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Charles Lamb

(10 February 1775 – 27 December 1834 / London)

Charity


O why your good deeds with such pride do you scan,
And why that self-satisfied smile
At the shilling you gave to the poor working man,
That lifted you over the stile?


'Tis not much; all the bread that can with it be bought,
Will scarce give a morsel to each
Of his eight hungry children;-reflection and thought
Should you more humility teach.


Vainglory's a worm which the very best action
Will taint, and its soundness eat through;
But to give one's self airs for a small benefaction,
Is folly and vanity too.


The money perhaps by your father or mother
Was furnished you but with that view;
If so, you were only the steward of another,
And the praise you usurp is their due.


Perhaps every shilling you give in this way
Is paid back with two by your friends;
Then the bounty you so ostentatious display,
Has little and low selfish ends.


But if every penny you gave were your own,
And giving diminished your purse;
By a child's slender means think how little is done,
And how little for it you're the worse.


You eat, and you drink; when you rise in the morn,
You are clothed; you have health and content;
And you never have known, from the day you were born,
What hunger or nakedness meant.


The most which your bounty from you can subtract
Is an apple, a sweetmeat, a toy;
For so easy a virtue, so trifling an act,
You are paid with an innocent joy.


Give thy bread to the hungry, the thirsty thy cup;
Divide with the afflicted thy lot:
This can only be practised by persons grown up,
Who've possessions which children have not.


Having two cloaks, give one (said our Lord) to the poor;
In such bounty as that lies the trial:
But a child that gives half of its infantile store
Has small praise, because small self-denial.

Submitted: Saturday, April 10, 2010

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