The Heritage

by


The Heritage is Lowell's poem featured in Pieces People Ask For (Reading Club, 1885), edited by George M. Baker.
The rich man’s son inherits lands,
And piles of brick and stone and gold;
And he inherits soft, white hands,
And tender flesh that feels the cold,
Nor dares to wear a garment old,—
A heritage, it seems to me,
One scarce would wish to hold in fee.

The rich man’s son inherits cares:
The bank may break, the factory burn;
A breath may burst his bubble shares;
And soft white hands could hardly earn
A living that would serve his turn,—
A heritage, it seems to me,
One scarce would wish to hold in fee.

The rich man’s son inherits wants:
His stomach craves for dainty fare;
With sated heart, he hears the pants
Of toiling hinds with brown arms bare,
And wearies in his easy chair,—
A heritage, it seems to me,
One scarce would wish to hold in fee.

What doth the poor man’s son inherit?
Stout muscles and a sinewy heart,
A hardy frame, a hardier spirit;
King of two hands, he does his part
In every useful toil and art,—
A heritage, it seems to me,
A king might wish to hold in fee.

What doth the poor man’s son inherit?
Wishes o’erjoyed with humble things,
A rank adjudged by toil-worn merit,
Content that from employment springs,
A heart that in his labor sings,—
A heritage, it seems to me,
A king might wish to hold in fee.

What doth the poor man’s son inherit?
A patience learned by being poor;
Courage, if sorrow come, to bear it;
A fellow-feeling that is sure
To make the outcast bless his door,—
A heritage, it seems to me,
A king might wish to hold in fee.

O rich man’s son! there is a toil,
That with all others level stands:
Large charity doth never soil,
But only whiten, soft white hands;
This is the best crop from thy lands,—
A heritage, it seems to me,
Worth being rich to hold in fee.

O poor man’s son! scorn not thy state:
There is worse weariness than thine,
In merely being rich and great;
Toil only gives the soul to shine,
And makes rest fragrant and benign,—
A heritage, it seems to me,
Worth being poor to hold in fee.

Both, heirs to some six feet of sod,
Are equal in the earth at last;
Both, children of the same dear God,
Prove title to your heirship vast
By record to a well-filled past,—
A heritage, it seems to me,
Well worth a life to hold in fee.

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