Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
 
The Strong Heroic Line
By Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894)
 
[From the Poem delivered at a Dinner given to Dr. Holmes by the Medical Profession of New York City, 12 April, 1883.]

FRIENDS of the Muse, to you of right belong
The first staid footsteps of my square-toed song;
Full well I know the strong heroic line
Has lost its fashion since I made it mine;
But there are tricks old singers will not learn,        5
And this grave measure still must serve my turn.
So the old bird resumes the self-same note
His first young summer wakened in his throat:
The self-same tune the old canary sings,
And all unchanged the bobolink’s carol rings;        10
When the tired songsters of the day are still
The thrush repeats his long-remembered trill;
Age alters not the crow’s persistent caw,
The Yankee’s “Haow,” the stammering Briton’s “Haw”;
And so the hand that takes the lyre for you        15
Plays the old tune on strings that once were new.
Nor let the rhymester of the hour deride
The straight-backed measure with its stately stride:
It gave the mighty voice of Dryden scope;
It sheathed the steel-bright epigrams of Pope;        20
In Goldsmith’s verse it learned a sweeter strain;
Byron and Campbell wore its clanking chain;
I smile to listen while the critic’s scorn
Flouts the proud purple kings have nobly worn;
Bid each new rhymer try his dainty skill        25
And mould his frozen phrases as he will;—
We thank the artist for his neat device;
The shape is pleasing, though the stuff is ice.
 
Fashions will change—the new costume allures,
Unfading still the better type endures;        30
While the slashed doublet of the cavalier
Gave the old knight the pomp of chanticleer,
Our last-hatched dandy with his glass and stick
Recalls the semblance of a new-born chick;
(To match the model he is aiming at        35
He ought to wear an egg-shell for a hat);
Which of these objects would a painter choose,
And which Velasquez or Van Dyke refuse?
 
 
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