I was a little lad, and the older boys called to me from the pier.
They called to me: "Be a sport; be a sport! Leap in and swim!"
I leaped in and swam, though I had never been taught a stroke.
Then I was made a hero, and they all shouted: "Well done! Well done,
Brave boy; you are a sport, a good sport!"
And I was very glad.

But now I wish I had learned to swim the right way,
   Or had never learned at all.
Now I regret that day,
   For it led me to my fall.

I was a youth, and I heard the older men talking of the road to wealth,
They talked of bulls and bears, of buying on margins,
And they said: "Be a sport, my boy; plunge in and win, or lose it all!
It is the only way to fortune."
So I plunged in and won; and the older men patted me on the back,
And they said, "You are a sport, my boy, a good sport!"
And I was very glad

But now I wish I had lost all I ventured on that day--
   Yes, wish I had lost it all:
For it was the wrong way,
   And pushed me to my fall.

I was a young man, and the gay world called me to come.
Gay women and gay men called to me, crying: "Be a sport; be a good sport!
Fill our glasses and let us fill yours.
We are young but once; let us dance and sing,
And drive the dull hours of night until they stand at bay
Against the shining bayonets of day."
So I filled my glass, and I filled their glasses over and over again,
And I sang and danced and drank, and drank and danced and sang,
And I heard them cry, "He is a sport, a good sport!"
As they held their glasses out to be filled again.
And I was very glad.

Oh, the madness of youth and song and dance and wine,
Of woman's eyes and lips, when the night dies in the arms of down!

And now I wish I had not gone that way.
Now I wish I had not heard them say,
"He is a sport, a good sport!"
For I am old who should be young.
The splendid vigor of my youth I flung
Under the feet of a mad, unthinking throng.
My strength went out with wine and dance and song;
Unto the winds of earth I tossed like chaff,
With idle jest and laugh,
The pride of splendid manhood, all its wealth
Of unused power and health;
Its dream of looking in some pure girl's eyes
And finding there its earthly paradise;
Its hope of virile children free from blight;
Its thoughts of climbing to some noble height
Of great achievement--all these gifts divine
I cast away for song and dance and wine.
Oh, I have been a sport, a good sport;
But I am very sad.

World Voices by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
New York : Hearst's International Library Company 1916.

Back to Poem Index