Oliver Wendell Holmes

(1809-1894 / United States)

For Class Meeting - Poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes

IT is a pity and a shame--alas! alas! I know it is,
To tread the trodden grapes again, but so it has been,
so it is;
The purple vintage long is past, with ripened
clusters bursting so
They filled the wine-vats to the brim,-'t is strange
you will be thirsting so!

Too well our faithful memory tells what might be
rhymed or sung about,
For all have sighed and some have wept since last
year's snows were flung about;
The beacon flame that fired the sky, the modest
ray that gladdened us,
A little breath has quenched their light, and
deepening shades have saddened us.

No more our brother's life is ours for cheering or
for grieving us,
One only sadness they bequeathed, the sorrow of
their leaving us;
Farewell! Farewell!--I turn the leaf I read my
chiming measure in;
Who knows but something still is there a friend
may find a pleasure in?
For who can tell by what he likes what other
people's fancies are?
How all men think the best of wives their own
particular Nancies are?
If what I sing you brings a smile, you will not stop
to catechise,
Nor read Bceotia's lumbering line with nicely
scanning Attic eyes.

Perhaps the alabaster box that Mary broke so
lovingly,
While Judas looked so sternly on, the Master so
approvingly,
Was not so fairly wrought as those that Pilate's
wife and daughters had,
Or many a dame of Judah's line that drank of
Jordan's waters had.

Perhaps the balm that cost so dear, as some
remarked officiously,
The precious nard that filled the room with
fragrance so deliciously,
So oft recalled in storied page and sung in verse
melodious,
The dancing girl had thought too cheap,--that
daughter of Herodias.

Where now are all the mighty deeds that Herod
boasted loudest of?
Where now the flashing jewelry the tetrarch's wife
was proudest of?
Yet still to hear how Mary loved, all tribes of men
are listening,
And still the sinful woman's tears like stars
heaven are glistening.

'T is not the gift our hands have brought, the love
it is we bring with it,--
The minstrel's lips may shape the song, his heart
in tune must sing with it;
And so we love the simple lays, and wish we might
have more of them,
Our poet brothers sing for us,--there must be half
a score of them.

It may be that of fame and name our voices once
were emulous,--
With deeper thoughts, with tenderer throbs their
softening tones are tremulous;
The dead seem listening as of old, ere friendship
was bereft of them;
The living wear a kinder smile, the remnant that
is left of them.

Though on the once unfurrowed brows the harrow-
teeth of Time may show,
Though all the strain of crippling years the halting
feet of rhyme may show,
We look and hear with melting hearts, for what
we all remember is
The morn of Spring, nor heed how chill the sky of
gray November is.

Thanks to the gracious powers above from all mankind
that singled us,
And dropped the pearl of friendship in the cup they
kindly mingled us,
And bound us in a wreath of flowers with hoops of
steel knit under it;--
Nor time, nor space, nor chance, nor change, nor
death himself shall sunder it!


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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, April 6, 2010



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