On a rich man’s table, rim to rim;
One was ruddy and red as blood,
And one as clear as the crystal flood.
“Let us tell the tales of the past to each other;
I can tell of a banquet and revel and mirth,
And the proudest and grandest souls on the earth
Fell under my touch as though struck by blight,
Where I was king, for I ruled in might;
From the heads of kings I have torn the crown,
From the heights of fame I have hurled men down:
I have blasted many an honored name;
I have taken virtue and given shame;
I have tempted the youth with a sip, a taste,
That has made his future a barren waste.
Greater, far greater than king am I,
Or than any army beneath the sky.
I have made the arm of the driver fail,
And sent the train from the iron rail;
I have made good ships go down at sea,
And the shrieks of the lost were sweet to me,
For they said, ‘Behold how great you be!
Fame, strength, wealth, genius before you fall,
For your might and power are over all.’
Ho! ho! pale brother,” laughed the wine,
“Can you boast of deeds as great as mine?”
Of a king dethroned or a murdered host;
But I can tell of a heart once sad,
By my crystal drops made light and glad;
Of thirsts I’ve quenched, of brows I’ve laved,
Of hands I have cooled, and souls I have saved;
I have leaped through the valley, dashed down the mountain,
Flowed in the river and played in the fountain,
Slept in the sunshine and dropped from the sky,
And everywhere gladdened the landscape and eye.
I have eased the hot forehead of fever and pain;
I have made the parched meadows grow fertile with grain;
I can tell of the powerful wheel of the mill,
That ground out the flour and turned at my will.
I can tell of manhood debased by you,
That I have lifted and crowned anew.
I cheer, I help, I strengthen and aid;
I gladden the heart of man and maid;
I set the chained wine-captive free;
And all are better for knowing me.”
The glass of wine and the paler brother,
As they sat together filled to the brim,
On the rich man’s table, rim to rim.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox
from “The Best Love Poems of the American People”