by: Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)
- f life's elixir I had writ, when sleep
- (Pray Heaven it spared him who the writing read!)
- Sealed 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.
POEMS BY AMBROSE BIERCE
|"Elixer Vitae" is reprinted from Shapes of Clay. Ambrose Bierce. San Francisco: W. E. Wood, 1903.