Pierre Jean de Beranger

(1780-1857 / France)

The Old Tramp - Poem by Pierre Jean de Beranger


Here in this gutter let me die:
Weary and sick and old, I've done.
'He's drunk,' will say the passers-by:
All right, I want no pity--none.
I see the heads that turn away,
While others glance and toss me sous:
'Off to your junket! go!' I say:
Old tramp,--to die I need no help from you.

Yes, of old age I'm dying now:
Of hunger people never die.
I hoped some almshouse might allow
A shelter when my end was nigh;
But all retreats are overflowed,
Such crowds are suffering and forlorn.
My nurse, alas! has been the road:
Old tramp,--here let me die where I was born.

When young, it used to be my prayer
To craftsmen, 'Let me learn your trade.'
'Clear out--we've got no work to spare;
Go beg,' was all reply they made.
You rich, who bade me work, I've fed
With relish on the bones you threw;
Made of your straw an easy bed:
Old tramp,--I have no curse to vent on you.

Poor wretch, I had the choice to steal;
But no, I'd rather beg my bread.
At most I thieved a wayside meal
Of apples ripening overhead.
Yet twenty times have I been thrown
In prison--'twas the King's decree;
Robbed of the only thing I own:
Old tramp,--at least the sun belongs to me.

The poor man--is a country his?
What are to me your corn and wine,
Your glory and your industries,
Your orators? They are not mine.
And when a foreign foe waxed fat
Within your undefended walls,
I shed my tears, poor fool, at that:
Old tramp,--his hand was open to my calls.

Why, like the hateful bug you kill,
Did you not crush me when you could?

Or better, teach me ways and skill
To labor for the common good?

The ugly grub an ant may end,
If sheltered from the cold and fed.

You might have had me for a friend:
Old tramp,--I die your enemy instead.

Another translation:


Here in the ditch my bones I'll lay;
Weak, wearied, old, the world I leave.
'He's drunk,' the passing crowd will say
'T is well, for none will need to grieve.
Some turn their scornful heads away,
Some fling an alms in hurrying by;--
Haste,--'t is the village holyday!
The aged beggar needs no help to die.

Yes! here, alone, of sheer old age
I die; for hunger slays not all.
I hoped my misery's closing page
To fold within some hospital;
But crowded thick is each retreat,
Such numbers now in misery lie.
Alas! my cradle was the street!
As he was born the aged wretch must die.

In youth, of workmen, o'er and o'er,
I've asked, 'Instruct me in your trade.'
'Begone!--our business is not more
Than keeps ourselves,--go, beg!' they said.
Ye rich, who bade me toil for bread,
Of bones your tables gave me store,
Your straw has often made my bed;--
In death I lay no curses at your door.

Thus poor, I might have turned to theft;--
No!--better still for alms to pray!
At most, I've plucked some apple, left
To ripen near the public way,
Yet weeks and weeks, in dungeons laid
In the king's name, they let me pine;
They stole the only wealth I had,--
Though poor and old, the sun, at least, was mine.

What country has the poor to claim?
What boots to me your corn and wine,
Your busy toil, your vaunted fame,
The senate where your speakers shine?
Once, when your homes, by war o'erswept,
Saw strangers battening on your land,
Like any puling fool, I wept!
The aged wretch was nourished by their hand.

Mankind! why trod you not the worm,
The noxious thing, beneath your heel?
Ah! had you taught me to perform
Due labor for the common weal!
Then, sheltered from the adverse wind,
The worm and ant had learned to grow;
Ay,--then I might have loved my kind;--
The aged beggar dies your bitter foe!

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, September 16, 2010

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