For the Living

IF you like a brother here,
Tell him so;
If you hold his friendship dear,
Let him know;
All the roses that you spread
On his bier when he is dead
Are not worth one kind word said
Years ago.

You can help a brother now
If you will
Smooth the furrows from his brow;
You can kill
The despair that’s in his heart
With a word, and ease the smart.
So why stand you now apart
Keeping still?

You can help a brother when
He is here;
He would hold your praises then
Very dear.
But absurdly still you stay
And withhold what you could say
That would cheer him on his way
For his bier.

What, I wonder, if the dead
Saw and heard
What is done and what is said
Afterward,
Would they utter in reply?
Would they smile and ask us why,
When the time to help was nigh,
No one stirred?

“Keep your roses for the living,”
They would say,
“Waste no time in praises giving
Us today;
Strew some living brother’s way so,
If you like another, say so,
For the thing that now you praise so
Is but clay.”

By Edgar Albert Guest

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