One day the dreary old King of Death
Inclined for some sport with the carnal,
So he tied a pack of darts on his back,
And quietly stole from his charnel.
His head was bald of flesh and of hair,
His body was lean and lank,
His joints at each stir made a crack, and the cur
Took a gnaw, by the way, at his shank.
And what did he do with his deadly darts,
This goblin of grisly bone?
He dabbled and spill’d man’s blood, and he kill’d
Like a butcher that kills his own.
The first he slaughter’d, it made him laugh,
(For the man was a coffin-maker,)
To think how the mutes, and men in black suits,
Would mourn for an undertaker.
Death saw two Quakers sitting at church,
Quoth he, “We shall not differ.”
And he let them alone, like figures of stone,
For he could not make them stiffer.
He saw two duellists going to fight,
In fear they could not smother;
And he shot one through at once — for he knew
They never would shoot each other.
He saw a watchman fast in his box,
And he gave a snore infernal;
Said Death, “He may keep his breath, for his sleep
Can never be more eternal.”
He met a coachman driving his coach
So slow, that his fare grew sick;
But he let him stray on his tedious way,
For Death only wars on the quick.
Death saw a toll-man taking a toll,
In the spirit of his fraternity;
But he knew that sort of man would extort,
Though summon’d to all eternity.
He found an author writing his life,
But he let him write no further;
For Death, who strikes whenever he likes,
Is jealous of all self-murther!
Death saw a patient that pull’d out his purse,
And a doctor that took the sum;
But he let them be — for he knew that the “fee”
Was a prelude to “faw” and “fum.”
He met a dustman ringing a bell,
And he gave him a mortal thrust;
For himself, by law, since Adam’s flaw,
Is contractor for all our dust.
He saw a sailor mixing his grog,
And he marked him out for slaughter;
For on water he scarcely had cared for Death,
And never on rum-and-water.
Death saw two players playing at cards,
But the game wasn’t worth a dump,
For he quickly laid them flat with a spade,
To wait for the final trump!
† Of course suggested by Coleridge and Southey’s Devil’s Walk. It is ablaze with wit and real imagination. Old nursery tales are not so well remembered in these days that it is superfluous to point out that the “fee” being a prelude to “faw” and “fum,” is taken from the formula of the Ogre in Jack and the Bean-Stalk, whose usual preliminary to the slaughter of his victims was —
“Fee, Faw, Fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman!”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09