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The Nearest Friend

From the Omaha Daily Bee, March 15, 1914. By John Kendrick Bangs.

A man I know, and yet know not at all,
Is one who ever stands at beck and call.
Responsive always to my slightest whim,
No matter what the task I set for him.
My friend he would be, yet most truly he
Of all my foes is my worst enemy—
A riddle past all solving—loving, warm,
Yet daily in some way he doeth harm.

Control him? I have tried with some success,
Yet often he eludes me, and distress
Incalculable follows in his train,
And leaves me face to face with bitter pain.
His thoughts I know, and yet within his soul
He carries as it were a mystic scroll
That, try how hard I may to penetrate
Its meaning clear, I never can translate.

Why this good deed he does, or that of ill,
The deeds that dull all hope, or haply thrill
My heart and soul, I cannot comprehend—
My enemy today; tomorrow friend!
With joy and shame, alternately, through life
He’s filled my days with happiness and strife;
My love and hatred form his worldly pelf,
This man I know, yet know him not!—Myself!

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