Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, YOUTH AND AGE, by JOHN LAWSON STODDARD

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

YOUTH AND AGE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: I will gain a fortune, the young man cried
Last Line: "to bind the reef that breasts the storm!"
Subject(s): Aging; Life; Wealth; Youth; Riches; Fortunes

"I will gain a fortune," the young man cried;
"For Gold by the world is deified;
Hence, whether the means be foul or fair,
I will make myself a millionaire,
My single talent shall grow to ten!"
But an old man smiled, and asked "And then?"

"A peerless beauty," the young man said,
"Shall be the woman I choose to wed.
And men shall envy me my prize,
And women scan her with jealous eyes;"
And he looked annoyed, when once again
The old man smiled, and asked "And then?"

"I will build," he answered, "a home so fine,
That kings in their castles shall covet mine;
The rarest pictures shall clothe its walls,
And statues stand in its stately halls;
It shall lack no luxury known to men;"
But still the old man asked "And then?"

"I will play a role in Church or State
That all mankind shall acknowledge great;
I will win at last such brilliant fame,
That distant lands shall know my name,
For I can wield both sword and pen;"
But again the old man asked "And then?"

"Is your heart a stone," the young man cried,
"Hath all ambition within you died,
That nothing seems to you worth while?
What mean you by that sphinx-like smile?
Of what are you secretly thinking, when
You utter those mournful words, -- 'And then?'"

Gently the old man said "O youth,
The words I have spoken veil a truth
Learned only through the lapse of years,
And first discerned through a mist of tears;
For youth is full of illusions fair
Which manhood sees dissolve in air.

"Your millions will not make you blest,
They will rob you, instead, of peace and rest:
Your beautiful wife may be the prey
Of a treacherous friend or a skilled roue;
And the splendid palace that you crave
Will make you Society's gilded slave.

"'Tis a weary road to political fame;
Its price you must often pay in shame;
And the world-known name for which you yearn
On a bulletin board or a funeral urn,
Is scarcely worth the toil and strife
Which poison the peaceful joys of life.

"For be you ever so wise and good,
By some you will be misunderstood,
And fame will bring you envious foes
To spoil for you many a night's repose;
And alas! as your pathway upward tends,
You will find self-interest in your friends!

"The loudest shout of the mob's applause
Will die out after a moment's pause;
And what is the greatest public praise
To one whose form in the earth decays?
The cruel world will always laugh
At the fulsome lie of an epitaph.

"But Spring recks not of Winter's snow,
And you will not believe, I know,
That all those booms that tempt your powers,
If gained, will be like fragile flowers,
Whose freshness wilts in the fevered hand,
Like roses dropped on the desert sand.

"And much of the work you deem sublime
Is like the grain of pink-hued lime
Which once was a coral insect's shell,
But now is a microscopic cell,
Entombed with countless billions more
In a lonely reef on an unknown shore!"

"Alas!" said the youth, -- and his eyes were wet, --
"Is old age merely a vain regret,
The retrospect of wasted years,
Of false ideals and lost careers?
Advise me! What must I reject,
And what for my permanent good select?"

"Beloved youth," the old man said,
"All is not vain, be comforted!
Seek not thine own, but others' joy;
Ring true, like gold without alloy;
Waste not thy time in asking Why,
Or Whence, or Whither when we die;

"The actual world, the present hours
Will give enough to tax thy powers;
At no clear duty hesitate;
Serve well thy neighbor and the State;
So shalt thou add thy tiny form
To bind the reef that breasts the storm!"

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