Oliver Wendell Holmes
Verses For After-Dinner - Poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes
PHI BETA KAPPA SOCIETY, 1844
I WAS thinking last night, as I sat in the cars,
With the charmingest prospect of cinders and stars,
Next Thursday is--bless me!--how hard it will be,
If that cannibal president calls upon me!
There is nothing on earth that he will not devour,
From a tutor in seed to a freshman in flower;
No sage is too gray, and no youth is too green,
And you can't be too plump, though you're never too lean.
While others enlarge on the boiled and the roast,
He serves a raw clergyman up with a toast,
Or catches some doctor, quite tender and young,
And basely insists on a bit of his tongue.
Poor victim, prepared for his classical spit,
With a stuffing of praise and a basting of wit,
You may twitch at your collar and wrinkle your brow,
But you're up on your legs, and you're in for it now.
Oh think of your friends,--they are waiting to hear
Those jokes that are thought so remarkably queer;
And all the Jack Horners of metrical buns
Are prying and fingering to pick out the puns.
Those thoughts which, like chickens, will always thrive best
When reared by the heat of the natural nest,
Will perish if hatched from their embryo dream
In the mist and the glow of convivial steam.
Oh pardon me, then, if I meekly retire,
With a very small flash of ethereal fire;
No rubbing will kindle your Lucifer match,
If the fiz does not follow the primitive scratch.
Dear friends, who are listening so sweetly the while,
With your lips double--reefed in a snug little smile,
I leave you two fables, both drawn from the deep,--
The shells you can drop, but the pearls you may keep.
. . . . . . . . . . .
The fish called the FLOUNDER, perhaps you may know,
Has one side for use and another for show;
One side for the public, a delicate brown,
And one that is white, which he always keeps down.
A very young flounder, the flattest of flats,
(And they 're none of them thicker than opera hats,)
Was speaking more freely than charity taught
Of a friend and relation that just had been caught.
'My! what an exposure! just see what a sight!
I blush for my race,--he is showing his white
Such spinning and wriggling,--why, what does he wish?
How painfully small to respectable fish!'
Then said an Old SCULPIN,--'My freedom excuse,
You're playing the cobbler with holes in your shoes;
Your brown side is up,--but just wait till you're tried
And you'll find that all flounders are white on one side.'
. . . . . . . . . .
There's a slice near the PICKEREL'S pectoral fins,
Where the thorax leaves off and the venter begins,
Which his brother, survivor of fish-hooks and lines,
Though fond of his family, never declines.
He loves his relations; he feels they'll be missed;
But that one little tidbit he cannot resist;
So your bait may be swallowed, no matter how fast,
For you catch your next fish with a piece of the last.
And thus, O survivor, whose merciless fate
Is to take the next hook with the president's bait,
You are lost while you snatch from the end of his line
The morsel he rent from this bosom of mine!
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