The Poetry Corner

When The Old Man Smokes

By Paul Laurence Dunbar

In the forenoon's restful quiet, When the boys are off at school, When the window lights are shaded And the chimney-corner cool, Then the old man seeks his armchair, Lights his pipe and settles back; Falls a-dreaming as he draws it Till the smoke-wreaths gather black. And the tear-drops come a-trickling Down his cheeks, a silver flow-- Smoke or memories you wonder, But you never ask him,--no; For there 's something almost sacred To the other family folks In those moods of silent dreaming When the old man smokes. Ah, perhaps he sits there dreaming Of the love of other days And of how he used to lead her Through the merry dance's maze; How he called her "little princess," And, to please her, used to twine Tender wreaths to crown her tresses, From the "matrimony vine." Then before his mental vision Comes, perhaps, a sadder day, When they left his little princess Sleeping with her fellow clay. How his young heart throbbed, and pained him! Why, the memory of it chokes! Is it of these things he 's thinking When the old man smokes? But some brighter thoughts possess him, For the tears are dried the while. And the old, worn face is wrinkled In a reminiscent smile, From the middle of the forehead To the feebly trembling lip, At some ancient prank remembered Or some long unheard-of quip. Then the lips relax their tension And the pipe begins to slide, Till in little clouds of ashes, It falls softly at his side; And his head bends low and lower Till his chin lies on his breast, And he sits in peaceful slumber Like a little child at rest. Dear old man, there 's something sad'ning, In these dreamy moods of yours, Since the present proves so fleeting, All the past for you endures. Weeping at forgotten sorrows, Smiling at forgotten jokes; Life epitomized in minutes, When the old man smokes.