A Poor Man's Life

Don’t cry if you cannot live to see another day
but try to free your weary soul from dismay,
don’t hang on to life but accept your fate
don’t come back to live that street life again;
you have slept in the coldness of the nights
you have not eaten food for days
the hunger pangs have exhausted you;
as you lie in a coma now
your heartbeats fluctuate like glow-worm's light.
No friends to hold your hand
no foes to steal your hidden bags
no one knows what you are feeling
no one knows what you are thinking
no one wants to understand what you want to say
whether you wish to wait or go.
At no bus-junctions have you to sit and wait
at no train stations have you to beg
at midnight no dogs to chase you and bark
if you stop to respire and perish now;
but if you get that second chance to live again
you will still not change your direction
you will still choose to be a beggar
as that has been your temptation over years,
for ruthless has been your luck and options.
How much more alms can you collect?
how much more can pity assist you?
how much more can you desist from begging?
your age has forgotten the duty of strength,
you have yourself forgotten to be the little ant
who slowly stocks its providence for rainy days.
By meager alms, meager food, scanty clothes
and with an old blanket on dirty pavements
you have passed your days, drinking heavily
to forget the remorse of being a beggar.
yet, how it hurts to see you fighting for your life,
your unshaven face in extreme pain, struggling
as your chest keeps rising up and down
your pulse keeps diminishing unwillingly.
How much I want to see you at the corner of our street
blinking at the hot sun, calling out my name
thanking me whenever I dropped a coin in your bowl.
But alas, you cannot refrain yourself from dying now
cause death itself has sat by your bedside
and has extended before you its begging bowl.

by Bernedita Rosinha Pinto

Comments (21)

There is no Christian message, except for the religious one. Eliot would have been the first to point that out. The Christian message is want not, seek not, crave not and do good because you are a child of God. Don't worry so much about 'religion, ' which has incorrectly been adopted by many as a synonym for empty moralizing. It's often wonderful and expansive. Don't learn about it from your friends and the newspapers; try it yourself. What have you got to lose, other than some mistaken ideas?
I first read this on Ash Wednesday and was stunned by the elegance of his passing on of the Christian message. Not the religious one, but the spirit of the words of Christ who wanted not; sought not; craved not; and judged not BUT loved so deeply that there was no room for gilding the gift of life, only appreciating and giving back.
Why is it that Eliot's poems - The Waste Land, The Hollow Men, Ash Wednesday (and more directly Prufrock) - all seem to deal with women/romance in the context of an empty/morally-empty world? To consider: is love the solution?
Out of all of T.S. Eliot's impressive works of poetry, I somehow always enjoy and am able to relate to this one most. He captures powerfully and elegantly the experience of the Christian as they strive to reform their ways. His inimitable choice of words depicts economically the themes he is trying to convey.
To add to what everyone else has been saying, I definitely think that this poem is one of repentance. The speaker of the poem, possibly from the point-of-view of Eliot himself, speaks about how he has lived a life without God for quite a long time and how he struggles as he continues to find himself and ultimately find salvage in God and Christianity. The speaker also writes as if he has committed some kind of tragic sin, so this poem could also be a plea for help, a plea for salvation. Throughout the poem, the speaker indirectly refers to himself as lowly, saying 'Lord I am not worthy/ Lord I am not worthy/ but speak the word only.' So although others, even himself, view him as a lowly creature, a heathen even (haha, that rhymes!) , God's grace - his 'word' - is what will save him from damnation. What I like about this poem is that it's very quotable. 'Teach us to care and not to care/Teach us to sit still/Even among these rocks, /Our peace in His will/ And even among these rocks'
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