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Best Famous Oliver Wendell Holmes Poems

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Written by Oliver Wendell Holmes |

The Last Leaf

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 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 prest 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.

Written by Oliver Wendell Holmes |

The Silent Melody

 "BRING me my broken harp," he said;
"We both are wrecks,-- but as ye will,--
Though all its ringing tones have fled,
Their echoes linger round it still;
It had some golden strings, I know,
But that was long-- how long!-- ago.
"I cannot see its tarnished gold, I cannot hear its vanished tone, Scarce can my trembling fingers hold The pillared frame so long their own; We both are wrecks,-- awhile ago It had some silver strings, I know, "But on them Time too long has played The solemn strain that knows no change, And where of old my fingers strayed The chords they find are new and strange,-- Yes! iron strings,-- I know,-- I know,-- We both are wrecks of long ago.
"We both are wrecks,-- a shattered pair, Strange to ourselves in time's disguise What say ye to the lovesick air That brought the tears from Marian's eyes? Ay! trust me,-- under breasts of snow Hearts could be melted long ago! "Or will ye hear the storm-song's crash That from his dreams the soldier woke, And bade him face the lightning flash When battle's cloud in thunder broke? Wrecks,-- nought but wrecks!-- the time was when We two were worth a thousand men!" And so the broken harp they bring With pitying smiles that none could blame; Alas there's not a single string Of all that filled the tarnished frame! But see! like children overjoyed, His fingers rambling through the void! "I clasp thee! Ay .
mine ancient lyre.
Nay, guide my wandering fingers.
There! They love to dally with the wire As Isaac played with Esan's hair.
Hush! ye shall hear the famous tune That Marina called the Breath of June!" And so they softly gather round: Rapt in his tuneful trance he seems: His fingers move: but not a sound! A silence like the song of dreams.
"There! ye have heard the air," he cries, "That brought the tears from Marina's eyes!" Ah, smile not at his fond conceit, Nor deem his fancy wrought in vain; To him the unreal sounds are sweet,-- No discord mars the silent strain Scored on life's latest, starlit page-- The voiceless melody of age.
Sweet are the lips of all that sing, When Nature's music breathes unsought, But never yet could voice or string So truly shape our tenderest thought As when by life's decaying fire Our fingers sweep the stringless lyre!

Written by Oliver Wendell Holmes |


 "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; 't is 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, for just a single spurt, Some seconds less would do no hurt.
Of pictures, I should like to own Titians aud 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!

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Written by Oliver Wendell Holmes |

A Parody on 'A Psalm of Life'

 Life is real, life is earnest, 
And the shell is not its pen –
“Egg thou art, and egg remainest”
Was not spoken of the hen.
Art is long and Time is fleeting, Be our bills then sharpened well, And not like muffled drums be beating On the inside of the shell.
In the world’s broad field of battle, In the great barnyard of life, Be not like those lazy cattle! Be a rooster in the strife! Lives of roosters all remind us, We can make our lives sublime, And when roasted, leave behind us, Hen tracks on the sands of time.
Hen tracks that perhaps another Chicken drooping in the rain, Some forlorn and henpecked brother, When he sees, shall crow again.

Written by Oliver Wendell Holmes |

A Farewell to Agassiz

 How the mountains talked together,
Looking down upon the weather,
When they heard our friend had planned his
Little trip among the Andes
How they'll bare their snowy scalps
To the climber of the Alps
When the cry goes through their passes,
"Here comes the great Agassiz!"
"Yes, I'm tall," says Chimborazo,
"But I wait for him to say so,--
That's the only thing that lacks,-- he
Must see me, Cotopaxi!"
"Ay! ay!" the fire-peak thunders,
"And he must view my wonders
I'm but a lonely crater
Till I have him for spectator!"
The mountain hearts are yearning,
The lava-torches burning,
The rivers bend to meet him,
The forests bow to greet him,
It thrills the spinal column
Of fossil fishes solemn,
And glaciers crawl the faster
To the feet of their old master!
Heaven keep him well and hearty,
Both him and all his party!
From the sun that broils and smites,
From the centipede that bites,
From the hail-storm and the thunder,
From the vampire and the condor,
From the gust upon the river,
From the sudden earthquake shiver,
From the trip of mule or donkey,
From the midnight howling monkey,
From the stroke of knife or dagger,
From the puma and the jaguar,
From the horrid boa-constrictor
That has scared us in the picture,
From the Indians of the Pampas
Who would dine upon their grampas,
From every beast and vermin
That to think of sets us squirmin',
From every snake that tries on
The traveller his p'ison,
From every pest of Natur',
Likewise the alligator,
And from two things left behind him,
(Be sure they'll try to find him,)
The tax-bill and assessor,--
Heaven keep the great Professor!
May he find, with his apostles,
That the land is full of fossils,
That the waters swarm with fishes
Shaped according to his wishes,
That every pool is fertile
In fancy kinds of turtle,
New birds around him singing,
New insects, never stinging,
With a million novel data
About the articulata,
And facts that strip off all husks
From the history of mollusks.
And when, with loud Te Deum, He returns to his Museum May he find the monstrous reptile That so long the land has kept ill By Grant and Sherman throttled, And by Father Abraham bottled, (All specked and streaked and mottled With the scars of murderous battles, Where he clashed the iron rattles That gods and men he shook at,) For all the world to look at! God bless the great Professor! And Madam, too, God bless her! Bless him and all his band, On the sea and on the land, Bless them head and heart and hand, Till their glorious raid is o'er, And they touch our ransomed shore! Then the welcome of a nation, With its shout of exultation, Shall awake the dumb creation, And the shapes of buried aeons Join the living creature's paeans, Till the fossil echoes roar; While the mighty megalosaurus Leads the palaeozoic chorus, God bless the great Professor, And the land his proud possessor,-- Bless them now and evermore!

Written by Oliver Wendell Holmes |

The Height of the Ridiculous

 I WROTE some lines once on a time 
In wondrous merry mood, 
And thought, as usual, men would say
They were exceeding good.
They were so queer, so very queer, I laughed as I would die; Albeit, in the general way, A sober man am I.
I called my servant, and he came; How kind it was of him To mind a slender man like me, He of the mighty limb.
"These to the printer," I exclaimed, And, in my humorous way, I added, (as a trifling jest,) "There'll be the devil to pay.
" He took the paper, and I watched, And saw him peep within; At the first line he read, his face Was all upon the grin.
He read the next; the grin grew broad, And shot from ear to ear; He read the third; a chuckling noise I now began to hear.
The fourth; he broke into a roar; The fifth; his waistband split; The sixth; he burst five buttons off, And tumbled in a fit.
Ten days and nights, with sleepless eye, I watched that wretched man, And since, I never dare to write As funny as I can.

Written by Oliver Wendell Holmes |

The Boys

 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 see not 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!

Written by Oliver Wendell Holmes |

Dorothy Q.

 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, Fist 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.

Written by Oliver Wendell Holmes |

Union and Liberty

 FLAG of the heroes who left us their glory,
Borne through their battle-fields' thunder and flame,
Blazoned in song and illumined in story,
Wave o'er us all who inherit their fame! 

Up with our banner bright,
Sprinkled with starry light,
Spread its fair emblems from mountain to shore,
While through the sounding sky
Loud rings the Nation's cry,

Light of our firmament, guide of our Nation,
Pride of her children, and honored afar,
Let the wide beams of thy full constellation
Scatter each cloud that would darken a star! 

Up with our banner bright,
Sprinkled with starry light,
Spread its fair emblems from mountain to shore,
While through the sounding sky
Loud rings the Nation's cry,

Empire unsceptred! what foe shall assail thee,
Bearing the standard of Liberty's van?
Think not the God of thy fathers shall fail thee,
Striving with men for the birthright of man! 

Up with our banner bright,
Sprinkled with starry light,
Spread its fair emblems from mountain to shore,
While through the sounding sky
Loud rings the Nation's cry,

Yet if, by madness and treachery blighted,
Dawns the dark hour when the sword thou must draw,
Then with the arms of thy millions united,
Smite the bold traitors to Freedom and Law! 

Up with our banner bright,
Sprinkled with starry light,
Spread its fair emblems from mountain to shore,
While through the sounding sky
Loud rings the Nation's cry,

Lord of the Universe! shield us and guide us,
Trusting Thee always, through shadow and sun!
Thou hast united us, who shall divide us?
Keep us, oh keep us the MANY IN ONE! 

Up with our banner bright,
Sprinkled with starry light,
Spread its fair emblems from mountain to shore,
While through the sounding sky
Loud rings the Nation's cry,

Written by Oliver Wendell Holmes |

The September Gale

 I'M not a chicken; I have seen 
Full many a chill September, 
And though I was a youngster then, 
That gale I well remember; 
The day before, my kite-string snapped, 
And I, my kite pursuing, 
The wind whisked off my palm-leaf hat; 
For me two storms were brewing!

It came as quarrels sometimes do, 
When married folks get clashing;
There was a heavy sigh or two, 
Before the fire was flashing, 
A little stir among the clouds,
Before they rent asunder,--
A little rocking of the trees, 
And then came on the thunder.
Lord! how the ponds and rivers boiled! They seemed like bursting craters! And oaks lay scattered on the ground As if they were p'taters And all above was in a howl, And all below a clatter, The earth was like a frying-pan, Or some such hissing matter.
It chanced to be our washing-day, And all our things were drying; The storm came roaring through the lines, And set them all a flying; I saw the shirts and petticoats Go riding off like witches; I lost, ah! bitterly I wept,-- I lost my Sunday breeches! I saw them straddling through the air, Alas! too late to win them; I saw them chase the clouds, as if The devil had been in them; They were my darlings and my pride, My boyhood's only riches,-- "Farewell, farewell," I faintly cried,-- "My breeches! O my breeches!" That night I saw them in my dreams, How changed from what I knew them! The dews had steeped their faded threads, The winds had whistled through them! I saw the wide and ghastly rents Where demon claws had torn them; A hole was in their amplest part, As if an imp had worn them.
I have had many happy years, And tailors kind and clever, But those young pantaloons have gone Forever and forever! And not till fate has cut the last Of all my earthly stitches, This aching heart shall cease to mourn My loved, my long-lost breeches!

Written by Oliver Wendell Holmes |

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!"

Written by Oliver Wendell Holmes |

The Organ-Blower

 DEVOUTEST of my Sunday friends,
The patient Organ-blower bends;
I see his figure sink and rise,
(Forgive me, Heaven, my wandering eyes!)
A moment lost, the next half seen,
His head above the scanty screen,
Still measuring out his deep salaams
Through quavering hymns and panting psalms.
No priest that prays in gilded stole, To save a rich man's mortgaged soul; No sister, fresh from holy vows, So humbly stoops, so meekly bows; His large obeisance puts to shame The proudest genuflecting dame, Whose Easter bonnet low descends With all the grace devotion lends.
O brother with the supple spine, How much we owe those bows of thine! Without thine arm to lend the breeze, How vain the finger on the keys! Though all unmatched the player's skill, Those thousand throats were dumb and still: Another's art may shape the tone, The breath that fills it is thine own.
Six days the silent Memnon waits Behind his temple's folded gates; But when the seventh day's sunshine falls Through rainbowed windows on the walls, He breathes, he sings, he shouts, he fills The quivering air with rapturous thrills; The roof resounds, the pillars shake, And all the slumbering echoes wake! The Preacher from the Bible-text With weary words my soul has vexed (Some stranger, fumbling far astray To find the lesson for the day); He tells us truths too plainly true, And reads the service all askew,-- Why, why the-- mischief-- can't he look Beforehand in the service-book? But thou, with decent mien and face, Art always ready in thy place; Thy strenuous blast, whate'er the tune, As steady as the strong monsoon; Thy only dread a leathery creak, Or small residual extra squeak, To send along the shadowy aisles A sunlit wave of dimpled smiles.
Not all the preaching, O my friend, Comes from the church's pulpit end! Not all that bend the knee and bow Yield service half so true as thou! One simple task performed aright, With slender skill, but all thy might, Where honest labor does its best, And leaves the player all the rest.
This many-diapasoned maze, Through which the breath of being strays, Whose music makes our earth divine, Has work for mortal hands like mine.
My duty lies before me.
Lo, The lever there! Take hold and blow! And He whose hand is on the keys Will play the tune as He shall please.

Written by Oliver Wendell Holmes |

The Voiceless

 WE count the broken lyres that rest
Where the sweet wailing singers slumber,
But o'er their silent sister's breast
The wild-flowers who will stoop to number?
A few can touch the magic string,
And noisy Fame is proud to win them:--
Alas for those that never sing,
But die with all their music in them!

Nay, grieve not for the dead alone
Whose song has told their hearts' sad story,--
Weep for the voiceless, who have known
The cross without the crown of glory!
Not where Leucadian breezes sweep
O'er Sappho's memory-haunted billow,
But where the glistening night-dews weep
On nameless sorrow's churchyard pillow.
O hearts that break and give no sign Save whitening lip and fading tresses, Till Death pours out his longed-for wine Slow-dropped from Misery's crushing presses,-- If singing breath or echoing chord To every hidden pang were given, What endless melodies were poured, As sad as earth, as sweet as heaven!

Written by Oliver Wendell Holmes |

Brother Jonathans Lament

 SHE has gone,-- she has left us in passion and pride,--
Our stormy-browed sister, so long at our side!
She has torn her own star from our firmament's glow,
And turned on her brother the face of a foe!

Oh, Caroline, Caroline, child of the sun,
We can never forget that our hearts have been one,--
Our foreheads both sprinkled in Liberty's name,
From the fountain of blood with the finger of flame!

You were always too ready to fire at a touch;
But we said, "She is hasty,-- she does not mean much.
" We have scowled, when you uttered some turbulent threat; But Friendship still whispered, "Forgive and forget!" Has our love all died out? Have its altars grown cold? Has the curse come at last which the fathers foretold? Then Nature must teach us the strength of the chain That her petulant children would sever in vain.
They may fight till the buzzards are gorged with their spoil, Till the harvest grows black as it rots in the soil, Till the wolves and the catamounts troop from their caves, And the shark tracks the pirate, the lord of the waves: In vain is the strife! When its fury is past, Their fortunes must flow in one channel at last, As the torrents that rush from the mountains of snow Roll mingled in peace through the valleys below.
Our Union is river, lake, ocean, and sky: Man breaks not the medal, when God cuts the die! Though darkened with sulphur, though cloven with steel, The blue arch will brighten, the waters will heal! Oh, Caroline, Caroline, child of the sun, There are battles with Fate that can never be won! The star-flowering banner must never be furled, For its blossoms of light are the hope of the world! Go, then, our rash sister! afar and aloof, Run wild in the sunshine away from our roof; But when your heart aches and your feet have grown sore, Remember the pathway that leads to our door!

Written by Oliver Wendell Holmes |


 SEXTON! Martha's dead and gone;
Toll the bell! toll the bell!
Her weary hands their labor cease;
Good night, poor Martha,-- sleep in peace!
Toll the bell!

Sexton! Martha 's dead and gone;
Toll the bell! toll the bell!
For many a year has Martha said,
"I'm old and poor,-- would I were dead!"
Toll the bell!

Sexton! Martha's dead and gone;
Toll the bell! toll the bell!
She'll bring no more, by day or night,
Her basket full of linen white.
Toll the bell! Sexton! Martha's dead and gone; Toll the bell! toll the bell! 'Tis fitting she should lie below A pure white sheet of drifted snow.
Toll the bell! Sexton! Martha's dead and gone; Toll the bell! toll the bell! Sleep, Martha, sleep, to wake in light, Where all the robes are stainless white.
Toll the bell!