THE PHANTOM BALL

You remember the hall on the corner?
   To-night as I walked down street
I heard the sound of music,
   And the rhythmic beat and beat,
In time to the pulsing measure
   Of lightly tripping feet.

And I turned and entered the doorway--
   It was years since I had been there--
Years, and life seemed altered:
   Pleasure had changed to care.
But again I was hearing the music
   And watching the dancers fair.

And then, as I stood and listened,
   The music lost its glee;
And instead of the merry waltzers
   There were ghosts of the Used-to-be--
Ghosts of the pleasure-seekers
   Who once had danced with me.

Oh, 'twas a ghastly picture!
   Oh, 'twas a gruesome crowd!
Each bearing a skull on his shoulder,
   Each trailing a long white shroud,
As they whirled in the dance together,
   And the music shrieked aloud.

As they danced, their dry bones rattled
   Like shutters in a blast;
And they stared from eyeless sockets
   On me as they circled past;
And the music that kept them whirling
   Was a funeral dirge played fast.

Some of them wore their face-cloths,
   Others were rotted away.
Some had mould on their garments,
   And some seemed dead but a day.
Corpses all, but I knew them
   As friends, once blithe and gay.

Beauty and strength and manhood--
   And this was the end of it all:
Nothing but phantoms whirling
   In a ghastly skeleton ball.
But the music ceased--and they vanished,
   And I came away from the hall.

Kingdom of love and How Salvator won by Ella Wheeler Wilcox.
Chicago, W.B. Conkey company [1902].


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