The Old Man and Death

An Old Man was tired of picking up sticks and called on Death to take him. Death arrived and the Old Man asked him to pick up the sticks. Changed his mind.

Be careful what you wish for.

Eliot-JacobsEliot/Jacobs Version

An Old Man, bent double with age and toil, was gathering sticks in a forest. At last he grew so tired and hopeless that he threw down the bundle of sticks, and cried out: “I cannot bear this life any longer. Death come and take me!” As he spoke, Death appeared and said to him: “What do you want Old Man? I heard you call me.” “Please, sir,” replied the Old Man, “would you kindly help me lift this load of sticks on to my shoulder?”

JBR CollectionJBR Collection

Old Man and DeathA poor and toil-worn Peasant, bent with years, and groaning beneath the weight of a heavy faggot of firewood which he carried, sought, weary and sore-footed on a long and dusty road, to gain his distant cottage. Unable to bear the weight of his burden any longer, he let it fall by the roadside, and sitting down upon it, lamented his hard fate. What pleasure had he known since first he drew breath in this sad world? From dawn to dusk one round of ill-requited toil! At home, empty cupboards, a discontented wife, and disobedient children! He called on Death to free him from his troubles. At once the King of Terrors stood before him, and asked him what he wanted. Awed at the ghastly presence, the Old Fellow stammering said, it was nothing more than to have helped once more upon his shoulders the bundle of sticks which he had let fall.

Townsend VersionTownsend version

An old man was employed in cutting wood in the forest, and, in carrying the faggots to the city for sale one day, became very wearied with his long journey. He sat down by the wayside, and throwing down his load, besought “Death” to come. “Death” immediately appeared in answer to his summons and asked for what reason he had called him. The Old Man hurriedly replied, “That, lifting up the load, you may place it again upon my shoulders.”

L'Estrange VersionL’Estrange version

An old man that had travell’d a great way under a huge burden of sticks, found himself so weary, that he cast it down, and call’d upon Death to deliver him from a more miserable life. Death came presently at his call, and asked him his bus’ness. Pray good sir, says he, do me but the favour to help me up with my burden again.


Men call upon death, as they do upon the devil: when he comes they’re affraid of him.

1001Mors et Pauper

Pauper quidam lignorum fasciculum portabat humeris. Longo deinde itinere fatigatus, onere se levavit, consedit humi, et flebili voce advocavit Mortem. Illa continuo adest, interrogans quid se velit. Respondet pauper, “Humi ut tolleres hunc fascem mihi, huc ego te vocavi.”


Adeo in miseris etiam vitae amantes sunt mortales.

Perry #60