‘Alas!’ said the devil, said he to me
And his swart face drooped with care
‘Life is a liar, a cheat,’ said he
‘And the end of it all – despair.
Why mourn you here, poor pawn of the Fates?
The way lies ready: the hemlock waits.
And I’ll give you a toast ere you seek release:
‘To Death, the gentleman, crowned with peace’!’
‘Have done, smart devil!’ I made reply.
‘Have done with your air of gloom.
The world seemed dreary for such as I
Ere you came into the room.
I was ready, I own, for the crowning sin,
But your foolish babbling makes me grin.
Yet the poisoned cup might I e’en now quaff;
But how can I drink when I want to laugh?
‘Poor fool!’ moaned the devil. ‘Vain words you lisp,
Dull dupe of an ancient lie.
What seek you here but a will-o’-the-wisp,
Mocking you till you die?
For the world’s gone mad and the nations rave.
Choose! An ugly dream, or a peaceful grave.
You shall thirst, you shall starve while the earth you roam.
Ah, pick up the dagger and drive it home.’
‘Oh, foolish devil!’ I made reply.
‘Thus to defeat you end,
With your woeful visage and wistful eye:
I could greet you now as a friend.
For, as in a mirror, I now have seen
The fear-crazed fool that I might have been.
Come; tell me some more of this cheerless earth.’
But the devil was gone; and I shrieked with mirth.