Additional Reading: Holmes
Oliver Wendell Holmes Poetry
The Chambered Nautilus
This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sails the unshadowed main,
The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.
Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
Before thee lies revealed,
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!
Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft steps its shining archway through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.
Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering sea,
Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreath?d horn!
While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!
by Oliver Wendell Holmes
Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon’s roar;
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more!
Her deck, once red with heroes’ blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o’er the flood
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor’s tread,
Or know the conquered knee;
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!
Oh, better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the God of storms,
The lightning and the gale!
The Deacons Masterpiece
Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day,
And then, of a sudden, it – ah, but stay,
And I’ll tell you what happened without delay,
Scaring the parson into fits,
Frightening people out of their wits,
Have you ever heard of that, I say?
Seventeen hundred and fifty-five,
Georgius Secundus was then alive,
Snuffy old drone from the German hive.
That was the year when Lisbon-town
Saw the earth open and gulp her down,
And Braddock’s army was done so brown,
Left without a scalp to its crown.
It was on the terrible Earthquake-day
That the Deacon finished the one-hoss shay.
Now in building of chaises, I tell you what,
There is always somewhere a weaker spot,
In hub, tire, felloe, in spring or thill,
In panel, or crossbar, or floor, or sill,
In screw, bolt, thoroughbrace, – lurking still,
Find it somewhere you must and will,
Above or below, or within or without,
And that’s the reason, beyond a doubt,
A chaise breaks down, but doesn’t wear out.
But the Deacon swore (as Deacons do),
With an “I dew vum,” or an “I tell yeou,”
He would build one shay to beat the taown
‘N’ the keounty ‘n’ all the kentry raoun’;
It should be so built that it couldn’ break daown:
“Fur,” said the Deacon, “‘t ‘s mighty plain
Thut the weakes’ place mus’ stan’ the strain;
‘N’ the way t’ fix it, uz I maintain,
Is only jest
T’ make that place uz strong uz the rest.”
So the Deacon inquired of the village folk
Where he could find the strongest oak,
That couldn’t be split nor bent nor broke,
That was for spokes and floor and sills;
He sent for lancewood to make the thills;
The crossbars were ash, from the strightest trees,
The panels of white-wood, that cuts like cheese,
But lasts like iron for things like these;
The hubs of logs from the “Settler’s ellum,”
Last of its timber,–they couldn’t sell ’em,
Never an axe had seen their chips,
And the wedges flew from between their lips,
Their blunt ends frizzled like celery tips;
Step and prop-iron, bolt and screw,
Spring, tire, axle, and linchpin too,
Steel of the finest, bright and blue;
Thoroughbrace bison-skin, thick and wide;
Boot, top, dasher, from tough old hide
Found in the pit when the tanner died.
That was the way he “put her through.”
“There!” said the Deacon, “naow she’ll dew!”
Do! I tell you, I rather guess
She was a wonder, and nothing less!
Colts grew horses, beards turned gray,
Deacon and Deaconess dropped away,
Children and grandchildren – where were they?
But there stood the stout old-one-hoss shay
As fresh as on Lisbon-earthquake-day!
Eighteen Hundred; it came and found
The Deacon’s masterpiece strong and sound.
Eighteen hundred increased by ten;–
“Hahnsum kerridge” they called it then.
Eighteen hundred and twenty came;–
Running as usual; much the same.
Thirty and forty at last arrive,
And then came fifty, and Fifty-five
Little of all we value here
Wakes on the morn of its hundredth year
Without both feeling and looking queer.
In fact, there’s nothing that keeps its youth,
So far as I know, but a tree and truth.
(This as a moral that runs at large;
Take it, – You’re welcome. – No extra charge.)
First of November – the-Earthquake-day,
There are traces of age in the one-hoss-shay,
A general flavor of mild decay,
But nothing local, as one may say.
There couldn’t be, – for the Deacon’s art
Had made it so like in every part
That there wasn’t a chance for one to start.
For the wheels were just as strong as the thills,
And the floor was just as strong as the sills,
And the panels just as strong as the floor,
And the whipple-tree neither less nor more,
And spring and axle and hub encore,
And yet, as a whole, it is past a doubt
In another hour it will be worn out!
First of November, ‘Fifty-five!
This morning the parson takes a drive.
Now, small boys, get out of the way!
Here comes the wonderful one-hoss shay,
Drawn by a rat-tailed, ewe-necked bay.
“Huddup!” said the parson. Off went they.
The parson was working his Sunday text,
Had got to fifthly, and stopped perplexed
At what the – Moses – was coming next.
All at once the horse stood still,
Close by the meet’n’-house on the hill.
First a shiver, and then a thrill,
Then something decidedly like a spill,
And the parson was sitting up on a rock,
At half-past nine by the meet’n’-house clock,
Just the hour of the Earthquake shock!
What do you think the parson found,
When he got up and stared around?
The poor old chaise in a heap or mound,
As if it had been to the mill and ground!
You see, of course, if you’re not a dunce,
How it went to pieces all at once,
All at once, and nothing first,
Just as bubbles do when they burst.
End of the wonderful one-hoss shay,
Logic is logic. That’s all I say.
By Oliver Wendell Holmes 1831
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
‘T was 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.