The Old Gentleman With The Amber Snuff-Box

A poem by Alfred Noyes

The old gentleman, tapping his amber snuff-box
(A heart-shaped snuff-box with a golden clasp)
Stared at the dying fire. "I'd like them all
To understand, when I am gone," he muttered.
"But how to do it delicately! I can't
Apologize. I'll hint at it ... in verse;
And, to be sure that Rosalind reads it through,
I'll make it an appendix to my will!"
--Still cynical, you see. He couldn't help it.
He had seen much, felt much. He snapped the snuff box,
Shook his white periwig, trimmed a long quill pen,
And then began to write, most carefully,
These couplets, in the old heroic style:--

O, had I known in boyhood, only known
The few sad truths that time has made my own,
I had not lost the best that youth can give,
Nay, life itself, in learning how to live.
This laboring heart would not be tired so soon,
This jaded blood would jog to a livelier tune:
And some few friends, could I begin again,
Should know more happiness, and much less pain.
I should not wound in ignorance, nor turn
In foolish pride from those for whom I yearn.
I should have kept nigh half the friends I've lost,
And held for dearest those I wronged the most.

Yet, when I see more cunning men evade
With colder tact, the blunders that I made;
Sometimes I wonder if the better part
Is not still mine, who lacked their subtle art.
For I have conned my book in harsher schools,
And learned from struggling what they worked by rules;
Learned--with some pain--more quickly to forgive
My fellow-blunderers, while they learn to live;
Learned--with some tears--to keep a steadfast mind,
And think more kindly of my own poor kind.

He read the verses through, shaking his wig.
"Perhaps ... perhaps"--he whispered to himself,
"I'd better leave it to the will of God.
They might upset my own. I do not think
They'd understand. Jocelyn might, perhaps;
And Dick, if only they were left alone.
But Rosalind never; nor that nephew of mine,
The witty politician. No. No. No.
They'd say my mind was wandering, I'm afraid."
So, with a frozen face, reluctantly,
He tossed his verses into the dying fire,
And watched the sparks fly upward.
There, at dawn,
They found him, cold and stiff by the cold hearth,
His amber snuff-box in his ivory hand.
"You see," they said, "he never needed friends.
He had that curious antique frozen way.
He had no heart--only an amber snuff-box.
He died quite happily, taking a pinch of snuff."

His nephew, that engaging politician,
Inherited the snuff-box, and remarked
His epitaph should be "Snuffed Out." The clubs
Laughed, and the statesman's reputation grew.

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