The Woful Tale Of Mr. Peters

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

I should like, good friends, to mention the disaster which befell
Mr. William Perry Peters, of the town of Muscatel,
Whose fate is full of meaning, if correctly understood
Admonition to the haughty, consolation to the good.

It happened in the hot snap which we recently incurred,
When 'twas warm enough to carbonize the feathers of a bird,
And men exclaimed: 'By Hunky!' who were bad enough to swear,
And pious persons supervised their adjectives with care.

Mr. Peters was a pedagogue of honor and repute,
His learning comprehensive, multifarious, minute.
It was commonly conceded in the section whence he came
That the man who played against him needed knowledge of the game.

And some there were who whispered, in the town of Muscatel,
That besides the game of Draw he knew Orthography as well;
Though, the school directors, frigidly contemning that as stuff,
Thought that Draw (and maybe Spelling, if it pleased him) was enough.

Withal, he was a haughty man-indubitably great,
But too vain of his attainments and his power in debate.
His mien was contumelious to men of lesser gift:
'It's only _me_,' he said, 'can give the human mind a lift.

'Before a proper audience, if ever I've a chance,
You'll see me chipping in, the cause of Learning to advance.
Just let me have a decent chance to back my mental hand
And I'll come to center lightly in a way they'll understand.'

Such was William Perry Peters, and I feel a poignant sense
Of grief that I'm unable to employ the present tense;
But Providence disposes, be our scheming what it may,
And disposed of Mr. Peters in a cold, regardless way.

It occurred in San Francisco, whither Mr. Peters came
In the cause of Education, feeling still the holy flame
Of ambition to assist in lifting up the human mind
To a higher plane of knowledge than its Architect designed.

He attended the convention of the pedagogic host;
He was first in the Pavilion, he was last to leave his post.
For days and days he narrowly observed the Chairman's eye,
His efforts ineffectual to catch it on the fly.

The blessed moment came at last: the Chairman tipped his head.
'The gentleman from ah-um-er,' that functionary said.
The gentleman from ah-um-er reflected with a grin:
'They'll know me better by-and-by, when I'm a-chipping in.'

So William Perry Peters mounted cheerfully his feet
And straightway was aglow with an incalculable heat!
His face was as effulgent as a human face could be,
And caloric emanated from his whole periphery;

For he felt himself the focus of non-Muscatelish eyes,
And the pain of their convergence was a terror and surprise.
As with pitiless impaction all their heat-waves on him broke
He was seen to be evolving awful quantities of smoke!

'Put him out!' cried all in chorus; but the meaning wasn't clear
Of that succoring suggestion to his obfuscated ear;
And it notably augmented his incinerating glow
To regard himself excessive, or in any way _de trop_.

Gone was all his wild ambition to lift up the human mind!-
Gone the words he would have uttered!-gone the thought that lay behind!
For 'words that burn' may be consumed in a superior flame,
And 'thoughts that breathe' may breathe their last, and die a death of shame.

He'd known himself a shining light, but never had he known
Himself so very luminous as now he knew he shone.
'A pillar, I, of fire,' he'd said, 'to guide my race will be;'
And now that very inconvenient thing to him was he.

He stood there all irresolute; the seconds went and came;
The minutes passed and did but add fresh fuel to his flame.
How long he stood he knew not-'twas a century or more
And then that incandescent man levanted for the door!

He darted like a comet from the building to the street,
Where Fahrenheit attested ninety-five degrees of heat.
Vicissitudes of climate make the tenure of the breath
Precarious, and William Perry Peters froze to death!

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on March 12, 2023

3:27 min read

Quick analysis:

Closest metre Iambic heptameter
Characters 3,791
Words 685
Stanzas 17
Stanza Lengths 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4

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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