Reading the Will

Here we have it, scratched and scored
  By the tides of an impotent human soul; 
He that wrote it died abhorred,
  And scarcely the bell had ceased to toll 
Ere they crowded together over the cake,
  Ferret-eyed women and keen-faced men, 
In the putrid well of his life to slake
  Their viperous throats, and wonder when
The  lawyer was coming to give their share—
  Waiting like beasts behind the bars
For the meat apportioned—and all the air 
  Thick with the hissing whisper that mars 
Fame of the living and fame of the dead.
  See that woman, her yellow teeth
Pressing the lip's thin line of red;
  Mark the struggle that lies beneath
The outer surface of weepers and veils!
  She was his housekeeper, people muttered
Hints, half-hinting,  and half-heard tales, 
  Poison tipping each syllable uttered.
Charity, this! And the dead man lies
  Still? Impossible! He must stir,
Slip the bandages, turn and rise, 
  Speak, refuting the blot on her!
There is no sign. Does he hear them say 
  She has it all, and 'We know how
She wiled it from him, but let us stay
  To hear the reading—it's coming now' ?  
Slowly, slowly, the red seals break.
  Watch them, marking his ev'ry word—
How in life he had willed to make
  This one wretched, and that preferred.
'I will and I choose that such an one 
  Should have my all!' O woe, O woe!
Human potency, what has it done
  To help men's souls in the shades below? 
Does he remember his power past,
  How that he made men smile or weep,—
 Helpless to hold his riches fast,
  Fighting with blows men strike in sleep?

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