Death and the Old Man

Folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther Type 845
tedited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2022

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.


  1. Death and an Old Man (Aesop, Roger L'Estrange).

  2. The Asses Skin (Aesop, Roger L'Estrange).

  3. The Old Man and Death (Aesop, Samuel Croxall).

  4. The Old Man and Death (Aesop, Robert Dodsley).

  5. The Old Man and Death (Aesop, Joseph Jacobs).

  6. Death and the Unfortunate (Jean de La Fontaine).

  7. Death and the Woodman (Jean de La Fontaine).

  8. The Old Man and Death (Leo Tolstoy).

  9. The Lord and Toby (USA -- Virginia).

  10. The Lord and Langton (USA -- Virginia).

  11. God and Moses (USA -- Florida).

  12. Death and the Negro Man (Joel Chandler Harris).

  13. Links to Related Sites.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Death and an Old Man

Aesop (Roger L'Estrange)

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 hi Bus'ness. Pray Good Sir, says he, do me but the fabour 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.

The Asses Skin

Aesop (Roger L'Estrange)

A Miserable Ass that was ready to sink under Blows and Burdens, call'd upon Death to Deliver him from that Intolerable Oppression. Death was within Hearing it seems, and took him at his Word; but told him withal for his Comfort, that whereas other Creatures end their Misfortunes and their Lives together, You must not expect that it will be so with you; sor (says Death,) they'l make drums of your Skin, when your Carcass shall be Carrion, and never leave Drubbof ye so long as on Piece will hold to another.


Some People are Miserable beyong the Relief even of Death it self: That is to say, there are Men that lead Restless Lives in this World, under a Dreadful Apprehension at the same time, of being more Wretched in the next.

The Old Man and Death

Aesop (Samuel Croxall)

A Poor, feeble, old Man, who had crawl'd out into a neighbouring Wood to gather a few Sticks, had made up his Bundle, and laying it over his Shoulders, was trudging homeward with it; but what with Age, the Length of the Way, and the Weight of his Burden, he grew so faint and weak, that he sunk under it; and, as he sat on the Ground, call'd upon Death to come, once for all, and ease him of his Troubles. Death no sooner heard him, but he came, and demanded of him what he wanted. The poor old Creatre, who little thought Death had been so near, and frighted almost out of his Senses with his terrible Aspect, answer'd him trembling, that having by Chance let his Bundle of Sticks fall, and being too infirm to get it up himself, he had made bold to call upon him to helm him: That indeed, this was all he wanted at present, and that he hop'e his Worship was not offended with him for the Liberty he had taken in so doing.


Death is immediately call'd upon by peevish Men, on every little cross Accident; but let him only offer to make his Appearance, and then all they want is to live a little longer.

The Old Man and Death

Aesop (Robert Dodsley)

A Feeble Old Man quite spent with carrying a burthen of sticks, which with much labour he had gathered in a neighbouring wood, called upon death to release him from the fatigues he endured. Death hearing the invocation, was immediately at his elbow, and asked him what he wanted. Frightened and trembling at the unexpected appearance -- O good sir! said he, my burthen had like to have slipt from me, and being unable to recover it myself, I only implored yor assistance to replace it on my shoulders.

The Old Man and Death

Aesop (Joseph Jacobs)

An old labourer, 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. Ah, I wish Death would only come and take me!"

As he spoke, Death, a grisly skeleton, appeared and said to him: "What wouldst thou, Mortal? I heard thee call me."

"Please, sir," replied the woodcutter, "would you kindly help me to lift this faggot of sticks on to my shoulder?"

We would often be sorry if our wishes were gratified.

Death and the Unfortunate

Jean de La Fontaine

A poor unfurtunate, from day to day,
Call'd Death to take him from this world away.
"O Death," he said, "to me how fair thy form!
Come quick, and end for me life's cruel storm."
Death heard, and, with a ghastly grin,
Knock'd at his door, and enter'd in.
With horror shivering, and affright,
"Take out this object from my sight!"
The poor man loudly cried;
"Its dreadful looks I can't abide;
O stay him, stay him; let him come no nigher;
O Death! O Death! I pray thee to retire!"

A gentleman of note
In Rome, Mæcenas, somewhere wrote:
"Make me the poorest wretch that begs,
Sore, hungry, crippled clothed in rags,
In hopeless impotence of arms and legs;
Provided, after all, you give
The one sweet liberty to live:
I'll ask of Death no greater favour
Than just to stay away for ever."

Death and the Woodman

Jean de La Fontaine

A poor wood-chopper, with his fagot load,
Whom weight of years, as well as load, oppress'd,
Sore groaning in his smoky hut to rest,
Trudged wearily along his homeward road.
At last his wood upon the ground he throws,
And sits him down to think o'er all his woes.
To joy a stranger, since his hapless birth,
What poorer wretch upon this rolling earth?
No bread sometimes, and ne'er a moment's rest;
Wife, children, soldiers, landlords, public tax,
All wait the swinging of his old, worn axe,
And paint the veriest picture of a man unblest.
On Death he calls. Forthwith that monarch grim
Appears, and asks what he should do for him.
"Not much, indeed; a little help I lack
To put these fagots on my back."

Death ready stands all ills to cure;
But let us not his cure invite.
Than die, 'tis better to endure,
Is both a manly maxim and a right.

The Old Man and Death

Leo Tolstoy

An Old Man cut some wood, which he carried away. He had to carry it far.

He grew tired, so he put down his bundle, and said: "Oh, if Death would only come!"

Death came, and said: "Here I am, what do you want?"

The Old Man was frightened, and said: "Lift up my bundle!

The Lord and Toby

USA (Virginia)

Man prayin' all de time: "O Lord! Send down thy angel to take ol' Toby home, Toby's tired o' living. O Lord! Send down thy angel to take ol' Toby home."

So his master knocked at de do'.

Said, "Who's dat?"

"Oh, de Lord sent his angel to take Toby home."

Toby said, "I say, can't de Lord take jokin'? Mo'ober, Toby's gone to de nex' neighbor, an' I don' know when he's gwine come back."

The Lord and Langton

USA (Virginia)

Once there was an old man named Langton; and whenever he prayed, he would say, "O Lord! please come and take poor Langton home out of his suffering!"

Every night he did that, people began to notice it: so some mischievous boys said that they would try his faith. One night they came to the old man's door, and waited until the old man began to pray. When he got to his old saying, one of them knocked on the door, -- bam, bam, bam! The old man stopped praying and listened, and no one said anything.

After a while he began again; and soon he said, "O Lord! please come and take poor Langton home out of his sufferings!"

One of the boys knocked on the door, -- blip, blip, blip!

The old man stopped again, and asked, "Who is that?"

One of them replied, "The Lord has come to take poor Langton home out of his sufferings."

The man jumped off his knees and blew the light out, then with a very excited voice exclaimed, "Langton has been dead and gone a fortnight!"

God and Moses

USA (Florida)

Said a fellow named Moses, an' he was prayin' to God to take him out de world.

An' while he was prayin' to God to take him out de worl', "Who dere?"


"Who dere?"


"What God want?"

"Want po' Moses."

"Who?" he said.


"Moses hain't here, his wife here. His wife do as well."

"Come here, Moses, an' go to God."

Say, "Where my shoes?"

"You know where you shoes are. Dey under de bed dere."

"Where's my hat?"

"You know where you hat is. You go git it."

"O God! stan' one side! You so high, I can't go over you. You so wide, I can't go around you. You so low, I can't go under you. Stan' one side!"

Den he stood one side. Him an' God, what a race den dey had! An' he jumped over a high railin' fence, an' de fence fell on him.

An' he said, "Get off me, God, get off me!"

An' God never did get off.

Death and the Negro Man

Joel Chandler Harris

One day Uncle Remus was grinding the axe with which he chopped kindling for the kitchen and the big house. The axe was very dull. It was full of "gaps," and the work of putting an edge on it was neither light nor agreeable. A Negro boy turned the grindstone, and the little boy poured on water when water was needed.

"Ef dis yer axe wuz a yard longer, it ud be a cross cut saw, en den ef we had de lumber we could saw it up en build us a house," said the old man.

The Negro boy rolled his eyes and giggled, seeing which Uncle Remus bore so heavily on the axe that the grindstone could hardly be turned. The Negro boy ceased giggling, but he continued to roll his eyes.

"Turn it!" exclaimed the old man. "Turn it! Ef you don't turn it, I'll make you stan' dar plum twel night gwine thoo de motions. I'll make you do like de Negro man done when he got tired er work."

The old man stopped talking, but the grinding went on. After awhile, the little boy asked, "What did the man do when he got tired of work?"

"Dat's a tale, honey, en tellin' tales is playin'," replied Uncle Remus.

He wiped the blade of the axe on the palm of his hand, and tried the edge with his thumb.

"She won't shave," he said, by way of comment, "but I speck she'll do ter knock out kindlin'. Yit ef I had de time, I 'd like ter stan' here en see how long dish yer triflin' vilyun would roll dem eyes at me."

In a little while the axe was supposed to be sharp enough, and then, dismissing the Negro boy, Uncle Remus seated himself on one end of the frame that supported the grindstone, wiped his forehead on his coat sleeve, and proceeded to enjoy what he called a breathing spell.

"Dat ar Negro man you hear me talk about," he remarked:

Dat ar Negro man you hear me talk about wuz a-gittin' sorter ol', en he got so he ain't want ter work nohow you kin fix it. When folks hangs back fum work what dey bin set ter do, hit natchully makes bad matters wuss, en dat de way 't wuz with dish yer Negro man. He helt back, en he hung back, en den de white folks got fretted wid 'im en sot 'im a task. Gentermens! dat Negro man wuz mad.... He quoiled en he quoiled when he 'uz by his own lone se'f, en he quoiled when he 'uz wid tudder folks.

He got so mad dat he say he hope ole Gran'sir Death'll come take him off, en take his marster en de overseer 'long wid 'im. He talk so long en he talk so loud, dat de white folks hear what he say. Den de marster en de overseer make it up 'mongst deyse'f dat dey gwine ter play a prank on dat Negro man.

So den, one night, a leetle atter midnight, de marster got 'm a white counterpane, he did, en wrop hisse'f in it, en den he cut two eye-holes in a piller-case, en drawed it down over his head, en went down ter de house whar de Negro man stay. Negro man ain't gone ter bed. He been fryin' meat en bakin' ashcake, en he sot dar in de cheer noddin', wid grease in his mouf en big hunk er ashcake in his han'. De door wuz half-way open, en de fire burnin' low.

De marster walk in, he did, en sorter cle'r up his th'oat. Negro man ain't wake up. Ef he make any movement, it uz ter clinch de ashcake a leetle tighter. Den de marster knock on de door -- blim-blim-blim!

Negro man sorter fling his head back, but't wan't long 'fo' hit drapt forrerd ag'in, en he went on wid his noddin' like nothin' ain't happen. De marster knock some mo' -- blam-blam- blam!

Dis time de Negro wake up en roll his eye-balls roun'. He see de big white thing, en he skeered ter move. His han' shake so he tu'n de ashcake loose.

Negro man 'low, "Who dat?"

De marster say: "You call me, en I come."

Negro man say: "I ain't call you. What yo' name?"

Marster 'low, "Grandsir Death."

Negro man shake so he can't skacely set still. De col' sweat come out on 'im.

He 'low, "Marse Death, I ain't call you. Somebody been fool you."

De marster 'low, "I been hear you call me p'intedly. I listen at you ter-day, en yis-tiddy, en day 'fo' yis-tiddy. You say you want me ter take you en yo' marster en de overseer. Now I done come at yo' call."

Negro man shake wuss. He say: "Marse Death, go git de overseer fust. He lots bigger en fatter dan what I is. You'll like him de bes'. Please, suh, don't take me dis time, en I won't bodder you no mo' long ez I live."

De marster 'low, "I come f er de man dat call me! I'm in a hurry! Daylight mus'n't ketch me here. Come on!"

Well, suh, dat Negro man make a break for de winder, he did, en he went thoo it like a frog divin' in de mill pon'. He tuck ter de woods, en he 'uz gone mighty nigh a week. When he come back home he went ter work, en he work harder dan any er de res'. Somebody come 'long en try ter buy 'im, but his marster 'low he won't take lev'm hunder'd dollars for 'im, -- cash money, paid down in his han'!

Links to Related Sites

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Revised May 7, 2022.