As the Fates permit

‘I am vain enough to think,’ the old man began,
‘That everyone I speak to has something to learn
That I may be the spark for, as the Fates permit.’
Choking back tears, he told me his story.
It so happened that as a young man,
A man of my age, he had had a dream
He had not fulfilled, a dream alike
In every particular to my own heartfelt wish,
For me still a living hope, but equally unfulfilled –
‘To be a wanderer, to escape the fumes of the city
And ply the leafy lanes, at peace with myself and nature.’

I mentioned nothing of my own desire.
I pressed him: ‘Why, why did you not
Fulfil your dream, when did you know
It was never to be?’

The old man spoke as if my interest
Were casual: ‘I suppose I knew it
All along, but it gives men pleasure
To think what they might otherwise have done.
My parents took ill, I nursed them alone till they died.
By then I was as you see me now,
White-haired, no good for anything any more.
We are all of us unique individuals.
What Fate grants one she denies another.
Though they deceive themselves, I do envy
Those who think they’re free to choose,
It gives men pleasure to dream.’