The Fatal Pledge

“Pledge me with wine,” the maiden cried,
   Her tones were gay and light;
“From others you have turned aside,
   I claim your pledge to-night.”

The blood rushed to the young man’s cheek,
   Then left it deadly pale;
Beneath the witchery of her smile
   He felt his courage fail.

For many years he’d been a slave
   To the enchanting bowl,
Until he grasped with eager hands
   The reins of self-control;

And struggled with his hated thrall,
   Until he rent his chain,
And strove to stand erect and free,
   And be a man again.

When others came with tempting words
   He coldly turned aside,
But she who held the sparkling cup
   Was his affianced bride;

And like a vision of delight,
   Bright, beautiful and fair,
With thoughtless words she wove for him
   The meshes of despair.

With jeweled hands he took the cup,
   Nor heard the serpent’s hiss;
Nor saw beneath the ruby glow
   The deadly adder’s hiss.

Like waves that madly, wildly dash,
   When dykes are overthrown,
The barriers of his soul gave way,
   Each life with wrecks was strewn.

And she who might have reached her hand
   To succor and to save,
Soon wept in hopeless agony
   Above a drunkard’s grave.

And bore through life a bleeding heart
   Remembrance of that night,
When she had urged the tempted man
   With wine to make his plight.

        —Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825—1911)

We Drop Our Dead in the Sea

We drop our dead in the sea,
  The bottomless, bottomless sea;
Each bubble a hollow sigh,
  As it sinks forever and aye.

We drop our dead in the sea,—
  The dead reck not of aught;
We drop our dead in the sea,—
  The sea ne’er gives it a thought.

Sink, sink, oh corpse, still sink,
  Far down in the bottomless sea,
Where the unknown forms do prowl,
  Down, down in the bottomless sea.

’Tis night above, and night all round,
  And night will it be with thee;
As thou sinkest, and sinkest for aye,
  Deeper down in the bottomless sea.

        —Herman Melville (1819—1891)


When the voices of children are heard on the green,
And whisperings are in the dale,
The days of my youth rise fresh in my mind,
My face turns green and pale.

Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down,
And the dews of night arise;
Your spring and your day are wasted in play,
And your winter and night in disguise.

        —William Blake (1757—1827)