Poem of the day

The Oath
by Allen Tate (1899-1979)

It was near evening, the room was cold
Half dark; Uncle Ben’s brass bullet-mould
And powder-horn and Major Bogan’s face
Above the fire in the half-light plainly said:
There’s naught to kill but the animated dead.
Horn nor mould nor major follows the chase.
Being cold I urged Lytle to the fire
In the blank twilight with not much left untold
By two old friends when neither’s a great liar.
We sat down evenly in the smoky chill.
There’s precious little to say between day and dark,
Perhaps a few words on the implacable will
Of time sailing like a magic barque
Or something as fine for the amenities,
Till dusk seals the window, the fire grows bright,
And the wind saws the hill with a swarm of bees.
Now meditating a little on the firelight
We heard the darkness grapple with the night
And give an old man’s valedictory wheeze
From his westward breast between his polar jaws;
Then Lytle asked: Who are the dead?
Who are the living and the dead?
And nothing more was said.
So I, leaving Lytle to that dream,
Decided what it is in time that gnaws
The ageing fury of a mountain stream
When suddenly as an ignorant mind will do
I thought I heard the dark pounding its head
On a rock, crying: Who are the dead?
Then Lytle turned with an oath—By God it’s true!

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