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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 |


 "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!

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.

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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 |

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 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 |

Old Ironsides

 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!

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 |

Poem (Halleck monument dedication)

 SAY not the Poet dies!
Though in the dust he lies,
He cannot forfeit his melodious breath,
Unsphered by envious death!
Life drops the voiceless myriads from its roll;
Their fate he cannot share,
Who, in the enchanted air
Sweet with the lingering strains that Echo stole,
Has left his dearer self, the music of his soul!

We o'er his turf may raise
Our notes of feeble praise,
And carve with pious care for after eyes
The stone with "Here he lies;"
He for himself has built a nobler shrine,
Whose walls of stately rhyme
Roll back the tides of time,
While o'er their gates the gleaming tablets shine
That wear his name inwrought with many a golden line!

Call not our Poet dead,
Though on his turf we tread!
Green is the wreath their brows so long have worn,--
The minstrels of the morn,
Who, while the Orient burned with new-born flame,
Caught that celestial fire
And struck a Nation's lyre!
These taught the western winds the poet's name;
Theirs the first opening buds, the maiden flowers of fame!

Count not our Poet dead!
The stars shall watch his bed,
The rose of June its fragrant life renew
His blushing mound to strew,
And all the tuneful throats of summer swell
With trills as crystal-clear
As when he wooed the ear
Of the young muse that haunts each wooded dell,
With songs of that "rough land" he loved so long and well!

He sleeps; he cannot die!
As evening's long-drawn sigh,
Lifting the rose-leaves on his peaceful mound,
Spreads all their sweets around,
So, laden with his song, the breezes blow
From where the rustling sedge
Frets our rude ocean's edge
To the smooth sea beyond the peaks of snow.
His soul the air enshrines and leaves but dust below!

Written by Oliver Wendell Holmes |

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.

Written by Oliver Wendell Holmes |

The Two Streams

 Behold the rocky wall 
That down its sloping sides 
Pours the swift rain-drops, blending, as they fall, 
In rushing river-tides! 
Yon stream, whose sources run 
Turned by a pebble's edge, 
Is Athabasca, rolling toward the sun 
Through the cleft mountain-ledge.
The slender rill had strayed, But for the slanting stone, To evening's ocean, with the tangled braid Of foam-flecked Oregon.
So from the heights of Will Life's parting stream descends, And, as a moment turns its slender rill, Each widening torrent bends, -- From the same cradle's side, From the same mother's knee, -- One to long darkness and the frozen tide, One to the Peaceful Sea!

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 |

Daily Trials by a Sensitive Man

 Oh, there are times 
When all this fret and tumult that we hear 
Do seem more stale than to the sexton's ear 
His own dull chimes.
Ding dong! ding dong! The world is in a simmer like a sea Over a pent volcano, -- woe is me All the day long! From crib to shroud! Nurse o'er our cradles screameth lullaby, And friends in boots tramp round us as we die, Snuffling aloud.
At morning's call The small-voiced pug-dog welcomes in the sun, And flea-bit mongrels, wakening one by one, Give answer all.
When evening dim Draws round us, then the lonely caterwaul, Tart solo, sour duet, and general squall, -- These are our hymn.
Women, with tongues Like polar needles, ever on the jar; Men, plugless word-spouts, whose deep fountains are Within their lungs.
Children, with drums Strapped round them by the fond paternal ass; Peripatetics with a blade of grass Between their thumbs.
Vagrants, whose arts Have caged some devil in their mad machine, Which grinding, squeaks, with husky groans between, Come out by starts.
Cockneys that kill Thin horses of a Sunday, -- men, with clams, Hoarse as young bisons roaring for their dams From hill to hill.
Soldiers, with guns, Making a nuisance of the blessed air, Child-crying bellman, children in despair, Screeching for buns.
Storms, thunders, waves! Howl, crash, and bellow till ye get your fill; Ye sometimes rest; men never can be still But in their graves.

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 |

Sun and Shadow

 As I look from the isle, o'er its billows of green,
To the billows of foam-crested blue,
Yon bark, that afar in the distance is seen,
Half dreaming, my eyes will pursue:
Now dark in the shadow, she scatters the spray
As the chaff in the stroke of the flail;
Now white as the sea-gull, she flies on her way,
The sun gleaming bright on her sail.
Yet her pilot is thinking of dangers to shun,-- Of breakers that whiten and roar; How little he cares, if in shadow or sun They see him who gaze from the shore! He looks to the beacon that looms from the reef, To the rock that is under his lee, As he drifts on the blast, like a wind-wafted leaf, O'er the gulfs of the desolate sea.
Thus drifting afar to the dim-vaulted caves Where life and its ventures are laid, The dreamers who gaze while we battle the waves May see us in sunshine or shade; Yet true to our course, though the shadows grow dark, We'll trim our broad sail as before, And stand by the rudder that governs the bark, Nor ask how we look from the shore!