Oliver Wendell Holmes

Don’t flatter yourself that friendship authorizes you to say disagreeable things to your intimates. The nearer you come into relation with a person, the more necessary do tact and courtesy become. Except in cases of necessity, which are rare, leave your friend to learn unpleasant things from his enemies; they are ready enough to tell them.

Poem – The Opening Of The Piano 

IN the little southern parlor of tbe house you may have seen

With the gambrel-roof, and the gable looking westward to the green,

At the side toward the sunset, with the window on its right,

Stood the London-made piano I am dreaming of to-night!
Ah me! how I remember the evening when it came!

What a cry of eager voices, what a group of cheeks in flame,

When the wondrous box was opened that had come from over seas, 

With its smell of mastic-varnish and its flash of ivory keys!
Then the children all grew fretful in the restlessness of joy,

For the boy would push his sister, and the sister crowd the boy,

Till the father asked for quiet in his grave paternal way,

But the mother hushed the tumult with the words, “Now, Mary, play.”
For the dear soul knew that music was a very sovereign balm;

She had sprinkled it over Sorrow and seen its brow grow calm,

In the days of slender harpsichords with tapping tinkling quills,

Or carolling to her spinet with its thin metallic thrills.
So Mary, the household minstrel, who always loved to please,

Sat down to the new “Clementi,” and struck the glittering keys.

Hushed were the children’s voices, and every eye grew dim,

As, floating from lip and finger, arose the “Vesper Hymn.”
Catharine, child of a neighbor, curly and rosy-red,

(Wedded since, and a widow,– something like ten years dead,)

Hearing a gush of music such as none before,

Steals from her mother’s chamber and peeps at the open door.
Just as the “Jubilate” in threaded whisper dies,

“Open it! open it, lady!” the little maiden cries,

(For she thought ‘t was a singing creature caged in a box she heard,)

“Open it! open it, lady! and let me see the bird!” 

Poem – The Old Tune 


THIS shred of song you bid me bring

Is snatched from fancy’s embers;

Ah, when the lips forget to sing,

The faithful heart remembers!
Too swift the wings of envious Time

To wait for dallying phrases,

Or woven strands of labored rhyme

To thread their cunning mazes.
A word, a sigh, and lo, how plain

Its magic breath discloses

Our life’s long vista through a lane

Of threescore summers’ roses!
One language years alone can teach

Its roots are young affections

That feel their way to simplest speech

Through silent recollections.
That tongue is ours. How few the words

We need to know a brother!

As simple are the notes of birds,

Yet well they know each other.
This freezing month of ice and snow

That brings our lives together

Lends to our year a living glow

That warms its wintry weather.
So let us meet as eve draws nigh,

And life matures and mellows,

Till Nature whispers with a sigh,

‘Good-night, my dear old fellows!’ 

Poem – The Old Player

THE curtain rose; in thunders long and loud

The galleries rung; the veteran actor bowed.

In flaming line the telltales of the stage

Showed on his brow the autograph of age;

Pale, hueless waves amid his clustered hair,

And umbered shadows, prints of toil and care;

Round the wide circle glanced his vacant eye,–

He strove to speak,–his voice was but a sigh.
Year after year had seen its short-lived race

Flit past the scenes and others take their place;

Yet the old prompter watched his accents still,

His name still flaunted on the evening’s bill.

Heroes, the monarchs of the scenic floor,

Had died in earnest and were heard no more;

Beauties, whose cheeks such roseate bloom o’er-spread

They faced the footlights in unborrowed red,

Had faded slowly through successive shades

To gray duennas, foils of younger maids;

Sweet voices lost the melting tones that start

With Southern throbs the sturdy Saxon heart,

While fresh sopranos shook the painted sky

With their long, breathless, quivering locust-cry.

Yet there he stood,–the man of other days,

In the clear present’s full, unsparing blaze,

As on the oak a faded leaf that clings

While a new April spreads its burnished wings.
How bright yon rows that soared in triple tier,

Their central sun the flashing chandelier!

How dim the eye that sought with doubtful aim

Some friendly smile it still might dare to claim

How fresh these hearts! his own how worn and cold!

Such the sad thoughts that long-drawn sigh had told.

No word yet faltered on his trembling tongue;

Again, again, the crashing galleries rung.

As the old guardsman at the bugle’s blast

Hears in its strain the echoes of the past,

So, as the plaudits rolled and thundered round,

A life of memories startled at the sound.

He lived again,–the page of earliest days,–

Days of small fee and parsimonious praise;

Then lithe young Romeo–hark that silvered tone,

From those smooth lips–alas! they were his own.

Then the bronzed Moor, with all his love and woe,

Told his strange tale of midnight melting snow;

And dark–plumed Hamlet, with his cloak and blade,

Looked on the royal ghost, himself a shade.

All in one flash, his youthful memories came,

Traced in bright hues of evanescent flame,

As the spent swimmer’s in the lifelong dream,

While the last bubble rises through the stream.
Call him not old, whose visionary brain

Holds o’er the past its undivided reign.

For him in vain the envious seasons roll

Who bears eternal summer in his soul.

If yet the minstrel’s song, the poet’s lay,

Spring with her birds, or children at their play,

Or maiden’s smile, or heavenly dream of art,

Stir the few life-drops creeping round his heart,

Turn to the record where his years are told,–

Count his gray hairs,–they cannot make him old!

What magic power has changed the faded mime?

One breath of memory on the dust of time.

As the last window in the buttressed wall

Of some gray minster tottering to its fall,

Though to the passing crowd its hues are spread,

A dull mosaic, yellow, green, and red,

Viewed from within, a radiant glory shows

When through its pictured screen the sunlight flows,

And kneeling pilgrims on its storied pane

See angels glow in every shapeless stain;

So streamed the vision through his sunken eye,

Clad in the splendors of his morning sky.

All the wild hopes his eager boyhood knew,

All the young fancies riper years proved true,

The sweet, low-whispered words, the winning glance

From queens of song, from Houris of the dance,

Wealth’s lavish gift, and Flattery’s soothing phrase,

And Beauty’s silence when her blush was praise,

And melting Pride, her lashes wet with tears,

Triumphs and banquets, wreaths and crowns and cheers,

Pangs of wild joy that perish on the tongue,

And all that poets dream, but leave unsung!
In every heart some viewless founts are fed

From far-off hillsides where the dews were shed;

On the worn features of the weariest face

Some youthful memory leaves its hidden trace,

As in old gardens left by exiled kings

The marble basins tell of hidden springs,

But, gray with dust, and overgrown with weeds,

Their choking jets the passer little heeds,

Till time’s revenges break their seals away,

And, clad in rainbow light, the waters play.
Good night, fond dreamer! let the curtain fall

The world’s a stage, and we are players all.

A strange rehearsal! Kings without their crowns,

And threadbare lords, and jewel-wearing clowns,

Speak the vain words that mock their throbbing hearts,

As Want, stern prompter! spells them out their parts.

The tinselled hero whom we praise and pay

Is twice an actor in a twofold play.

We smile at children when a painted screen

Seems to their simple eyes a real scene;

Ask the poor hireling, who has left his throne

To seek the cheerless home he calls his own,

Which of his double lives most real seems,

The world of solid fact or scenic dreams?

Canvas, or clouds,–the footlights, or the spheres,–

The play of two short hours, or seventy years?

Dream on! Though Heaven may woo our open eyes,

Through their closed lids we look on fairer skies;

Truth is for other worlds, and hope for this;

The cheating future lends the present’s bliss;

Life is a running shade, with fettered hands,

That chases phantoms over shifting sands;

Death a still spectre on a marble seat,

With ever clutching palms and shackled feet;

The airy shapes that mock life’s slender chain,

The flying joys he strives to clasp in vain,

Death only grasps; to live is to pursue,–

Dream on! there ‘s nothing but illusion true! 

Poem – The Old Man Dreams

OH for one hour of youthful joy!

Give back my twentieth spring!

I’d rather laugh, a bright-haired boy,

Than reign, a gray-beard king.
Off with the spoils of wrinkled age!

Away with Learning’s crown!

Tear out life’s Wisdom-written page,

And dash its trophies down!
One moment let my life-blood stream

From boyhood’s fount of flame!

Give me one giddy, reeling dream

Of life all love and fame!
. . . . . 
My listening angel heard the prayer,

And, calmly smiling, said,

“If I but touch thy silvered hair

Thy hasty wish hath sped.
“But is there nothing in thy track,

To bid thee fondly stay,

While the swift seasons hurry back

To find the wished-for day?”
“Ah, truest soul of womankind!

Without thee what were life ?

One bliss I cannot leave behind:

I’ll take– my– precious– wife!”
The angel took a sapphire pen

And wrote in rainbow dew,

The man would be a boy again,

And be a husband too!
“And is there nothing yet unsaid,

Before the change appears?

Remember, all their gifts have fled

With those dissolving years.”
“Why, yes;” for memory would recall

My fond paternal joys;

“I could not bear to leave them all–

I’ll take– my– girl– and– boys.”
The smiling angel dropped his pen,–

“Why, this will never do;

The man would be a boy again,

And be a father too!”
. . . . . 
And so I laughed,– my laughter woke

The household with its noise,–

And wrote my dream, when morning broke,

To please the gray-haired boys. 

Poem – The Old Cruiser 

HERE ‘s the old cruiser, ‘Twenty-nine,

Forty times she ‘s crossed the line;

Same old masts and sails and crew,

Tight and tough and as good as new.
Into the harbor she bravely steers

Just as she ‘s done for these forty years,

Over her anchor goes, splash and clang!

Down her sails drop, rattle and bang!
Comes a vessel out of the dock

Fresh and spry as a fighting-cock,

Feathered with sails and spurred with steam,

Heading out of the classic stream.
Crew of a hundred all aboard,

Every man as fine as a lord.

Gay they look and proud they feel,

Bowling along on even keel.
On they float with wind and tide,–

Gain at last the old ship’s side;

Every man looks down in turn,–

Reads the name that’s on her stern.
‘Twenty-nine!–Diable you say!

That was in Skipper Kirkland’s day!

What was the Flying Dutchman’s name?

This old rover must be the same.
‘Ho! you Boatswain that walks the deck,

How does it happen you’re not a wreck?

One and another have come to grief,

How have you dodged by rock and reef?’
Boatswain, lifting one knowing lid,

Hitches his breeches and shifts his quid

‘Hey? What is it? Who ‘s come to grief

Louder, young swab, I ‘m a little deaf.’
‘I say, old fellow, what keeps your boat

With all you jolly old boys afloat,

When scores of vessels as good as she

Have swallowed the salt of the bitter sea?
‘Many a crew from many a craft

Goes drifting by on a broken raft

Pieced from a vessel that clove the brine

Taller and prouder than ‘Twenty-nine.
‘Some capsized in an angry breeze,

Some were lost in the narrow seas,

Some on snags and some on sands

Struck and perished and lost their hands.
‘Tell us young ones, you gray old man,

What is your secret, if you can.

We have a ship as good as you,

Show us how to keep our crew.’
So in his ear the youngster cries;

Then the gray Boatswain straight replies:–

‘All your crew be sure you know,–

Never let one of your shipmates go.
‘If he leaves you, change your tack,

Follow him close and fetch him back;

When you’ve hauled him in at last,

Grapple his flipper and hold him fast.
‘If you’ve wronged him, speak him fair,

Say you’re sorry and make it square;

If he’s wronged you, wink so tight

None of you see what ‘s plain in sight.
‘When the world goes hard and wrong,

Lend a hand to help him along;

When his stockings have holes to darn,

Don’t you grudge him your ball of yarn.
‘Once in a twelvemonth, come what may,

Anchor your ship in a quiet bay,

Call all hands and read the log,

And give ’em a taste of grub and grog.
‘Stick to each other through thick and thin;

All the closer as age leaks in;

Squalls will blow and clouds will frown,

But stay by your ship till you all go down!’ 

Poem – The Morning Visit 

A sick man’s chamber, though it often boast

The  grateful presence of a literal toast,

Can hardly claim, amidst its various wealth,

The right unchallenged to propose a health;

Yet though its tenant is denied the feast,

Friendship must launch his sentiment at least,

As prisoned damsels, locked from lovers’ lips,

Toss them a kiss from off their fingers’ tips.
The morning visit,–not till sickness falls

In the charmed circles of your own safe walls;

Till fever’s throb and pain’s relentless rack

Stretch you all helpless on your aching back;

Not till you play the patient in your turn,

The morning visit’s mystery shall you learn.
‘T is a small matter in your neighbor’s case,

To charge your fee for showing him your face;

You skip up-stairs, inquire, inspect, and touch,

Prescribe, take leave, and off to twenty such.
But when at length, by fate’s transferred decree,

The visitor becomes the visitee,

Oh, then, indeed, it pulls another string;

Your ox is gored, and that’s a different thing!

Your friend is sick: phlegmatic as a Turk,

You write your recipe and let it work;

Not yours to stand the shiver and the frown,

And sometimes worse, with which your draught goes down.

Calm as a clock your knowing hand directs,

Rhei, jalapae ana grana sex,

Or traces on some tender missive’s back,

Scrupulos duos pulveris ipecac;

And leaves your patient to his qualms and gripes,

Cool as a sportsman banging at his snipes.

But change the time, the person, and the place,

And be yourself ‘the interesting case,’

You’ll gain some knowledge which it’s well to learn;

In future practice it may serve your turn.

Leeches, for instance,–pleasing creatures quite;

Try them,–and bless you,–don’t you find they bite?

You raise a blister for the smallest cause,

But be yourself the sitter whom it draws,

And trust my statement, you will not deny

The worst of draughtsmen is your Spanish fly!

It’s mighty easy ordering when you please,

Infusi sennae capiat uncias tres;

It’s mighty different when you quackle down

Your own three ounces of the liquid brown.

Pilula, pulvis,–pleasant words enough,

When other throats receive the shocking stuff;

But oh, what flattery can disguise the groan

That meets the gulp which sends it through your own!

Be gentle, then, though Art’s unsparing rules

Give you the handling of her sharpest tools;

Use them not rashly,–sickness is enough;

Be always ‘ready,’ but be never ‘rough.’
Of all the ills that suffering man endures,

The largest fraction liberal Nature cures;

Of those remaining, ‘t is the smallest part

Yields to the efforts of judicious Art;

But simple Kindness, kneeling by the bed

To shift the pillow for the sick man’s head,

Give the fresh draught to cool the lips that burn,

Fan the hot brow, the weary frame to turn,–

Kindness, untutored by our grave M. D.’s,

But Nature’s graduate, when she schools to please,

Wins back more sufferers with her voice and smile

Than all the trumpery in the druggist’s pile.
Once more, be quiet: coming up the stair,

Don’t be a plantigrade, a human bear,

But, stealing softly on the silent toe,

Reach the sick chamber ere you’re heard below.

Whatever changes there may greet your eyes,

Let not your looks proclaim the least surprise;

It’s not your business by your face to show

All that your patient does not want to know;

Nay, use your optics with considerate care,

And don’t abuse your privilege to stare.

But if your eyes may probe him overmuch,

Beware still further how you rudely touch;

Don’t clutch his carpus in your icy fist,

But warm your fingers ere you take the wrist.

If the poor victim needs must be percussed,

Don’t make an anvil of his aching bust;

(Doctors exist within a hundred miles

Who thump a thorax as they’d hammer piles

If you must listen to his doubtful chest,

Catch the essentials, and ignore the rest.

Spare him; the sufferer wants of you and art

A track to steer by, not a finished chart.

So of your questions: don’t in mercy try

To pump your patient absolutely dry;

He’s not a mollusk squirming in a dish,

You’re not Agassiz; and he’s not a fish.
And last, not least, in each perplexing case,

Learn the sweet magic of a cheerful face;

Not always smiling, but at least serene,

When grief and anguish cloud the anxious scene.

Each look, each movement, every word and tone,

Should tell your patient you are all his own;

Not the mere artist, purchased to attend,

But the warm, ready, self-forgetting friend,

Whose genial visit in itself combines

The best of cordials, tonics, anodynes.
Such is the visit that from day to day

Sheds o’er my chamber its benignant ray.

I give his health, who never cared to claim

Her babbling homage from the tongue of Fame;

Unmoved by praise, he stands by all confest,

The truest, noblest, wisest, kindest, best. 

Poem – The Sweet Little Man 

Now, while our soldiers are fighting our battles,

Each at his post to do all that he can,

Down among rebels and contraband chattels,

What are you doing, my sweet little man?
All the brave boys under canvas are sleeping,

All of them pressing to march with the van,

Far from the home where their sweethearts are weeping;

What are you waiting for, sweet little man?
You with the terrible warlike mustaches,

Fit for a colonel or chief of a clan,

You with the waist made for sword-belts and sashes,

Where are your shoulder-straps, sweet little man?
Bring him the buttonless garment of woman!

Cover his face lest it freckle and tan;

Muster the Apron-String Guards on the Common,

That is the corps for the sweet little man!
Give him for escort a file of young misses,

Each of them armed with a deadly rattan;

They shall defend him from laughter and hisses,

Aimed by low boys at the sweet little man.
All the fair maidens about him shall cluster,

Pluck the white feathers from bonnet and fan,

Make him a plume like a turkey-wing duster,–

That is the crest for the sweet little man!
Oh, but the Apron-String Guards are the fellows

Drilling each day since our troubles began,–

‘Handle your walking-sticks!’ ‘Shoulder umbrellas!’

That is the style for the sweet little man!
Have we a nation to save? In the first place

Saving ourselves is the sensible plan,–

Surely the spot where there’s shooting’s the worst place

Where I can stand, says the sweet little man.
Catch me confiding my person with strangers!

Think how the cowardly Bull-Runners ran!

In the brigade of the Stay-at-Home Rangers

Marches my corps, says the sweet little man.
Such was the stuff of the Malakoff-takers,

Such were the soldiers that scaled the Redan;

Truculent housemaids and bloodthirsty Quakers,

Brave not the wrath of the sweet little man!
Yield him the sidewalk, ye nursery maidens!

Sauve qui peut! Bridget, and right about! Ann;–

Fierce as a shark in a school of menhadens,

See him advancing, the sweet little man!
When the red flails of the battle-field’s threshers

Beat out the continent’s wheat from its bran,

While the wind scatters the chaffy seceshers,

What will become of our sweet little man?
When the brown soldiers come back from the borders,

How will he look while his features they scan?

How will he feel when he gets marching orders,

Signed by his lady love? sweet little man!
Fear not for him, though the rebels expect him,–

Life is too precious to shorten its span;

Woman her broomstick shall raise to protect him,

Will she not fight for the sweet little man?
Now then, nine cheers for the Stay-at-Home Ranger!

Blow the great fish-horn and beat the big pan!

First in the field that is farthest from danger,

Take your white-feather plume, sweet little man! 

Poem – The Study

YET in the darksome crypt I left so late,

Whose only altar is its rusted grate,—­

Sepulchral, rayless, joyless as it seems,

Shamed by the glare of May’s refulgent beams,—­

While the dim seasons dragged their shrouded train,

Its paler splendors were not quite in vain. 

From these dull bars the cheerful firelight’s glow

Streamed through the casement o’er the spectral snow;

Here, while the night-wind wreaked its frantic will

On the loose ocean and the rock-bound hill,

Rent the cracked topsail from its quivering yard,

And rived the oak a thousand storms had scarred,

Fenced by these walls the peaceful taper shone,

Nor felt a breath to slant its trembling cone.
Not all unblest the mild interior scene

When the red curtain spread its falling screen;

O’er some light task the lonely hours were past,

And the long evening only flew too fast;

Or the wide chair its leathern arms would lend

In genial welcome to some easy friend,

Stretched on its bosom with relaxing nerves,

Slow moulding, plastic, to its hollow curves;

Perchance indulging, if of generous creed,

In brave Sir Walter’s dream-compelling weed. 

Or, happier still, the evening hour would bring

To the round table its expected ring,

And while the punch-bowl’s sounding depths were stirred,—­

Its silver cherubs smiling as they heard,—­

Our hearts would open, as at evening’s hour

The close-sealed primrose frees its hidden flower.
Such the warm life this dim retreat has known,

Not quite deserted when its guests were flown;

Nay, filled with friends, an unobtrusive set,

Guiltless of calls and cards and etiquette,

Ready to answer, never known to ask,

Claiming no service, prompt for every task. 

On those dark shelves no housewife hand profanes,

O’er his mute files the monarch folio reigns;

A mingled race, the wreck of chance and time,

That talk all tongues and breathe of every clime,

Each knows his place, and each may claim his part

In some quaint corner of his master’s heart. 

This old Decretal, won from Moss’s hoards,

Thick-leaved, brass-cornered, ribbed with oaken boards,

Stands the gray patriarch of the graver rows,

Its fourth ripe century narrowing to its close;

Not daily conned, but glorious still to view,

With glistening letters wrought in red and blue. 

There towers Stagira’s all-embracing sage,

The Aldine anchor on his opening page;

There sleep the births of Plato’s heavenly mind,

In yon dark tomb by jealous clasps confused,

“Olim e libris” (dare I call it mine?)

Of Yale’s grave Head and Killingworth’s divine! 

In those square sheets the songs of Maro fill

The silvery types of smooth-leaved Baskerville;

High over all, in close, compact array,

Their classic wealth the Elzevirs display. 

In lower regions of the sacred space

Range the dense volumes of a humbler race;

There grim chirurgeons all their mysteries teach,

In spectral pictures, or in crabbed speech;

Harvey and Haller, fresh from Nature’s page,

Shoulder the dreamers of an earlier age,

Lully and Geber, and the learned crew

That loved to talk of all they could not do.
Why count the rest,—­those names of later days

That many love, and all agree to praise,—­

Or point the titles, where a glance may read

The dangerous lines of party or of creed? 

Too well, perchance, the chosen list would show

What few may care and none can claim to know. 

Each has his features, whose exterior seal

A brush may copy, or a sunbeam steal;

Go to his study,—­on the nearest shelf

Stands the mosaic portrait of himself.
What though for months the tranquil dust descends,

Whitening the heads of these mine ancient friends,

While the damp offspring of the modern press

Flaunts on my table with its pictured dress;

Not less I love each dull familiar face,

Nor less should miss it from the appointed place;

I snatch the book, along whose burning leaves

His scarlet web our wild romancer weaves,

Yet, while proud Hester’s fiery pangs I share,

My old MAGNALIA must be standing there! 

Poem – A Familiar Letter – Oliver Wendell Holmes

YES, write, if you want to, there’s nothing like trying; 

Who knows what a treasure your casket may hold? 

I’ll show you that rhyming’s as easy as lying, 

If you’ll listen to me while the art I unfold. 
Here’s a book full of words; one can choose as he fancies, 

As a painter his tint, as a workman his tool; 

Just think! all the poems and plays and romances 

Were drawn out of this, like the fish from a pool! 
You can wander at will through its syllabled mazes, 

And take all you want, not a copper they cost,– 

What is there to hinder your picking out phrases 

For an epic as clever as “Paradise Lost”? 
Don’t mind if the index of sense is at zero, 

Use words that run smoothly, whatever they mean; 

Leander and Lilian and Lillibullero 

Are much the same thing in the rhyming machine. 
There are words so delicious their sweetness will smother 

That boarding-school flavor of which we’re afraid, 

There is “lush”is a good one, and “swirl” is another,– 

Put both in one stanza, its fortune is made. 
With musical murmurs and rhythmical closes 

You can cheat us of smiles when you’ve nothing to tell 

You hand us a nosegay of milliner’s roses, 

And we cry with delight, “Oh, how sweet they do smell!”
Perhaps you will answer all needful conditions 

For winning the laurels to which you aspire, 

By docking the tails of the two prepositions 

I’ the style o’ the bards you so greatly admire. 
As for subjects of verse, they are only too plenty 

For ringing the changes on metrical chimes; 

A maiden, a moonbeam, a lover of twenty 

Have filled that great basket with bushels of rhymes. 
Let me show you a picture–‘t is far from irrelevant– 

By a famous old hand in the arts of design; 

‘T is only a photographed sketch of an elephant,– 

The name of the draughtsman was Rembrandt of Rhine. 
How easy! no troublesome colors to lay on, 

It can’t have fatigued him,– no, not in the least,– 

A dash here and there with a haphazard crayon, 

And there stands the wrinkled-skinned, baggy-limbed beast. 
Just so with your verse,– ‘t is as easy as sketching,– 

You can reel off a song without knitting your brow, 

As lightly as Rembrandt a drawing or etching; 

It is nothing at all, if you only know how. 
Well; imagine you’ve printed your volume of verses: 

Your forehead is wreathed with the garland of fame, 

Your poems the eloquent school-boy rehearses, 

Her album the school-girl presents for your name; 
Each morning the post brings you autograph letters; 

You’ll answer them promptly,– an hour isn’t much 

For the honor of sharing a page with your betters, 

With magistrates, members of Congress, and such. 
Of course you’re delighted to serve the committees 

That come with requests from the country all round, 

You would grace the occasion with poems and ditties 

When they’ve got a new schoolhouse, or poorhouse, or pound. 
With a hymn for the saints and a song for the sinners, 

You go and are welcome wherever you please; 

You’re a privileged guest at all manner of dinners, 

You’ve a seat on the platform among the grandees. 
At length your mere presence becomes a sensation, 

Your cup of enjoyment is filled to its brim 

With the pleasure Horatian of digitmonstration, 

As the whisper runs round of “That’s he!” or “That’s him!” 
But remember, O dealer in phrases sonorous, 

So daintily chosen, so tunefully matched, 

Though you soar with the wings of the cherubim o’er us, 

The ovum was human from which you were hatched. 
No will of your own with its puny compulsion 

Can summon the spirit that quickens the lyre; 

It comes, if at all, like the Sibyl’s convulsion 

And touches the brain with a finger of fire. 
So perhaps, after all, it’s as well to he quiet 

If you’ve nothing you think is worth saying in prose, 

As to furnish a meal of their cannibal diet 

To the critics, by publishing, as you propose. 
But it’s all of no use, and I’m sorry I’ve written,– 

I shall see your thin volume some day on my shelf; 

For the rhyming tarantula surely has bitten, 

And music must cure you, so pipe it yourself.

Poem – A Birthday Tribute – Oliver Wendell Holmes


WHO is the shepherd sent to lead, 

Through pastures green, the Master’s sheep? 

What guileless ‘Israelite indeed’ 

The folded flock may watch and keep? 
He who with manliest spirit joins 

The heart of gentlest human mould, 

With burning light and girded loins, 

To guide the flock, or watch the fold; 
True to all Truth the world denies, 

Not tongue-tied for its gilded sin; 

Not always right in all men’s eyes, 

But faithful to the light within; 
Who asks no meed of earthly fame, 

Who knows no earthly master’s call, 

Who hopes for man, through guilt and shame, 

Still answering, ‘God is over all’; 
Who makes another’s grief his own, 

Whose smile lends joy a double cheer; 

Where lives the saint, if such be known?– 

Speak softly,–such an one is here! 
O faithful shepherd! thou hast borne 

The heat and burden of the clay; 

Yet, o’er thee, bright with beams unshorn, 

The sun still shows thine onward way. 
To thee our fragrant love we bring, 

In buds that April half displays, 

Sweet first-born angels of the spring, 

Caught in their opening hymn of praise. 
What though our faltering accents fail, 

Our captives know their message well, 

Our words unbreathed their lips exhale, 

And sigh more love than ours can tell. 
April 4, 1860.