About the house the whole of a day
When we were young,
Keeping no job and giving tongue!
“Not us in troth! We would not come
For bit or sup, but stay from home
If we gave answers, or we’d creep
Back to the house, and in we’d peep
Just like a corncrake.
“My grandson and his comrades take
A piece of coal from you, from me
A log, or sod of turf, maybe;
And in some empty place they’ll light
A fire, and stay there all night,
A wisp of lads! Now understand
The blades of grass under my hand
Would be destroyed by company!
There’s no good company: we go
With what is lowest to the low!
He stays up late, and how can he
Rise early? Sure he lags in bed,
And she is worn to a thread
With calling him—his grandmother.
She’s an old woman, and she must make
Stir when the birds are half awake
In dread he’d lose this job like the other!”
Second Old Man
“They brought yon fellow over here,
And set him up for an overseer:
Though men from work are turned away
That thick-necked fellow draws full pay—
Three pounds a week…. They let burn down
The timber yard behind the town
Where work was good; though firemen stand
In boots and brasses big and grand
The crow of a cock away from the place.
And with the yard they let burn too
The clock in the tower, the clock I knew
As well as I know the look in my face.”
Third Old Man
“The fellow you spoke of has broken his bounds—
He came to skulk inside of these grounds:
Behind the bushes he lay down
And stretched full hours in the sun.
He rises now, and like a crane
He looks abroad. He’s off again:
Three pounds a week, and still he owes
Money in every street he goes,
Hundreds of pounds where we’d not get
The second shilling of a debt.”
First Old Man
“Old age has every impediment
Vexation and discontent;
The rich have more than we: for bit
The cut of bread, and over it
The scrape of hog’s lard, and for sup
Warm water in a cup.
But different sorts of feeding breaks
The body more than fasting does
With pains and aches.
“I’m not too badly off, for I
Have pipe and tobacco, a place to lie,
A nook to myself; but from my hand
Is taken the strength to back command—
I’m broken, and there’s gone from me
The privilege of authority.”
I heard them speak—
The old men heavy on the sod,
Letting their angers come
Between them and the thought of God.
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