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Poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

What I Have Seen


I saw a mother give wine to her boy--
   The rain-drops fall and fall:
The pride of his parents, a household joy,
   A mother's blessing, her all.

I saw the cheek of the youth grow red--
   The rain falls over the lea:
The light of his eye shone like jewels, they said:
   It spoke of ruin to me.

I saw the youth drink again and again--
   The rain falls heavy and fast:
I saw the mother's brow furrowed with pain,
   She was reaping her harvest at last.

I saw the youth go staggering by--
   The rain-drops beat and beat:
Dulled was the light of his beautiful eye;
   I saw him fall in the street.

I heard the rabble cry, "Shame! oh! shame!"
   The rain-drops sob and sob:
I heard the drunkard's once-honored name
   Shouted aloud by the mob.

I saw the youth carried home to his door--
   The rain-drops sob and sigh:
Saw the friends shun him, who sought him before,
   Saw him sink lower, and die.

I saw the stone that bore only his name--
   The rain-drops mutter and rave:
I saw the mother with sorrow and shame
    Bowed to the brink of the grave. 


I saw a maid with her chivalrous lover:
   He was both tender and true;
He kissed her lips, vowing over and over,
   "Darling, I worship you."
Sing, sing, bird of the spring,
Tell of the flowers the summer will bring.

I saw the maiden, sweet, loving, confiding,
   Smile when he whispered "Mine,"
Saw her lips meet his with no word of chiding,
   Though his breath fumed with wine.
Wail, wail, Nightingale,
Sing of a mourner bowed and pale.

I saw the lover and maid at the altar,
   Bound by the bands divine;
Heard the responses--they fail not nor falter--
   Saw the guests pledge in wine.
Howl, howl, ominous Owl,
Shriek of the terrible tempest's scowl.

I saw the drunkard's wife weeping in anguish,
   Saw her struck down by a blow;
I saw the husband in prison-cells languish--
   Thus ends the tale of woe.
Shriek, shriek, O Raven! speak
Of the terrible midnight, dark and bleak. 


I saw two youths: both were fair in the face,
They had set out foot to foot in life's race;
But one said to the other, "I say now, my brother,
   You are going a little too slow;
The world will look on, and say, 'See Josy John,'
   We must put on more style, now, you know."

So he tipped a plug hat on one side of his pate,
And strutted along with a Jockey Club gait;
And he carried a cane, and said, "It is plain,
   I am too fine a fellow to toil.
I can gamble and bet, and a good living get;
   But my hands are too pretty to soil.

"My friend in the rear, you are slow, I am fast;
I am up with the times--I am first, you are last.
So I guess I will leave you--aw, if it won't grieve you;
   I'll wait for you when I get through;
Or, when up on the hill, I'll remem-bah you still,
   And--aw, mayhap I'll come and help you."

I saw him pass on with a strut through the street;
Saw him stopped by a score of "good boys" for a treat.
While the calm "Josy John" went quietly on,
   And kept his lips free from the bowl;
Worked at whatever came, turned from sin and from shame,
   And wrote "Purity," "Truth," in his soul.

I saw two men: one was fair to behold;
The other, a drunken sot, bloated and bold.
One stood on the mountain and drank of God's fountain,
   The other drank beer in the street.
Yet both started alike; but one made a "strike,"
   Which ended, you see, in defeat. 


I saw a youth, one of God's favored few,
   Crowned with beauty, and talents, and health;
He had climbed the steep pathway, and cut his way through
   To the summit of glory and wealth.
The day is breaking, hearts are waking,
   Refreshed for the field of labor:
Arise, arise, like the king of the skies,
   With a greeting for friend and neighbor.

He had toiled hard for the honors he'd won,
   He had climbed over high rocks, forded streams;
Braved the bleak winter snow, the hot summer sun,
   He was reaching the goal of his dreams.
The day hangs around us, the sun hath bound us
   With fetters silken and yellow:
Flow, flow away, fleeting day,
    Golden-hearted and mellow.

I saw the youth lift a mug to his mouth,
   Drink the last drop of the fearful first glass!
Ah! his veins thrill in a fierce, scorching drouth,
   He fills it again, again drinks it! alas!
The day is dying, hearts are sighing,
   Crushed with a weight of sorrow:
Sleep, oh! sleep, in a slumber deep,
   And wait for a bright to-morrow.

I saw him low in the dust at my feet,
   Gone beauty, health, wealth, strength, talents, all;
From the summit of Fame to the slime of the street,
   He had bartered his soul for the fiend Alcohol.
The night hangs o'er us, the wind's wild chorus
   Shrieks like a demons' revel:
Weep, sob, weep, for the fog is deep,
   And the world is sold to the devil. 


I saw a Christian, a temperance man,
   Casting his ballot one day at the polls:
One who believes he does what he can
   Toward the reclaiming and saving of souls.
      And may be he does--may be he does!
      I don't say he doesn't, but may be he does!

I saw his candidate sipping his beer,
   Wiping his moustache and lapping his jaws;
And I said to myself, "It's decidedly queer,
   If this is the man that should help make our laws."
      But may be he is--may be he is!
      I won't say it outright, but may be he is!

I saw an old drunkard fall in the street:
   I saw my Christian man mournfully pass,
And mournfully say to the sot at his feet:
   "I have done what I could for such wrecks, but, alas!"
      Well, may be he had--may be he had!
      I don't say he hadn't, but may be he had!

I know a party that's forming to-day,
   Made out of men that are loyal and brave:
They will sweep liquor taxes and tariffs away,
   For they never will vote for a drinking old knave.
     You see if they do! you see if they do!
      I don't say I know, but you see if they do! 

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Ella Wheeler Wilcox's other poems:
  1. The Birth of the Opal
  2. The Awakening (I love the tropics, where sun and rain)
  3. The Chain
  4. At Forty-Eight
  5. Intermediary

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