Verse > Anthologies > Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed. > Yale Book of American Verse
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Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed. (1838–1915). Yale Book of American Verse.  1912.
 
Oliver Wendell Holmes. 1809–1894
 
93. The Dilemma
 
NOW, by the blessed Paphian queen, 
Who heaves the breast of sweet sixteen; 
By every name I cut on bark 
Before my morning star grew dark; 
By Hymen's torch, by Cupid's dart,         5
By all that thrills the beating heart; 
The bright black eye, the melting blue,— 
I cannot choose between the two. 
  
I had a vision in my dreams;— 
I saw a row of twenty beams;  10
From every beam a rope was hung, 
In every rope a lover swung; 
I asked the hue of every eye, 
That bade each luckless lover die; 
Ten shadowy lips said, heavenly blue,  15
And ten accused the darker hue. 
  
I asked a matron which she deemed 
With fairest light of beauty beamed; 
She answered, some thought both were fair,— 
Give her blue eyes and golden hair.  20
I might have liked her judgment well, 
But, as she spoke, she rung the bell, 
And all her girls, nor small nor few, 
Came marching in,—their eyes were blue. 
  
I asked a maiden; back she flung  25
The locks that round her forehead hung, 
And turned her eye, a glorious one, 
Bright as a diamond in the sun, 
On me, until beneath its rays 
I felt as if my hair would blaze;  30
She liked all eyes but eyes of green; 
She looked at me; what could she mean? 
  
Ah! many lids Love lurks between, 
Nor heeds the coloring of his screen; 
And when his random arrows fly,  35
The victim falls, but knows not why. 
Gaze not upon his shield of jet, 
The shaft upon the string is set; 
Look not beneath his azure veil, 
Though every limb were cased in mail.  40
  
Well, both might make a martyr break 
The chain that bound him to the stake; 
And both, with but a single ray, 
Can melt our very hearts away; 
And both, when balanced, hardly seem  45
To stir the scales, or rock the beam; 
But that is dearest, all the while, 
That wears for us the sweetest smile. 
 
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