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"To James Russell Lowell" by Oliver Wendell Holmes
The following is the complete text of
"To James Russell Lowell" by Oliver Wendell Holmes.
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Complete Poetical Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes (1910).
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"To James Russell Lowell" by Oliver Wendell Holmes
TO JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL
AT THE DINNER GIVEN IN HIS HONOR AT THE TAVERN CLUB, ON HIS SEVENTIETH BIRTHDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 1889.
BY OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES
A HEALTH to him whose double wreath displays
The critic's ivy and the poet's bays;
Who stayed not till with undisputed claim
The civic garland filled his meed of fame;
True knight of Freedom, ere her doubtful cause
Rose from the dust to meet the world's applause,
His country's champion on the bloodless field
Where truth and manhood stand for spear and shield!
Who is the critic? He who never skips
The luckless passage where his author slips;
Slides o'er his merits, stumbles at his faults,
Calls him a cripple if he sometimes halts,
Rich in the caustic epithets that sting,
The venom-vitriol malice loves to fling;
His quill a feathered fang at hate's command,
His ink the product of his poison-gland,--
Is this the critic? Call him not a snake,--
This noxious creature,--for the reptile's sake!
He is the critic who is first to mark
The star of genius when its glimmering spark
First pricks the sky, not waiting to proclaim
Its coming glory till it bursts in flame.
He is the critic whose divining rod
Tells where the waters hide beneath the sod;
Whom studious search through varied lore has taught
The streams, the rills, the fountain-heads, of thought;
Who, if some careless phrase, some slip shod clause,
Crack Priscian's skull or break Quintilian's laws,
Points out the blunder in a kindly way,
Nor tries his larger wisdom to display.
Where will you seek him? Wander far and wide,
Then turn and find him seated at your side!
Who is the poet? He who matches rhymes
In the last fashion of the new-born times;
Sweats over sonnets till the toil seems worse
Than Heaven intended in the primal curse;
Work, duties, pleasures, every claim forgets,
To shape his rondeaus and his triolets?
Or is it he whose random venture throws
His lawless whimseys into moonstruck prose,
Where they who worship the barbarian's creed
Will find a rhythmic cadence as they read,
As the pleased rustic hears a tune, or thinks
He hears a tune, in every bell that clinks?
Are these the poets? Though their pens should blot
A thousand volumes, surely such are not.
Who is the poet? He whom Nature chose
In that sweet season when she made the rose.
Though with the changes of our colder clime
His birthday will come somewhat out of time.
Through all the shivering winter's frost and chill,
The bloom and fragrance cling around it still.
He is the poet who can stoop to read
The secret hidden in a wayside weed;
Whom June's warm breath with childlike rapture fills,
Whose spirit "dances with the daffodils;"
Whom noble deeds with noble thoughts inspire
And lend his verse the true Promethean fire;
Who drinks the waters of enchanted streams
That wind and wander through the land of dreams;
For whom the unreal is the real world,
Its fairer flowers with brighter dews impearled.
He looks a mortal till he spreads his wings,--
He seems an angel when he soars and sings!
Behold the poet! Heaven his days prolong,
Whom Elmwood's nursery cradled into song!
Who is the patriot? He who deftly bends
To every shift that serves his private ends,
His face all smiling while his conscience squirms,
His back as limber as a canker worm's;
Who sees his country floundering through a drift,
Nor stirs a hand the laboring wheel to lift,
But trusts to Nature's leisure-loving law,
And waits with patience for the snow to thaw?
Or is he one who, called to conflict, draws
His trusty weapon in his country's cause;
Who, born a poet, grasps his trenchant rhymes
And strikes unshrinking at the nation's crimes;
Who in the days of peril learns to teach
The wisest lessons in the homeliest speech;
Whose plain good sense, alive with tingling wit,
Can always find a handle that will fit;
Who touches lightly with Ithuriel spear
The toad close squatting at the people's ear,
And bids the laughing, scornful world descry
The masking demon, the incarnate lie?
This, this is he his country well may say
Is fit to share her savior's natal day!
Think not the date a worn-out king assigned
As Life's full measure holds for all mankind;
Shall Gladstone, crowned with eighty years, withdraw?
See, nearer home, the Lion of the Law--
How Court Street trembles when he leaves his den,
Clad in the pomp of four score years and ten!
Once more the health of Nature's favored son,
The poet, critic, patriot, all in one;
Health, honor, friendship, ever round him wait
In life's fair field beyond the seven-barred gate!
"James Russell Lowell" by Oliver Wendell Holmes
JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL
BY OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES
THOU shouldst have sung the swan-song for the choir
That filled our groves with music till the day
Lit the last hilltop with its reddening fire,
And evening listened for thy lingering lay.
But thou hast found thy voice in realms afar
Where strains celestial blend their notes with thine;
Some cloudless sphere beneath a happier star
Welcomes the bright-winged spirit we resign.
How Nature mourns thee in the still retreat
Where passed in peace thy love-enchanted hours!
Where shall she find an eye like thine to greet
Spring's earliest footprints on her opening flowers?
Have the pale wayside weeds no fond regret
For him who read the secrets they enfold?
Shall the proud spangles of the field forget
The verse that lent new glory to their gold?
And ye whose carols wooed his infant ear,
Whose chants with answering woodnotes he repaid,
Have ye no song his spirit still may hear
From Elmwood's vaults of overarching shade?
Friends of his studious hours, who thronged to teach
The deep-read scholar all your varied lore,
Shall he no longer seek your shelves to reach
The treasure missing from his world-wide store?
This singer whom we long have held so dear
Was Nature's darling, shapely, strong, and fair;
Of keenest wit, of judgment crystal-clear,
Easy of converse, courteous, debonair.
Fit for the loftiest or the lowliest lot,
Self-poised, imperial, yet of simplest ways;
At home alike in castle or in cot,
True to his aim, let others blame or praise.
Freedom he found an heirloom from his sires;
Song, letters, statecraft, shared his years in turn;
All went to feed the nation's altar-fires
Whose mourning children wreathe his funeral urn.
He loved New England,--people, language, soil,
Unweaned by exile from her arid breast.
Farewell awhile, white-handed son of toil,
Go with her brown-armed laborers to thy rest.
Peace to thy slumber in the forest shade!
Poet and patriot, every gift was thine;
Thy name shall live while summers bloom and fade,
And grateful Memory guard thy leafy shrine!
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