Oliver Wendell Holmes.

The poems of Oliver Wendell Holmes online

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I 862.

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1862, by


in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Mass

Uhiremfttf Press :

Welch, Bigelow, and Company,



AY, blame me not ; I might have spared

Your patience many a trivial verse,
Yet these my earlier welcome shared,
So, let the better shield the worse.

And some might say, " Those ruder songs
Had freshness which the new have lost ;

To spring the opening leaf belongs,
The chestnut-burs await the frost."

When those I wrote, my locks were brown,
When these I write ah, well-a-day !

The autumn thistle's silvery down
Is not the purple bloom of May !

Go, little book, whose pages hold

Those garnered years in loving trust ;

How long before your blue and gold
Shall fade and whiten in the dust ?


sexton of the alcoved tomb,

Where souls in leathern cerements lie,
Tell me each living poet's doom !
How long before his book shall die ?

It matters little, soon or late,

A day, a month, a year, an age,

1 read oblivion in its date,

And Finis on its title-page.

Before we sighed, our griefs were told ;

Before we smiled, our joys were sung ;
And all our passions shaped of old

In accents lost to mortal tongue.

In vain a fresher mould we seek,
Can all the varied phrases tell

That Babel's wandering children speak
How thrushes sing or lilacs smell ?

Caged in the poet's lonely heart,

Love wastes unheard its tenderest tone ;

The soul that sings must dwell apart,
Its inward melodies unknown.

Deal gently with us, ye who read !

Our largest hope is unfulfilled,
The promise still outruns the deed,

The tower, but not the spire, we build.


Our whitest pearl we never find ;

Our ripest fruit we never reach ;
The flowering moments of the mind

Drop half their petals in our speech.

These are my blossoms ; if they wear
One streak of morn or evening's glow,

Accept them ; but to me more fair
The buds of song that never blow.

APEIL 8, 1862.




Cambridge Churchyard ... 14

Old Ironsides zi


The Last Reader 35

Our Yankee Girls 37

La Grisette . . 38

An Evening Thought 39

A Souvenir . . 40

" Qui Vive ! " 42

The Wasp and the Hornet 43

From a Bachelor's Private Journal ... 44

Stanzas 45

The Philosopher to his Love . . . . 46

L'Inconnue . .48

The Star and the Water-Lily .... 48

Illustration of a Picture 50

The Dying Seneca ...... 52

A Portrait . 53

A Roman Aqueduct 54

The Last Prophecy of Cassandra . . . .55

To a Caged Lion 57

To my Companions 58

The Last Leaf 60

To a Blank Sheet of Paper . . . . .61

To an Insect 63


The Dilemma

. 65

My Aunt


The Toadstool

. 68

The Meeting of the Dryads


The Mysterious Visitor


The Spectre Pig


Lines by a Clerk


Reflections of a Proud Pedestrian


The Poet's Lot

. 82

Daily Trials


Evening. By a Tailor

. 85

The Dorchester Giant


To the Portrait of " A Gentleman "

. 89

To the Portrait of " A Lady "...


The Comet


A Noontide Lyric


The Ballad of the Oysterman .

. 96

The Music-Grinders


The Treadmill Song

. 101

The September Gale


The Height of the Ridiculous

. 104

The Hot Season


Departed Days ......


The Steamboat


The Parting Word

. no



Lines recited at the Berkshire Festival .

. 114

Verses for Af ter-Dinner ....



Lexington . . .* .

The Island Hunting-Song ....

Questions and Answers .





. 129

Urania : a Rhymed Lesson ....

The Pilgrim's Vision



A Modest Request 167

Nux Postcoenatica 174

On Lending a Punch-Bowl 179

The Stethoscope Song 182

Extracts from a Medical Poem . . . . 186

A Song of Other Days 188

A Sentiment . . . . . . 190


Agnes 197

The Ploughman 219

A Poem for the Dedication of the Pittsfield Cemetery 221

Pictures from Occasional Poems . . . 225

To Governor Swain 264

To an English Friend 266

Vignettes 267

A Poem for the Meeting of the American Medical

Association 278

The New Eden 281

A Sentiment 286

Semicentennial Celebration of the New England

Society 287

Ode for Washington's Birthday .... 289

Class of '29 291

For the Meeting of the Burns Club . . .292

For the Burns Centennial Celebration . . 294

Birthday of Daniel Webster 296

Meeting of the Alumni of Harvard College . 299

The Parting Song 304

Boston Common. Three Pictures . . 305

Latter-Day Warnings 307

Prologue 308

The Old Man of the Sea 311

Ode for a Social Meeting, with Slight Alterations

by a Teetotaler 313

The Deacon's Masterpiece : or the Wonderful "One-

HossShay" 314


Estivation 318

Contentment 519

Parson Turell's Legacy 322

De Sauty . 327

The Old Man dreams 329

Mare Rubrum 331

What we all Think 333

Spring has come 335

A Good Time going ! 337

The Last Blossom 339

" The Boys " .341

The Opening of the Piano 343

Midsummer 345

A Parting Health. To J. L. Motley ... 346

A Good-hy. To J. R. Lowell 348

At a Birthday Festival. To J. R. Lowell . . 349
A Birthday Tribute. To J. F. Clarke . . .350

The Gray Chief 352

The Last Look 353

In Memory of Charles "Wentworth Upham, Junior 3 54

Martha 356

Sun and Shadow 357

The Chambered Nautilus 358

The Two Armies 359

For the Meeting of the National Sanitary Asso-
ciation 361

Musa 363

The Voiceless 366

The Crooked Footpath 367

The Two Streams 368

Robinson of Ley den 369

St. Anthony the Reformer .... 371



Iris, her Book

Under the Violets 377

The Promise 378

The Living Temple 380


Hymn of Trust 38z

A Sun-Day Hymn j8z

A Voice of the Loyal North .... 383

Brother Jonathan's Lament for Sister Caroline . 385

Under the Washington Elm, Cambridge . . 387

International Ode 388

Freedom, our Queen 389

Army Hymn 390

Parting Hymn 391

The Flower of Liberty 3gz

The Sweet Little Man 393

Vive la France ! 396

Voyage of the Good Ship Union . . . 398

Union and Liberty 401






GENES of my youth ! x awake its slum-
bering fire !
Ye winds of Memory, sweep the silent


Ray of the past, if yet thou canst appear,
Break through the clouds of Fancy's waning year ;
Chase from her breast the thin autumnal snow,
If leaf or blossom still is fresh below !

Long have I wandered ; the returning tide
Brought back an exile to his cradle's side ;
And as my bark her time-worn flag unrolled,
To greet the land-breeze with its faded fold,
So, in remembrance of my boyhood's time,
I lift these ensigns of neglected rhyme ;
O more than blest, that, all my wanderings through,
My anchor falls where first my pennons flew !

THE morning light, which rains its quivering

Wide o'er the plains, the summits, and the streams,


In one broad blaze expands its golden glow
On all that answers to its glance below ;
Yet, changed on earth, each far reflected ray
Braids with fresh hues the shining brow of day ;
Now, clothed in blushes by the painted flowers,
Tracks on their cheeks the rosy-fingered hours ;
Now, lost in shades, whose dark entangled leaves
Drip at the noontide from their pendent eaves,
Fades into gloom, or gleams in light again
From every dew-drop on the jewelled plain.

"We, like the leaf, the summit, or the wave,
Reflect the light our common nature gave,
But every sunbeam, falling from her throne,
Wears on our hearts some coloring of our own ;
Chilled in the slave, and burning in the free,
Like the sealed cavern by the sparkling sea ;
Lost, like the lightning in the sullen clod,
Or shedding radiance, like the smiles of God,
Pure, pale in Virtue, as the star above,
Or quivering roseate on the leaves of Love ;
Glaring like noontide, where it glows upon
Ambition's sands, the desert in the sun ;
Or soft suffusing o'er the varied scene
Life's common coloring, intellectual green.

Thus Heaven, repeating its material plan,
Arched over all the rainbow mind of man ;
But he, who, blind to universal laws,
Sees but effects, unconscious of their cause,
Believes each image in itself is bright,
Not robed in drapery of reflected light,
Is like the rustic, who, amidst his toil,
Has found some crystal in his meagre soil,


And, lost in rapture, thinks for him alone
Earth worked her wonders on the sparkling stone,
Nor dreams that Nature, with as nice a line,
Carved countless angles through the boundless

Thus err the many, who, entranced to find
Unwonted lustre in some clearer mind,
Believe that Genius sets the laws at naught
Which chain the pinions of our wildest thought ;
Untaught to measure, with the eye of art,
The wandering fancy or the wayward heart ;
Who match the little only with the less,
And gaze in rapture at its slight excess,
Proud of a pebble, as the brightest gem
Whose light might crown an emperor's diadem.

And, most of all, the pure ethereal fire,
Which seems to radiate from the poet's lyre,
Is to the world a mystery and a charm,
An ^Egis wielded on a mortal's arm,
While Reason turns her dazzled eye away,
And bows her sceptre to her subject's sway ;
And thus the poet, clothed with godlike state,
Usurped liis Maker's title to create ;
He, whose thoughts differing not in shape, but


What others feel, more fitly can express,
Sits like the maniac on his fancied throne,
Peeps through the bars, and calls the world his own.

There breathes no being but has some pretence
To that fine instinct called poetic sense ;
The rudest savage roaming through the wild,


The simplest rustic, bending o'er his child,
The infant listening to the warbling bird,
The mother smiling at its half-formed word ;
The boy uncaged, who tracks the fields at large,
The girl, turned matron to her babe-like charge ;
The freeman, casting with unpurchased hand
The vote that shakes the turrets of the land ;
The slave, who, slumbering on his rusted cha
Dreams of the palm-trees on his burning plai
The hot-cheeked reveller, tossing down the w
To join the chorus pealing " Auld lang syne '
The gentle maid, whose azure eye grows dim
While Heaven is listening to her evening hyn
The jewelled beauty, when her steps draw nea*
The circling dance and dazzling chandelier ;
E'en trembling age, when Spring's renewing air
AYaves the thin ringlets of his silvered hair ;
All, all are glowing with the inward flame,
AVhose wider halo wreathes the poet's name,
AVhile, unembalmed, the silent dreamer dies,
His memory passing with his smiles and sighs !

If glorious visions, born for all mankind,
The bright auroras of our twilight mind ;
If fancies, varying as the shapes that lie
Stained on the windows of the sunset sky ;
If hopes, that beckon with delusive gleams,
Till the eye dances in the void of dreams ;
If passions, following with the winds that urge
Earth's wildest wanderer to her farthest verge ;
If these on all some transient hours bestow
Of rapture tingling with its hectic prlow,
Then all are poets ; and, if earth had rolled
Her myriad centuries, and her doom were told,


Each moaning billow of her shoreless wave
Would wail its requiem o'er a poet's grave !

If to embody in a breathing word
Tones that the spirit trembled Avhcn it heard ;
To fix the image all unveiled and warm,
And carve in language its ethereal form,
So pure, so perfect, that the lines express
No meagre shrinking, no unlaced excess ;
To feel that art, in living truth, has taught
Ourselves, reflected in the sculptured thought ;
If this alone bestow the right to claim
The deathless garland and the sacred name ;
Then none are poets, save the saints on high,
Whose harps can murmur all that words deny !

But though to none is granted to reveal,
In perfect semblance, all that each may feel,
As withered flowers recall forgotten love,
So, warmed to life, our faded passions move
In every line, where kindling fancy throws
The gleam of pleasures, or the shade of woes.

When, schooled by time, the stately queen of art
Had smoothed the pathways leading to the heart,
Assumed her measured tread, her solemn tone,
And round her courts the clouds of fable thrown,
The Avreaths of heaven descended on her shrine,
And wondering earth proclaimed the Muse divine.
Yet, if her votaries had but dared profane
The mystic symbols of her sacred reign,
How had they smiled beneath the veil to find
What slender threads can chain the mighty mind !


Poets, like painters, their machinery claim,
And verse bestows the varnish and the frame ;
Our Derating English, whose Teutonic jar
Shakes the racked axle of Art's rattling car,
Fits like mosaic in the lines that gird
Fast in its place each many-angled word ;
From Saxon lips Anacrcon's numbers glide,
As once they melted on the Teian tide,
And, fresh transfused, the Iliad thrills again
From Albion's cliffs as o'er Achaia's plain !
The proud heroic, with its pulse-like beat,
Rings like the cymbals clashing as they meet ;
The sweet Spenserian, gathering as it flows,
Sweeps gently onward to its dying close,
Where waves on waves in long succession pour,
Till the ninth billow melts along the shore ;
The lonely spirit of the mournful lay,
"Which lives immortal as the verse of Gray,
In sable plumage slowly drifts along,
On eagle pinion, through the air of song ;
The glittering lyric bounds elastic bv,
"With flashing ringlets and exulting eye,
While every image, in her airy whirl,
Gleams like a diamond on a dancing girl ! -

Born with mankind, with man's expanded rang
And varying fates the poet's numbers change ;
Thus in his history may we hope to find
Some clearer epochs of the poet's mind,
As from the cradle of its birth we trace,
Slow wandering forth, the patriarchal race.


WIIEX the green earth, beneath the zephyr's wing,
Wears on her breast the varnished buds of Spring 1 ;
When the loosed current, as its folds uncoil,
Slides in the channels of the mellowed soil ;
When the young hyacinth returns to seek
The air and sunshine with her emerald beak ;
When the light snowdrops, starting from their cells,
Hang each pagoda with its silver bells ;
When the frail willow twines her trailing bow
With pallid leaves that sweep the soil below ;
When the broad elm, sole empress of the plain,
Whose circling shadow speaks a century's reign,
Wreathes in the clouds her regal diadem,
A forest waving on a single stem ;
Then mark the poet ; though to him unknown
The quaint-mouthed titles, such as scholars own,
See how his eye in ecstasy pursues
The steps of Nature tracked in radiant hues ;
Nay, in thyself, whate'er may be thy fate,
Pallid with, toil, or surfeited with state,
Mark how thy fancies, with the vernal rose,
Awake, all sweetness, from their long repose ;
Then turn to ponder o'er the classic page,
Traced with the idyls of a greener age,
And learn the instinct which arose to warm
Art's earliest essay, and her simplest for


To themes like these her narrow path confined
The first-born impulse moving in the mind ;
In vales unshaken by the trumpet's sound,
Where peaceful Labor tills his fertile ground,


The silent changes of the rolling years,
Marked on the soil, or dialled on the spheres,
The crested forests and the colored flowers,
The dewy grottos and the blushing bowers,
These, and their guardians, who, with liquid names,
Strephons and Chloes, melt in mutual flames,
Woo the young Muses from their mountain shade,
To make Arcadias in the lonely glade.

Nor think they visit only with their smiles
The fabled valleys and Elysian isles ;
He who is wearied of his village plain
May roam the Edens of the world in vain.
'T is not the star-crowned cliff, the cataract's flow,
The softer foliage, or the greener glow,
The lake of sapphire, or the spar-hung cave,
The brighter sunset, or the broader wave,
Can warm his heart whom every wind has blown
To every shore, forgetful of his own.

Home of our childhood ! how affection clings
And hovers round thee with her seraph wings !
Dearer thy liills, though clad in autumn brown,
Than fairest summits which the cedars crown !
Sweeter the fragrance of thy summer breeze
Than all Arabia breathes along the seas !
The stranger's gale wafts home the exile's sigh,
For the heart's temple is its own blue sky !

happiest they, whose early love unchanged,
Hopes undissolved, and friendship unestranged,
Tired of their wanderings, still can deign to sec
Love, hopes, and friendship, centering all in tl.cc !


And thou, my village ! as again I tread
Amidst thy living, and above thy dead ;
Though some fair playmates guard with chaster


Their cheeks, grown holy with the lapse of years ;
Though with the dust some reverend locks may

Where life's last mile-stone marks the journey's

end ;

On every bud the changing year recalls,
The brightening glance of morning memory falls,
Still following onward as the months unclose
The balmy lilac or the bridal rose ;
And still shall follow, till they sink once more
Beneath the snow-drifts of the frozen shore,
As when my bark, long tossing in the gale,
Furled in her port her tempest-rended sail !

What shall I give thee ? Can a simple lay,
Flung on thy bosom like a girl's bouquet,
Do more than deck thee for an idle hour,
Then fall unheeded, fading like the flower ?
Yet, when I trod, with footsteps wild and free,
The crackling leaves beneath yon linden-tree,
Panting from play, or dripping from the stream,
How bright the visions of my boyish dream !
Or, modest Charles, along thy broken edge,
Black with soft ooze and fringed with arrowy sedge,
As once I wandered in the morning sun,
With reeking sandal and superfluous gun ;
How oft, as Fancy whispered in the gale,
Thou wast the Avon of her flattering tale !
Ye hills, whose foliage, fretted on the skies,
Prints shadowy arches on their evening dyes,


How should my song with holiest charm invest
Each dark ravine and forest-lifting civ*t !
How clothe in beauty each familiar scene,
Till all was classic on my native green !

As the drained fountain, filled with autumn


The field swept naked of its garnered sheaves ;
So wastes at noon the promise of our dawn,
The springs all choking, and the harvest gone.

Yet hear the lay of one whose natal star
Still seemed the brightest when it shone afar ;
Whose cheek, grown pallid with ungracious toil,
Glows in the welcome of his parent soil ;
And ask no garlands sought beyond the tide,
But take the leaflets gathered at your side.

OUR ancient church ! its lowly tower,

Beneath the loftier spire,
Is shadowed when the sunset hour

Clothes the tall shaft in fire ;
It sinks beyond the distant eye,

Long ere the glittering vane,
High wheeling in the western sky,

Has faded o'er the plain.

Like Sentinel and Nun, they keep
Their vigil on the green ;

One seems to guard, and one to weep,
The dead that lie between ;


And both roll out, so full and near,
Their music's mingling waves,

They shake the grass, whose pennoned spear
Leans on the narrow graves.

The stranger parts the flaunting weeds,

Whose seeds the winds have strown
So thick beneath the line he reads,

They shade the sculptured stone ;
The child unveils his clustered brow,

And ponders for a while
The graven willow's pendent bough,

Or rudest cherub's smile.

But what to them the dirge, the knell ?

These were the mourner's share ;
The sullen clang, whose heavy swell

Throbbed through the beating air ;
The rattling cord, the rolling stone,

The shelving sand that slid,
And, far beneath, with hollow tone,

Rung on the coffin's lid.

The slumberer's mound grows fresh and green,

Then slowly disappears ;
The mosses creep, the gray stones lean,

Earth hides his date and years ;
But, long before the once-loved name

Is sunk or worn away,
No lip the silent dust may claim,

That pressed the breathing clay.

Go where the ancient pathway guides,
See where our sires laid down


Their smiling babes, their cherished brides,
The patriarchs of the town ;

Hast tliou a tear for buried love 1
A sigh for transient power ?

All that a century left above,
Go, read it in an hour !

The Indian's shaft, the Briton's ball,

The sabre's thirsting edge,
The hot shell, shattering in its fall,

The bayonet's rending wedge,
Here scattered death ; yet, seek the spot,

No trace thine eye can see,
No altar, and they need it not

Who leave their children free !

Look where the turbid rain-drops stand

In many a chiselled square,
The knightly crest, the shield, the brand

Of honored names were there ;
Alas ! for every tear is dried

Those blazoned tablets knew,
Save when the icy marble's side

Drips with the evening dew.

Or gaze upon yon pillared stone, 3

The empty urn of pride ;
There stand the Goblet and the Sun,

What need of more beside ?
Where lives the memory of the dead,

Who made their tomb a toy ?
Whose ashes press that nameless bed ?

Go, ask the village boy !


Lean o'er the slender western wall,

Ye ever-roaming girls ;
The breath that bids the blossom fall

May lift your floating curls,
To sweep the simple lines that tell

An exile's date and doom ;
And sigh, for where his daughters dwell,

They wreathe the stranger's tomb.

And one amid these shades was born,

Beneath this turf who lies,
Once beaming as the summer's morn,

That closed her gentle eyes j
If sinless angels love as we,

"Who stood thy grave beside,
Three seraph welcomes waited thee,

The daughter, sister, bride !

I wandered to thy buried mound

When earth was hid below
The level of the glaring ground,

Choked to its gates with snow,
And when with summer's flowery waves

The lake of verdure rolled,
As if a Sultan's white-robed slaves

Had scattered pearls and gold.

Nay, the soft pinions of the air,
That lift this trembling tone,

Its breath of love may almost bear,
To kiss thy funeral stone ;

And, now thy smiles have passed away,
For all the joy they gave,


May sweetest dews and warmest ray
Lie on thine early grave !

When damps beneath, and storms above,

Have bowed these fragile towers,
Still o'er the graves yon locust-grove

Shall swing its Orient flowers ;
And I would ask no mouldering bust,

If e'er this humble line,
Which breathed a sigh o'er other's dust,

Might call a tear on mine.


BUT times were changed ; the torch of terror came,
To light the summits with the beacon's flame ;
The streams ran crimson, the tall mountain pines
Rose a new forest o'er embattled lines ;
The bloodless sickle lent the warrior's steel,
The harvest bowed beneath his chariot wheel ;
Where late the wood-dove sheltered her repose
The raven waited for the conflict's close ;
The cuirassed sentry walked his sleepless round
Where Daphne smiled or Amaryllis frowned ;
Where timid minstrels sung their blushing charms,
Some wild Tyrtaus called aloud, " To arms ! "

When Glory wakes, when fiery spirits leap,
Roused by her accents from their tranquil sleep,
The ray that flashes from the soldier's crest
Lights, as it glances, in the poet's breast ;


Not in pale dreamers, whose fantastic lay
Toys with smooth trifles like a child at play,
But men, who act the passions they inspire,
Who wave the sabre as they sweep the lyre !

Ye mild enthusiasts, whose pacific frowns
Are lost like dew-drops caught in burning towns,
Pluck as ye will the radiant plumes of fame,
Break Caesar's bust to make yourselves a name ;
But, if your country bares the avenger's blade
For wrongs unpunished, or for debts unpaid,
When the roused nation bids her armies form,
And screams her eagle through the gathering storm,
When from your ports the bannered frigate rides,
Her black bows scowling to the crested tides,
Your hour has past ; in vain your feeble cry,
As the babe's wailings to the thundering sky !

Scourge of mankind ! with all the dread array
That wraps in Avrath thy desolating way,
As the wild tempest wakes the slumbering sea,
Thou only teachest all that man can be.
Alike thy tocsin has the power to charm

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Online LibraryOliver Wendell HolmesThe poems of Oliver Wendell Holmes → online text (page 1 of 20)