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The Poetical Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes - Volume 07: Songs of Many Seasons

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THUS I lift the sash, so longShut against the flight of song;All too late for vain excuse,—Lo, my captive rhymes are loose.

Rhymes that, flitting through my brain,Beat against my window-pane,Some with gayly colored wings,Some, alas! with venomed stings.

Shall they bask in sunny rays?Shall they feed on sugared praise?Shall they stick with tangled feetOn the critic's poisoned sheet?

Are the outside winds too rough?Is the world not wide enough?Go, my winged verse, and try,—Go, like Uncle Toby's fly!


READER—gentle—if so beSuch still live, and live for me,Will it please you to be toldWhat my tenscore pages hold?

Here are verses that in spiteOf myself I needs must write,Like the wine that oozes firstWhen the unsqueezed grapes have burst.

Here are angry lines, "too hard!"Says the soldier, battle-scarred.Could I smile his scars awayI would blot the bitter lay,

Written with a knitted brow,Read with placid wonder now.Throbbed such passion in my heart?Did his wounds once really smart?

Here are varied strains that singAll the changes life can bring,Songs when joyous friends have met,Songs the mourner's tears have wet.

See the banquet's dead bouquet,Fair and fragrant in its day;Do they read the selfsame lines,—He that fasts and he that dines?

Year by year, like milestones placed,Mark the record Friendship traced.Prisoned in the walls of timeLife has notched itself in rhyme.

As its seasons slid along,Every year a notch of song,From the June of long ago,When the rose was full in blow,

Till the scarlet sage has comeAnd the cold chrysanthemum.Read, but not to praise or blame;Are not all our hearts the same?

For the rest, they take their chance,—Some may pay a passing glance;Others,-well, they served a turn,—Wherefore written, would you learn?

Not for glory, not for pelf,Not, be sure, to please myself,Not for any meaner ends,—Always "by request of friends."

Here's the cousin of a king,—Would I do the civil thing?Here 's the first-born of a queen;Here 's a slant-eyed Mandarin.

Would I polish off Japan?Would I greet this famous man,Prince or Prelate, Sheik or Shah?—Figaro gi and Figaro la!

Would I just this once comply?—So they teased and teased till I(Be the truth at once confessed)Wavered—yielded—did my best.

Turn my pages,—never mindIf you like not all you find;Think not all the grains are goldSacramento's sand-banks hold.

Every kernel has its shell,Every chime its harshest bell,Every face its weariest look,Every shelf its emptiest book,

Every field its leanest sheaf,Every book its dullest leaf,Every leaf its weakest line,—Shall it not be so with mine?

Best for worst shall make amends,Find us, keep us, leave us friendsTill, perchance, we meet again.Benedicite.—Amen!

October 7, 1874.


As through the forest, disarrayedBy chill November, late I strayed,A lonely minstrel of the woodWas singing to the solitudeI loved thy music, thus I said,When o'er thy perch the leaves were spreadSweet was thy song, but sweeter nowThy carol on the leafless bough....