To The Eleven Ladies

A poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes

Who Presented Me With A Silver Loving Cup On The Twenty-Ninth Of August, M Dccc Lxxxix

"Who gave this cup?" The secret thou wouldst steal
Its brimming flood forbids it to reveal:
No mortal's eye shall read it till he first
Cool the red throat of thirst.

If on the golden floor one draught remain,
Trust me, thy careful search will be in vain;
Not till the bowl is emptied shalt thou know
The names enrolled below.

Deeper than Truth lies buried in her well
Those modest names the graven letters spell
Hide from the sight; but wait, and thou shalt see
Who the good angels be.

Whose bounty glistens in the beauteous gift
That friendly hands to loving lips shall lift
Turn the fair goblet when its floor is dry, -
Their names shall meet thine eye.

Count thou their number on the beads of Heaven
Alas! the clustered Pleiads are but seven;
Nay, the nine sister Muses are too few, -
The Graces must add two.

"For whom this gift?" For one who all too long
Clings to his bough among the groves of song;
Autumn's last leaf, that spreads its faded wing
To greet a second spring.

Dear friends, kind friends, whate'er the cup may hold,
Bathing its burnished depths, will change to gold
Its last bright drop let thirsty Maenads drain,
Its fragrance will remain.

Better love's perfume in the empty bowl
Than wine's nepenthe for the aching soul;
Sweeter than song that ever poet sung,
It makes an old heart young!

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