Once More

A poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes

"Will I come?" That is pleasant! I beg to inquire
If the gun that I carry has ever missed fire?
And which was the muster-roll-mention but one -
That missed your old comrade who carries the gun?

You see me as always, my hand on the lock,
The cap on the nipple, the hammer full cock;
It is rusty, some tell me; I heed not the scoff;
It is battered and bruised, but it always goes off!

"Is it loaded?" I'll bet you! What doesn't it hold?
Rammed full to the muzzle with memories untold;
Why, it scares me to fire, lest the pieces should fly
Like the cannons that burst on the Fourth of July.

One charge is a remnant of College-day dreams
(Its wadding is made of forensics and themes);
Ah, visions of fame! what a flash in the pan
As the trigger was pulled by each clever young man!

And love! Bless my stars, what a cartridge is there!
With a wadding of rose-leaves and ribbons and hair, -
All crammed in one verse to go off at a shot!
"Were there ever such sweethearts?" Of course there were not!

And next, - what a load! it wall split the old gun, -
Three fingers, - four fingers, - five fingers of fun!
Come tell me, gray sages, for mischief and noise
Was there ever a lot like us fellows, "The Boys"?

Bump I bump! down the staircase the cannon-ball goes, -
Aha, old Professor! Look out for your toes!
Don't think, my poor Tutor, to sleep in your bed, -
Two "Boys" - 'twenty-niners-room over your head!

Remember the nights when the tar-barrel blazed!
From red "Massachusetts" the war-cry was raised;
And "Hollis" and "Stoughton" reechoed the call;
Till P - - - poked his head out of Holworthy Hall!

Old P - - , as we called him, - at fifty or so, -
Not exactly a bud, but not quite in full blow;
In ripening manhood, suppose we should say,
Just nearing his prime, as we boys are to-day!

Oh say, can you look through the vista of age
To the time when old Morse drove the regular stage?
When Lyon told tales of the long-vanished years,
And Lenox crept round with the rings in his ears?

And dost thou, my brother, remember indeed
The days of our dealings with Willard and Read?
When "Dolly" was kicking and running away,
And punch came up smoking on Fillebrown's tray?

But where are the Tutors, my brother, oh tell! -
And where the Professors, remembered so well?
The sturdy old Grecian of Holworthy Hall,
And Latin, and Logic, and Hebrew, and all?

"They are dead, the old fellows" (we called them so then,
Though we since have found out they were lusty young men).
They are dead, do you tell me? - but how do you know?
You've filled once too often. I doubt if it's so.

I'm thinking. I'm thinking. Is this 'sixty-eight?
It's not quite so clear. It admits of debate.
I may have been dreaming. I rather incline
To think - yes, I'm certain - it is 'twenty-nine!

"By Zhorzhe!" - as friend Sales is accustomed to cry, -
You tell me they're dead, but I know it's a lie!
Is Jackson not President? - What was 't you said?
It can't be; you're joking; what, - all of 'em dead?

Jim, - Harry, - Fred, - Isaac, - all gone from our side?
They could n't have left us, - no, not if they tried.
Look, - there 's our old Prises, - he can't find his text;
See, - P - - - rubs his leg, as he growls out "The next!"

I told you 't was nonsense. Joe, give us a song!
Go harness up "Dolly," and fetch her along! -
Dead! Dead! You false graybeard, I swear they are not!
Hurrah for Old Hickory! - Oh, I forgot!

Well, one we have with us (how could he contrive
To deal with us youngsters and still to survive?)
Who wore for our guidance authority's robe, -
No wonder he took to the study of Job!

And now, as my load was uncommonly large,
Let me taper it off with a classical charge;
When that has gone off, I shall drop my old gun -
And then stand at ease, for my service is done.

Bibamus ad Classem vocatam "The Boys"
Et eorum Tutorem cui nomen est "Noyes";
Et floreant, valeant, vigeant tam,
Non Peircius ipse enumeret quam!

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