A Bad Night

Ambrose Bierce 1842 (Meigs County) – 1914 (Chihuahua)



DRAMATIS PERSONAE.

VILLIAM _a Sen_
NEEDLESON _a Sidniduc_
SMILER _a Scheister_
KI-YI _a Trader_
GRIMGHAST _a Spader_
SARALTHIA _a Love-lorn Nymph_
NELLIBRAC _a Sweetun_

A BODY; A GHOST; AN UNMENTIONABLE THING; SKULLS;
HOODOOS; ETC.

_Scene_-a Cemetery in San Francisco.

_Saralthia, Nellibrac, Grimghast._

SARALTHIA:

The red half-moon is dipping to the west,
And the cold fog invades the sleeping land.
Lo! how the grinning skulls in the level light
Litter the place! Methinks that every skull
Is a most lifelike portrait of my Sen,
Drawn by the hand of Death; each fleshless pate,
Cursed with a ghastly grin to eyes unrubbed
With love's magnetic ointment, seems to mine
To smile an amiable smile like his
Whose amiable smile I-I alone
Am able to distinguish from his leer!
See how the gathering coyotes flit
Through the lit spaces, or with burning eyes
Star the black shadows with a steadfast gaze!
About my feet the poddy toads at play,
Bulbously comfortable, try to hop,
And tumble clumsily with all their warts;
While pranking lizards, sliding up and down
My limbs, as they were public roads, impart
A singularly interesting chill.
The circumstance and passion of the time,
The cast and manner of the place-the spirit
Of this confederate environment,
Command the rights we come to celebrate
Obedient to the Inspired Hag-
The seventh daughter of the seventh daughter,
Who rules all destinies from Minna street,
A dollar a destiny. Here at this grave,
Which for my purposes thou, Jack of Spades-
_(To Grimghast_)
Corrupter than the thing that reeks below-
Hast opened secretly, we'll work the charm.
Now what's the hour?
_(Distant clock strikes thirteen_.)
Enough-hale forth the stiff!

_(Grimghast by means of a boat-hook stands the coffin on end
in the excavation; the lid crumbles, exposing the remains of a
man.)_

Ha! Master Mouldybones, how fare you, sir?

THE BODY:

Poorly, I thank your ladyship; I miss
Some certain fingers and an ear or two.
There's something, too, gone wrong with my inside,
And my periphery's not what it was.
How can we serve each other, you and I?

NELLIBRAC:

O what a personable man!

_(Blushes bashfully, drops her eyes and twists the corner of
her apron_.)

SARALTHIA:

Yes, dear,
A very proper and alluring male,
And quite superior to Lubin Rroyd,
Who has, however, this distinct advantage-
He is alive.

GRIMGHAST:

Missus, these yer remains
Was the boss singer back in '72,
And used to allers git invites to go
Down to Swellmont and sing at every feed.
In t'other Villiam's time, that was, afore
The gent that you've hooked onto bought the place.

THE BODY _(singing):_

Down among the sainted dead
Many years I lay;
Beetles occupied my head,
Moles explored my clay.

There we feasted day and night-
I and bug and beast;
They provided appetite
And I supplied the feast.

The raven is a dicky-bird,

SARALTHIA _(singing):_

The jackal is a daisy,

NELLIBRAC _(singing):_

The wall-mouse is a worthy third,

A SPOOK _(singing):_

But mortals all are crazy.

CHORUS OF SKULLS:

O mortals all are crazy,
Their intellects are hazy;
In the growing moon they shake their shoon
And trip it in the mazy.

But when the moon is waning,
Their senses they're regaining:
They fall to prayer and from their hair
Remove the straws remaining.

SARALTHIA:

That's right, Rogues Gallery, pray keep it up:
Your song recalls my Villiam's 'Auld Lang Syne,'
What time he came and (like an amorous bird
That struts before the female of its kind,
Warbling to cave her down the bank) piped high
His cracked falsetto out of reach. Enough-
Now let's to business. Nellibrac, sweet child,
St. Cloacina's future devotee,
The time is ripe and rotten-gut the grip!

_(Nellibrac brings forward a valise and takes from it five
articles of clothing, which, one by one, she lays upon the points
of a magic pentagram that has thoughtfully inscribed itself in
lines of light on the wet grass. The Body holds its late lamented
nose.)_

NELLIBRAC _(singing):_

Fragrant socks, by Villiam's toes
Consecrated to the nose;

Shirt that shows the well worn track
Of the knuckles of his back,

Handkerchief with mottled stains,
Into which he blew his brains;

Collar crying out for soap-
Prop
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on April 27, 2023

3:38 min read
492

Quick analysis:

Scheme ABCCCDA EB B F FFFXAFFAXACFXXGHXAFXXFFFBCFDXFXXCAD FXI C XXFXX A DA CXFXD JABFCX I FGFG FFFF F K F I K E KKAE BBCB XAFFDDFFX DXAFI LL BB JJ XH
Closest metre Iambic tetrameter
Characters 4,028
Words 714
Stanzas 29
Stanza Lengths 7, 2, 1, 1, 35, 3, 1, 5, 1, 2, 5, 6, 1, 4, 4, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 4, 4, 9, 5, 2, 2, 2, 2

Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce was an American editorialist, journalist, short story writer, fabulist, and satirist. more…

All Ambrose Bierce poems | Ambrose Bierce Books

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