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The Poetical Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes - Volume 06: Poems from the Breakfast Table Series

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THIS is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,Sails the unshadowed main,—The venturous bark that flingsOn the sweet summer wind its purpled wingsIn 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 toilThat spread his lustrous coil;Still, as the spiral grew,He left the past year's dwelling for the new,Stole with soft step 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 bornThan ever Triton blew from wreathed hornWhile 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!


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 pursueNow dark in the shadow, she scatters the sprayAs 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 sunThey 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 cavesWhere life and its ventures are laid,The dreamers who gaze while we battle the wavesMay 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!


O MY lost beauty!—hast thou folded quiteThy wings of morning lightBeyond those iron gatesWhere Life crowds hurrying to the haggard Fates,And Age upon his mound of ashes waitsTo chill our fiery dreams,Hot from the heart of youth plunged in his icy streams?

Leave me not fading in these weeds of care,Whose flowers are silvered hair!Have I not loved thee long,Though my young lips have often done thee wrong,And vexed thy heaven-tuned ear with careless song?Ah, wilt thou yet return,Bearing thy rose-hued torch, and bid thine altar burn?

Come to me!—I will flood thy silent shrineWith my soul's sacred wine,And heap thy marble floorsAs the wild spice-trees waste their fragrant stores,In leafy islands walled with madreporesAnd lapped in Orient seas,When all their feathery palms toss, plume-like, in the breeze....