Burton Egbert Stevenson.

The Home Book of Verse — Volume 4 online

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And we must drain it for our troubles.
We toil, we groan; the cry for love
Mounts up from this poor seething city,
And yet I know we have above
A Father, infinite in pity.

When Beauty smiles, when Sorrow weeps,
Where sunbeams play, where shadows darken,
One inmate of our dwelling keeps
Its ghastly carnival; but hearken!
How dry the rattle of the bones!
That sound was not to make you start meant:
Stand by! Your humble servant owns
The Tenant of this Dark Apartment.

Frederick Locker-Lampson [1821-1895]


I recollect a nurse called Ann,
Who carried me about the grass,
And one fine day a fine young man
Came up, and kissed the pretty lass:
She did not make the least objection!
Thinks I, "Aha!
When I can talk I'll tell Mamma"
- And that's my earliest recollection.

Frederick Locker-Lampson [1821-1895]

A Tale Of A Grandfather

I know not of what we pondered
Or made pretty pretence to talk,
As, her hand within mine, we wandered.
Toward the pool by the lime-tree walk,
While the dew fell in showers from the passion flowers
And the blush-rose bent on her stalk.

I cannot recall her figure:
Was it regal as Juno's own?
Or only a trifle bigger
Than the elves who surround the throne
Of the Fairy Queen, and are seen, I ween,
By mortals in dreams alone?

What her eyes were like I know not:
Perhaps they were blurred with tears;
And perhaps in yon skies there glow not
(On the contrary) clearer spheres.
No! as to her eyes I am just as wise
As you or the cat, my dears.

Her teeth, I presume, were "pearly":
But which was she, brunette or blonde?
Her hair, was it quaintly curly,
Or as straight as a beadle's wand?
That I failed to remark: it was rather dark
And shadowy round the pond.

Then the hand that reposed so snugly
In mine, - was it plump or spare?
Was the countenance fair or ugly?
Nay, children, you have me there!
My eyes were p'haps blurred; and besides I'd heard
That it's horribly rude to stare.

And I, - was I brusque and surly?
Or oppressively bland and fond?
Was I partial to rising early?
Or why did we twain abscond,
When nobody knew, from the public view
To prowl by a misty pond?

What passed, what was felt or spoken, -
Whether anything passed at all, -
And whether the heart was broken
That beat under that sheltering shawl, -
(If shawl she had on, which I doubt), - has gone,
Yes, gone from me past recall.

Was I haply the lady's suitor?
Or her uncle? I can't make out;
Ask your governess, dears, or tutor.
For myself, I'm in hopeless doubt
As to why we were there, who on earth we were,
And what this is all about.

Charles Stuart Calverley [1831-1884]

A Family Portrait

Grandmother's mother: her age, I guess,
Thirteen summers, or something less:
Girlish bust, but womanly air;
Smooth, square forehead with uprolled hair;
Lips that lover has never kissed;
Taper fingers and slender wrist;
Hanging sleeves of stiff brocade;
So they painted the little maid.

On her hand a parrot green
Sits unmoving and broods serene.
Hold up the canvas full in view, -
Look! there's a rent the light shines through,
Dark with a century's fringe of dust, -
That was a Red-Coat's rapier-thrust!
Such is the tale the lady old,
Dorothy's daughter's daughter, told.

Who the painter was none may tell, -
One whose best was not over well;
Hard and dry, it must be confessed,
Flat as a rose that has long been pressed;
Yet in her cheek the hues are bright,
Dainty colors of red and white,
And in her slender shape are seen
Hint and promise of stately mien.

Look not on her with eyes of scorn, -
Dorothy Q. was a lady born!
Ay! since the galloping Normans came,
England's annals have known her name;
And still to the three-hilled rebel town
Dear is that ancient name's renown,
For many a civic wreath they won,
The youthful sire and the gray-haired son.

O Damsel Dorothy! Dorothy Q.!
Strange is the gift that I owe to you;
Such a gift as never a king
Save to daughter or son might bring, -
All my tenure of heart and hand,
All my title to house and land;
Mother and sister and child and wife
And joy and sorrow and death and life!

What if a hundred years ago
Those close-shut lips had answered No,
When forth the tremulous question came
That cost the maiden her Norman name,
And under the folds that look so still
The bodice swelled with the bosom's thrill?
Should I be I, or would it be
One tenth another, to nine tenths me?

Soft is the breath of a maiden's YES:
Not the light gossamer stirs with less;
But never a cable that holds so fast
Through all the battles of wave and blast,
And never an echo of speech or song
That lives in the babbling air so long!
There were tones in the voice that whispered then
You may hear to-day in a hundred men.

O lady and lover, how faint and far
Your images hover, - and here we are
Solid and stirring in flesh and bone, -
Edward's and Dorothy's - all their own, -
A goodly record for Time to show
Of a syllable spoken so long ago! -
Shall I bless you, Dorothy, or forgive
For the tender whisper that bade me live?

It shall be a blessing, my little maid!
I will heal the stab of the Red-Coat's blade,
And freshen the gold of the tarnished frame,
And gild with a rhyme your household name;
So you shall smile on us brave and bright
As first you greeted the morning's light,
And live untroubled by woes and fears
Through a second youth of a hundred years.

Oliver Wendell Holmes [1809-1894]


My aunt! my dear unmarried aunt!
Long years have o'er her flown;
Yet still she strains the aching clasp
That binds her virgin zone;
I know it hurts her, - though she looks
As cheerful as she can;
Her waist is ampler than her life,
For life is but a span.

My aunt! my poor deluded aunt!
Her hair is almost gray;
Why will she train that winter curl
In such a spring-like way?
How can she lay her glasses down,
And say she reads as well,
When, through a double convex lens,
She just makes out to spell?

Her father, - grandpapa! forgive
This erring lip its smiles, -
Vowed she should make the finest girl
Within a hundred miles;
He sent her to a stylish school;
'Twas in her thirteenth June;
And with her, as the rules required,
"Two towels and a spoon."

They braced my aunt against a board,
To make her straight and tall;
They laced her up, they starved her down,
To make her light and small;
They pinched her feet, they singed her hair,
They screwed it up with pins; -
Oh, never mortal suffered more
In penance for her sins.

So, when my precious aunt was done,
My grandsire brought her back;
(By daylight, lest some rabid youth
Might follow on the track;)
"Ah!" said my grandsire, as he shook
Some powder in his pan,
"What could this lovely creature do
Against a desperate man!"

Alas! nor chariot, nor barouche,
Nor bandit cavalcade,
Tore from the trembling father's arms
His all-accomplished maid.
For her how happy had it been!
And Heaven had spared to me
To see one sad, ungathered rose
On my ancestral tree.

Oliver Wendell Holmes [1809-1894]


I saw him once before,
As he passed by the door,
And again
The pavement stones resound,
As he totters o'er the ground
With his cane.

They say that in his prime,
Ere the pruning-knife of Time
Cut him down,
Not a better man was found
By the Crier on his round
Through the town.

But now he walks the streets,
And he looks at all he meets
Sad and wan,
And he shakes his feeble head,
That it seems as if he said,
"They are gone."

The mossy marbles rest
On the lips that he has pressed
In their bloom,
And the names he loved to hear
Have been carved for many a year
On the tomb.

My grandmamma has said, -
Poor old lady, she is dead
Long ago, -
That he had a Roman nose,
And his cheek was like a rose
In the snow:

But now his nose is thin,
And it rests upon his chin
Like a staff,
And a crook is in his back,
And a melancholy crack
In his laugh.

I know it is a sin
For me to sit and grin
At him here;
But the old three-cornered hat,
And the breeches, and all that,
Are so queer!

And if I should live to be
The last leaf upon the tree
In the spring,
Let them smile, as I do now,
At the old forsaken bough
Where I cling.

Oliver Wendell Holmes [1809-1894]

"Man wants but little here below"

Little I ask; my wants are few;
I only wish a hut of stone,
(A very plain brown stone will do,)
That I may call my own; -
And close at hand is such a one,
In yonder street that fronts the sun.

Plain food is quite enough for me;
Three courses are as good as ten; -
If Nature can subsist on three,
Thank Heaven for three. Amen!
I always thought cold victual nice; -
My choice would be vanilla-ice.

I care not much for gold or land; -
Give me a mortgage here and there, -
Some good bank-stock, some note of hand,
Or trifling railroad share, -
I only ask that Fortune send
A little more than I shall spend.

Honors are silly toys, I know,
And titles are but empty names;
I would, perhaps, be Plenipo, -
But only near St. James;
I'm very sure I should not care
To fill our Gubernator's chair.

Jewels are baubles; 'tis a sin
To care for such unfruitful things; -
One good-sized diamond in a pin, -
Some, not so large, in rings, -
A ruby, and a pearl, or so,
Will do for me; - I laugh at show.

My dame should dress in cheap attire;
(Good heavy silks are never dear;) -
I own perhaps I might desire
Some shawls of true Cashmere, -
Some marrowy crapes of China silk,
Like wrinkled skins on scalded milk.

I would not have the horse I drive
So fast that folks must stop and stare;
An easy gait - two forty-five -
Suits me; I do not care; -
Perhaps, far just a single spurt,
Some seconds less would do no hurt.

Of pictures, I should like to own
Titians and Raphaels three or four, -
I love so much their style and tone, -
One Turner, and no more,
(A landscape, - foreground golden dirt, -
The sunshine painted with a squirt.)

Of books but few, - some fifty score
For daily use, and bound for wear;
The rest upon an upper floor; -
Some little luxury there
Of red morocco's gilded gleam,
And vellum rich as country cream.

Busts, cameos, gems, - such things as these,
Which others often show for pride,
I value for their power to please,
And selfish churls deride; -
One Stradivarius, I confess,
Two meerschaums, I would fain possess.

Wealth's wasteful tricks I will not learn,
Nor ape the glittering upstart fool; -
Shall not carved tables serve my turn,
But all must be of buhl?
Give grasping pomp its double share, -
I ask but one recumbent chair.

Thus humble let me live and die,
Nor long for Midas' golden touch;
If Heaven more generous gifts deny,
I shall not miss them much, -
Too grateful for the blessing lent
Of simple tastes and mind content!

Oliver Wendell Holmes [1809-1894]


Has there any old fellow got mixed with the boys?
If there has, take him out, without making a noise.
Hang the Almanac's cheat and the Catalogue's spite!
Old Time is a liar! We're twenty to-night!

We're twenty! We're twenty! Who, says we are more?
He's tipsy, - young jackanapes! - show him the door!
"Gray temples at twenty?" - Yes! white if we please!
Where the snow-flakes fall thickest there's nothing can freeze!

Was it snowing I spoke of? Excuse the mistake!
Look close, - you will not see a sign of a flake!
We want some new garlands for those we have shed, -
And these are white roses in place of the red.

We've a trick, we young fellows, you may have been told,
Of talking (in public) as if we were old: -
That boy we call "Doctor," and this we call "Judge;"
It's a neat little fiction, - of course it's all fudge.

That fellow's the "Speaker," - the one on the right;
"Mr. Mayor," my young one, how are you to-night?
That's our "Member of Congress," we say when we chaff;
There's the "Reverend" What's his name? - don't make me laugh.

That boy with the grave mathematical look
Made believe he had written a wonderful book,
And the ROYAL SOCIETY thought it was true!
So they chose him right in; a good joke it was, too!

There's a boy, we pretend, with a three-decker brain,
That could harness a team with a logical chain;
When he spoke for our manhood in syllabled fire,
We called him "The Justice," but now he's "The Squire."

And there's a nice youngster of excellent pith, -
Fate tried to conceal him by naming him Smith;
But he shouted a song for the brave and the free, -
Just read on his medal, "My country," "of thee!"

You hear that boy laughing? - You think he's all fun;
But the angels laugh, too, at the good he has done;
The children laugh loud as they troop to his call,
And the poor man that knows him laughs loudest of all!

Yes, we're boys, - always playing with tongue or with pen, -
And I sometimes have asked, - Shall we ever be men?
Shall we always be youthful, and laughing, and gay,
Till the last dear companion drops smiling away?

Then here's to our boyhood, its gold and its gray!
The stars of its winter, the dews of its May!
And when we have done with our life-lasting toys,
Dear Father, take care of thy children, The Boys!

Oliver Wendell Holmes [1809-1894]


'Twas a jolly old pedagogue, long ago,
Tall and slender, and sallow and dry;
His form was bent, and his gait was slow,
His long, thin hair was as white as snow,
But a wonderful twinkle shone in his eye;
And he sang every night as he went to bed,
"Let us be happy down here below:
The living should live, though the dead be dead,"
Said the jolly old pedagogue, long ago.

He taught his scholars the rule of three,
Writing, and reading, and history, too;
He took the little ones up on his knee,
For a kind old heart in his breast had he,
And the wants of the littlest child he knew:
"Learn while you're young," he often said,
"There is much to enjoy, down here below;
Life for the living, and rest for the dead!"
Said the jolly old pedagogue, long ago.

With the stupidest boys he was kind and cool,
Speaking only in gentlest tones;
The rod was hardly known in his school...
Whipping, to him, was a barbarous rule,
And too hard work for his poor old bones;
Besides, it was painful, he sometimes said:
"We should make life pleasant, down here below,
The living need charity more than the dead,"
Said the jolly old pedagogue, long ago.

He lived in the house by the hawthorn lane,
With roses and woodbine over the door;
His rooms were quiet, and neat, and plain,
But a spirit of comfort there held reign,
And made him forget he was old and poor;
"I need so little," he often said;
"And my friends and relatives here below
Won't litigate over me when I am dead,"
Said the jolly old pedagogue, long ago.

But the pleasantest times that he had, of all,
Were the sociable hours he used to pass,
With his chair tipped back to a neighbor's wall,
Making an unceremonious call,
Over a pipe and a friendly glass:
This was the finest picture, he said,
Of the many he tasted, here below;
"Who has no cronies, had better be dead!"
Said the jolly old pedagogue, long ago.

Then the jolly old pedagogue's wrinkled face
Melted all over in sunshiny smiles;
He stirred his glass with an old-school grace,
Chuckled, and sipped, and prattled apace,
Till the house grew merry, from cellar to tiles:
"I'm a pretty old man," he gently said,
"I've lingered a long while, here below;
But my heart is fresh, if my youth is fled!"
Said the jolly old pedagogue, long ago.

He smoked his pipe in the balmy air,
Every night when the sun went down,
While the soft wind played in his silvery hair,
Leaving its tenderest kisses there,
On the jolly old pedagogue's jolly old crown:
And, feeling the kisses, he smiled and said,
'Twas a glorious world, down here below;
"Why wait for happiness till we are dead?"
Said the jolly old pedagogue, long ago.

He sat at his door, one midsummer night,
After the sun had sunk in the west,
And the lingering beams of golden light
Made his kindly old face look warm and bright,
While the odorous night-wind whispered "Rest!"
Gently, gently, he bowed his head....
There were angels waiting for him, I know;
He was sure of happiness, living or dead,
This jolly old pedagogue, long ago!

George Arnold [1834-1865]


Beneath the warrior's helm, behold
The flowing tresses of the woman!
Minerva, Pallas, what you will -
A winsome creature, Greek or Roman.

Minerva? No! 'tis some sly minx
In cousin's helmet masquerading;
If not - then Wisdom was a dame
For sonnets and for serenading!

I thought the goddess cold, austere,
Not made for love's despairs and blisses:
Did Pallas wear her hair like that?
Was Wisdom's mouth so shaped for kisses?

The Nightingale should be her bird,
And not the Owl, big-eyed and solemn:
How very fresh she looks, and yet
She's older far than Trajan's Column!

The magic hand that carved this face,
And set this vine-work round it running,
Perhaps ere mighty Phidias wrought,
Had lost its subtle skill and cunning.

Who was he? Was he glad or sad,
Who knew to carve in such a fashion?
Perchance he graved the dainty head
For some brown girl that scorned his passion.

Perchance, in some still garden-place,
Where neither fount nor tree to-day is,
He flung the jewel at the feet
Of Phryne, or perhaps 'twas Lais.

But he is dust; we may not know
His happy or unhappy story:
Nameless, and dead these centuries,
His work outlives him, - there's his glory!

Both man and jewel lay in earth
Beneath a lava-buried city;
The countless summers came and went,
With neither haste, nor hate, nor pity.

Years blotted out the man, but left
The jewel fresh as any blossom,
Till some Visconti dug it up, -
To rise and fall on Mabel's bosom!

O nameless brother! see how Time
Your gracious handiwork has guarded:
See how your loving, patient art
Has come, at last, to be rewarded.

Who would not suffer slights of men,
And pangs of hopeless passion also,
To have his carven agate-stone
On such a bosom rise and fall so!

Thomas Bailey Aldrich [1837-1907]

A Middle-aged Lyrical Poet Is supposed To Be Taking
Final Leave Of The Muse Of Comedy. She Has Brought
Him His Hat And Gloves, And Is Abstractedly Picking
A Thread Of Gold Hair From His Coat Sleeve As He
Begins To Speak:

I say it under the rose -
oh, thanks! - yes, under the laurel,
We part lovers, not foes;
we are not going to quarrel.

We have too long been friends
on foot and in gilded coaches,
Now that the whole thing ends,
to spoil our kiss with reproaches.

I leave you; my soul is wrung;
I pause, look back from the portal -
Ah, I no more am young,
and you, child, you are immortal!

Mine is the glacier's way,
yours is the blossom's weather -
When were December and May
known to be happy together?

Before my kisses grow tame,
before my moodiness grieve you,
While yet my heart is flame,
and I all lover, I leave you.

So, in the coming time,
when you count the rich years over,
Think of me in my prime,
and not as a white-haired lover,

Fretful, pierced with regret,
the wraith of a dead Desire
Thrumming a cracked spinet
by a slowly dying fire.

When, at last, I am cold -
years hence, if the gods so will it -
Say, "He was true as gold,"
and wear a rose in your fillet!

Others, tender as I,
will come and sue for caresses,
Woo you, win you, and die -
mind you, a rose in your tresses!

Some Melpomene woo,
some hold Clio the nearest;
You, sweet Comedy - you
were ever sweetest and dearest!

Nay, it is time to go.
When writing your tragic sister
Say to that child of woe
how sorry I was I missed her.

Really, I cannot stay,
though "parting is such sweet sorrow"...
Perhaps I will, on my way
down-town, look in to-morrow!

Thomas Bailey Aldrich [1837-1907]

A. D. 1867

Just where the Treasury's marble front
Looks over Wall Street's mingled nations;
Where Jews and Gentiles most are wont
To throng for trade and last quotations;
Where, hour by hour, the rates of gold
Outrival, in the ears of people,
The quarter-chimes, serenely tolled
From Trinity's undaunted steeple, -

Even there I heard a strange, wild strain
Sound high above the modern clamor,
Above the cries of greed and gain,
The curbstone war, the auction's hammer;
And swift, on Music's misty ways,
It led, from all this strife for millions,
To ancient, sweet-to-nothing days
Among the kirtle-robed Sicilians.

And as it stilled the multitude,
And yet more joyous rose, and shriller,
I saw the minstrel, where he stood
At ease against a Doric pillar:
One hand a droning organ played,
The other held a Pan's-pipe (fashioned
Like those of old) to lips that made
The reeds give out that strain impassioned.

'Twas Pan himself had wandered here
A-strolling through this sordid city,
And piping to the civic ear
The prelude of some pastoral ditty!
The demigod had crossed the seas, -
From haunts of shepherd, nymph, and satyr,
And Syracusan times, - to these
Far shores and twenty centuries later.

A ragged cap was on his head;
But - hidden thus - there was no doubting
That, all with crispy locks o'erspread,
His gnarled horns were somewhere sprouting;
His club-feet, cased in rusty shoes,
Were crossed, as on some frieze you see them,
And trousers, patched of divers hues,
Concealed his crooked shanks beneath them.

He filled the quivering reeds with sound,
And o'er his mouth their changes shifted,
And with his goat's-eyes looked around
Where'er the passing current drifted;
And soon, as on Trinacrian hills
The nymphs and herdsmen ran to hear him,
Even now the tradesmen from their tills,
With clerks and porters, crowded near him.

The bulls and bears together drew
From Jauncey Court and New Street Alley,
As erst, if pastorals be true,
Came beasts from every wooded valley;
The random passers stayed to list, -
A boxer Aegon, rough and merry,
A Broadway Daphnis, on his tryst
With Nais at the Brooklyn Ferry.

A one-eyed Cyclops halted long
In tattered cloak of army pattern,
And Galatea joined the throng, -
A blowsy, apple-vending slattern;
While old Silenus staggered out
From some new-fangled lunch-house handy,
And bade the piper, with a shout,
To strike up Yankee Doodle Dandy!

A newsboy and a peanut-girl
Like little Fauns began to caper:
His hair was all in tangled curl,
Her tawny legs were bare and taper;
And still the gathering larger grew,
And gave its pence and crowded nigher,
While aye the shepherd-minstrel blew
His pipe, and struck the gamut higher.

O heart of Nature, beating still
With throbs her vernal passion taught her, -
Even here, as on the vine-clad hill,
Or by the Arethusan water!
New forms may fold the speech, new lands
Arise within these ocean-portals,
But Music waves eternal wands, -
Enchantress of the souls of mortals!

So thought I, - but among us trod
A man in blue, with legal baton,
And scoffed the vagrant demigod,
And pushed him from the step I sat on.
Doubting I mused upon the cry,
"Great Pan is dead!" - and all the people
Went on their ways: - and clear and high
The quarter sounded from the steeple.

Edmund Clarence Stedman [1833-1908]


My Lesbia, I will not deny,
Bewitches me completely;
She has the usual beaming eye,
And smiles upon me sweetly:
But she has an unseemly way
Of contradicting what I say.

And, though I am her closest friend,
And find her fascinating,
I cannot cordially commend
Her method of debating:
Her logic, though she is divine,
Is singularly feminine.

Her reasoning is full of tricks,
And butterfly suggestions,
I know no point to which she sticks,
She begs the simplest questions;
And, when her premises are strong,
She always draws her inference wrong.

Broad, liberal views on men and things
She will not hear a word of;
To prove herself correct she brings
Some instance she has heard of;
The argument ad hominem
Appears her favorite strategem.

Old Socrates, with sage replies
To questions put to suit him,
Would not, I think, have looked so wise
With Lesbia to confute him;
He would more probably have bade
Xantippe hasten to his aid.

Ah! well, my fair philosopher,
With clear brown eyes that glisten
So sweetly, that I much prefer
To look at them than listen,
Preach me your sermon: have your way,
The voice is yours, whate'er you say.

Alfred Cochrane [1865-

(New Style)

Am I sincere? I say I dote
On everything that Browning wrote;
I know some bits by heart to quote:

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Online LibraryBurton Egbert StevensonThe Home Book of Verse — Volume 4 → online text (page 7 of 18)