Cobwebs from an Empty Skull, by Ambrose Bierce

The Legend of Immortal Truth.

A bear, having spread him a notable feast,

    Invited a famishing fox to the place.

“I’ve killed me,” quoth he, “an edible beast

As ever distended the girdle of priest

    With ‘spread of religion,’ or ‘inward grace.’

To my den I conveyed her,

I bled her and flayed her,

    I hung up her skin to dry;

Then laid her naked, to keep her cool,

On a slab of ice from the frozen pool;

    And there we will eat her — you and I.”

The fox accepts, and away they walk,

Beguiling the time with courteous talk.

You’d ne’er have suspected, to see them smile,

The bear was thinking, the blessed while,

    How, when his guest should be off his guard,

    With feasting hard,

He’d give him a “wipe” that would spoil his style.

You’d never have thought, to see them bow,

The fox was reflecting deeply how

He would best proceed, to circumvent

    His host, and prig

    The entire pig —

Or other bird to the same intent.

When Strength and Cunning in love combine,

Be sure ’t is to more than merely dine.

The while these biters ply the lip,

A mile ahead the muse shall skip:

The poet’s purpose she best may serve

Inside the den — if she have the nerve.

Behold! laid out in dark recess,

A ghastly goat in stark undress,

Pallid and still on her gelid bed,

And indisputably very dead.

Her skin depends from a couple of pins —

And here the most singular statement begins;

    For all at once the butchered beast,

    With easy grace for one deceased,

    Upreared her head,

    Looked round, and said,

    Very distinctly for one so dead:

“The nights are sharp, and the sheets are thin:

I find it uncommonly cold herein!”

Dead Goat Emerging from Den

I answer not how this was wrought:

All miracles surpass my thought.

They’re vexing, say you? and dementing?

Peace, peace! they’re none of my inventing.

But lest too much of mystery

Embarrass this true history,

I’ll not relate how that this goat

Stood up and stamped her feet, to inform’em

With — what’s the word? — I mean, to warm’em;

Nor how she plucked her rough capote

From off the pegs where Bruin threw it,

And o’er her quaking body drew it;

Nor how each act could so befall:

I’ll only swear she did them all;

Then lingered pensive in the grot,

As if she something had forgot,

Till a humble voice and a voice of pride

Were heard, in murmurs of love, outside.

Then, like a rocket set aflight,

She sprang, and streaked it for the light!

Ten million million years and a day

Have rolled, since these events, away;

But still the peasant at fall of night,

Belated therenear, is oft affright

By sounds of a phantom bear in flight;

A breaking of branches under the hill;

The noise of a going when all is still!

And hens asleep on the perch, they say,

Cackle sometimes in a startled way,

As if they were dreaming a dream that mocks

The lope and whiz of a fleeting fox!

Half we’re taught, and teach to youth,

    And praise by rote,

Is not, but merely stands for, truth.

    So of my goat:

She’s merely designed to represent

The truth —“immortal” to this extent:

Dead she may be, and skinned —frappé

Hid in a dreadful den away;

Prey to the Churches —(any will do,

Except the Church of me and you.)

The simplest miracle, even then,

Will get her up and about again.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51