The Drawbridge Keeper

Henry Abbey


Drecker, a drawbridge keeper, opened wide
The dangerous gate to let the vessel through;
His little son was standing by his side,
Above Passaic River deep and blue,
While in the distance, like a moan of pain,
Was heard the whistle of the coming train.

At once brave Drecker worked to swing it back,
The gate-like bridge that seems a gate of death;
Nearer and nearer, on the slender track,
Came the swift engine, puffing its white breath.
Then, with a shriek, the loving father saw
His darling boy fall headlong from the draw!

Either at once down in the stream to spring
And save his son, and let the living freight
Rush on to death, or to his work to cling,
And leave his boy unhelped to meet his fate--
Which should he do? Were you as he was tried,
Would not your love outweigh all else beside?

And yet the child to him was full as dear
As yours may be to you--the light of eyes,
A presence like a brighter atmosphere,
The household star that shone in love's mild skies--
Yet, side by side with duty stern and grim,
Even his child became as naught to him.

For Drecker, being great of soul and true,
Held to his work and did not aid his boy,
Who, in the deep, dark water, sank from view.
Then from the father's life went forth all joy;
But, as he fell back pallid from his pain,
Across the bridge in safety shot the train.

And yet the man was poor, and in his breast
Flowed no ancestral blood of king or lord;
True greatness needs no title and no crest
To win from men just honor and reward!
Nobility is not of rank, but mind,
And is inborn and common in our kind.

He is most noble whose humanity
Is least corrupted: to be just and good
The birthright of the lowest born may be.
Say what we can, we are one brotherhood,
And, rich or poor, or famous or unknown,
True hearts are noble, and true hearts alone.