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The Oath

ISSUE:  Spring 1931

It was near evening, the room was cold,
Half dark; Uncle Ben’s brass bullet mould
And Major Bogan’s eighteenth century face
Above the fire, in the half-light, plainly said,
There’s naught to kill but the animated dead.
Mould, nor horn, 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 betwixt 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 the 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 fire-light
We heard the darkness grapple with the night
And give an old man’s valedictory wheeze
From his westward breast between his polar jaws;
So Lytle asked: Who are the dead?
Who are the living and the dead?
And nothing more was said.
But I, leaving Lytle to that dream,
Decided what it is in time that gnaws
The ageless fury of a mountain stream.
Suddenly, as an ignorant mind will do,
I thought I heard the dark pounding its head
On a rock, crying Who are the dead?
And Lytle turned with an oath, By God it’s true!


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