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"For Whittier's Seventieth Birthday" by Oliver Wendell Holmes

The following is the complete text of "For Whittier's Seventieth Birthday" by Oliver Wendell Holmes. Our presentation of this poem comes from The Complete Poetical Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes (1910). The various books, short stories and poems we offer are presented free of charge with absolutely no advertising as a public service from Internet Accuracy Project.


Visit these other works by Oliver Wendell Holmes
"At the Pantomime"
"At the Saturday Club"
"A Ballad of the Boston Tea Party"
"The Broomstick Train; or, The Return of the Witches"
"Bryant's Seventieth Birthday"
A Collection of his Short Poems
"Dorothy Q: A Family Portrait"
"A Farewell to Agassiz"
"The Flaneur"
"Grandmother's Story of Bunker-Hill Battle"
"How the Old Horse Won the Bet"
"Iris, Her Book"
"The Last Survivor"
"Meeting of the Alumni of Harvard College"
"The Moral Bully"
"The Morning Visit"
"A Mother's Secret"

"The Old Cruiser"
"The Old Player"
"On Lending a Punch Bowl"
"Once More"
"Our Banker"
"Parson Turell's Legacy"
"The Parting Word"
"The Ploughman"
Poem read at the Dinner given April 12, 1883
"Prologue"
"Rip Van Winkle, M. D."
"The School-Boy"
"The Secret of the Stars"
"The Smiling Listener"
"Spring"
"The Study"
"To James Russell Lowell"

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NOTE: We try to present these classic literary works as they originally appeared in print. As such, they sometimes contain adult themes, offensive language, typographical errors, and often utilize unconventional, older, obsolete or intentionally incorrect spelling and/or punctuation conventions.


"For Whittier's Seventieth Birthday" by Oliver Wendell Holmes

FOR WHITTIER'S SEVENTIETH BIRTHDAY

DECEMBER 17, 1877

BY OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES


I BELIEVE that the copies of verses I've spun,
Like Scheherezade's tales, are a thousand and one,--
You remember the story,--those mornings in bed,--
'T was the turn of a copper,--a tale or a head.

A doom like Scheherezade's falls upon me
In a mandate as stern as the Sultan's decree:
I'm a florist in verse, and what
would people say
If I came to a banquet without my bouquet?

It is trying, no doubt, when the company knows
Just the look and the smell of each lily and rose,
The green of each leaf in the sprigs that I bring,
And the shape of the bunch and the knot of the string.

Yes,--"the style is the man," and the nib of one's pen
Makes the same mark at twenty, and three-score and ten;
It is so in all matters, if truth may be told;
Let one look at the cast he can tell you the mould.

How we all know each other! no use in disguise;
Through the holes in the mask comes the flash of the eyes;
We can tell by his--somewhat--each one of our tribe,
As we know the old hat which we cannot describe.

Though in Hebrew, in Sanscrit, in Choctaw you write,
Sweet singer who gave us the Voices of Night,
Though in buskin or slipper your song may be shod;
Or the velvety verse that Evangeline trod,

We shall say, "You can't cheat us,--we know it is you,"
There is one voice like that, but there cannot be two,
Maestro, whose chant like the dulcimer rings:
And the woods will be hushed while the nightingale sings.

And he, so serene, so majestic, so true,
Whose temple hypaethral the planets shine through,
Let us catch but five words from that mystical pen,
We should know our one sage from all children of men.

And he whose bright image no distance can dim,
Through a hundred disguises we can't mistake him,
Whose play is all earnest, whose wit is the edge
(With a beetle behind) of a sham-splitting wedge.

Do you know whom we send you, Hidalgos of Spain?
Do you know your old friends when you see them again?
Hosea was Sancho! you Dons of Madrid,
But Sancho that wielded the lance of the Cid!

And the wood-thrush of Essex,--you know whom I mean,
Whose song echoes round us while he sits unseen,
Whose heart-throbs of verse through our memories thrill
Like a breath from the wood, like a breeze from the hill,

So fervid, so simple, so loving, so pure,
We hear but one strain and our verdict is sure,--
Thee cannot elude us,--no further we search,--
'T is Holy George Herbert cut loose from his church!

We think it the voice of a seraph that sings,--
Alas! we remember that angels have wings,--
What story is this of the day of his birth?
Let him live to a hundred! we want him on earth!

One life has been paid him (in gold) by the sun;
One account has been squared and another begun;
But he never will die if he lingers below
Till we've paid him in love half the balance we owe!


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