The miser lay on his lonely bed;
Life’s candle was burning dim.
His heart in an iron chest was hid
Under heaps of gold and an iron lid;
And whether it were alive or dead
It never troubled him.
Slowly out of his body he crept.
He said, “I am just the same!
Only I want my heart in my breast;
I will go and fetch it out of my chest!”
Through the dark a darker shadow he leapt,
Saying “Hell is a fabled flame!”
He opened the lid. Oh, Hell’s own night!
His ghost-eyes saw no gold!–
Empty and swept! Not a gleam was there!
In goes his hand, but the chest is bare!
Ghost-fingers, aha! have only might
To close, not to clasp and hold!
But his heart he saw, and he made a clutch
At the fungous puff-ball of sin:
Eaten with moths, and fretted with rust,
He grasped a handful of rotten dust,
And shrieked, as ghosts may, at the crumbling touch,
But hid it his breast within.
And some there are who see him sit
Under the church, apart,
Counting out coins and coins of gold
Heap by heap on the dank death-mould:
Alas poor ghost and his sore lack of wit–
They breed in the dust of his heart!
Another miser has now his chest,
And it hoards wealth more and more;
Like ferrets his hands go in and out,
Burrowing, tossing the gold about–
Nor heed the heart that, gone from his breast,
Is the cold heap’s bloodless core.
Now wherein differ old ghosts that sit
Counting ghost-coins all day
From the man who clings with spirit prone
To whatever can never be his own?
Who will leave the world with not one whit
But a heart all eaten away?