The Old Herb-Man

A poem by Madison Julius Cawein

On the barren hillside lone he sat;
On his head he wore a tattered hat;
In his hand he bore a crooked staff;
Never heard I laughter like his laugh,
On the barren hillside, thistle-hoar.

Cracked his laughter sounded, harsh as woe,
As the croaking, thinned, of a crow:
At his back hung, pinned, a wallet old,
Bulged with roots and simples caked with mould:
On the barren hillside in the wind.

Roots of twisted twin-leaf; sassafras;
Bloodroot, tightly whipped 'round with grass;
Adder's-tongue; and, tipped brown and black,
Yellowroot and snakeroot filled his pack,
On the barren hillside, winter-stripped.

There is nothing sadder than old age;
Nothing saddens more than that stage
When, forlornly poor, bent with toil,
One must starve or wring life from the soil,
From the barren hillside, wild and hoar.

Down the barren hillside slow he went,
Cursing at the cold, bowed and bent;
With his bag of mould, herbs and roots,
In his clay-stained garments, clay-caked boots,
Down the barren hillside, poor and old.

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