Meeting Of The Alumni Of Harvard College - 1857

A poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes

I thank you, MR. PRESIDENT, you've kindly broke the ice;
Virtue should always be the first, - I 'm only SECOND VICE -
(A vice is something with a screw that's made to hold its jaw
Till some old file has played away upon an ancient saw).

Sweet brothers by the Mother's side, the babes of days gone by,
All nurslings of her Juno breasts whose milk is never dry,
We come again, like half-grown boys, and gather at her beck
About her knees, and on her lap, and clinging round her neck.

We find her at her stately door, and in her ancient chair,
Dressed in the robes of red and green she always loved to wear.
Her eye has all its radiant youth, her cheek its morning flame;
We drop our roses as we go, hers flourish still the same.

We have been playing many an hour, and far away we've strayed,
Some laughing in the cheerful sun, some lingering in the shade;
And some have tired, and laid them down where darker shadows fall,
Dear as her loving voice may be, they cannot hear its call.

What miles we 've travelled since we shook the dew-drops from our shoes
We gathered on this classic green, so famed for heavy dues!
How many boys have joined the game, how many slipped away,
Since we've been running up and down, and having out our play!

One boy at work with book and brief, and one with gown and band,
One sailing vessels on the pool, one digging sand,
One flying paper kites on change, one planting little pills, -
The seeds of certain annual flowers well known as little bills.

What maidens met us on our way, and clasped us hand in hand!
What cherubs, - not the legless kind, that fly, but never stand!
How many a youthful head we've seen put on its silver crown
What sudden changes back again to youth's empurpled brown!

But fairer sights have met our eyes, and broader lights have shone,
Since others lit their midnight lamps where once we trimmed our own;
A thousand trains that flap the sky with flags of rushing fire,
And, throbbing in the Thunderer's hand, Thought's million-chorded lyre.

We've seen the sparks of Empire fly beyond the mountain bars,
Till, glittering o'er the Western wave, they joined the setting stars;
And ocean trodden into paths that trampling giants ford,
To find the planet's vertebrae and sink its spinal cord.

We've tried reform, - and chloroform, - and both have turned our brain;
When France called up the photograph, we roused the foe to pain;
Just so those earlier sages shared the chaplet of renown, -
Hers sent a bladder to the clouds, ours brought their lightning down.

We've seen the little tricks of life, its varnish and veneer,
Its stucco-fronts of character flake off and disappear,
We 've learned that oft the brownest hands will heap the biggest pile,
And met with many a "perfect brick" beneath a rimless "tile."

What dreams we 've had of deathless name, as scholars, statesmen, bards,
While Fame, the lady with the trump, held up her picture cards!
Till, having nearly played our game, she gayly whispered, "Ah!
I said you should be something grand, - you'll soon be grandpapa."

Well, well, the old have had their day, the young must take their turn;
There's something always to forget, and something still to learn;
But how to tell what's old or young, the tap-root from the sprigs,
Since Florida revealed her fount to Ponce de Leon Twiggs?

The wisest was a Freshman once, just freed from bar and bolt,
As noisy as a kettle-drum, as leggy as a colt;
Don't be too savage with the boys, - the Primer does not say
The kitten ought to go to church because the cat doth prey.

The law of merit and of age is not the rule of three;
Non constat that A. M. must prove as busy as A. B.
When Wise the father tracked the son, ballooning through the skies,
He taught a lesson to the old, - go thou and do like Wise!

Now then, old boys, and reverend youth, of high or low degree,
Remember how we only get one annual out of three,
And such as dare to simmer down three dinners into one
Must cut their salads mighty short, and pepper well with fun.

I've passed my zenith long ago, it's time for me to set;
A dozen planets wait to shine, and I am lingering yet,
As sometimes in the blaze of day a milk-and-watery moon
Stains with its dim and fading ray the lustrous blue of noon.

Farewell! yet let one echo rise to shake our ancient hall;
God save the Queen, - whose throne is here, - the Mother of us all
Till dawns the great commencement-day on every shore and sea,
And "Expectantur" all mankind, to take their last Degree!

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