Published on Academy of American Poets (


Like Crusoe with the bootless gold we stand 
Upon the desert verge of death, and say: 
“What shall avail the woes of yesterday 
To buy to-morrow’s wisdom, in the land 
Whose currency is strange unto our hand? 
In life’s small market they had served to pay 
Some late-found rapture, could we but delay 
Till Time hath matched our means to our demand.” 

But otherwise Fate wills it, for, behold, 
Our gathered strength of individual pain, 
When Time’s long alchemy hath made it gold, 
Dies with us—hoarded all these years in vain, 
Since those that might be heir to it the mould 
Renew, and coin themselves new griefs again. 


O Death, we come full-handed to thy gate, 
Rich with strange burden of the mingled years, 
Gains and renunciations, mirth and tears, 
And love’s oblivion, and remembering hate, 
Nor know we what compulsion laid such freight 
Upon our souls—and shall our hopes and fears 
Buy nothing of thee, Death? Behold our wares, 
And sell us the one joy for which we wait. 
Had we lived longer, life had such for sale, 
With the last coin of sorrow purchased cheap, 
But now we stand before thy shadowy pale, 
And all our longings lie within thy keep— 
Death, can it be the years shall naught avail? 

“Not so,” Death answered, “they shall purchase sleep.”


From Artemis to Actaeon and Other Verse (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1909). This poem is in the public domain.


Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton, born January 24, 1862, is the author of numerous books, including Artemis to Actaeon and Other Verse (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1909) and Verses (privately printed, 1878).

Date Published: 2019-01-24

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