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A Word To The Unwise

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

Charles Main, of Main & Winchester, attend
With friendly ear the chit-chat of a friend
Who knows you not, yet knows that you and he
Travel two roads that have a common end.

We journey forward through the time allowed,
I humbly bending, you erect and proud.
Our heads alike will stable soon the worm
The one that's lifted, and the one that's bowed.

You in your mausoleum shall repose,
I where it pleases Him who sleep bestows;
What matter whether one so little worth
Shall stain the marble or shall feed the rose?

Charles Main, I had a friend who died one day.
A metal casket held his honored clay.
Of cyclopean architecture stood
The splendid vault where he was laid away.

A dozen years, and lo! the roots of grass
Had burst asunder all the joints; the brass,
The gilded ornaments, the carven stones
Lay tumbled all together in a mass.

A dozen years! That taxes your belief.
Make it a thousand if the time's too brief.
'Twill be the same to you; when you are dead
You cannot even count your days of grief.

Suppose a pompous monument you raise
Till on its peak the solar splendor blaze
While yet about its base the night is black;
But will it give your glory length of days?

Say, when beneath your rubbish has been thrown,
Some rogue to reputation all unknown
Men's backs being turned-should lift his thieving hand,
Efface your name and substitute his own.

Whose then would be the monument? To whom
Would be the fame? Forgotten in your gloom,
Your very name forgotten-ah, my friend,
The name is all that's rescued by the tomb.

For memory of worth and work we go
To other records than a stone can show.
These lacking, naught remains; with these
The stone is needless for the world will know.

Then build your mausoleum if you must,
And creep into it with a perfect trust;
But in the twinkling of an eye the plow
Shall pass without obstruction through your dust.

Another movement of the pendulum,
And, lo! the desert-haunting wolf shall come,
And, seated on the spot, shall howl by night
O'er rotting cities, desolate and dumb.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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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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