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Bierce, Ambrose

· Ambrose Bierce: Presentiment · Ambrose Bierce: An Obituarian · Ambrose Bierce: A Commuted Sentence · Ambrose Bierce: Three Kinds of a Rogue · Ambrose Bierce: The Key Note

Ambrose Bierce: Presentiment



With saintly grace and reverent tread,
She walked among the graves with me;
Her every foot-fall seemed to be
A benediction on the dead.

The guardian spirit of the place
She seemed, and I some ghost forlorn
Surprised in the untimely morn
She made with her resplendent face.

Moved by some waywardness of will,
Three paces from the path apart
She stepped and stood — my prescient heart
Was stricken with a passing chill.

The folk-lore of the years agone
Remembering, I smiled and thought:
“Who shudders suddenly at naught,
His grave is being trod upon.”

But now I know that it was more
Than idle fancy. O, my sweet,
I did not think so little feet
Could make a buried heart so sore!

Ambrose Bierce
poetry magazine

More in: Archive A-B, Archive A-B, Bierce, Ambrose

Ambrose Bierce: An Obituarian


Ambrose Bierce



An Obituarian

Death-poet Pickering sat at his desk,

Wrapped in appropriate gloom;

His posture was pensive and picturesque,

Like a raven charming a tomb.


Enter a party a-drinking the cup

Of sorrow–and likewise of woe:

“Some harrowing poetry, Mister, whack up,

All wrote in the key of O.


“For the angels has called my old woman hence

From the strife (where she fit mighty free).

It’s a nickel a line? Cond–n the expense!

For wealth is now little to me.”


The Bard of Mortality looked him through

In the piercingest sort of a way:

“It is much to me though it’s little to you–

I’ve taken a wife to-day.”


So he twisted the tail of his mental cow

And made her give down her flow.

The grief of that bard was long-winded, somehow–

There was reams and reamses of woe.


The widower man which had buried his wife

Grew lily-like round each gill,

For she turned in her grave and came back to life–

Then he cruel ignored the bill!


Then Sorrow she opened her gates a-wide,

As likewise did also Woe,

And the death-poet’s song, as is heard inside,

Is sang in the key of O.


Ambrose Bierce poetry magazine

More in: Archive A-B, Bierce, Ambrose

Ambrose Bierce: A Commuted Sentence


Ambrose Bierce



A Commuted Sentence

Boruck and Waterman upon their grills

In Hades lay, with many a sigh and groan,

Hotly disputing, for each swore his own

Were clearly keener than the other’s ills.

And, truly, each had much to boast of–bone

And sinew, muscle, tallow, nerve and skin,

Blood in the vein and marrow in the shin,

Teeth, eyes and other organs (for the soul

Has all of these and even a wagging chin)

Blazing and coruscating like a coal!

For Lower Sacramento, you remember,

Has trying weather, even in mid-December.


Now this occurred in the far future. All

Mankind had been a million ages dead,

And each to her reward above had sped,

Each to his punishment below,–I call

That quite a just arrangement. As I said,

Boruck and Waterman in warmest pain

Crackled and sizzed with all their might and main.

For, when on earth, they’d freed a scurvy host

Of crooks from the State prison, who again

Had robbed and ravaged the Pacific Coast

And (such the felon’s predatory nature)

Even got themselves into the Legislature.


So Waterman and Boruck lay and roared

In Hades. It is true all other males

Felt the like flames and uttered equal wails,

But did not suffer them; whereas they bored

Each one the other. But indeed my tale’s

Not getting on at all. They lay and browned

Till Boruck (who long since his teeth had ground

Away and spoke Gum Arabic and made

Stump speeches even in praying) looked around

And said to Bob’s incinerated shade:

“Your Excellency, this is mighty hard on

The inventors of the unpardonable pardon.”


The other soul–his right hand all aflame,

For ’twas with that he’d chiefly sinned, although

His tongue, too, like a wick was working woe

To the reserve of tallow in his frame–

Said, with a sputtering, uncertain flow,

And with a gesture like a shaken torch:

“Yes, but I’m sure we’ll not much longer scorch.

Although this climate is not good for Hope,

Whose joyous wing ‘twould singe, I think the porch

Of Hell we’ll quit with a pacific slope.

Last century I signified repentance

And asked for commutation of our sentence.”


Even as he spoke, the form of Satan loomed

In sight, all crimson with reflections’s fire,

Like some tall tower or cathedral spire

Touched by the dawn while all the earth is gloomed

In mists and shadows of the night time. “Sire,”

Said Waterman, his agitable wick

Still sputtering, “what calls you back so quick?

It scarcely was a century ago

You left us.” “I have come to bring,” said Nick,

“St. Peter’s answer (he is never slow

In correspondence) to your application

For pardon–pardon me!–for commutation.


“He says that he’s instructed to reply

(And he has so instructed me) that sin

Like yours–and this poor gentleman’s who’s in

For bad advice to you–comes rather high;

But since, apparently, you both begin

To feel some pious promptings to the right,

And fain would turn your faces to the light,

Eternity seems all too long a term.

So ’tis commuted to one-half. I’m quite

Prepared, when that expires, to free the worm

And quench the fire.” And, civilly retreating,

He left them holding their protracted meeting.


Ambrose Bierce poetry magazine

More in: Archive A-B, Bierce, Ambrose

Ambrose Bierce: Three Kinds of a Rogue


Ambrose Bierce



Three Kinds of a Rogue



Sharon, ambitious of immortal shame,

Fame’s dead-wall daubed with his illustrious name–

Served in the Senate, for our sins, his time,

Each word a folly and each vote a crime;

Law for our governance well skilled to make

By knowledge gained in study how to break;

Yet still by the presiding eye ignored,

Which only sought him when too loud he snored.

Auspicious thunder!–when he woke to vote

He stilled his own to cut his country’s throat;

That rite performed, fell off again to sleep,

While statesmen ages dead awoke to weep!

For sedentary service all unfit,

By lying long disqualified to sit,

Wasting below as he decayed aloft,

His seat grown harder as his brain grew soft,

He left the hall he could not bring away,

And grateful millions blessed the happy day!

Whate’er contention in that hall is heard,

His sovereign State has still the final word:

For disputatious statesmen when they roar

Startle the ancient echoes of his snore,

Which from their dusty nooks expostulate

And close with stormy clamor the debate.

To low melodious thunders then they fade;

Their murmuring lullabies all ears invade;

Peace takes the Chair; the portal Silence keeps;

No motion stirs the dark Lethean deeps–

Washoe has spoken and the Senate sleeps.



Lo! the new Sharon with a new intent,

Making no laws, but keen to circumvent

The laws of Nature (since he can’t repeal)

That break his failing body on the wheel.

As Tantalus again and yet again

The elusive wave endeavors to restrain

To slake his awful thirst, so Sharon tries

To purchase happiness that age denies;

Obtains the shadow, but the substance goes,

And hugs the thorn, but cannot keep the rose;

For Dead Sea fruits bids prodigally, eats,

And then, with tardy reformation–cheats.

Alert his faculties as three score years

And four score vices will permit, he nears–

Dicing with Death–the finish of the game,

And curses still his candle’s wasting flame,

The narrow circle of whose feeble glow

Dims and diminishes at every throw.

Moments his losses, pleasures are his gains,

Which even in his grasp revert to pains.

The joy of grasping them alone remains.



Ring up the curtain and the play protract!

Behold our Sharon in his last mad act.

With man long warring, quarreling with God,

He crouches now beneath a woman’s rod

Predestined for his back while yet it lay

Closed in an acorn which, one luckless day,

He stole, unconscious of its foetal twig,

From the scant garner of a sightless pig.

With bleeding shoulders pitilessly scored,

He bawls more lustily than once he snored.

The sympathetic Comstocks droop to hear,

And Carson river sheds a viscous tear,

Which sturdy tumble-bugs assail amain,

With ready thrift, and urge along the plain.

The jackass rabbit sorrows as he lopes;

The sage-brush glooms along the mountain slopes;

In rising clouds the poignant alkali,

Tearless itself, makes everybody cry.

Washoe canaries on the Geiger Grade

Subdue the singing of their cavalcade,

And, wiping with their ears the tears unshed,

Grieve for their family’s unlucky head.

Virginia City intermits her trade

And well-clad strangers walk her streets unflayed.

Nay, all Nevada ceases work to weep

And the recording angel goes to sleep.

But in his dreams his goose-quill’s creaking fount

Augments the debits in the long account.

And still the continents and oceans ring

With royal torments of the Silver King!

Incessant bellowings fill all the earth,

Mingled with inextinguishable mirth.

He roars, men laugh, Nevadans weep, beasts howl,

Plash the affrighted fish, and shriek the fowl!

With monstrous din their blended thunders rise,

Peal upon peal, and brawl along the skies,

Startle in hell the Sharons as they groan,

And shake the splendors of the great white throne!

Still roaring outward through the vast profound,

The spreading circles of receding sound

Pursue each other in a failing race

To the cold confines of eternal space;

There break and die along that awful shore

Which God’s own eyes have never dared explore–

Dark, fearful, formless, nameless evermore!


Look to the west! Against yon steely sky

Lone Mountain rears its holy cross on high.

About its base the meek-faced dead are laid

To share the benediction of its shade.

With crossed white hands, shut eyes and formal feet,

Their nights are innocent, their days discreet.

Sharon, some years, perchance, remain of life–

Of vice and greed, vulgarity and strife;

And then–God speed the day if such His will–

You’ll lie among the dead you helped to kill,

And be in good society at last,

Your purse unsilvered and your face unbrassed.


Ambrose Bierce poetry magazine

More in: Archive A-B, Bierce, Ambrose

Ambrose Bierce: The Key Note


Ambrose Bierce



The Key Note

I dreamed I was dreaming one morn as I lay

In a garden with flowers teeming.

On an island I lay in a mystical bay,

In the dream that I dreamed I was dreaming.


The ghost of a scent–had it followed me there

From the place where I truly was resting?

It filled like an anthem the aisles of the air,

The presence of roses attesting.


Yet I thought in the dream that I dreamed I dreamed

That the place was all barren of roses–

That it only seemed; and the place, I deemed,

Was the Isle of Bewildered Noses.


Full many a seaman had testified

How all who sailed near were enchanted,

And landed to search (and in searching died)

For the roses the Sirens had planted.


For the Sirens were dead, and the billows boomed

In the stead of their singing forever;

But the roses bloomed on the graves of the doomed,

Though man had discovered them never.


I thought in my dream ’twas an idle tale,

A delusion that mariners cherished–

That the fragrance loading the conscious gale

Was the ghost of a rose long perished.


I said, “I will fly from this island of woes.”

And acting on that decision,

By that odor of rose I was led by the nose,

For ’twas truly, ah! truly, Elysian.


I ran, in my madness, to seek out the source

Of the redolent river–directed

By some supernatural, sinister force

To a forest, dark, haunted, infected.


And still as I threaded (’twas all in the dream

That I dreamed I was dreaming) each turning

There were many a scream and a sudden gleam

Of eyes all uncannily burning!


The leaves were all wet with a horrible dew

That mirrored the red moon’s crescent,

And all shapes were fringed with a ghostly blue,

Dim, wavering, phosphorescent.


But the fragrance divine, coming strong and free,

Led me on, though my blood was clotting,

Till–ah, joy!–I could see, on the limbs of a tree,

Mine enemies hanging and rotting!


Ambrose Bierce poetry magazine

More in: Archive A-B, Bierce, Ambrose

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