Then and Now

By George Sterling

Beyond the desolate expanse of plain
    The sunset like a fiery menace glowed.
    The bones of brutes, along the uncertain road,
Were half a year unvisited of rain.

A woman dug within the river-bed,
    Eager to know if water could be found.
    Her breathing filled the space with weary sound;
On those gaunt arms and face the light lay red.

The turbid water gathered in the hole.
    Pausing, she watched the west with steady stare. . . .
    Impatiently the oxen sniffed the air,
Tethered and tired beside the wagon-pole.

Above, a hungry child began to push
    Aside the canvas of their prairie-van;
    Near the low bank a grim, impatient man
Tugged, grunting, at a thick and withered bush.

It snapped. He rolled, then rose with angry face,
    The woman stood with gnarly hands on hips,
    As broke in epic music from her lips
The swift, unsparing laughter of the race.

                  *  *  *  *  *

Beyond the fenced and many-pastured plain
    The sunset rose like minarets of dream.
    The bridge across the summer-wasted stream
Roared with the passing of the splendid train.

And from a shining car whose inmates quaffed
    Their jeweled wines, a girl with ivory hands
     Gazed forth, nor knew that on those very sands,
One sunset-time, her mother's mother laughed.

Eastward she hastened to the roofs of kings,
    Her each desire accorded ere 't was felt—
    She who had never toiled nor borne nor knelt,
She, tired of life and love and human things.

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