Oliver Wendell Holmes.

The writings of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Volume 13 online

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A ring of weeping sprites was seen.

The freshman's lamp had bng been dim,
The voice of bnsy day was mnte,

And tortured Melody had ceased
Her sufferings on the evening flute.

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They met not aa they once had met,
To laugh o'er many a jocund tale :

But every pulse was beating low,
And every cheek was cold and pale.

There rose a fair but faded one,

Who oft had cheered them with her song ;
She waved a mutilated arm^

And silence held the listening throng.

^' Sweet friends,'' the gentle nymph began,
^^ From opening bud to withering leaf,
One common lot has bound us all,
In every change of joy and grief.

'^ While all around has felt decay.
We rose in ever-living prime,
With broader shade and fresher green,
Beneath the crumbling step of Time.

^^ When often by our feet has past

Some biped, Nature's walking whim,
Say, have we trimmed one awkward shape,
Or lopped away one crooked limb?

^ Gfo on, fair Science ; soon to thee
Shall Nature yield her idle boast ;
Her vulgar fingers formed a tree.
But thou hast trained it to a post.

^ Gro, paint the birch's silver rind,

And quilt the peach with softer down ;

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Up with the willoVfl trailing tiireada,
Off with the sunflower's radiant crown !

^ Gro, plant the lily on the shore,

And set the rose among the waves,
And bid the tropic bud unbind
Its silken zone in arctic caves ;

^ Bring bellows for the panting winds,
Hang up a lantern by the moon,
And give the nightingale a fife,
And lend the eagle a balloon I

^ I cannot smile, — the tide of scorn,

That rolled through every bleeding vein,
Comes kindling fiercer as it flows
Back to its burning source again.

^^ Again in every quivering leaf
That moment's agony I feel.
When limbs, that spumed the northern blast.
Shrunk from the sacrilegious steel.

^^ A curse upon the wretch who dared
To crop us with his felon sawl
May every fruit his lip shall taste
Lie like a bullet in his maw.

^^ In every julep that he drinks.

May gout, and bile, and headache be ;
And when he strives to calm his pain.
May colic mingle with his tea.

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^* May nightshade duster round his path,
And thistles shoot, and brambles ding ;
May blistering ivy scorch his veins,
And dogwood bum, and nettles sting.

<« On him may never shadow fall.

When fever racks his throbbing brow.
And his last shilling buy a rope

To hang him on my highest bough I "

She spoke ; — the morning's herald beam
Sprang from the bosom of the sea,

And every mangled sprite returned
In sadness to her wounded tree.


There was a sound of hurrying feet,
A tramp on echoing stairs.

There was a rush along the aisles, —
It was the hour of prayers.

And on, like Ocean's midnight wave.

The current rolled along.
When, suddenly, a stranger form

Was seen amidst the throng.

He was a dark and swarthy man.

That uninvited guest ;
A faded coat of bottle-g^een

Was buttoned round his breast

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There waB not one among them all
Could say from whence he came ;

Nor beardless boy, nor ancient man.
Could tell that stranger's name.

All silent as the sheeted dead,
In spite of sneer and frown,

Fast by a gray-haired senior's side
He sat him boldly down.

There was a look of horror flashed

From out the tutor's eyes ;
When all around him rose to pray,

The stranger did not rise I

A murmur broke along the crowd.

The prayer was at an end ;
With ringing heels and measured tread,

A hundred forms descend.

Through sounding aisle, o'er grating stair.

The long procession poured.
Till all were gathered on the seats

Around the Commons board.

That fearful stranger I down he sat.

Unasked, yet undismayed ;
And on his lip a rising smile

Of scorn or pleasure played.

He took his hat and hung it up.
With slow but earnest air ;

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He stripped his coat from off his back.
And placed it on a chair.

Then from his nearest neighbor's side

A knife and plate he drew ;
And, reaching out his hand again.

He took his teacap too.

How fled the sugar from the bowl!

How sunk the azure cream I
They Tanished like the shapes that float

Upon a Bummer's dream.

A long, long draught, — an outstretched hand, —

And crackers, toast, and tea,
They faded from the stranger's touch,

Lake dew upon the sea.

Then clouds were dark on many a brow,

Fear sat upon their souls,
And, in a bitter agony.

They clasped their buttered rolls.

A whisper trembled through the crowd, —

Who could the stranger be ?
And some were silent, for they thought

A cannibal was he.

What if the creature should arise, —

For he was stout and tall, —
And swallow down a sophomore.

Coat, crow's-foot, cap, and all I

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All sullenly the stranger rose ;

They sat in mute despair ;
He took his hat from off the peg.

His coat from off the chair.

Four freshmen fainted on the seat,
Six swooned upon the floor ;

Yet on the fearful being passed,
And shut the chapel door.

There is full many a starving man.
That walks in bottle green,

But never more that hungry one
In Commons hall was seen.

Yet often at the sunset hour,
When tolls the evening bell.

The freshman lingers on the steps,
That frightful tale to tell.


These 's a thing that grows by the fainting flower.
And springs in the shade of the lady's bower ;
The lily shrinks, and the rose turns pale,
When they feel its breath in the summer gale.
And the tulip curls its leaves in pride,
And the blue-eyed violet starts aside ;
But the lily may flaunt, and the tulip stare.
For what does the honest toadstool care ?

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She does not glow in a painted vest,
And she never Uooms on the maiden's breast ;
But she oomes, as the saintly sisters do,
In a modest suit of a Quaker hue.
And, when the stars in the evening skies
Are weeping dew from their gentle eyes,
The toad comes out from his hermit cell.
The tale of his faithful love to telL

Oh, there is light in her lover's glance,
That flies to her heart like a silver lance ;
His breeches are made of spotted skin,
His jacket is tight, and his pumps are thin ;
In a cloudless night you may hear his song.
As its pensive melody floats along.
And, if you will look by the moonlight fair.
The trembling form of the toad is there.

And he twines his arms round her slender stem.
In the shade of her velvet diadem ;
But she turns away in her maiden shame.
And will not breathe on the kindling flame ;
He sings at her feet through the live-long night.
And creeps to his cave at die break of light ;
And whenever he comes to the air above.
His throat is swelling with baflSed love.

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It waa the stalwart butcher man,
That knit his swarthy brow,

And said the gentle Pig mnst die,
And sealed it with a vow.

And oh ! it was the gentle Pig
Lay stretched upon the ground,

And ah I it was the cruel knife
His little heart that found.

They took him then, those wicked men,
Tliey trailed him all along ;

They put a stick between his lips.
And through his heek a thong ;

And round and round an oaken beam
A hempen cord they flung,

And, like a mighty pendulum.
All solemnly he swung I

Now say thy prayers, thou sinful man,
And think what thou hast done.

And read thy catechism well.
Thou bloody-minded one ;

For if his sprite should walk by night.
It better were for thee.

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That thou wert mouldering in the ground.
Or bleaching in the i

It was the savage butcher then,

That made a mock of sin,
And swore a very wicked oath,

He did not care a pin«

It was the butcher's youngest son, —
His voice was broke with sighs,

And with his pocket-handkerohief
He wiped his little eyes ;

All young and ignorant was he.

But innocent and mild.
And, in his soft simplicity.

Out spoke the tender child : —

^ Oh, &ther, &ther, list to me ;
The Pig is deadly sick,
And men have hung him by his heels,
And fed him with a stick."

It was the bloody butcher then.
That laughed as he would die.

Yet did he soothe the sorrowing child,
And bid him not to cry ; —

'' Oh, Nathan, Nathan, what 's a Pig,
That thou shouldst weep and wail ?
Come, bear thee like a butcher's child.
And thou shalt have his tail I "

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It was the butcher's daughter then,

So slender and so fiur,
That sobbed as if her heart would break,

And tore her yellow hair ;

And thus she spoke in thrilling tone, —

Fast fell the teajsdrops big : —
^^ Ah I woe is me I Alas I Alas I
TheKgl ThePig! ThePigl'*

Then did her wicked father's lips

Make merry with her woe,
And call her many a naughty name.

Because she whimpered so.

Ye need not weep, ye gentle ones.

In Tain your tears are shed.
Ye cannot wash his crimson hand.

Ye cannot soothe the dead.

The bright sun folded on his breast

His robes of rosy flame.
And softly over all the west

The shades of evening came.

He slept, and troops of murdered Pigs

Were busy with his dreams ;
Loud rang their wild, unearthly shrieks.

Wide yawned their mortal seams.

The dock struck twelve ; the Dead hath heard;
He opened both his eyes.

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And sullenly he shook his tail
To lash the feeding flies.

One quiver of the hempen eord, —
One struggle and one bound, —

With stiffened limb and leaden eye,
The Pig was on the ground I

And straight towards the sleeper's house

His fearful way he wended ;
And hooting owl and hovering bat

On midnight wing attended.

Back flew the bolt, up rose the latch.

And open swung the door,
And little mincing feet were heard

Pat, pat along the floor.

Two hoofs upon the sanded floor.

And two upon the bed ;
And they are breathing side by side.

The living and the dead I

^^ Now wake, now wake, thou butcher man !
What makes thy cheek so pale ?
Take hold I take hold I thou dost not fear
To dasp a spectre's tail ? "

Untwisted every winding coil ;

The shuddering wretch took hold.
All like an icicle it seemed.

So tapering and so cold.

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" Thou com'st with me, thou batcher man I " —
He strives to loose his grasp,
But, faster than the olinging yine,
Those twining spirals clasp ;

And open, open swung the door.

And, fleeter than the wind.
The shadowy spectre swept before.

The butcher trailed behind.

Fast fled the darkness of the night,
And mom rose faint and dim ;

They called full loud, they knocked fall long.
They did not waken him.

Straight, straight towards that oaken beam,

A trampled pathway ran ;
A ghastly shape was swinging there, —

It was the butcher man.


Poor conquered monarch I though that haughty
Still speaks thy courage unsubdued by time.
And in the grandeur of thy sullen tread

Ldves the proud spirit of thy burning dime ; —
Fettered by things that shudder at thy roar,
Tom from thy pathless wilds to pace this narrow

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Thou wast the victor, and all nature shrunk
Before the thunders of thine awful wrath ;

The steel-«rmed hunter viewed thee from afar,
Fearless and trackless in thy lonely path I

The famished tiger closed his flaming eye,

And crouched and panted as thy step went by I

Thou art the vanquished, and insulting man
Bars thy broad bosom as a sparrow's wing ;

His nerveless aims thine iron sinews bind,
And lead in chains the desert's fallen king ;

Are these the beings that have dared to twine

Their feeble threads around those limbs of thine ?

So must it be ; the weaker, wiser race.
That wields the tempest and that rides the sea,

Even in the stillness of thy solitude
Must teach the lesson of its power to thee ;

And thou, the terror of the trembling wild.

Must bow thy savage strength, the mockery of a


Thb sun stepped down from his golden throne,

And lay in the silent sea,
And the Lily had folded her satin leaves,

For a sleepy thing was she ;
What is the Lily dreaming of ?

Why crisp the waters blue?
See, see, she is lifting her varnished lid I

Her white leaves are glistening through I

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The Bose is cooling his burning oheek

In the lap of the breathless tide ; —
The Lily hath sisters fresh and fair,

That would lie by the Bose's side ;
He would love her better than all the resti

And he would be fond and true ; —
But the Lily unfolded her weary lids,

And looked at the s^ so blue.

Bemember, remember, thou silly one,

How fast will thy summer glide.
And wilt thou wither a virgin pale.
Or flourish a blooming bride ?
^^ Oh, the Bose is old, and thorny, and cold.

And he lives on earth," said she ;
*^ But the Star is fair and he lives in the air.
And he shall my bridegroom be/*

But what if the stonny doud should come.

And ruffle the silver sea ?
Would he turn his eye from the distant sky.

To smile on a thing like thee?
Oh no, fair Lily, he will not send

One ray from his far-off throne ;
The winds shall blow and the waves shall flow.

And thou wilt be left alone.

There is not a leaf on the mountain-top.

Nor a drop of evening dew,
Nor a golden sand on the sparkling shore.

Nor a pearl in the waters blue.

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That he has not eheered with his fickle sinile,
And warmed with his faithless beam, —

And will he be tnie to a pallid flower,
That floats on the quiet stream ?

Alas for the Lily I she would not heed,

But turned to the skies afar,
And bared her breast to the trembling ray

That shot from the rising star ;
The oloud came over the darkened sky.

And over the waters wide :
She looked in Tain through the beating rain.

And sank in the stormy tide.



She twirled the string of golden beads.

That round her neck was hung, —
My grandsire's gift ; the good old man

Loved girls when he was young ;
And, bending lightly o^er the cord.

And turning half away,
With something like a youthful sigh.

Thus spoke tiie maiden gray : —

'* Well, one may trail her silken robe,
And bind her locks with pearls.

And one may wreathe the woodland rose
Among her floating curls ;

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And one may tread the dewy graas,

And one tiie marble floor,
Nor half-hid boBom heave the less,

Nor broidered corset more I

^ Some years ago, a dark-eyed girl

Was sitting in the shade, —
There 's something brings her to my mind

In that young dreaming maid, —
And in her hand she held a flower,

A flower, whose speaking hue
Said, in the language of the heart,

^ Believe the giver true.'

^ And, as she looked upon its leaves.

The maiden made a vow
To wear it when the bridal wreath

Was woven for her brow ;
She watched the flower, as, day by day,

The leaflets curled and died ;
But he who gave it never came

To daim her for his bride.

^ Oh, many a summer's morning glow

Has lent the rose its ray.
And many a winter's drifting snow

Has swept its bloom away ;
But she has kept that faithless pledge

To this, her winter hour.
And keeps it still, herself alone.

And wasted like the flower."

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Her pale lip qniyered, and ihe lij^

Gleamed in her moistening eyes ; — *
I asked her how she liked the tints

In those CSastilian skies ?
^' She thought them misty, — 't was perhaps

Because she stood too near ; "
She tamed away, and as she turned

I saw her wipe a tear.


The son-browned girl, whose limbs reoUne
When noon her languid hand has laid

Hot on the green flakes of the pine,
Beneath its narrow disk of shade ;

As, through the flickering noontide glare,
She gazes on the rainbow chain

Of arches, lifting once in air

The rivers of the Soman's plain ; —

Say, does her wandering eye recall
The mountain-current's icy wave, —

Or for the dead one tear let fall.

Whose founts are broken by their grave ?

From stone to stone the ivy weaves
Her braided tracery's winding veil.

And lacing stalks and tangled leaves
Nod heavy in the drowsy gale.

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And lightly floats the pendent vine,
That swings beneath her slender bow.

Arch answering arch, — whose rounded line
Seems mirrored in the wreath below.

How patient Nature smiles at Fame 1
The weeds, that strewed the victor's way.

Feed on his dost to shroud his name,
Grreen where his proudest towers decay.

See, through that channel, empty now.
The scanty rain its tribute pours, —

Which cool^ the lip and laved the brow
Of conquerors from a hundred shores.

Thus bending o'er the nation's bier.

Whose wants the captive earth supplied.

The dew of Memory's passing tear
Falls on the arches of her pride I


Sweet Mary, I have never breathed
The love it were in vain to name ;

Though round my heart a serpent wreathed,
I smiled, or strove to smile, the same.

Once more the pulse of Nature glows
With faster throb and fresher fire.

While music round her pathway flows,
like echoes from a hidden lyre.

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And is there none with me to share
The glories of the earth and sky ?

The eagle through the pathless air
Is followed by one burning eye.

Ah no I the cradled flowers may wake,

Again may flow the frozen sea,
From every cloud a star may break, —

There comes no second spring to me*

Oo, — ere the painted toys of youth
Are crushed beneath the tread of years ;

Ere visions have been chilled to truth,
And hopes are washed away in tears.

Gk), — for I will not bid thee weep, —
Too soon my sorrows will be thine.

And evening's troubled air shall sweep
The incense from the broken shrine.

If Heaven can hear the dying tone
Of chords that soon will cease to thrill.

The prayer that Heaven has heard alone
May bless thee when those chords are stilL


Ah Qemence I when I saw thee last
Trip down the Bue de Seine,

And turning, when thy form had past,
I said, " We meet again," —

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I dreamed not in that idle glanoe

Thy latest image came.
And only left to memory's trance

A shadow and a name.

The few strange words my lips had taught

Thy timid voice to speak,
Their gentler signs, which often brought

Fresh roses to thy cheek,
The trailing of thy long loose hair

Bent o'er my couch of pain.
All, all returned, more sweet, more fair ;

Oh, had we met again!

I walked where saint and virgin keep

The vigil lights of Heaven,
I knew that thou hadst woes to weep.

And sins to be forgiven ;
I watched where Genevieve was laid,

I knelt by Maiy's shrine,
Beside me low, soft voices prayed;

Alas I but where was thine ?

And when the morning sun was bright.

When wind and wave were calm,
And flamed, in thousand-tinted light,

The rose of Notre Dame,
I wandered through the haunts of men.

From Boulevard to Quai,
Till, frowning o'er Saint Etienne,

The Pantheon's shadow lay.

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In Tain, in vain ; we meet no more,

Nor dream what fates befall ;
And long upon the stranger's shore

My voice on thee may call,
When years have clothed the line in moss

That tells thy name and days,
And withered, on thy simple cross.

The wreaths of I%re-IarChaise I


Let greener lands and bluer skies,

If such the wide earth shows.
With fairer cheeks and brighter eyes,

Match us the star and rose ;
The winds that lift the 'Georgian's veil.

Or wave Circassians curls.
Waft to their shores the sultan's sail, —

Who buys our Yankee girls?

The gay grisette, whose fingers touch

Love's thousand chords so well ;
The dark Italian, loving much.

But more than cme can tell ;
And England's fair-haired, blue^yed dame,

Who binds her brow with pearls ; —
Ye who have seen them, can they shame

Our own sweet Yankee girls ?

And what if court or castle vaunt

Its children loftier bom ? —
Who heeds the silken tassel's flaunt

Beside the golden com ?

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They aak not for the dainty toil
Of ribboned knights and earls,

The daughters of die virgin soil.
Our freebom Yankee girls I

By every hill whose stately pines

Wave their dark arms above
The home where some fair being shines,

To warm the wilds with love,
From barest rock to bleakest shore

Where farthest sail unfurls,
That stars and stripes are streaming o'er,-

Grod bless our Yankee girls I


Is thy name Mary, maiden fair?

Such should, methinks, its music be ;
The sweetest name that mortals bear

Were best befitting thee ;
And she to whom it once was given.
Was half of earth and half of heaven*

I hear thy voice, I see thy smile,
I look upon thy folded hair ;

Ah I while we dream not they beguile.
Our hearts are in the snare ;

And she who chains a wild bird's wing

Must start not if her captive sing.

So, lady, take the leaf that falls.
To all but thee unseen, unknown ;

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Wlien eyening ahades thy silent walls,

Then read it all alone ;
In stillness read, in darkness seal,
Forget, despise, but not repeal I


Stranob I that one lightly whispered tone

Is far, &r sweeter unto me.
Than all the sounds that kiss the earth,

Or breathe along the sea ;
But, lady, when thy voice I greet,
Not heavenly music seems so sweet.

I look upon the fair blue skies,
And naught but empty air I see ;

But when I turn me to thine eyes.
It seemeth unto me

Ten thousand angels spread their wings

Within those little azure rings.

The lily hath the softest leaf

That ever western breeze hath fanned,
But thou shalt have the tender flower.

So I may take thy hand ;
That little hand to me doth ]deld
More joy than all the broidered field.

O lady I there be many things

That seem right fair, below, above ;

But sure not one among them all
Is half so sweet as love ; —

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Let us not pay our vows alone,
But join two altars both in one.


Qh I I did loTe her dearly,

And gave her toys and rings.
And I thought she meant sincerely.

When she took my pretty things.
But her heart has grown as icy

As a fountain in the fall.
And her love, that was so spicy,

It did not last at alL

I gave her once a locket,

It was filled with my own hair.
And she put it in her pocket

With very special care.
But a jeweller has got it, —

He ofiEered it to me, —
And another that is not it

Around her neck I see.

For my cooings and my billings

I do not now complain.
But my dollars and my shillings

Will never come again ;
They were earned with toil and sorrow,

But I never told her that,
And now I have to borrow.

And want another hat.

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Think, think, thou crael Emma,

When thou shalt hear my woe,
And know my sad dilemma,

That thou hast made it so.
See, see my beaver rusty.

Look, look upon this hole,
This coat is dim and dusty ;

Oh let it rend thy soul I

Before the gates of fashion

I daily bent my knee.
But I sought the shrine of passion,

And found my idol, — thee.
Though never love intenser

Had bowed a soul before it,
Thine eye was on the censer.

And not the hand that bore it.


Deabest, a look is but a ray
Beflected in a certain way ;
A word, whatever tone it wear.
Is but a trembling wave of air ;
A touch, obedience to a clause
In nature's pure material laws.

The very flowers that bend and meet,
In sweetening others, grow more sweet ;
The clouds by day, the stars by night,
Inweave their floating locks of light ;

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The rainbow, Heaven's own forehead's braid.
Is but the embrace of sun and shade.

How few that love ns have we found 1
How wide Hie world that girds them round I
Like mountain streams we meet and part,
Eadi living in the other's heart,
Our course unknown, our hope to be
Yet mingled in the distant sea.

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Online LibraryOliver Wendell HolmesThe writings of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Volume 13 → online text (page 12 of 14)