Oliver Wendell Holmes.

The writings of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Volume 13 online

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Creep with the moving glacier as it crawls!

How does vast Nature lead her living train
In ordered sequence through that spacious brain,
As in the primal hour wh^i Adam named
The new-bom tribes that young creation claimed I —
How will her realm be darkened, losing thee.
Her darling, whom we call our AgassizI

But who is he whose massive frame belies
The maiden shyness of his downcast eyes?
Who broods in silence till, by questions pressed.
Some answer struggles from his laboring breast?
An artist Nature meant to dweU apart.
Locked in his studio with a human heart,
Tracking its cavemed passions to their lair,
And all its throbbing mysteries laying bare.

Count it no marvel that he broods alone
Over the heart he studies, — 't is his own;
So in his page, whatever shape it wear.
The Essex wizard's shadowed self is there, —
The great Romancer, hid beneath his veil
Like the stem preacher of his sombre tale;
Virile in strength, yet bashful as a girl.
Prouder than Hester, sensitive as Pearl.

From his mild throng of worshippers released,
Our Concord Delphi sends its chosen priest,
Prophet or poet, mystic, sage, or seer.
By every title always welcome here.

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Why that ethereal spirit's frame describe?
You know the raoe-marks of the Brahmin tribe, —
The spare, slight form, the sloping shoulders' droop,
The calm, scholastio mien, the clerkly stoop.
The lines of thought the sharpened features wear.
Carved by the edge of keen New England air.

ListI for he speaksl As when a king would
The jewels for his bride, he might refuse
This diamond for its flaw, — find that less bright
Than those, its fellows, and a pearl less white
Than fits her snowy neck, and yet at last.
The fairest gems are chosen, and made fast
In golden fetters; so, with light delays
He seeks the fittest word to fill his phrase;
Nor vain nor idle his fastidious quest,
His chosen word is sure to prove the best.

Where in the realm of thought, whose air is song.
Does he, the Buddha of the West, belong?
He seems a wingM Franklin, sweetly wise.
Bom to unlock the secrets of the skies;
And which the nobler calling, — if 't is fair
Terrestrial with celestial to compare, —
To guide the storm-cloud's elemental flame,
Or walk the chambers whence the lightning came,
, Amidst the sources of its subtile fire.
And steal their effluence for his lips and lyre?

If lost at times in vague aerial flights.
None treads with firmer footstep when he lights ;
A soaring nature, ballasted with sense,
Wisdom without her wrinkles or pretence.
In every Bible he has faith to read,

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And eyeiy altar helps to shape his creed.
Ask yon what name this prisoned spirit bears
While with ourselves this fleeting breath it shares?
TiU angels greet him with a sweeter one
In heaven, on earth we call him Emebson.

I start; I wake; the vision is withdrawn;
Its figures fading like the stars at dawn;
Crossed from the roll of life their cherished names,
And memory's pictures fading in their frames;
Yet life is lovelier for these transient gleams
Of buried friendships; blest is he who dreamsl


H. W. L.

Pbidb of the sister realm so long our own.
We claim with her that spotless fame of thine,
White as her snow and fragrant as her pinel

Ours was thy birthplace, but in every zone

Some wreath of song thy liberal hand has thrown
Breathes perfume from its blossoms, that en-
Where'er the dewdrops fall, the sunbeams shine.

On life's long path with tangled cares o'ergrown.

Can Art thy truthful counterfeit command, —
The silver-haloed features, tranquil, mild, —
Soften the lips of bronze as when they smiled,

Give warmth and pressure to the marble hand?

Seek the lost rainbow in the sky it spannedl
Farewell, sweet Singer I Heaven reclaims its

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Carved from the block or cast in clinging mouldy
Will grateful Memory fondly try her best
The mortal vesture from decay to wrest;

His look shall greet us, cahn, but ah, how cold!

No breath can stir the brazen drapery's fold,
No throb can heave the statue's stony breast;
^^He is not here, but risen," will stand confest

In all we miss, in all our eyes behold.

How Nature loved him I On his placid brow,
Thought's ample dome, she set the sacred sign
That marks the priesthood of her holiest shrine.

Nor asked a leaflet from the laurel's bough

That envious Time might clutch or disallow,
To prove her chosen minstrel's song divine.

On many a saddened hearth the evening fire
Burns paler as the children's hour draws

near, —
That joyous hour his song made doubly dear, —

And tender memories touch the faltering choir.

He sings no more on earth; our vain desire
Aches for the voice we loved so long to hear
In Dorian flute-notes breathing soft and dear, —

The sweet contralto that could never tire.

Deafened with listening to a harsher strain,
The Maenad's scream, the stark barbarian's cry,
Still for those soothing, loving tones we sigh;

Oh, for our vanished Orpheus once again I

The shadowy silence hears us call in vaini
His lips are hushed; his song shall never die.

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Sister, we bid you welcome, — we who stand

On the high table-land;
We who have climbed life's slippery Alpine slope.
And rest, still leaning on the staff of hope.
Looking along the silent Mer de Qlace,
Leading our footsteps where the dark crevasse
Yawns in the frozen sea we all must pass, —

Sister, we clasp your hand I

Rest with us in the hour that Heaven has lent

Before the swift descent.
Lookl the warm sunbeams kiss the glittering ice;
See I next the snow-drift blooms the edelweiss;
The mated eagles fan the frosty air;
Life, beauty, love, around us everywhere.
And, in their time, the darkening hours that bear

Sweet memories, peace, content.

Thrice welcomel shining names our missals show

Amid their rubrics' glow,
But search the blazoned record's starry line.
What halo's radiance fills the page like thine?
Thon who by some celestial due couldst find
The way to all the hearts of all mankind.
On thee, already canonized, enshrined.

What more can Heaven bestowl

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n. THE wobld's homage

If every tongue that speaks her praise
For whom I shape my tinkling phrase

Were summoned to the table,
The vocal chorus that would meet
Of mingling accents harsh or sweet,
From every land and tribe, would beat

The polyglots at Babel.

Briton and Frenchman, Swede and Dane,
Turk, Spaniard, Tartar of Ukraine,

Hidalgo, Cossack, Cadi,
High Dutchman and Low Dutchman, too,
The Russian serf, the Polish Jew,
Arab, Armenian, and Mantchoo,

Would shout, "We know the lady 1 "

Know her I Who knows not Unde Tom
And her he learned his gospel from

Has never heard of Moses;
Full well the brave black hand we know
That gave to freedom's grasp the hoe
That killed the weed that used to grow

Among the Southern roses.

When Archimedes, long ago.

Spoke out so grandly, "c2bs pou sto —

Give me a place to stand on,
I '11 move your planet for you, now," —
He little dreamed or fancied how
The 8to at last should find its pou

For woman's faith to land on.

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Her lever was tibe wand of art,
Her fulcrum was the human heart,

Whence all unfailing aid is;
She moved the earth I Its thunders pealed.
Its mountains shook, its temples reeled,
The blood-red fountains were unsealed.

And Moloch simk to Hades.

All through the conflict, up and down
Marched Uncle Tom and Old John Brown,

One ghost, one form ideal;
And which was false and which was true.
And which was mightier of the two,
The wisest sibyl never knew.

For both alike were real.

Sister, the holy maid does well

Who counts her beads in convent cell,

Where pale devotion lingers;
But she who serves the sufferer's needs.
Whose prayers are spelt in loving deeds,
May trust the Lord will count her beads

As well as human fingers.

When Truth herself was Slavery's slave.
Thy hand the prisoned suppliant gave

The rainbow wings of fiction.
And Truth who soared descends to-day
Bearing an angel's wreath away.
Its lilies at thy feet to lay

With Heaven's own benediction.

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Bead at the Dixmer giyen at the Hotel V endome, May 6, 1885.

Once more Orion and the sister Sev^i
Look on thee from the shies that hailed thy
birth, —
How shall we welcome thee, whose home was

From thy celestial wanderings back to earth?

Science has kept her midnight taper burning
To greet thy coming with its vestal flame;
Friendship has murmured, ^^ When art thou return-
^^Not yet! Not yet!" the answering message

Thine was unstinted zeal, unchilled devotion.
While the blue realm had kingdoms to ex-
plore, —
Patience, like his who ploughed the unfurrowed
Till o'er its margin loomed San Salvador.

Through the long nights I see thee ever waking,
Thy footstool earth, thy roof the hemisphere.

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While with thy griefs our weaker hearts are aching,
Firm as thine equatorial's rock-based pier.

The souls that voyaged the azure depths before thee
Watch with thy tireless vigils, all unseen, —

Tjcho and Kepler bend benignajit o'er thee,
And with his toy-like tube the Florentine, —

He at whose word the orb that bore him shivered
To find her central sovereignty disowned,

While the wan lips of priest and ponti£F quivered.
Their jargon stilled, their Baal disenthroned.

Flamsteed and Newton look with brows unclouded.
Their strife forgotten with its faded scars, —

(Titans, who found the world of space too crowded
To walk in peace among its myriad stars.)

All cluster round thee, — seers of earliest ages,
Persians, lonians, Mizraim's learned kings,

Fl^m the dim days of Shinar's hoary sages
To his who weighed the planet's fluid rings.

And we, for whom the northern heavens are lighted.
For whom the storm has passed, the sun has

Our clouds all scattered, all our stars united.
We claim thee, clasp thee, like a long-lost child.

Fresh from the spangled vault's o'er-arching splen-
Thy lonely pillar, thy revolving dome.

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In heartfelt aooentB, pioud, rejoicing, tender,
We bid thee welcome to thine earthly homel


DAT, DECEMBBB 12, 1885

With a broDxe stataette of John of Bologna's Mefomy,
presented by a few friends.

Err emblem for the altar's side,
And him who serves its daily need,

The stay, the solace, and the guide
Of mortal men, whate'er his creed!

Flamen or Anspez, Priest or Bonze,
He feeds the upward-dimbing fire.

Still teaching, like the deathless bronxe,
Man's noblest lesson, — to aspire.

Hermes lies prone by fallen Jove,

Crushed are the wheels of Krishna's car.

And o'er Dodona's silent grove

Streams the white ray from Bethlehem's star.

Yet snatched from Time's relentless dutch,
A godlike shape, that human hands

Have fired with Art's electric touch.
The herald of Olympus stands.

Ask not what ore the furnace knew;
LoYC mingled with the flowing mass,

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And lends itB own unohanging hue,
Like gold in Corinth's molten bxass.

Take then our gift; this aiiy fonn
Whose bronze our benedictions gild.

The hearts of all its givers warm

With love by freezing years unchilled.

With eye undimmed, with strength unworn,
Still toiling in your Master's field.

Before you wave the growths unshorn,
Their ripened harvest yet to yield.

True servant of the Heavenly Sire,
To you our tried affection clings.

Bids you still labor, stQl aspire.
But clasps your feet and steals their wings.


This is your month, the month of ^^perfect days,"
Birds in full song and blossoms all ablaze.
Nature herself your earliest welcome breathes,
Spreads every leaflet, every bower inwreathes;
Carpets her paths for your returning feet.
Puts forth her best your coming steps to greet;
And Heaven must surely find the earth in tune
When Home, sweet Home, exhales the breath of
These blessed days are waning all too fast.
And June's bright visions mingling with the past;

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Lilacs haye bloomed and faded, and the rose
Has dropped its petals, but the dover blows,
And fills its slender tubes with honeyed sweets;
The fields are pearled with milk-white margarites ;
The dandelion, which you sang of old,
Has lost its pride of place, its crown of gold,
But still displays its feathery-mantled globe.
Which children's breath, or wandering winds un-
These were your humble friends; your opened eyes
Nature had trained her common gifts to prize;
Not Cam nor Isis taught you to despise
Charles, with his muddy margin and the harsh.
Plebeian grasses of the reeking marsh.
New England's home-bred scholar, well you knew
Her soil, her speech, her people, through and

And loTcd them ever with the love that holds
All sweet, fond memories in its fragrant folds.
Though far and wide your wing^ words have

Your daily presence kept you all our own,
Till, with a sorrowing sigh, a thrill of pride.
We heard your summons, and you left our side
For larger duties and for tasks untried.

How pleased the Spaniards for a while to claim
This frank Hidalgo with the liquid name.
Who stored their classics on his crowded shelves
And loved their Calderon as they did themselves !
Before his eyes what changing pageants pass !
The bridal feast how near the funeral massi

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The deaih-stroke falls, — the Misereres wail;
The joy-bells ring, — the tear-stained cheeks nnveil.
While, as the playwright shifts his pictored soene,
The royal mourner crowns his second queen.

From Spain to Britain is a goodly stride, —
Madrid and London long-stretched leagues divide.
What if I send him, ''Uncle S., says he,"
To my good cousin whom he calls ''J. B."?
A nation's servants go where they are sent, —
He heard his Uncle's orders, and he went.

By what enchantments, what alluring arts.
Our truthful James led captive British hearts, —
Whether his shrewdness made their statesmen halt»
Or if his learning f oimd their Dons at fault,
Or if his virtue was a strange surprise.
Or if his wit flung star-dust in their eyes, -^
Like honest Yankees we can simply guess;
But that he did it all must needs confess.
England herself without a blush may claim
Her only conqueror since the Norman came.

Eight years an exile! What a weary while
Since jBrst our herald sought the mother isle I
His snow-white flag no churlish wrong has soiled, —
He left unchallenged, he returns unspoiled.

Here let us keep him, here he saw the light, —
His genius, wisdom, wit, are ours by right;
And if we lose him our lament will be
We have " flve hundred " — no£ ''as good as he."

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Fbieni), whom thy foursoore winters leave more

Than when life's roseate summer on thy cheek
Burned in the flush of manhood's manliest year,
Lonely, how lonely I is the snowy peak
Thy feet have reached, and mine have climbed so

Close on thy footsteps 'mid the landscape drear
I stretch my hand thine answering grasp to seek.
Warm with the love no rippling rhymes can speak!
Look backward I From thy lofty height surrey
Thy years of toil, of peaceful victories won,
Of dreams made real, largest hopes outrun!
Look forward ! Brighter than earth's morning ray
Streams the pure light of Heaven's unsetting sun.
The unclouded dawn of life's immortal day!


Deab friends, left darkling in the long eclipse
That veils the noonday, — you whose finger-tipB
A meaning in these ridgy leaves can find
Where ours go stumbling, senseless, helpless, blind,
This wreath of verse how dare I offer you
To whom the garden's choicest gifts are due?

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The hues of all its glowing beds are ours,

Shall you not olaun its sweetest-smelling flowers?

Nay, those I have I bring you, — at their birth
Life's cheerful sunshine warmed the grateful earth ;
If my rash boyhood dropped some idle seeds,
And here and there you light on saucy weeds
Among the fairer growths, remember still
Song comes of grace, and not of human will:
We get a jarring note when most we try.
Then strike the chord we know not how or why;
Our stately verse with too aspiring art
Oft overshoots and fails to reach the heart.
While the rude rhyme one human throb endears
Turns grief to smiles, and softens mirth to tears.
Kindest of critics, ye whose fingers read.
From Nature's lesson learn the poet's creed;
The queenly tulip flaimts in robes of flame,
The wayside seedling scarce a tint may claim,
Tet may the lowliest leaflets that unfold
A dewdrop fresh from heaven's own chalice hold.


Sent to <<The Fhilologioal Circle" of Florence for its
meeting in commemoration of Dante, January 27, 1881,
the anniTersary of his first condemnation.

Pboud of her clustering spires, her new-built
Our Venice, stolen from the slumbering sea,
A sister's kindliest greeting wafts to thee,

Bose of Yal d' Amo, queen of all its flowers!

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Thine exile's ahrine tiiy sorrowing love embowers,
Yet none with truer homage bends the knee,
Or stronger pledge of fealty brings, than we,

Whose poets make thy dead Immortal ours.

Lonely the height, but ah, to heaven how near I
Dante, whence flowed that solemn verse of thine
Like the stem river from its Apennine

Whose name the f ar-o£E Scythian thrilled with fear :

Now to all lands thy deep-toned voice is dear.
And every language knows the Song Divinel


MABCH 8, 1882

The waves imbuild the wasting shore;

Where mountains towered the billows sweep,
Yet still their borrowed spoils restore.

And build new empires from the deep.
So while the floods of thought lay waste

The proud domain of priestly creeds,
Its heaven-appointed tides will haste

To plant new homes for human needs.
Be ours to mark with hearts unchilled

The change an outworn church deplores;
The legend sinks, but Faith shall build

A fairer throne on new-found shores.

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Twice had the meUowing son of autanm crowned
The hundredth circle of his yearly round,
When, as we meet to-day, our fathers met:
That joyous gathering who can e'er forget,
When Harvard's nurslings, scattered far and wide,
Through mart and village, lake's and ocean's side.
Came, with one impulse, one fraternal throng.
And crovmed the hours with banquet, speech, and

Once more revived in fancy's magic glass,
I see in state the long procession pass:
Tall, courtly, leader as by right divine,
Winthrop, our Winthrop, rules the marshalled

Still seen in front, as on that far-off day
His ribboned baton showed the column's way.
Not all are gone who marched in manly pride
And waved their truncheons at their leader's side;
Grray, Lowell, Dixwdl, who his empire shared.
These to be with us envious Time has spared.

Few are the faces, so familiar then.
Our eyes still meet amid the haunts of men;
Scarce one of all the living gathered there.
Whose unthinned locks betrayed a silver hair.
Greets us to-day, and yet we seem the same
As our own sires and grandsires, save in name.

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There are the patriarchs, looking yagaely round
For chissmates' faces, hardly known if found;
See the cold brow that roles the busy mart;
Close at its side the pallid son of art,
Whose purchased skill with borrowed meaning

And stolen hues, the flmirking face he loathes.
Here is the patient scholar; in his looks
Tou read the titles of his learned books;
What classic lore those spidery crow's-feet speak t
What problems figure on that wrinkled cheekl
For never thought but left its stiffened trace,
Its fossil footprint, on the plastic face,
As the swift record of a raindrop stands.
Fixed on the tablet of the hardening sands.
On every face as on the written page
Each year renews the autograph of age;
One trait alone may wasting years dedPy, —
The fire still lingering in the poet's eye,
While Hope, the siren, sings her sweetest strain, -~
Ifbn omnU moriar is its proud refrain.

Sadly we gaze upon the vacant chair;
He who should claim its honors is not there, —
Otis, whose lips the listening crowd enthrall
That press and pack the floor of Boston's hall.
But Kirkland smiles, released from toil and care
Since the silk mantle younger shoulders wear, —
Quincy's, whose spirit breathes the selfsame fire
That filled the bosom of his youthful sire,
Who for the altar bore the kindled torch
To freedom's temple, dying in its porch.

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Three grave professions in their sons appear,
Whose words well studied all well pleased willhear:
Palfrey, ordained in varied walks to shine,
Statesman, historian, critic, and divine;
Solid and square behold majestic Shaw,
A mass of wisdom and a mine of law;
Warren, whose arm the doughtiest warriors fear,
Asks of the startled crowd to lend its ear, —
Proud of his calling, him the world loves best,
Not as the coming, but the parting guest.

Look on that form, — with eye dilating scan
The stately mould of nature's kingliest man I
Tower-like he stands in life's unfaded prime;
Ask you his name? None asks a second time I
He from the land his outward semblance takes.
Where storm-swept mountains watch o'er slumber-
ing lakes.
See in the impress which the body wears
How its imperial might the soul declares:
The forehead's large expansion, lofty, wide,
That locks unsilvered vainly strive to hide ;
The lines of thought that plough the sober cheek;
Lips that betray their wisdom ere they speak
Li tones like answers from Dodona's grove;
An eye like Jimo's when she frowns on Jove.
-I look and wonder; will he be content —
This man, this monarch, for the purple meant —
The meaner duties of his tribe to share.
Clad in the garb that common mortals wear?
Ah, wild Ambition, spread thy restless wings.
Beneath whose plumes the hidden oestrum stings;

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Thou whoee bold flight would leave earth's vnlgar

And like the eagle soar above the clouds,
Most feel the pang that fallen angels know
When the red lightning strikes thee from belowl

Less bronze, more silver, mingles in the mould

Of him whom next my roving eyes behold;

His, more the scholar's than the statesman's face.

Proclaims him bom of academic race.

Weary his look, as if an aching brain

Left on his brow the frozen prints of pain;

His voice far-reaching, grave, sonorous, owns

A shade of sadness in its plaintive tones.

Yet when its breath some loftier thought inspires

Glows with a heat that every bosom fires.

Such Everett seems; no chance-sown wild flower

The full-blown charms of culture's double rose, —
AJas, how soon, by death's unsparing frost.
Its bloom is faded and its fragrance losti

Two voices, only two, to earth belong.
Of all whose accents met the listening throng:
Winthrop, alike for speech and guidance frflumed,
On that proud day a twofold duty claimed;
One other yet, — remembered or forgot, —
Forgive my silence if I name him not.
Can I believe it? I, whose youthful voice
Claimed a brief gamut, — notes not over choice, —
Stood undismayed before the solemn throng.
And propria voce sung that saucy song

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Whioh even in memoiy tarns my soul aghast, —
Fdix audada was the verdict cast.

What were the glory of these festal days
Shorn of their grand illumination's blaze?
Night comes at last with all her starry train

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Online LibraryOliver Wendell HolmesThe writings of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Volume 13 → online text (page 7 of 14)