The Wall Street Pit

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I SEE the hell of faces surge and whirl,
Like malestrom in the ocean--faces lean
And fleshless as the talons of a hawk--
Hot faces like the faces of the wolves
That track the traveller fleeing through the night--
Grim faces shrunken up and fallen in,
Deep-plowed like weather-eaten bark of oak--
Drawn faces like the faces of the dead,
Grown suddenly old upon the brink of Earth.

Is this a whirl of madmen ravening,
And blowing bubbles in their merriment?
Is Babel come again with shrieking crew
To eat the dust and drink the roaring wind?
And all for what? A handful of bright sand
To buy a shroud with and a length of earth?

Oh, saner are the hearts on stiller ways!
Thrice happier they who, far from these wild hours
Grow softly as the apples on a bough.
Wiser the plowman with his scudding blade,
Turning a straight, fresh furrow down a field--
Wiser the herdsman whistling to his heart,
In the long shadows at the break of day--
Wiser the fisherman with quiet hand,
Slanting his sail against the evening wind.

The swallows sweep back south again,
The green of May is edging all the boughs,
The shy arbutus shimmers in the wood,
And yet this hell of faces in the town--
This storm of tongues, this whirlpool roaring on,
Surrounded by the quiets of the hills;
The great calm stars forever overhead,
And, under all, the silence of the dead!

© Edwin Markham