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"Death and the Drunkard" a poem from long ago

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"Death and the Drunkard" a poem from long ago

Posted 12-12-2014 at 05:45 PM by GerandTwine

I thought of posting something here today, and realized my last post was exactly one year ago, so I decided to follow fate.

Death and the Drunkard

His form was fair ; his cheek was health,
His word a bond ; his purse was wealth,
With wheat his fields were covered o'er ;
Plenty sat smiling at his door.
His wife the fount of ceaseless joy :
How laugh'd his daughter, play'd his boy :
His library, though large, was read
Till half its contents deck'd his head.
At morn 'twas health, wealth, pure delight ;
'Twas health, wealth, peace and bliss at night.
I wish'd not to disturb his bliss-
'Tis gone ; but all the fault was his.
...The social glass I saw him seize,
The more with festive wit to please,
Daily increas'd his love of cheer-
Ah, little thought he I was near ;
Gradual indulgence on him stole :
Frequent became the midnight bowl.
I in that bowl the head ache plac'd,
Which, with the juice, his lips embrac'd.
Shame next I mingled with the draught ;
Indignantly he drank and laugh'd.
In the bowl's bottom Bankruptcy
I plac'd - he drank with tears and glee.
Remorse then I did in it pour:
He only sought the bowl the more.
I mingled next joint-torturing Pain,
Little the less did he refrain.
The Dropsy in the cup I mix't,
Still to his mouth the cup was fixt.
...My emissaries thus in vain
I sent, the mad wretch to restrain ;
On the bowl's bottom then MYSELF
I threw ; the most abhorrent elf
Of all that mortals hate or dread ;
And thus in horrid whispers said
"Successless ministers I've sent,
"Thy hast'ning ruin to prevent ;
"Their lessons naught - now here am I,
"Think not my threat'nings to defy.
"Swallow thou this, thy last 'twill be ;
"For with it thou must swallow ME.
...Haggard his eyes, upright his hair -
Remorse his lip, his cheek despair ;
With shaking hand the bowl he grasp'd -
My meatless bones his carcase clasp'd,
And bore it to the church yard ; where
Thousands 'ere I would call, repair.
...DEATH speaks - ah, reader, dost thou hear?
Hast thou no lurking cause to fear ;
Has not o'er thee the sparkling bowl
Constant, commanding, sly control?
Betimes reflect - betimes beware -
The ruddy, healthful, now, and fair,
Before slow reason seize the sway,
Reform - postpon'd another day,
Too soon may mix with common clay.


From all I was able to find, the above poem has been printed in two 1819 almanacks and a little later in two different poetry volumes; and in all four cases without identifying the author or original publication date. I suspect it was popular at the time and may have been written by a Quaker because of the"thys", "thou"s and "thee"s. This was a time when temperance was gaining ground amid a United States awash with drunkenness.

"In 1830, the annual per capita consumption of alcohol among Americans stood at its all-time high of 3.9 gallons. That is to say that, on average, every man, woman, and child in the United States drank almost four gallons of straight alcohol every year. By 1845, that average had plummeted to 1 gallon even, the lowest figure ever, except for the dozen years of Prohibition." Quote from Darryl Hampson at https://suite.io/darryl-hamson/3c8j2n0 "The Rise and Fall of Alcohol Consumption in Early America"

Here follows the four publications in which I found the poem:

"The New St. Tammany Almanac, ... Philadelphia: Published by George W. Mentz, No. 71 Race Street." (A Quaker publication since month names are printed as "First Month" through "Twelfth Month")

"The New England Almanack, ... New-London [CT]: Printed and Sold by Samuel Green."

On p. 214, in "The Young Orator; Consisting of Prose, Poetry, and Dialogues for Declamation in Schools; Selected from the Best Authors." by Rev. J. L. Blake, A. M. Boston, Lilly, Wait, Coman and Holden., 1833. (viewable online)

As "Death's Apology" (except missing two lines and without the ending: Death Speaks) on p. 269 in "The Cat-Fight; A Mock Heroic Poem. Supported with Copious extracts from Ancient and Modern Classic Authors." by Doctor Ebenezer Mack, New-York: -Sold at 350 Water-Street., 1824. (viewable online)
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