“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)