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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Parish Workhouse and Apothecary
By George Crabbe (1754–1832)
 
From ‘The Village’

THEIRS is yon house that holds the parish poor,
Whose walls of mud scarce bear the broken door;
There, where the putrid vapors flagging play,
And the dull wheel hums doleful through the day;
There children dwell who know no parents’ care;        5
Parents who know no children’s love dwell there;
Heart-broken matrons on their joyless bed,
Forsaken wives, and mothers never wed;
Dejected widows with unheeded tears,
And crippled age with more than childhood-fears;        10
The lame, the blind, and—far the happiest they!—
The moping idiot and the madman gay.
 
Here too the sick their final doom receive,
Here brought amid the scenes of grief to grieve,
Where the loud groans from some sad chamber flow,        15
Mixed with the clamors of the crowd below;
Here, sorrowing, they each kindred sorrow scan,
And the cold charities of man to man:
Whose laws indeed for ruined age provide,
And strong compulsion plucks the scrap from pride;        20
But still that scrap is bought with many a sigh,
And pride embitters what it can’t deny.
 
Say ye, oppressed by some fantastic woes,
Some jarring nerve that baffles your repose;
Who press the downy couch, while slaves advance        25
With timid eye, to read the distant glance;
Who with sad prayers the weary doctor tease,
To name the nameless ever-new disease;
Who with mock patience dire complaints endure,
Which real pain and that alone can cure:        30
How would ye bear in real pain to lie,
Despised, neglected, left alone to die?
How would ye bear to draw your latest breath
Where all that’s wretched paves the way for death?
 
Such is that room which one rude beam divides,        35
And naked rafters form the sloping sides;
Where the vile bands that bind the thatch are seen,
And lath and mud are all that lie between;
Save one dull pane, that, coarsely patched, gives way
To the rude tempest, yet excludes the day:        40
Here on a matted flock, with dust o’erspread,
The drooping wretch reclines his languid head;
For him no hand the cordial cup applies,
Or wipes the tear that stagnates in his eyes;
No friends with soft discourse his pain beguile,        45
Or promise hope till sickness wears a smile.
 
But soon a loud and hasty summons calls,
Shakes the thin roof, and echoes round the walls.
Anon a figure enters, quaintly neat,
All pride and business, bustle and conceit,        50
With looks unaltered by these scenes of woe,
With speed that, entering, speaks his haste to go;
He bids the gazing throng around him fly,
And carries fate and physic in his eye:
A potent quack, long versed in human ills,        55
Who first insults the victim whom he kills;
Whose murderous hand a drowsy bench protect,
And whose most tender mercy is neglect.
 
Paid by the parish for attendance here,
He wears contempt upon his sapient sneer;        60
In haste he seeks the bed where misery lies,
Impatience marked in his averted eyes;
And some habitual queries hurried o’er,
Without reply he rushes to the door:
His drooping patient, long inured to pain,        65
And long unheeded, knows remonstrance vain;
He ceases now the feeble help to crave
Of man; and silent sinks into the grave.
 
 
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