Thomas Hardy

The Three Tall Men


‘What’s that tapping at night: tack, tack,
In some house in the street at the back?’
‘O, ’tis a man who, when he has leisure,
Is making himself a coffin to measure.
He’s so very tall that no carpenter
Will make it long enough, he’s in fear.
His father’s was shockingly short for his limb –
And it made a deep impression on him.’


‘That tapping has begun again,
Which ceased a year back, or near then?’

‘Yes, ’tis the man you heard before
Making his coffin. The first scarce done
His brother died – his only one –
And, being of his own height, or more,
He used it for him; for he was afraid
He’d not get a long enough one quick made.
He’s making a second now, to fit
Himself when there shall be need for it.
Carpenters work so by rule of thumb
That they make mistakes when orders come.’


‘It’s strange, but years back, when I was here,
I used to notice a tapping near;
A man was making his coffin at night,
And he made a second, if I am right?
I have heard again the self-same tapping –
Yes, late last night – or was I napping?’

‘O no. It’s the same man. He made one
Which his brother had; and a second was done –
For himself, as he thought. But lately his son,
As tall as he, died; aye, and as trim,
And his sorrowful father bestowed it on him.
And now the man is making a third,
To be used for himself when he is interred.’

‘Many years later was brought to me
News that the man had died at sea.’

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