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Almswomen

    At Quincey's moat the squandering village ends,
    And there in the almshouse dwell the dearest friends
    Of all the village, two old dames that cling
    As close as any trueloves in the spring.
Long, long ago they passed threescore-and-ten, And in this doll's house lived together then; All things they have in common, being so poor, And their one fear, Death's shadow at the door.
Each sundown makes them mournful, each sunrise Brings back the brightness in their failing eyes.
How happy go the rich fair-weather days When on the roadside folk stare in amaze At such a honeycomb of fruit and flowers As mellows round their threshold; what long hours They gloat upon their steepling hollyhocks, Bee's balsams, feathery southernwood, and stocks, Fiery dragon's-mouths, great mallow leaves For salves, and lemon-plants in bushy sheaves, Shagged Esau's-hands with five green finger-tips.
Such old sweet names are ever on their lips.
As pleased as little children where these grow In cobbled pattens and worn gowns they go, Proud of their wisdom when on gooseberry shoots They stuck eggshells to fright from coming fruits The brisk-billed rascals; pausing still to see Their neighbour owls saunter from tree to tree, Or in the hushing half-light mouse the lane Long-winged and lordly.
But when those hours wane, Indoors they ponder, scared by the harsh storm Whose pelting saracens on the window swarm, And listen for the mail to clatter past And church clock's deep bay withering on the blast; They feed the fire that flings a freakish light On pictured kings and queens grotesquely bright, Platters and pitchers, faded calendars And graceful hour-glass trim with lavenders.
Many a time they kiss and cry, and pray That both be summoned in the self-same day, And wiseman linnet tinkling in his cage End too with them the friendship of old age, And all together leave their treasured room Some bell-like evening when the may's in bloom.

Poem by Edmund Blunden
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